Chile: Atacama, 14,000 FASL
When I was a teenager, I learned very early on about blood alcohol saturation. After a few (dozen?) times of lying on the floor, knowing that throwing up would be inevitable, an in fact the only thing that would make me feel any better. Yet, I always tried to hold on and resist all efforts to let it go and calm my stomach enough so that I could sleep. As we all do over the course of our years in college and shortly there after, we revisit this feeling a few more times. Always with the same morning after of lamenting, "never again," and woeful pleas, to whom ever or whatever will listen, pledging reformation and a path less sinful, wasteful or foolish. Unfortunately, experience does not always garuntee the avoidance of the doom of repeating our mistakes. Man, as a species has time and again followed the well worn paths of his ancestors into destruction, though signs and prophecies and fore warnings were observed and taken into account. There have been many who have spoken of pain and suffering from ones own actions. Javier, or as I call him, El Diablo, is the latest of these minor prophets. He came to me, cloaked in a disguise of friendship and service, bearing tastes and delights from a far off island, a world away. The devil called it single malt, but, I know that it was firewater,from 10,000 feet below us.
Rising before dawn, and ascending up to heights of 14,000 FASL, with a hangover, is not a good idea. Though, to be fair, I have had fair warning, and have haughtily rejected the advice of our guide. I stayed up until after midnight, with a Dutch fellow, having Scotch and Dominican cigars. This, is about the absolute worst thing that you can do before going up to see the wonderous geysers of the High planes.
Leaning over, I look down into the boiling waters of the ancient beginnings of life, as our guide explains that only a couple of years ago, a German couple had slipped on the rock and fell in. As the man, a doctor, lay dying after being pulled out by on lookers, he remained conscious long enough to give instructions to the strangers as to who to contact and what to say. The contrast of life and death, being so close in this cold, dusty place, is not lost on me. My head and stomach would not allow it anyways. With each passing moment I am feeling closer and closer to the latter, slipping gradually away from the former.
Our small band has decided they have seen enough of the cold morning geysers, and so after a small breakfast, we head back down, towards a gorge filled with hot springs. I am now taking in oxygen through a small tank, trying to stave off the sickness in my stomach. It is not working. About halfway down, we stop in Machuca, a village of 50 locals, where my guide offers me a tea made from a local plant that helps with altitude sickness. Because of my state, I have quickly forgotten its name, and I look on, green from envy and illness, as my friends eat empenandas that are being made in front of me. The tea is not working.
More oxygen, more deep breaths. My female companions, L & W, have decided that the side of the winding road down is very interesting, and we must stop to take photos at nearly every bend. There are cacti and rocks, and dry stream beds, birds, and rocks, vicuna, and more rocks. We are not driving fast enough. The deep breathing is not working.
Finally, we reach a fork in the road, where we are to turn left to the hot springs. Instead, we get out, switch out trucks and Mahbell, one of our guides, and I rush off back towards town. The others enjoy the rest of the day at the hot springs, bathing and drinking. Mahbell does her very best to have me talk with her and keep my mind from my volatile midsection. We stop at a pharmacy, grab some nausea medication and head to Awasi. I flop down on my bed, closing my eyes, happy to be safe, in my solitude, with the comfort of a bathroom and a soft pillow. Sleep comes swiftly, it is working.