Still in the rainy season (climbing snowy mountains highly improbable), we drove west to the Sajama National Park on the border of Bolivia and Chile. Sajama mountain is the tallest peak in Bolivia and stands alone, majestically towering over the high, severe altiplano. Climbing Sajama is closed until April. As we entered the park, we saw a large flock of pink flamingos wading and napping in a shallow lake. The wild life in the national park is protected, unlike most of Bolivia... maybe we will get to see some cool animals here?! Pink flamingos at 14,000 feet is a good start.
We drove into the town of Sajama, the central point of civilization in the park. We asked for directions to the geysers; the park is full of points of volcanic activity. We set off, excited to see some boiling mud pits and shooting geysers. The directions were wrong. We drove well out of town and well past the road to the geysers. Instead, we drove to the parking area for hot springs in the area. As we grabbed out bathing suits and got ready for the walk to the springs, the skys darkened and it started to hail. Not thinking too much of it, we also grabbed out ponchos and set off walking toward, what we thought, was the general direction of the hot springs.
We followed an obvious path to a river and could not see a way across, let alone a continuing path on the other side. We walked up the river and eventually found a way to jump across. We could see a steaming little creak burrowed deep into the grassy plain and when we felt its water, it was warm. Think this must lead to the hotspring, we followed the creak. Soon we encountered branching creaks in all directions and all steaming hot water. The hail was pounding down onto us, and covering the misty ground in a plaster of white pellets. Each time we saw a big vapor cloud, we thought it must be the pool. But when we got there, it was just a shallow, narrow ditch with hot water flowing through. This can’t be it? Maybe you could lay down in it and get mostly wet… where is a pool?!
Off in the distance to out left was a building. We decided to walk toward it in hopes of asking someone where to go. At the building was a large, wide pool! The spring! In a roofless room, with hail pounding down on us, we shiveringly changed into out bathing suits while using our ponchos to deflect the stinging onslaught from the sky. Despite the numbing barefoot walk to the pool, we slipped into the hot water and felt as warm and relaxed as marmots snuggling up in their winter den. The hail eventually stopped and we walked back, wet, warm, and comfortable.
We spent the night in the town of Sajama, and woke in the morning to an amazing clear-sky view of Sajama and the other mighty volcanoes to the west. This time we got good directions to the geysers, and drove up the valley between Mt. Pomerape and the smaller mountain to its north, in search. They were beautiful, but not the spouting rockets we had been lead to believe. Unfortunately, no bubbling mud pits, but happily many Technicolor bubbling water pits! After inhaling sulfur fumes for a while, we continued up the valley toward the nice looking smaller mountain to Pomerapes’ north. On the way, we spotted an Andean Fox sneaking its way through the grasses. Cool!!
At the end of the valley, we hiked up to a waterfall for lunch, then continued to a sheppard’s hut next to a small Inca ruins. We decided to climb the small snowy peak watching over this little ruins and valley. We walked back to the car to get out stuff and make camp. When we got there, the afternoon hail began again. We sat in the car for 3 hours waiting out the storm. Listening to homer’s The Iliad on the ipod, we snacked and watched the pounding hail and rain hit the windows. During a short break in the storm, we ran out an pitched our tent; then at another break we cooked and ate dinner.
We set our alarms for an early start on the mountain, and went to sleep. Next we knew, it was getting light outside… what time is it? Oh no! We slep through our alarms… it is too late to start this climb! We felt foolish and frustrated. Watched over by a keen eyed sage condor, we took a short hike to a cave then drove out toward the town. On the way, we came across an ostrich (!) crossing the road… why did the ostrich cross the road?
Because I found blood in my poop that morning, we decided to leave the park and head back to La Paz to find a doctor. (Don’t worry, it turned out not to be a big deal… just a result of the antibiotics I took to deal with the awful bug I got in La Paz)