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Published: April 3rd 2010
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Sleeping GiantSleeping GiantSleeping Giant

Parinacota rises from and towers over the southern Altiplano
The chill on the overnight trip across the Altiplano from Uyuni had been intense. Wearing all my clothing and wrapped inside a sleeping bag I still found myself shivering. The gods must have decided I had done something wrong and were punishing me. Could I not just say three Hail Marys and be done with it? We arrived in Oruro at 3 o'clock in the morning. I fielded a couple of questions to the people in the bus station and I resigned myself to braving the ferocious cold of the unheated building and boarding the first bus towards the boarder to explore Bolivia's Sajama and Chile's Lauca national parks. Steve, whom I had met in the Amazon months earlier, dispelled my initial belief that they were over hyped and overpriced.

Sitting in the unheated building, waiting for a ticket window to open, my mind was made up. No more cold! I would skip Sajama as I had yet to come across a heater in a Bolivian budget room and would take my chances that it may be warmer and comfier, albeit pricier, in the lower elevated town of Putre on the Chilean side. A little bargaining, a bus and taxi
With Water Comes LifeWith Water Comes LifeWith Water Comes Life

Lichens and mosses thrive around this ice melt-fed stream
journey north with the ticket salesman in attendance and we ended up in a cafe in a dusty village in the middle of nowhere. Except this middle of nowhere turned out to be where the Sucre - Arica road crosses the Oruro - La Paz road and half an hour later I found myself on a luxury cama bus heading west.

A boring brown hue surrounded us until blobs of white materialized in the distance. As we came closer, gigantic cone shaped, snow sprinkled mountains took shape. Volcanoes that looked like they were from another planet. Majestic and dormant. Mesmerizing and calming. Sajama, Parinacota, Pomerape. The altimeter on my watch recorded us rising to 4.452 metres but the volcanoes still towered two kilometres above us. Steve was right, there is no place like this on Earth.

Surprisingly, the bus did not go to Putre, but instead dropped me off at the junction three or four kilometres out of town. With no traffic in sight and a deadly chill creeping into my bones, I began walking. Up and down and round the bends. A brilliant clear night illuminated by the greatest number of stars I may ever witness with
Take Me To the MoonTake Me To the MoonTake Me To the Moon

Discard the riverr and the gravity and you might as well imagine yourself walking on another planet
the naked eye. Thirty minutes later my enthusiasm was still high when a pick-up truck passed my way and the driver beckoned me to hop in.

What are you doing here?
A tourist?
Thank you for coming, welcome to Chile.


Could it get any better?

That night I feasted on an alpaca steak, went through a bottle of rum to keep from shivering and revelled in the sightseeing to come. When I awoke, I realized the town was rather empty. Such a draw card at their doorstep and hardly a traveller in sight. Still, some trickled in and within a couple of days there were a total of eight of us, ready to see Lauca National Park. Oddly enough, all but me were French. With soroche (altitude sickness) crippling the macho-looking guy from one of the groups, it was down to four of us to rent a van with a driver. A professional tour with a knowledgeable guide...this certainly wasn't Bolivia any more. Driving, walking, eating, talking but always with our eyes glued to our surroundings. Alpacas, vicuñas, viscachas and a single llama. The wildlife at this altitude was certainly more than we had expected. Nonetheless, it
A Single Flower Does Not Bring SpringA Single Flower Does Not Bring SpringA Single Flower Does Not Bring Spring

And besides, it was Autumn, so don't ask me why this was blooming
came in second to the towering sister volcanoes of Parinacota and Pomerape. A myriad of reflections in the lagoons fed by their snow-melt. An album of pictures taken of their looming presence. Memories that will last a life time and a place that will stay dear in my heart.




Additional photos below
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Petrified and AncientPetrified and Ancient
Petrified and Ancient

Cold, dry air led to the mummufication of this duck after it passed away
Alpaca DeluxeAlpaca Deluxe
Alpaca Deluxe

One of my favourite things about Chile (and there are many) - they know how to prepare meat
Spot the VicunaSpot the Vicuna
Spot the Vicuna

A duo of these little critters graze away as we snap shots from the van
Grazed AwayGrazed Away
Grazed Away

Little grows at this altitude, but what there is serves to feed the alpacas and vicunas
The EndThe End
The End

Picked clean by the foxes and vultures, an alpaca skeleton frames an amazing backdrop


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