Putre's remoteness is like nothing I have seen in North America. The town is very small and accommodations are very modest in town. Some of them do not have hot water. If you are adventuresome and don't mind basic accommodations, based on mytalking to others, I would recommend making the trip to Lauca National Park in two days. First give your body a chance to acclimate to the high elevation. With the air so dry the nights in Putre are amazing from what folks have told me. The stars are like nothing you could see even in the remote areas of North America according to one resident who has traveled widely.
Chungara Lake is the highest one on the world.
4500 MASL. Surrounded by the twin volcanoes Parinacota and Pomerape (the Payachatas) is a very magic landscape. Exotic birds and fauna makes the full complement of splendorous ensemble.
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Chilean food? Well, nothing to write home about, but Marlene, at Rosamel restaurant, serves a good “cazuela” (or something like that): the usual sopa whit rice or quinoa, vegetables and some meat. You can ask for a vegetarian cazuela; they simply take the piece of meat off before serving the soup. So simple!!
Favorite Dish: Vegetarian cazuela
Unless you are starting in Bolivia, most of the folks that come to Lauca National Park start in the coastal city of Arica. There are two options of getting to Putre and Lauca if you are a virtual tourist; renting a car and taking a tour bus.
Car Rental- There were four and checking with the Internet today I noticed there are now two rental car companies in Arica; Hertz and Klasse. Check rates but with insurance I would expect to pay at least $ 80 for a day. I saw only one gas station in the nearly 100 mile trip up to Lauca so this is not an area you want to run low on gas in. It is advised to carry extra gas in an approved container if you go by car.
Tour Company- A full day tour to Lauca National Park, Lake Chungara with many stops and lunch will run around $ 130 US dollars. One tour company to consider is Geopassage and their website is ; http://www.geopassage.com/Argentina/day_tour/Arica_/Full_Day_Lauca_National_Park_and_Chungara_Lake_Tour.html.
If you leave from Putre there is at least one tour company that offers trips up to the park and back is Aima-Ruta (Phone 56-58-245986), which is managed by natives that are descendants from the area.
One of the most annoying problems I had to face travelling in Chile was my skin getting dry very easily, due to the harsh weather condition. So I bought one of those lovely small box of "crema lechuga", very cheap indeed, but totally useless!! It's made of vaseline and, despite it seems that the cream make your skin soft, it remains very dry. However, the cream has a very pleasant smell ... so, don't forget to buy your box of crema lechuga; almost every tourist I met had one!
What to buy: Crema lechuga!!!
What to pay: very little money
The town of Putre is very isolated. There are virtually no gas stations between Arica, about 95 miles away, and Putre.
While Putre is only 3,500 meters (11,000 feet) walking around town and doing normal activites still can be strenuous. However if you venture north to Chungara National Park the altitude climbs to as high as 15,400 feet. This is higher than any mountain in the continental United States and one of the highest commercial roads in the world.
Considering that many tourists leave places like Arica on the coast on private tours and travel up to places such as Putre or Chungara in a matter of hours there are some severe risks and precautions to be taken. unfortunately, there is no way of telling if anyone is susceptible to high altitude sickness.
What Is High Altitude?
Medical personnel indicate that high altitude is anything over 8,000 feet. Very high altitude is considered to be anything over 12,000 feet.
Our Bodies At High Altitude
As we climb in altitude the barometric pressure decreases (even though the concentration of oxygen remains the same). Every breath at higher altitude contains lesser amounts of oxygen and thus we must breath harder to get oxygen. However even with increased breathing it is impossible to get the same level of oxygen in our blood.
The major cause of high altitude sickness is going to high to quickly. As indicated earlier this is an issue in Chile because many of the tourist companies that serve the coast of Chile rush folks up the mountain from sea level to 15,000 feet in a matter of hours. This does not give the body adequate time to respond. On one of the tours I observed several folks were beginning to show signs of altitude sickness and several more with significant headaches.
How To Prevent Alititude Sickness
On the tour I was on there approach to altitude sickness was to stop at a restaurant at altitude about 10,000 feet and have everyone have cocoa (cocaine) tea or just chew the tea leaves. While this helped I can say that this did nothing to give me a natural high as well.
However Rick Curtis of Princeton University suggests that you can do several things to prevent or limit altitude sickness;
* If possible, don't fly or drive to high altitudes.
* If you do fly or drive, do not over-exert or move higher for the first day.
* If you go above 10,000 feet (3,048 meters), only increase your altitude by 1,000 feet (305 meters) per day and for every 3,000 feet (915 meters) of elevation gained, take a rest day.
* "Climb High and sleep low." This is the maxim used by climbers. You can climb more than 1,000 feet (305 meters) in a day as long as you come back down and sleep at a lower altitude.
* If you begin to show symptoms of moderate altitude illness, don't go higher until symptoms decrease ("Don't go up until symptoms go down").
* If symptoms increase, go down, down, down!
* Keep in mind that different people will acclimatize at different rates. Make sure all of your party is properly acclimatized before going higher.
* Stay properly hydrated. Acclimatization is often accompanied by fluid loss, so you need to drink lots of fluids to remain properly hydrated (at least 3-4 quarts per day). Urine output should be copious and clear.
* Take it easy; don't over-exert yourself when you first get up to altitude. Light activity during the day is better than sleeping because respiration decreases during sleep, exacerbating the symptoms.
* Avoid tobacco and alcohol and other depressant drugs including, barbiturates, tranquilizers, and sleeping pills. These depressants further decrease the respiratory drive during sleep resulting in a worsening of the symptoms.
* Eat a high carbohydrate diet (more than 70% of your calories from carbohydrates) while at altitude.
* The acclimatization process is inhibited by dehydration, over-exertion, and alcohol and other depressant drugs.
One medication that has been found to lessen the symptoms of high altitude sickness is sildenafi
which is more commonly known as viagra! Studies in Germany for example have shown that use of viagra can lessen the possibility of pulmonary edema and even allow you to exercise a little more efficiently at high altitudes.
All and all high altitude sickness is a serious business and take it from my experience in the high Andean mountains of Chile it is best to be prepared in advance of traveling to such high altitudes. And no I did not get ill!
Being the driest desert in the world has brought the Atacama Desert a unique notoriety. Because of the lack of water vapor in the air, infrequent towns, and lack of radio and microwave interference the Atacama has become the world hotbed for many telescopes. Water vapor has a significant affect on the ability to detect distant objects so the lack of it has made parts of the Atacama perhaps the top location on Earth for giant telescopes.
It is not surprising given the fact that when we were traveling in this area the surface appears to resemble either the surface of the Moon or Mars. According to what we learned is that in parts of the Atacama detailed biological studies have found no sign of life for miles.
Recently this area has become a source of world news due to the near completion of work on ALMA which stands for the Atacma Large Millimeter/submillimeter array. ALMA which began as an idea in 1995 grew to a collaboration of the United States, Canada, several European countries and Japan to build the most powerful telescope in the world. When completed ALMA will be an array of 66 radio antennas that will work together as one telescope to study millimetre- and submillimetre-wavelength light from space. Translated into terms for us VT'ers the telescope will allow scientists to gather new information on planet and star formation, existence of new galaxies and how organic material is formed in space. According to one news article the telescope will be so powerful as to be able to locate planets and moons on distant galaxies. The best source for information on this project is http://www.almaobservatory.org/
The photo below is of the Atacama Cosmology Telescope on the slopes of the Cerro Toco Volcano in Northern Chile. It is near the town of Calama, Chile and is several hundred kilometers from Putre. This is a 19 foot telescope that was constructed in 2007. Its purpose is to provide microwave wavelength maps of the sky. It is operated by a consortium of countries and the largest funder is the United States National Science Foundation.
Of course you don't need a telescope or need to visit an observatory to observe the amazing display of stars at night in Putre. There is nowhere in the world I have seen with such clarity the heavens as in the Atacama. The detail in the sky is absolutely amazing.
Located a few miles up the road and about 1000 additional meters in altitude is Luaca National Park. The park is comprised of over 300,000 acres. The most visually stunning sites in the park are Parinacota Volcano and Lake Chungara. In addition, although not shown in my photos is the Guallatire Volcano which is always smoldering.
Parinacota is the most visually striking site in the park. The volcano which is considered, "potentially eruptive," rises to a height of 6,300 meters which is over 20,827 feet. The volcano lies on the border of Bolivia and Chile. According to residents the volcano is considered a relatively easy climb with only snow and gravel fields on the way to the summit.
Lake Chungara rests at an altitude of 4,500 meters on the road to Bolivia. The lake was formed about 8,000 years ago after a major eruption and partial collapse of the Parinacota Volcano. The wildlife on the lake was somewhat limited. While there were several species of birds I could only observe many pink flamingos near the shore.
As a note walking at well over 15,000 feet near Lake Chungara is a struggle. Your brain is constantly fighting for oxygen. Several of the folks around me were suffering from either headaches or showing signs of high altitude sickness. As a caution please descend the road from Chile slowly. Getting to the top quickly can mean big problems later.