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Flamingos, Colored Lakes & Three Bottles of Vino at 4500m

BOLIVIA | Friday, 7 December 2007 | Views [937]

Up at the crack of dawn, we spend the day traversing the most interesting landscapes in the altiplano.  From bizarre rock formations jutting up from the earth, to colorful lakes full of flamingoes, it's a new view every few meters and the colors continue to change before our eyes.  We eat lunch at "Laguna Hediando" (Stinky Lake), quite a nice location for a picnic.  The bulk of the day we spend above 4,000m, and we can really feel the impact.  It's not just our head colds keeping us from breathing at this point, but the thin air and decreasing oxygen content that keeps us gasping.  Good thing we're not out trekking around, bracing ourselves in the car is activity enough.  The winds are really strong, and the temperatures cold, even during the day.  
After a full day of driving south through every changing landscapes, we kick it at Laguna Colorado in a "Campamiento" or what looks like a cinderblock rectangle, half finished, jam packed with tourists.  All six of us share one room, which is fine, there's no heat and the temperatures outside are freezing, so hopefully more people in one room will keep in warmer.  There must be a hundred people in our cinderblock rectangle, all with the same idea:  beer, wine, and people all scrunched together will bring warmth.
While we're settling in over nice drinks, our driver has half his body in the engine of the truck.  He's been fidgeting with it the entire trip, and we wonder if it has problems.  He finally finishes up around 10:00 p.m. and we force him to have a drink with us.  You can tell he's one of the more reputable drivers.  He politely refuses several times, keeping his professional demeanor, and differentiating himself from other drivers who drink compulsively and leave their clients in the middle of the altiplano, unable to move the next day.  But we finally get our driver to have just one beer, the man has been working himself to death, is exhausted and filthy, and needs to kick back, and we want to see him enjoy just one.
The Bolivian wine isn't so bad, and it goes down quickly, three bottles to wash down the nasty meal - one we've never quite seen before, its a casserole of diced hot dog, tomato, egg, llama and french fries.  I can't bear to eat more than a couple bites, so my dinner will be liquid - vino.  Our plan is to drink enough wine and beer to make us all pass out, so we could survive the cold night at high altitudes.  No such luck at 4,500m above sea level, it actually has the opposite effect.  I don't sleep even for 30 minutes.  Waking up, unable to get air into my lungs, and afraid to fall asleep, stop breathing and suffocate... all pictures that flash through my mind when I close my eyes and try to get some sleep.  Our wake up call at the chilly dark hour of 4:00 a.m. was brutal for all of us.

Tags: Adventures

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