----This story is purely for whimsical muses, to see practical information and the how to page click here----
I zipped out of Arica early on a 7am bus to La Paz, although I would not being going to Bolivia. I hopped off at the boarder station and headed back into Lauca National Park on the Chilean side. I had seen pictures of a fantastical land but ultimately wanted to experience it for myself. Just coming out of a shoulder injury and mild illness I was ready to jump right back into it. Why not start with a backpacking trip above 15,000 feet? Sounds like a reasonable plan to me.
I continued walking further along the south shore of Lago Chungará where Volcán Parinacota’s reflection remained glimmering all the while. This is an incredibly high place as the water level of the lake averages just under 4,500m (15,000ft), the volcano summit reaching 6,348m (20,827ft). Yet still, I continued onwards with laborious breathing. Continue reading...
Eventually my path intersected the road and I caught a ride further down to the CONAF Refugio, with a friendly Chilean trucker. We departed with plans to reconvene in two days time, because as it turns out he would be conveniently driving all the way to Arica and offered me a ride back down.
I rearranged my tentative plans to fit this stroke of luck. I hiked around the lake to the north and then went upwards, gaining a bit more elevation before setting up camp at the base of the volcano. Here I watched the sun set over the distant hills, and felt the icy cold crawl up my sleeves. Adding more layers of clothing, a hat and scarf I watched the stars emerge blotted out by the brilliance of the nearly full moon.
That morning I woke up and emerged to frost on the ground and a blinding sun low on the horizon. I let my eyes adjust over a cup of hot chocolate. After breakfast, I set out down the hill to the west passing along a series of natural bridges through the pools that make up Laguna Cotacotani. Looking back, both the peaks of Parinacota and Pomerape could be seen. Their peaks marking the artificial boarder with Bolivia, but more significantly the apex of a dreamlike world, as this place is vividly hypnagogic; a high volcanic landscape, barren but fertile in strange ways, surreal in its appearance it reminds me of the planetary landscapes I read about in the fictional fantasy books of my youth.
I continued west, knowing I’d eventually hit the road to and from the Parinacota settlement, but as it turned my ad hoc navigation took me right up and into the town, if you can call it that. Only a sun and wind washed church greeted me, I still have not yet figured out why these places exist, but it’s more a curiosity, than any concrete desire to know. So far away from everything, so remote and barren, it still makes no sense to me, but I enjoyed it greatly.
From Parinacota I started walking along the road, but eventually got a ride to the junction with highway 11, and then another back to the Refugio, were I spent my final night at the campground. I woke early to meet my trucker friend, and as promised I got a ride back down to the coast.
This was a really fun, off the beaten path trip. If your are the type of traveler that enjoys this sort of ad-lib backpacking I’d highly recommend a quick drop in either on route to or from La Paz, or just for the fun of it, as it is certainly worth it.