Day Five – Parque Nacional Lauca

Lago Chungara and Volcan Parinacota – the tiny black stump is me! The Bolivian border is 5km to my left.

21h28: Today was interesting. Today Daria, Mathias, (a German couple), and I took the tour offered by Terrace Lodge to Parque Nacional Lauca. 

 But first! Breakfast! The scary Italian hostess had each group’s settings laid out on tables. Anne generously invited to eat with her family, and help celebrate her Dad’s 70th birthday. The moment the hostess noticed my place setting moved from all alone to their table she immediately accosts me, “No no, you sit over there, this is the French group’s table.” I try to explain I’ve been invited to eat breakfast with them, but it degenerates into me firmly saying “No, I am eating here.” This hostess is strange.

Marie-Christian, Christian and Anne after breakfast

Flávio, the hostess’s husband took us out on the tour. Daria assures me he did as good of a job guiding the tour as any Chilean tour guide thus far. 

I started out the tour feeling alright. I had a persistent small head ache, however, that had been present since 17hoo yesterday. Essentially I just felt a tiny bit hung over. The park is approximately a kilometre higher in elevation than Putre, and we could all immediately feel the difference in oxygen concentration while walking or bending over. We puttered around like good tourists though, taking all the obligatory photos. 

Flavio called these Andean Gulls – they’re identical to Franklin’s gulls.
This is the third highest active volcano in the world. The smoke is mostly water, with some sulfur.
Cacti flower towards the north in South America.

A member of the chinchilla family, Viscachas, live amongst the rocks, and sure don’t seem afraid of vehicles getting quite close.
Andean Flickers and their homes.

I cannot remember the name of this plant, however the flowers were used by the Aymara to reduce blood glucose, as a treatment for Diabetes.

The sap of the same plant was used for asthmatic symptoms.
Its made up of hundreds of individual plants, with surprisingly long roots. This part of the plant was already dead, according to Flavio. It dies on the south side, and grows on the north.

This is a trap for catching vicunas, (the wild ancestor of domesticated alpacas). The idea is similar to the buffalo jumps, they’re herded towards the trap from the other side of the hill, and can’t see the trap before it’s too late.

Over the next four hours my headache steadily grew until it began to make me nauseous. [Amber, it felt exactly like the time I casted your horse’s foot.] When the guide measured my SpO2 the first time it was 80%, and he said I should probably get oxygen therapy when we got back to Putre. Thirty minutes later, (when self-preservation over-powered shyness, guilt and shame, and I asked directly for some oxygen, (which he had already admitted he had in the truck)), my SpO2 was at 65%. It took at least three minutes of oxygen therapy for it to break 90%. I stayed on oxygen for five minutes after I broke 90%; while it didn’t get rid of my head ache, it did lessen it enough to allow me to start drinking water again, and it made the shock subside. (The repeated piloerection when I wasn’t cold is what alerted me that I should get help). 

We were only thirty minutes from home at this point, and I passed the rest of the car trip in a slight daze. When we got back to the hotel room I headed to my room, downed Gravol and an ibuprofen, had a brief hot shower and crawled into bed. Two and a half hours later I woke up head ache free! To celebrate Daria, Mathias and I went out for supper:


Sopa! It was delicious, thought I can see it doesnt look like much.
Mate de Coca w sugar – some people use coca leaves to alleviate the symptoms of altitude sickness. i always feel good while drinking the tea,but it doesnt seem to last after I’m done.
After I felt better I also looked up altitude sickness. It helped explain a number of my symptoms, and let me know what I can do about it. More on that another day. 

Suggestions to other Travellers – PN Lauca:

  • Consider waiting in Putre until your headache is gone
  • Consider starting acetazolomide [125mg BID] a day or two before heading to Putre
  • Pick a tour that starts at or before 09h00 and goes straight to Lago Chungara, (the wind picks up and clouds form later in the day, making it less picturesque), and then does the other stops on the way back
  • Make sure the tour guide you pick has oxygen on board
  • Bring ibuprofen, dimenhydrinate, sunglasses, sunscreen, hat, at least 2L of water per person and a few small snacks

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