Braving the Alitudes in Bolivia

Trip Start Aug 26, 2007
1
7
40
Trip End Jan 05, 2008


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Saturday, September 1, 2007

SIDE TRIP TO BOLIVIA
It wasnīt until I arrived in the desert, that I realized how close we were to the Bolivian border. 40 kms was just too close to be and not go, so I drank plenty of coca tea, brought some chocolate for the road and prepared to brave the high altitudes of the country next door!! Bolivia is 2,000 meters higher in altitude than the Atacama desert. To make matters tougher on the body, that climb occurs in less than an hour, which hardly gives your system time to adjust. Maria, whom I had met in Santiago (remember her?) had mentioned that it took her two weeks to get used to the altitude when she was in La Paz. I put that thought aside and got on the bus. 

The border crossing from Chile to Bolivia was like no international border Iīd ever seen. But I guess Iīve really only seen the US borders (both Mexico and Canada) and I suppose not that many people are trying to sneak into Bolivia!! It was literally a one lane road and had a staff of about 3 people. The bus pulled off to the side, as we went through the paperwork and let me tell you about the group of people on this bus. They are absolutely nothing like the people Iīve interacted with in the previous portions of my trip. They were a group of 12 hard core backpackers, the kind Iīve only seen on TV and have NO aspirations of becoming like. They carry larger than life backpacks the size of a well-nourished 10 year old! These bags were enormous and tended to be accompanied by a gallon of water. Meanwhile, I was carrying a light daypack and wearing shimmery berry lip gloss.

As I creamed up my desert dry hands with Berts Bees Aloe and Buttermilk lotion, it struck me that my foray into the backpacking world started and ended with my self-proclaimed semi-backpacker status! No offense, but some of these backpackers looked like they needed another go at the communal showers. Especially the men, which looked unshaven and disheveled and like theyīd stone me if they knew I was claiming to be even a semi-backpacker with my freshly ironed hair and Avene thermal water spritzer!

Another interesting note about this group, is that they were all French. We had to pull out our passports at the immigration checkpoint and I received 12 disapproving glares. What is it with the lack of love from the French to the US? Even though I omitted that detail to Richard, the desert tour guide a few days earlier, I wasnīt going to get in the habit of lying about my home in order to make the French folks feel more comfortable. Get over it already, whatever this beef is.


In less than an hour we climbed to 4,600 meters in altitude and entered the beautiful lagoon land of Bolivia. The road change was dramatic. The second we crossed into Bolivia, the road turned unpaved and extremely bumpy. It seemed like the kind of road you only run into when you get severely lost, not the entry point to a major South American country.

The immigration experience was extremely smooth. Since I was only going for 1/2 day, I didnīt need to complete all the paperwork that the rest of the backpacking folk did, so I was whisked to the office by myself, where I proceeded to crack jokes with the Bolivian immigration officials. Being deprived from human contact on that damn French bus, made me even more social and charming than usual with my new Bolivian buddies!! Suffice it to say, I was thrilled when a 4x4 came to meet me and I learned I would have my own separate tour of the park. The others were on a longer tour and would be going elsewhere first. I was not sad to part from that group.

Edwin, my Lagoon tour guide, introduced himself, handed me a snack and drove our 4x4 across the bumpiest, natural terrains ever. He took me to see the White Lagoon first. It was very pretty. He explained that the whiteness of the Lagoon is due to a chemical compound called Borax, thatīs found in that area. The snowy, white substance could be seen all over the ground. The Green Lagoon was my favorite. Itīs the most serene emerald color youīve ever seen. It almost felt Caribbean like, minus the extremely cold temperatures! We also spotted pink flamingos. I had to do a mini-hike to get to the flamingos. In the past, I would have taken the pictures from the top of the hill and digitally zoomed the camera to death just to end up with pink dots. But in my post-hiking days, it came so natural for me to just start hiking down the small cliff, even though I was by myself (Edwin stayed in the 4x4) and the ground was extremely shaky and unstable. I finished my descent and got my much deserved close-up!

Edwin explained that the Green Lagoon, or Laguna Verde, as itīs called, gets its color from oxygenated copper found in the area. Apparently this type of copper is typically either the red that we are used to seeing or green. At this point, the altitude started to get to me. In a matter of seconds, I felt faint, my head started pounding and I found it hard to breathe. I went back to the car, took some aspirin, and laid my head on the dashboard for a few minutes. That awful sensation didnīt really go away fully, until the drive back to Chile once we started to descend. 2,000 meters lower in altitude later and I felt perfectly fine again! 
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Comments

mamita
mamita on

Best Picture
Hola mi hija,

I loved the spectacular flamingos pictures. You are becoming a professional photo-journalist.

Save the Salar de Uyuni on

Thanks for these nice pictures and travel experiences in the Salar.

Have you heard about the project of extracting lithium from the Salar ? This would destroy this beautiful landscape.

Please share photos and tell how much you care for the Salar on http://salar-de-uyuni.jimdo.com.

Johann

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