We blow into a village, not much different from any of the other villages. Car turns off the main four wheel drive track and there is a non descript building ahead. The driver says ‘hotel’ and we pile out onto a dusty parking lot. The wood door we enter through could be hung on any of the adobe houses in town. The lobby is the first indication we are in a special building. This place is really nice. In fact it is beyond nice. Our hotel for the night has decor to match any boutique hotel in any city in the world. The rooms are furnished funky stuff that give it real character. Wow, who woulda thought. And this happens over and over.
We were warned that in the spring and fall and anytime really, on the altiplano, it can be very hot in the day and really cold at night. We came prepared for this each bringing long underwear tops and bottoms as PJ’s. The hotels did have heat we could access but the thing is they have these amazingly heavy, amazingly warm wool blankets. I do not know how anyone could be cold under covers such as these.
The days are sunny and the sun is hot but there is this icy wind that blows through. So even though you think you should be hot it is quite cool. The ladies for the most part are wearing puffy jackets even with the noon day sun over head. Something I was not quite prepared for is the dust. We stomp it up when we walk, it blows up with the wind, we sit in it and it seeps in all the cracks and crannys of the car when we drive on the road. A shower is in order before dinner every day.
The altitude is silly. When we left Santa Cruz we were at 416M. Nothing to fret about. A couple of days later we are in Sucre at about 2800M. Another couple of days and we arrived at Potosi, 4090M. We then dropped to 3650M in Uyuni. After that we went higher and higher until today we topped 5000M for a part of the drive to Chile. Last night we again slept at over 4000M in a small village of Villa Mar. It was last night the elevation finally got to a couple of troop. N and T both had headaches at supper so Liz treated them with 15 minutes of oxygen. A didn’t have a very good night and received oxygen in the morning. The thing about altitude sickness is there is no way to determine who will be affected and when it will be a bother. Fortunately O2 is available all over the altiplano and our guide just happened to have a couple of bottles with us. A few breaths of oxygen can do wonders! Once we crossed the border into Chile, the road went down, a long way down, 2000M lower then we had travelled today and that drop seemed to alleviate the problems for our friends.
Our journey is planned to take in a sight or two on the way to San Pedro de Atacama. The most spectacular today is the Laguna Verde, (Green Lagoon), and man is it green. There is arsenic in the minerals in the lake and when the wind stirs up the chemicals they display the most vivid green color. In contrast to the cloudless blue sky it is a jaw dropping sight.
The mountains here are somewhat different than the Rockies of western Canada. The mountains at home are not nearly as high in meters above sea level but may be as tall from the base to the tip. The big difference is the ruggedness. The mountains in BC and Alberta are jagged, sharp edged and mostly rock faced. Here they are much softer. The features are rounded and even though the tops are above treeline there seems to plant growth to the top. These are no less impressive just different.
This country is full of contradictions and suprises. Every day, every hour we experience something new and different.