Life. People. Journey.
Some virtues of my life. Places that I traveled though, feelings that I lived through, people that I met and colors that I saw.

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Between 4 and 5 thousand meters of attitude

24th of April 2009

Location: Bangkok
Music: tuk-tuks outside my window
Mood: heat...laziness...

Cold world. Life between four and five thousand meters on Bolivian Altiplano. This is the second part of my notes about the Altiplano journey. The first one is available here.

Viterpedia: The highest point of the world is Everest with its around 8 thousand meters. Most of the readers of this diary are located at the altitude of one thousand meters maximum. Mountain decease is the one that appears on high altitudes because of lack of oxygen. It starts at around 3000+ meters.

After the night out at my Indian friend’s, Juan, place we went further South in the early morning. Later I realized that night was the last one I had in a relative comfort and warmness. Gradually we ascended while terrain was changing hourly. We passed small lakes with different plantations around them in the beginning. Then the landscape changed to white stone desert… Even further red cliffs similar to the Arizona and Texas ones appeared.

We sometimes passed through tiny godforsaken Indian settlements and broke their peaceful lives. People of one of the settlements told us there was no road since it was all filled with the mountain rocks from after the rain.


We attempted to bypass the mountain and faced a decent river. Juan simply accelerated as much as the vehicle could and entered the river… Our 4x4 splashed tons of water and then we easily went by the riverbed. That made me happy because it was much better than tear the tires on sharp rocks. That was the first time I was riding an off-road vehicle on a river and checked out all its qualities! I made a decision to by a Wrangler for myself :)

We went further and got the altitude of 4 thousand meters… It became unbelievably cold… In the beginning we frequently stopped and I took a couple pictures. However now nothing could force me to leave the car for any pictures… The wind was blowing from the mountains and throwing dozens of sand… That sand scratched my face like sandpaper. It even hit me in my eyes and nose… I felt the mountain decease. It burned my skin in Salar so much that it was dropping from my face patch by patch… So it was very painful when the sand hit my face… My clothes were impregnated with salt so they did not bend but broke on me… There was no such a place to wash out the salt burning the whole my body... I had two white circles on my eyes because of shades… I literally was a Rommel desert fox :)

At one moment of our trip we tried to conquer a regular crest but our off-road stalled. I looked at Juan’s face and it didn’t make me happy… He left the car and started to mess about the hood area… One hour passed… Perspective of spending unknown amount of time in the desert scared me… Then Juan asked me to give him Coke bottle and dived under the hood again. I don’t know what he did (probably used ancient Indian magic) but we finally started the engine and continued our journey…

We made stops at the places of Juan’s friends and relatives. Usually those houses were like barns without electricity and any kind of heat. The only heat source is your own body. You have to take cover with 4 wool blankets in order to keep the heat.

Juan knew the lagoon where flamingoes lived. I had wanted to see them for ages since I was at Caya-Coco in Cuba. Unfortunately, they weren’t there.

We came to the flamingo lagoon but they weren’t there :( Juan knew one more flamingo place. So we visited 4 such places and didn’t see any flamingoes. Finally we went to place Juan swore to be with flamingoes.

One point that Juan added was the fact we could not ride there since we had to climb the mountain. I thought for a while and the picture of pink flamingoes made my mind. That’s like in the song “Pink Flamingoes”! I want! I foretaste the pictures!!!


So I spent one hour walking one kilometer in my flip-flops under the freezing wind. I found the pictures to be difficult to take. However, I believed they worth suffering.

One kilometer later I thought that I probably had made not the very best decision.

One kilometer later half of the trip was made. I started to blame everybody and everything on all the languages I knew. I named myself as a dumbass for leaving the blanket in the car, and it was too late to go back for it.

One kilometer later I started to descend from the mountain to the lake. Couple times I stepped cold water on the level of my ankle. The wind burned the whole my face and ears so I enfolded my head trying to cover my ears. Any time I said word “flamingo” was preceded with “fucking”.

Here they are… fucking flamingo! Damned! :)

As soon as sun went beyond the mountains the temperature sharply fell down and the wind increased. We made a stop at the place of Juan’s friends. I was sleeping in some kind of hut. There were two-level beds there. I remembered physics class from my high school and took the second level bed since the warm air always goes up. Oh, what a dumb ass how silly I was! I didn’t take into consideration the fact that the bed was next to the window!

They do all the activity during the daylight in the mountains. Indians go to bed as soon as the sun goes down because a) there’s no electricity, and the only light source are paraffin lighters; b) it’s too cold :)

I took cover with 4 blankets made of lama wool. Needless to say, I was wearing all the clothes I had in order to save the heat… However, they called me to join for dinner… I was really hungry since the only food I had were Snickers…
It was tough to make a decision: whether to leave the bed and dive into deep cold, or reject the dinner opportunity… Well, hunger took its win :)

So I entered a room Indian called comedor, which was a barn with a long wooden table. There was a big pan on the center of the table, and there was something boiling in it… I took a spoon and tried the liquid substance from the pan. That made me really sad because I understood I wouldn’t kill my hunger… since I couldn’t eat that… I took some hot tea. The hot liquid simultaneously filled my stomach, and I became happier :) They also gave me some coca. So I simply chewed the leaves of coca because of my hunger :)

I climbed my bed as soon as I returned to the dormitory… I tried to fall asleep… That was kinda difficult because of the hunger and cold. The roof made of tin was shaking and buzzing so hard that it seemed the whole hut would be fucking demolished! The wind was blowing super strong… I took my backpacks and attempted to construct some kind of fence at the window to limit the cold air flows… It was almost impossible to move under the heavy blankets… My toes started to freeze… I had already sworn for 300 times I would never go to the mountains…

Then my whole body was freezing, not only the toes… I clearly understood I had to do something otherwise I would die… I took my laptop and turned it on… I waited for a while and then put it on my stomach under the blankets… My body felt heat… HEAT!!! I gave it the hug I had never given to any lady in my life. I tried to catch each Joule of heat! I guess, tI had nothing more darling than that piece of plastic in the whole world…

Juan awakened me in the early morning saying we had to go… There still was no sun… Juan acted strange. Seemed like he and his amigos drew their heat from pisco…

Our further way was going via the valley of thermal sources… That was a mountain with the holes for hot steam blowing with poles up in the air… Juan offered to take a bath in one of them since the temperature was 30 Celsius degrees there… However, I imagined myself being wet in the middle of deep cold, and that actually made me nervous… Yeah, I didn’t go to the water…

I was also freaking out for Juan’s drunk driving among all the holes with hot steam. I particularly freaked out after my amigo told the story that recently the surface under some travelers fell down and they went deep into incandescent abyss… Hopefully, Juan was an experienced guy so we got lucky.

Then we conquered the 5000 meters altitude. There was also Salvador Dali desert with bizarre colors… I believed the first Mars astronaut would see something similar… The desert was followed with the Great Atacama – the driest place on the planet… The next place was the frontier of the 3 countries: Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina.

Coca-Cola is Indian national drink. They use it as a gift to other Indians or as a medium of exchange for other stuff needed in journeys.

This is the Indian squaw whom I traveled 8 hours with in the trunk of an off-road on my way back.

I said goodbye to Juan when we got the border of Atacama. I continued my way myself planning to reach the middle of that desert..

Part three: Frontera adventures.

Views: 14669

Nadi, Moscow
Everything is possible here !

carolina, Moscow
very exciting story! great pictures! thanks a lot! You really are a good traveler!