So in Arica, looking for something to do, I found the offices of Raices Andinas (or something like that, maybe the other way round – I don’t have my notes on me) and booked myself on a four day expedition of the local national parks. And this was a fascinating trip indeed, although in the end for some of the wrong reasons. But it was great too and I’d recommend it to anyone.
The tour guide, the tour, and the facilities laid on were great. I have to say that now. We started with a market trip to buy provisions for the journey, before a museum visit to give us some background on the indigenous culture. The one real highlight of this museum was seeing the very oldest mummies in the world, dating back 8000 years. They were tiny, and with the clay plates over the faces, mysterious and eerie.
We then moved on to an eco-tourism facility for lunch – a place called Eco-truly run by Hare Krishnas in the Lluta valley. The food was excellent and it’s a fascinating site. It would even be a nice place to stay for a day or two, making use of the adobe structures. Everything is organic, recycled if possible, and it was a relaxing spot. It did occur to me, when using the ‘eco’ toilet, that what was left could possibly be the source of fertiliser for the vegetables.
And so it continued. We visited villages where tourists are still something of a novelty. So instead of people trying to sell us the usual bobble hats and scarves people actually waved at us as we passed and never asked for money in spite of being obviously very poor. We took lunch at what was clearly just someone’s house with a bench in the yard.
Lauca National Park
The next day dawned sunny and bright, thankfully, as the first day was pure fog all the way. Suddenly sunburn and heat was an issue, and we breakfasted at the entry to Lauca National Park, watching vicuñas chasing off foxes. And so it went. The views there are fantastic – volcanoes rising out of the plain, the worlds highest lakes, and wildlife that’s not too nervous of people so you can get surprisingly close.
We decided to take a 10km hike around said lakes, and that’s when things turned bad. After about 20 minutes of walking ominous rumbles started echoing around the mountains. I suggested we should walk quickly. Heading back wasn’t an option as our van and guide weren’t there. As the lightning drew nearer my heckles rose. We were fairly exposed, and I’ve been too near to big lightning strikes (including perhaps one that hit my house) to want to get too close any more. At one stage we had to cross a plain. I didn’t want to continue at this point, but wandered if sitting out the storm would be a better idea. The hail had eased off and was no longer painful, but still, when I noticed that KaiÂ´s (sp?) long and wet hair was standing on end I just wanted to go and hide under a rock somewhere!
Altitude Sickness or Food Poisoning
Later that evening it was obvious the long, fast walk at 4500m had taken it out of some people. I myself didn’t want to eat my food. And then a couple of hours later it became clear that I’d caught something nasty – perhaps in a previous meal. I’m not one for throwing up much. Even when I was a kid and got hospitalised with salmonella I didn’t throw up much. But this time… oh dear! And then, just as I thought there was no more to throw up, the other ended decided to join in. This pattern continued all night long, every 45 minutes or so, until eventually all that seemed to come out was the water I was trying to drink. In the moments between being awake and asleep I also became convinced that Eduardo, my room-mate, was actually a huge and tattooed black man. I’d stare at him until realizing that the tattoos were just patterns on his blanket.
So, sadly, after a trip to the hospital for salts and pills I had to leave the tour. The next day was going to be a tough one in remote parts and I knew I could easily end up projectile vomiting all over the place. Or worse. I’m now back in Arica and debating my next move. San Pedro de Atacama is really the only big ‘must see’ between here and Santiago, where I’m expected on Thursday.