We spent a week in La Paz “camping” in the parking area of the overlander meet up Swiss run Hotel Oberland, but I was going stir crazy. It is not really a campground, it is a lower parking area for rigs with a nice bathroom and a picnic table and grill, but we were packed in like sardines. No green space, and no privacy. It was fun for a few days, but for me it began to feel a bit claustrophobic.
We had originally only meant to stay a few days, but things just kept happening. Friends began arriving, we biked the Death Road, we went site seeing and then I decided to do a two day course of very hard core anti-parasite pills.
The parasite problem started in Peru where almost every overlander we knew had been having some kind of stomach issues. Every local person I talked to (in Peru and Bolivia) including the pharmacists, told me I should do a round of anti-parasite pills. Most people in these countries do them every three to five months if they can afford then. Apparently there are lots of parasites in the water and they are very easy to get, even when showering. The pills just like the package warned, made me super nauseated and they are so hard on your liver you can’t drink for a week (which sucked when we were having huge BBQs and parties every night with all the overlanders at the hotel). However, after two days bed bound I actually started to feel better and my stomach went back to normal, so it was worth a week of forced sobriety and two days in bed.
When I finally got out of bed I was craving open spaces and fresh air, so I talked Sam into driving out into Sajama National Park, Bolivia’s oldest national park, for a few days before we headed to Uyuni to meet up with our Swiss friends to explore the Salar (salt flats).
Sajama is the highest mountain in Bolivia at over 21,500 feet, which also happens to be an ice covered volcano. It is the first in a chain of volcanoes that border Chile making up the Cordillera Occidental, a very impressive site to behold. It is hard to describe what it is like driving through the high altiplano of Bolivia. When you are already at 14,000 feet, looking at a 21,500 foot peak makes it look much smaller than it really is.
It is strange to travel all over a country at these altitudes, you totally lose perspective about where sea level is and how high you are. We had not been under 9000 feet for almost 4 weeks and we were actually totally acclimated to the crazy altitude (until we tried to run….). To me Bolivia is at its best in the high altiplano areas near the mountain ranges. It is devoid of people, the scenery is wild, stark and stunningly unique. It has this feel of infinity to me.
Within the park boundaries there are hot springs and gysers, and we saw a volcano smoking away in the distance. There are a lot of active volcanoes in this part of South America along the border with Chile. We drove to the geysers and the mineral salts, sulfur and algae cause them to look like bubbling pots of rainbow colored witches brew. I thought they were really cool.
I wish we took more pictures here, however, it is hard to capture the beauty of the high altiplano. The wide open spaces and cold, crisp air, were just what I needed after a week in La Paz. We were ready to head to the south west of Bolivia and start the famous south-west circuit.