El Norte Grande–um, *how* high up are we?–Part 2

¡Hola todos!

As promised, here’s the next part of my norte grande adventure! In this post I’ll be talking about my visit to Arica and el Parque Nacional Lauca. Here’s the map again so you can keep up!

The overnight bus we took from Calama reached Arica around 8 in the morning. Because of my adrenaline-filled marathon the day before, I knocked out for the entire 10 hours. Since we were all pretty tired from the activities we did in San Pedro, we decided to relax and explore Arica for the rest of the day. We went out for lunch and then hiked up el Morro de Arica (Morro Hill), which was an important battlefield during the War of the Pacific (1879-1883) and has great views of the city and the Pacific Ocean. I didn’t take a picture of the hill myself, but Google was very obliging:

Morro de Arica behind the main plaza.
My friend Anna and me.

After climbing down we did some more aimless wandering through el centro before returning to our hostel to cook dinner. I began chugging some more mate de coca because I’d be doing some crazy altitude-changing the next day…

Let me rewind a bit. The reason I wanted to visit Arica was to see el Parque Nacional Lauca (Lauca National Park). I knew before our trip started that I wouldn’t be able to see the entire park since we were there for too short a time, but I did want to see el Lago Chungará (Chungará Lake). The distance from Arica to Parque Lauca is about three hours by car/bus. Although the trip can be made in a day, it’s highly recommended to travel halfway and spend the night in Putre before continuing to the park so that you let your body slowly acclimatize to the altitude; traveling from 0-4500 m in a few hours is a definite way to get altitude sickness.

Since I didn’t have the luxury to stay in Putre overnight–we were leaving for Iquique the next day–I decided to take a tour that went to Lago Chungará and back in a day. I reasoned that since I felt no symptoms of altitude sickness at the geysers and I had been drinking mate de coca for a few days I might be okay with the drastic change as long as I was careful. The tour left around 8 in the morning and we made a couple of stops on our way up to the lake to check out some landmarks and let our bodies get used to the change in altitude. The views during the drive were very similar to the ones we saw in San Pedro. Since we were in a small group, I got to know a few other travelers. There was a girl from France who had been in Chile for several months on her way to San Pedro and then to Bolivia; a man who lived in Santiago and was visiting northern Chile; and another girl, also from Santiago, who was on a mission to see all of Chile before visiting other South American countries.

Desert road

The highway we took to get to the lake is also the main road to Bolivia, and we saw many large trucks carrying cargo to and from the border. Before the War of the Pacific, Bolivia’s territory extended to the Pacific Ocean. It was after it (and Peru) lost the war to Chile that it lost that land, and now it must go through Chile to reach the sea. Because the road was narrow in several places–only wide enough for one lane–and there was construction going on, we had to stop every few miles and wait until the workers told us it was safe to continue; at one point we waited nearly 30 minutes to cross a stretch of road a few meters long. I didn’t mind too much though, since we had some friendly visitors come say hi:

This guy knows that Bolivian truck drivers always carry food and are always willing to share :)
I fed him an apple!

We finally reached the lake around two in the afternoon. It was magnificent. One of the best parts was that there was almost nobody there! At this point I was feeling totally fine, though I couldn’t walk too fast without running short of breath. The official altitude of the lake is 4500 m (14763.8 ft) though our guide said that the measurement was taken incorrectly and that we were actually 4700 m (15419.9 feet) above sea level. There was an elderly man who owned a small snack shack near the lake and he offered me some chachacoma. It’s a plant/herb that works like coca leaves to help prevent altitude sickness. But instead of chewing it or making tea out of it like you would with coca leaves, you take dry chachacoma, crush it in your palms, and then inhale the scent. I loved the way it smelled right from the beginning, but a lot of people don’t like it at all.

Chachacoma is on the left; a coca leaf is on the right!

Anyways, enough talk. Look at some pictures!

Lago Chungará with volcán Parinacota in the background

Volcán Parinacota in the background

After walking along the lake, it was time to head back down. Before we got to Arica, we stopped for lunch in Putre. This is traditionally where travelers stay when touring Parque Lauca. It’s a small, picturesque town nestled in the hills, and I liked it a lot. We had a chance to walk around and my favorite area was the main plaza. It seemed like such a fun place to hang out! There was a table tennis table set up as well as a few foosball tables each with a group of small children taking part in what looked like a tournament, a playground, and lots of benches.

First view of Putre.
Putre’s plaza
Intense tournament
Kids playing foosball!
View of the hills

By the time we left Putre, we were all asleep. It took us a couple of hours to reach Arica again and I got back to the hostel just in time for dinner. Despite doing a lot of intense car-riding (lol) and altitude-changing, I wasn’t very tired. After cooking another delicious meal we spent our last night in Arica playing some fun card games. OH. I almost forgot to tell you guys about the navegado. How could I forget the navegado?!

So navegado is basically mulled wine. We had some a while back in Valparaíso and since we loved it so much we (and by we it was really Anna who did all the work; the rest of us just drank it haha) decided to make it ourselves. While we were at the grocery store Anna asked some random people if they knew how to make it (we were told to throw red wine, oranges, cinnamon, cloves, and sugar in a pot and let it boil. Super easy, right?) and after getting all the ingredients she gave it a go. We were surprised when it turned out so well (just don’t ask me how much sugar we added…)! I don’t have pictures of it, but I’m definitely going to be making it the next chance I get, so you’ll see it soon!

Well, this is where my Arica story ends…stay tuned for the next (and final!) part of my desert adventure! :)

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