Just Us, Wildlife And Five Hundred Lorries

27th Oct 2016

Lorries queuing for 10KmIt is coldThe sun refuses to come out from behind the cloud and it is surprisingly cold all morning. There were even icicles on the roadside and we all kept our fleeces on and hands in pockets when they weren’t working the camers. From our hotel in Putre at 3,200m, the road winds its way up and up climbing to Lauca National Park which is at 4,900m.


VizcachaAfter a while we stop for a short walk which blew away any cobwebs and as yet the altitude was not getting to us too much, just remember to walk slowly. Whilst passing the hunters caves which have been used on and off for the last 9,000 years for shelter, we were distracted by these creatures, vizcachas. There were also vicuña skeletons left from a puma’s supper, but the puma was long gone.


Rio Lauca channelled for milesWe crossed, for the first of many times, the Rio Lauca, which is now mainly diverted into a canal, to provide water for the villages and irrigation at lower altitudes. We are mostly the only vehicle in sight so it was a surprise when we had to wait for two electricity workers to remove a cable lying across the dirt road, they raised it just high enough for us to drive underneath!


Just happy - not the tea!It is amazing that little villages are sporadically placed in such inhospitable terrain. From nowhere we saw Parinacota, a very small village with a few houses, a 17th century church and a small store doubling as an outdoor café. We decide it is time for tea – coca tea which is good for altitude sickness but not quite as addictive as cocaine which also comes from the coca plant. It may explain the larking around though!


Volcano and church towerChurch at Parinacota

Sadly the keys to the church are missing so we cannot see the surrealist murals inside and content ourselves with the tower outside and photo opportunities. Apparently originally only men were allowed up the tower as bad luck befell any woman who entered. I did try to climb up but it was a small staircase and I got even more dusty than I was before.


Vicunas watching us watching themOf course there were numerous stops to photograph the wildlife such as vicuñas, lamas, flamingos and other birds. Sadly the flamingos were too far away but we are assured of more tomorrow. My binoculars which I have been carrying around got a brief outing to study the distant birds.


Surreal Lake CotacaniThe next wow was seeing Lake Cotacotani towered over by cinder cones, quite a contrast to the monotonous brown landscape. It would be very photogenic if the telegraph wires were not there and it took a bit of ingenuity to avoid them (and I do not mean Photoshopping them out!).


Posing at Lake ChungaraThe main attraction of the day was Lake Chungara towered over by Volcàn Parinacota. The lake at an elevation of 4,517m is only 37m at its deepest and can hold 400 million litres of water. We head off for a short walk along the shore enjoying the wildlife and the views. It was only 30 minutes each way but by the time we return to our vehicle  we are feeling the altitude and are ready to rest.


Incredible landscapeJurasi Hot Springs

What we could not avoid on our way to the lake was the enormous queue of stationary lorries parked on the narrow road. We had to pass on the wrong side of the road giving way to the few vehicles coming towards us. Apparently there is an ongoing dispute over pay and the border workers were on strike for three days this week, so only private vehicles and coaches could pass to and from Bolivia. The drivers were in for a long wait and very cold nights at this altitude.


The altitude was getting to Alma and myself, Lea, Dave and Benjamin were fine! It was a quiet drive back down a supposed better altitude of 3,200m and the hot springs of Jurasi just above Putre. Dave, Benjamin and I along with the local military enjoyed a dip in the hot water albeit in the man made pools – we  did not brave the muddy natural pools alongside. We were told that the population of Putre was 2,000 of which 1,500 were military. I cannot imagine spending a significant amount of time in the tiny town at such altitude but that is what these military volunteers do.


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