0 to 14,000 ft

We finally made it into Bolivia on August 2nd.  After spending the night in Lima at the Manhattan Inn Hotel, a charming yet damp place about 5 minutes from the airport where we listened to the roar of turbo jets flying overhead all night (they made up for it with a mean breakfast in the morning of scrambled eggs, bread, coffee, and freshly squeezed orange juice), we shared the hotel shuttle to the airport with some incredibly grumpy British backpackers for whom our poor driver could do nothing right: the bus didn’t have enough space for their absurdly large backpacks, it wasn’t on time, there were too many people, etc etc etc.  Regardless, we made it to the airport and on our flight, finally, to Bolivia.  Leaving the Pacific Ocean behind us, we flew up the Andes Mountains the entire way, flying over Lake Titicaca, the world’s highest navigable lake, which is shared by the two countries, and touching down first at the tiny Santa Cruz airport (and by tiny, I mean they had 4 gates).  The landscape was utterly breathtaking the whole flight.  The Andes are so tall that even though we were flying at normal cruising altitude, it seemed as if we were about to land, the ground was so close.  What is even crazier is that people actually live up that high — you can see small towns carved out of the valleys with access roads winding their way into the distance across the mountains (and if you think that’s crazy, just wait for La Paz).  Luckily for me, the row across the aisle was empty, so I kept jumping up to take pictures out the windows.  After our short layover (and by short, I mean we didn’t even get off the plane), we took off for La Paz.

La Paz.  At almost 14,000 feet above sea level, it is the world’s highest capital city.  Just for comparison purposes: Denver, Colorado is only slightly over 5,000 feet above sea level.  Built into the crater of an ancient volcano (yes, it is inactive…I had to ask too), the city spills out into the highlands surrounded by snow-capped peaks that, from the city, look more like hills.  And at 14,000 feet, altitude sickness is not only possible, but inevitable.  See, most advice you find on the internet for combating altitude sickness says that you’ll feel it between 8,000 and 10,000 feet and then after that, to just hike very slowly.  That’s for backpackers.  We didn’t hike to La Paz, we flew straight there from only slightly above sea level.  In other words, we did not have that 8-10,000 feet to slowly acclimate ourselves.  The altitude hit us hard; it basically punched us in the face.  It’s hard to breathe, it’s hard to see clearly, you feel dizzy, you move slowly not because you choose to, but because you physically can’t move any faster than the slowest stroll.  And it’s not a happy stroll.  You kind of lope through the airport in a half-daze, feeling your heart pound ferociously in your chest and no matter how deeply you breathe, nothing helps.  We had a 4 hour layover that felt like 4 years.  While I had been keeping notes in the other cities, all I could manage to do in La Paz was scribble in my notebook: SO. HARD. TO. FUNCTION.  As we were finally getting on the plane to Cochabamba, a blessed 6,000 feet lower than La Paz, I glanced down at my nailbeds.  They were purple, which didn’t seem like a good thing, even in my dazed state.  Luckily, we were spending the next five days at 8,000 feet asl in Cochabamba, which was just enough to get acclimated to the altitude. NOTE: working on posting the rest of the flight pictures asap!


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