Altiplano, altitude and an injured camera...

Trip Start Dec 21, 2009
Trip End Jul 17, 2010

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Flag of Argentina  , Jujuy,
Thursday, April 22, 2010

"Purmamarca is in the cultural heart of Argentina," so says one of our leaders, Juan. Apparently, when backpacking through Argentina, lots of people base themselves in Purmamarca and head out to explore the surrounding areas. He did something similar when he finished high school and still has a very soft spot for this little town, set in the backdrop of some lovely red hills/mountains. We were here to check out this town and to also acclimatise to the altitude before we head for the Altiplano, where the Andes are at their widest and it's basically a massive highland area. The Altiplano is a harsh, high and dry country. This is where machines and people break.

From memory, Purmamarca is about 2000+ metres above sea level and we would be staying here for a couple of nights before heading up to higher elevations. While none of us were showing signs of altitude sickness around the campsite, we did huff and puff like we were only in possession of one lung as we went on a short walk outside of town to check out the multi coloured hills. We have spent quite a lot of time sitting on our arses in the truck but we weren’t this unfit. It was weird, we were feeling out of breath but we didn’t have the muscles filled with lactic acid that we would normally associate with such heavy breathing at sea level. That’s my reasoning and I’m sticking to it.

We arrived back at camp to have Juan cooking us a mean Argentinian style barbeque. On the grill was ribs, flank, sausages, blood sausages and other cuts of meat that were cooked to perfection. Being Argentinian, there wasn’t a vegetable or carb anywhere near the grill. Damn that boy can cook! Perfectly cooked beef and fine wine on our last night in Argentina was a pretty sweet way to say goodbye before we headed off to the Altiplano of Bolivia.

We packed up the truck and started heading further and further away from sea level, further and further away from oxygen. We got to the end of Argentina and crossed the border into what was technically Chilean land, but there isn’t actually a migration control for Chile at this particular border. If we wanted to be correct we would have to drive some 100+ kms to get to the border control when we would only be covering 80kms in a straight line by avoiding it. Once we got to the Bolivian border control, we met our guide, Braulio who would be taking us to our refugio for the night. Thank god we had him because there aren’t really any roads where we were going, just dirt tracks next to more dirt, all of it in some desert like terrain.

We got the refugio after 9pm and everyone was starting to suffer the effects of altitude. I had a minor pounding head until I had a nap on the truck and got to the refugio feeling good. Nic had a pounding headache for most of the ride and most of the night at the refugio. Our leader Juan needed oxygen through the night to help him get through his altitude sickness. We hit a high of nearly 5100m during the day and slept that night at 4300m above sea level. All of that wasn’t enough to take the hunger out of our group though. We still set up stoves and cooked a spaghetti dinner and ate that before heading off to bed.

Rested and somewhat acclimatised, we set off in the morning, driving through the dirt roads in our truck until we got bogged and had to get the sand mats and dig ourselves out. Once we extracted ourselves from the bind we were in, we were off to see the pink lagoon (pink because of the algae that grows there) and we also got to see the pink flamingos (they’re pink because they eat the pink algae, it all makes sense now....). We also saw some salt lakes which were a nice precursor to the salt flats to come and had lunch in a massive collection of boulders which rose out of nowhere.

The LCD screen on our Nikon D90 digital SLR camera (the third member of our trip) decided to pack it in after lunch and only show me a black screen after a picture is taken. The first few times I saw the black screen, I had hoped that I was just an idiot and left the lens cap on while snapping a picture. Nope, LCD was as blank as Paris Hilton’s brain. That afternoon saw me throwing curse after curse into the lowly oxygenated atmosphere until one of two things happened. I either came to terms with the death of my LCD screen or I passed out from lack of oxygen. The rest of the camera works fine, it just means that I can’t get to certain functions that can only be accessed by the main menu in the LCD screen and I can’t see pictures right after I take them. This just means a few more shots as I try to get shots with different apertures and settings which I will have to cull down when I load them up on the computer at night. We’ll just have to see how this affects the pictures I take on the rest of this trip because I won’t be able to get it fixed before I get back to Australia.

On that sour note, we finish this blog. In our next post, we head to the salt flats of Uyuni where white is definitely the IN colour and we eat more deliciously awesome pizza (including llama pizza) than humanly possible.
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Kylie on

Great Camera Work! :)
Ariba Ariba!!! :o)

Kylie on

Ok, now that doesn't really make sense...seeing as it means to arrive...but the pics reminded me of Speedy Gonzales :) haha

travellingtans on

Yeah....Colin is loving the photography over here!

Not trying to be a smartarse either.....but, arriba = up, llegar = arrive! Have been picking up a fair bit of spanish these past few months :)

Nic xoxo

Kylie on

Oh really? The translation site I went on must be wrong :( BOO!!

travellingtans on

Yeah..don't trust those sites!!

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