Raid to Parque Nacional Lauca

When I first arrived to university, back in 1978 with a group of friends we decided to visit Parque Nacional Lauca the next weekend.

Year goes on and we never honor our words, but every time that we met we commited "without fail" go there as soon as the drunk sickness disasapears.:)

Well, we are now at 2000 and with my ole friend Pepe Drago, his brother Alejandro, two girlfriends and a small lady, at last we decided, this time seriously to go the mitical Chungará

And here we are, Pepe filling the gas tank at 7:30 AM en Arica. We only delay 22 years to honor our words, almost nothing

Our first stop was in Tambo de Zapahuira, one of the lodges for the chasquis (menseggers of inca) in the Inca trek . This Tambo (rest place) is nothing too special, unlike of Pukara de Cosapilla located before wich hangs into a big cliff (bellíssimo). We cant go Puquios because road works. Bad luck this time.

To this point the road is very hard, with bends in "V" shape and climbs almost 2000 meters in just 50 kilometers. From this point the rest is far more easy up Putre crossroad. We are now at low altiplano (some 2500 meters above seal level) and landscape is with bald rock hills, some liquens and lots of "cactus candelabro". A sort of "Grand Chaparral" scenario, nothing too impressing really

Zapahuira is the crossroad for many altiplano villages, from there you can reach almost any single viilage in the zone. There are very few houses, mostly cafes. The best and cleanest is "Restaurant Zapahuira" as shown in the picture. It is 10:30AM and we stop a little to get aquainted with heigt.

Almost all of us feel some heigth effect, but some guys are most susceptibles than others. The secret is avoid certain things such as food and phisical effort until you are aquainted.

Temperature is 12 celcius degrees and wheater is wonderfull (odd thing at this season, the usual is hard rain and snow due "invierno boliviano"). We can go on t-shirt without problem

And here we are drinking a "mate de coca" (yes, the same leaf of cocaine plant!). I ask for some leaf apart to chew. Coca leaf is excellent to prevent and treat high sickness and stomach diseases in general.

Tipical symphtoms of height sickness are headaches, nausea and tachicardy. If at this point (2500 mt asl) you began to feel sick, youd better stay a little there and do the same in Putre (3600 mt asl) before you attempt the Lake Chungará aasault

Chew coca leafs is the traditional method to beat the puna (heigth sickness) there are not any particular flavour and after a moment your mounth becomes a little unsensible, your appetite decreases and is good against stomach pain. Is also very advisable dont eat (or eat very few and ligth) and dont drink any gasified beverage (ask my friends about the side effects of inca-cola wich they drink there, hehehe)

11:30 AM we reached to Mirador de Socoroma, from there you can see the village of Socoroma down there. Pepe realized that left his hat in Zapahuira and they go back to recover it. I stay there waiting, and hoping than they dont think in any vicious joke. Landscape is tipical of medium altiplano (some 2800 mt asl) lots of birds and green hills nothing to do with the hill down there, in desert. Sun remains shinning and temperature fluctuated between 11 and 12 Celcius degrees
12:10 AM This time we go directly to Chungará, without enter to Putre, is advisable doing so because you climb with your stomach empty wich is good for soroche (the other name of heigt sickness) there is 12:45AM and we reach Cotacotani (region of small lakes in aimara) we see there the first high altiplano landscape there, small lakes and bofedales, earth is like a spounge there, saturated with water and snow shines great against a blue sky wit clouds. At this point I must addmit that landsacpe turns impressing.

A popular belief comes from pre inca times untill today; certain hills are considered as Gods, with power over the fortune of people, so, in any city on nort of Chile, Peru and Bolivia there are a "Cerro la Cruz" at wich people put a cross at top and celebrates his religious fests, mixing catholic and ethnic beliefs. Temperature lows at 9 degrees but is pleasant because sun shines hard

1:05 PM we reach Chucuyo, a microscopic village with an artesany shop. An domestic llama comes to us but, as soon as she realizes that we will not feed her with cockies (sold by the same shop) changes us for other group of tourists.

Artesany is exactly the same as sold in Arica but cheaper. Jerseys of vijuna wool (nice) costs some USD 5. In Tacna there are the same, even a little bit cheaper. Nothing too worth

1:30 PM, at last we reach to Lago Chungará, who is the highest Lake of the world at 4500 meters above sea level. We are at heigths only comparables with some villages in Tibet or Buthan. In a shinny day as this, the landscape is really impressing Volcán Tacora looks very near and I think that if there are some andinist climbing I would be able to see hinm at naked eye. The place is full of parinas (pink flamingos from altiplane) wich you can meet with no problem, same as enormeous birds fauna, viscachs (altiplane mices) vijunas, llamas and so on. Is a sort of paradise for nature lovers because animals dont fear of men as in other places

For the other hand, there is no touristic facility at all, only a small cabin of parkguards and a few artesan people selling his stuff in earth (expensive)

I do NOT reccomend you that you walk to the Lake edge inmediatly (as my friend in the pic does), this is the most common cause of heigth sickness in tourist. Better rest a good time, and then, very slowly you can go wherever you want (if you dont beleieve me, ask Alejandro just a few moments after this shot, heheheh).

Turning back from Chungará,and after the usual Ahhh! and Ohhh! we entered to Putre. I love this small town from my fist visit there in the eigthies. When I get some money hope to buy a piece of land there to build my spare home, I had traveled a lot but never know places so quiet and wonderfull as such altiplano pueblitos as Putre or Belen.

We lunch at Residencial La Paloma chicken with rice and salad. Definitively not advisable, I still are with Moctezuma effect (dhiarrea) damming for my stupid idea. Moral, much better carry your picnic from a reliable supermarket from Arica, you can eat at Plaza de Armas and nobody tells you nothing, unless you trow garbagge to soil, Putre is a clean place differing of rest of altiplano, with disposable bottles and gargage in soil

Putre is the capitol city of altiplano with some 3000 souls (I think). Is one of the few authentically rural and confortable places of Chile

Temperature low at 6 degrees and sky closes, an electric torment sounds heavy and rain menaces

Here we are at Plaza de Armas with a pair of cops to remember this great day

Police in rural places is specially kind and helpfull with visitors, I must state this because is not the same as in other countries

Turning back, and almost front to Pucara de Cosapilla we stop to see and old friend, the hippie Alexis ,wich lived lots of years in Arica and lives from some 10 years in the gateway to altiplano. He is older and ruggered with his lovely family. If you visit for first time the altiplano, is a MUST visit Alexis, his cuisine is good enough and he can give you lots of information and usefull data. Know Alexis and his family worth tre trip it for himself
Wich I like more is the tortilla, a bread wich works fine for pizzas o whethever. Taste a hot tortilla, just out from the mud oven is a very pleasant experience. We chat some time on news on common friends and then resume our trip back to Arica, where delitious 24 degrees are waiting for us. We reach Arica back at 6:30 PM

¿Worth this trip? I have tripped a lot and am very critical on the real interest of places. In this case, in my opinion, yes, It worth, but in different grade depending on the scope of your interests. For nature lovers, bird watchers and people so this raid may result marvelous. Same as for people interested in inca history or antrophology.

For casual tourists like me, with moderated interest on those issues it also worth enaugh for the sigle one day trip

Another thing is visit the altiplano villages for festing days (patron saints fests). Will tell on that some day

A picture tell as thousand words, so click THERE to see my photograps from Putre and Lauca National Park


See also:

Arica - La Paz, step by step