Oh Mr. Altitude, Why Do You Do This?


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South America » Bolivia » La Paz Department » La Paz
March 6th 2014
Published: March 7th 2014
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Starting last night I began to feel the effects of altitude sickness. It starts with a really bad headache, tiredness, loss of appetite, restless sleeping and in my case, lots of nausea. I felt well enough to head down to dinner in the hotel and had the most wonderful chicken soup and spaghetti Bolognese. I took a couple pictures, but really couldn’t justify putting up yet another chicken soup or spaghetti Bolognese shot. I have a feeling you can come up with an image in your mind. I didn’t sleep well at all, but when it came time to get up, I was too tired. I snooze alarmed for an hour and a half. Then of course came the mad dash to shower, gather my things and head down to meet my tour guide. I was right on time, but missed breakfast and of course the most important meal of the day, coffee. Now, I am being honest when I say that I did not guzzle down the bottles of alcohol from yesterday. I did take them back and used bottled water for brushing my teeth; however, today I felt as if I had been on a full on drinking binge last night. Altitude continues to kick my butt, but we all know I will prevail and beat altitude back into the ozone. I guess the fact that La Paz is the highest national capital in the world may have something to do with this. The airport is the highest international airport in the world at 13,323 feet (4,061 meters). To put things in perspective, most airlines fly around 30,000 feet, so the airport is already almost half way there. The runway has to be extra long to make up for the lack of oxygen. Who knows if I was just imagining it, but it did seem like we took an inordinate amount of time to come to a stop.

Today’s tour was a 4 hour tour of La Paz. It was a bright, sunny day with deep blue skies and lots of fluffy clouds. This was another tour where I was the only person on the tour along with the guide, a very friendly and knowledgeable woman named Sylvia, and the driver. La Paz was still quiet from the previous weekend’s Carnival. Sylvia said that many people were home with hangovers from offering alcohol to Pachimama, Mother Earth. We drove out to Moon Valley, a site that taracloud and I plan to visit later. This was a quick jaunt through to marvel at the desert like landscape. The soil is mostly clay and has been eroded into seemingly carved pillars. I thought that it looked like a glacier that had been cast in clay. The rumor is that Neil Armstrong named this place because he thought it looked like the moon. Being the skeptic that I am, I asked the guide how it received its name, and she laughed and said she heard it was by an astronaut. Well, who knows? Regardless of how it was named, it was an incredible place.

From the Moon Valley we drove to a lookout point where it was very easy to see how La Paz is arranged. On the top is a flat area called El Alto, which is where the airport is located. El Alto is now a separate city, but the residents mostly work in La Paz. Yesterday while riding in from the airport, I noticed gondola style cable cars crossing the street and heading down to La Paz. Today I found out that the President has given 3 lines of the cable cars to help move people around town. The red line that I saw will take people from El Alto down to La Paz in a short period of time versus the long drive down. My first inclination was to see if I could get a ride on one, but they are not open yet. Still it was nice to see. Unlike many places built on hills, the wealthy sections of La Paz are down lower. The views may not be as great, but the weather is nicer. Looking around it is amazing how they have used almost every section of the areas. I will put up some pictures, I know- who would have thought, and hope you can understand some of how the city is arranged. After leaving the viewpoint, we went to a restored street and visited a museum featuring gold artifacts from the era before the Incas. While I am not a big museum person, even I was interested in these pieces. Our final stop was the Witches Market where all sorts of potions, offerings and just about anything you could desire. If I had a need for a llama fetus, I now know where to purchase one.

After touring around for several hours, I was pretty beat, so went back to the hotel for a quick nap and then lunch. You may find this hard to believe, but I chose a Quinoa Tabouleh for lunch. There is just something about quinoa that I love. This one was nice with bits of finely diced tomato, cucumber, and ham. I sat in a little café on the top floor of the hotel, ate, read and enjoyed some down time. I find that I struggle with having down time when I am on vacation. My thought is that I should be on the go and seeing everything I can possibly see, even though I recognize that a vacation often includes sitting, reading, resting. Tonight was given over to that. I did pack my bags for tomorrow’s trip to Copacabana. Hopefully I will feel better and will be back to my normal self.


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La PazLa Paz
La Paz

The World's Highest Capital
Historic StreetHistoric Street
Historic Street

Restored and maintained as it was.
Offering with llama fetusOffering with llama fetus
Offering with llama fetus

The llama is to carry the message to the Gods.


7th March 2014

Better living through chemistry
Time to take some meds so it does not slow you down. Geologically speaking the Valley of the Moon is enchanting. It looks mystical. You do love quinoa!
7th March 2014

No Meds with Me
I will just have to work through this. I am feeling much better, but still have problems eating. Each day is a bit better though. And yes, the Valley of the Moon was great. Unfortunately they are building houses right there. Hopefully they won't destroy the whole valley.
7th March 2014

Ah yes, altitude sickness. Even the seasoned traveller is not immune from it. It hit me in La Paz too, but even worse on a trek in the mountains. Great shots Brendan, and once again your beautiful writing style places your reader there with you.
7th March 2014

Thanks Jackie
I didn't have it too bad last year, but this year, ugh. Thank you for your nice comments. I try to keep my blogs conversational. It's good to have you along.
7th March 2014
Valley of the Moon 2

Vacation Brendan
Great photo
7th March 2014
Valley of the Moon 2

Thank you
Yup, Vacation Brendan is starting to show up now. I am looking forward to seeing more of this country.
7th March 2014

Drug-less
Before I read Merry Jo's comment I did wonder if medication would help altitude sickness. It sounds hideous! But thanks for the tip, I'll have to remember to drug it up when the time comes for our Bolivia trip :)
8th March 2014

It didn't hit me this hard last year
I am feeling much better, but still can't eat. You may want to try some of the prescriptions before you come. I had a bad reaction to it last year, so didn't want to try it again.
7th March 2014

Altitude.
It once knocked me for six in La Paz. I was out for 48 hrs. The lovely lady at the hostel nursed me back...or at least she claims to have. I don't remember much. Copocabana is that bit higher than La Paz. If you still have altitude sickness, all the chemists down there sell cheap meds over the counter for altitude. You can even buy one pill at a time. Failing that do as the locals do and drink coca tea. Or better yet, chew it. It has some surprisingly pleasant side-affects if done right. I particularly recommend sampling it during bus journeys. Ask a local. Get better. And, enjoy!
8th March 2014

Coca Has Been My Friend
Thank you Jason and Jennifer. I'm on the mend now, so am continuing with the coca. Will be happy when I feel all the way back to normal. The good thing is that I have been on the go too much to think about it.
7th March 2014

We are hoping that we won't be too affected by altitude...
as we live at 8500 ft. But altitude is one of the reasons we are going now instead of when we are older. We'll to the cruises then. Anyway, I'm enjoying your experiences in anticipation.
8th March 2014

You should be fine
I didn't realize how high up you live. I think you should be fine. It's good to get some of these trips in while you are younger. I like the cruising idea for later. I hope you are going to visit Sun Island while you are here. Blog will be coming soon.
7th March 2014

Down time on the go
Ha - I can relate to wanting to be out there soaking up as much as possible - but sometimes a lazy day is called for. Hope that's the last of the altitude problems!
8th March 2014

Having a good balance to go and sit
Thanks Jo. I am feeling much better. And honestly after yesterday's hike up and down and up and down Sun Island, I am looking forward to a day of rest today. Will catch up on a few blogs.
7th March 2014

Darn sickness
Hi B, Sorry to hear about your bout with altitude sickness. I have always found by drinking a lot of alcohol I am still sick but at least feel good about the reason. Keep fighting it and have a great trip. Loved the pictures as always.
8th March 2014

You have a good point Ted
Perhaps I should introduce some alcohol into the mix so I can point the finger at it. Glad you are following along.
8th March 2014

The worst!
Altitude sickness is the worst, grab a big bag of coca leaves for some relief :-)
8th March 2014

Too True
You are so right. I have been drinking a lot of the tea and am feeling much better. Thanks for writing.
20th March 2014

amazing
Looks like a beautiful city. Someday i will make it there. I had a problem with altitude in Mexico City my first trip there and its only about 7500 feet above sea level. This would be tough to take in La Paz.
4th May 2014
La Paz

I love going to places like this where you can look out over the area you're exploring :-)
4th May 2014
La Paz

I have to agree Jo
When I am able, I actually zoom in on pictures like this to find where I was, where my hotel is in relation to the city and such.

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