Monday, March 24, 2014

Sajama National Park

Our neighbours told us about this amazing national park that Bolivia shares with Chile. This park is home to wild vicunas, llamas, alpacas, pink flamingos, and holds Bolivia’s highest mountain.  At 21463 ft / 6542 m the mountain looms over flat, barren land with some of the harshest and varying temperatures I have ever experienced.

Sajama Mountain
We began our trip early in the morning and caught a bus going to Arica, Chile. We were dropped off in the middle of nowhere about 15 minutes from the Chilean border. This was apparently the gate to the national park, but there was very little to indicate that this was in fact true. We had decided to hike the rest of the way into Sajama village…a mere 12km couldn’t be that bad, right? Well it wasn’t, until after an hour we could see Sajama village and could continue to see it for the remaining 2 hours that we walked. It was like dangling a carrot in front of a hungry man, but never letting him eat it. Our 3-hour, uphill hike across Isla del Sol was easier than this flat, sandy, taunting walk in severely hot sunlight. I felt like my pants might light on fire.

Paco, at the national park "gate"

People live here

Amelia once again impressed us! I’m beginning to think she really likes adventures! During our breaks she would walk off into the fields, reveling in the freedom and the space that we lack in La Paz…and we just let her. She could have walked all the way to Sajama and we still would have been able to see her, so we weren’t worried.

Our new little buddy "baby alpaca"
Our adobe huts were there to greet these dusty travelers, and we all settled in for a bit of a rest. Do not be mistaken…resting with a toddler does not mean that we sleep. No, rather it means that we attempt to read kids’ books and keep ourselves awake while our child jumps on the bed and wants our undivided attention. After about an hour of this we decided to go outside to defeat the sleep that wanted to overtake us once and for all…it worked. It was like winter outside. I put on all of the clothes I had brought with me. I was still cold. We had killed enough time for supper to be ready and we filled our bellies with llama meat, rice and soup.

Our huts

The next morning we decided to visit the world’s highest forest. These trees are capable of growing at high altitude. They can survive as high as 5300m from what I’ve read. They aren’t like trees we are used to…they are more like a tall bush, have a blood red trunk that is super flaky, and are as hearty as anything. We climbed a decent sized hill on a perfectly straight path without any switchbacks and found ourselves at 4500m. The view was amazing and once again the temperature was hot.

One of the trees from the forest


After bouldering to the top of a ridge, she jumped right off!
That afternoon we hired a guy to drive us out to the hot springs…he dropped us off in the middle of nowhere and pointed us in the general direction of where they were. We wandered for sometime, marveling in the warm waters flowing in the river, the lizards, and the slightly more lush vegetation, and finally found where these hot springs were. It was a picturesque, natural pool fed from a spring further up, with an unobstructed view of Sajama Mountain. The water was warm and soothed our tired bodies…the air around us was cooling off as the sun dipped behind the mountain, so we were glad for the warmth.
At the hot springs

We walked back to Sajama village…about a 6km walk through arid brush, and llama poop. We had a difficult time finding a place to get food when we got back, and wandered around the dark town looking for a place to eat. We ended up at a small shop we had eaten lunch at earlier in the day…her door was closed, but the light was on so we tentatively knocked and she gladly let us in and fed us up.

Our trip home was just as eventful (although, it included much less walking). Our hostel host would not give us breakfast in the morning so we had to make due with the snacks that we had for our 5-hour journey home. We hired someone to drive us to the Chilean border so we could catch a bus heading back to La Paz. When we arrived at the border there were semi-trucks lining both sides of the road (all heading in the same direction, mind you) for about 15km. We waited for a while to see if things would clear up…they didn’t. Our driver couldn’t take us any further so we walked the rest of the way to the border where we quickly found a bus. On the last leg of our trip we came to El Alto, the city just above and attached to La Paz, where they made us get off the bus and wait for another one because they said, “something was wrong with the bus”. This was not the case…rather it has something to do with permissions and certain buses can get through without paying tolls…so after waiting 30 minutes we got on another bus that drove for only about 5 minutes when the driver stopped, came back and told us that this bus didn’t work either and we’d have to wait for another one. So…we waited and got on another bus that thankfully took us the rest of the way to La Paz.

We absolutely loved our time in Sajama! It’s so nice to take breaks from the congestion here in the city and to experience other parts of this wild country. I would strongly encourage you to visit this national park if you come to Bolivia…it was a great experience with Amelia, and I would say that it is doable with kids. One lady in the village told me that people often don’t bring kids there, and this was evident by the stares that Amelia received from the other children that lived there. It’s harsh, and challenging, but totally worth it! 

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