09 November 2008

The day before Obama Day and I'm sick as a dog

03- 05 November 2008

Image: This is one of two Andean fox (Lycalopex culpaeus) or culpeos that lived on either side of the Aduanas (immigration) building on the Bolivian side of the Chile-Bolivia border. These animals have been habituated and are always looking for a hand out. This little guy approached me and was about five meters away when I took this shot.

After spending two days acclimatizing in San Pedro (at 8000ft), it was time to go even higher. On 03 November, we left for Laguna Verde National Park in southern Bolivia. This reserve is situated on the Altiplano and is at 14,000ft.

Image: We stopped briefly for a photo opp about 30 miles from the Bolivian border. This is the sacred mountain, Lincanbur, in the background. This is one of the 19,000ft volcanoes we will be climbing during this expedition.

Well, I don’t know exactly what happened to me, but I got really sick. It may have been the poorly washed raw carrots that I ate en route to Laguna Verde National Park, or it may have been something else. Whatever it was it resulted in projectile vomiting and diarrhea at 0200hr in the morning. Admittedly, I have a bad time with food poisoning. It turns me into a winy five year old boy with a tummy ache. I’ve been beaten up by caves, I’ve competed in tortuous endurance races, but food poisoning has always been a weakness for me. This is something that I need to work on, but I’m not looking to get sick just so I can “man up” when it comes to throwing up.

Image: A small mixed flock of Andean (Phoenicopterus andinus) and Chilean (Phoenicopterus chilensis) flamingos feeding on Laguna Blanca, Bolivia. Andean and Chilean flamingos have black and dark pink tail feathers, respectively. Andean flamingos are listed as "Vulnerable" on the The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

On 04 November, we were scheduled to go to Uynie. The closest town in the Altiplano. This involves an eight hour drive across rugged dirt roads. The expedition doc decided that I was to remain at the reserve. I was glad because I felt horrible. However, because the purpose of this little outing was to obtain our tourist visas, so we could remain in country, they took my passport, and this is where it gets interesting…

Well, I slowly recovered from my bout with food poisoning. I’m not a 14,000ft elevation and the body tends to recover much more slowly from an illness when at high elevation and low oxygen. As I was getting over the food poisoning, a gnarly cough set in. Due to the high elevation, my cough was dramatically exacerbated.

Image: Employee bunk house, Laguna Verde National Park.

As it turns out, the team is delayed by a day in Uynie, and I remain at the reserve. My cough gets progressively worse. When I move around too much, I cough so much I can hardly breath. Two of our Bolivian teammates were observing me, and told me that I had altitude illness. I didn’t think that I did. After all, I live at 7000ft elevation, and compete in races at well over 10,000ft. However, I figured the Bolivians were very familiar with altitude issues and if they said I had altitude problems, then maybe they were right.

So, I called Global Rescue, and they wanted to evac me back to San Pedro. They indicated they often err on the side of caution, and given what I told them, I needed to get to a lower elevation. Only one problem…I have to cross the Bolivian border and enter Chile, but I don’t have a passport. So, I was stuck.

Image: Another view with flamingos foraging, Laguna Verde National Park, Bolivia.

Global Rescue suggested that I find someone to sleep in the same room as me to watch over me and make sure I didn’t get worse. There was a touring cyclist from Poland named Peter. He agreed to sleep in the same room as me and make sure I was okay. I slept through the night, and made it to the morning.

The next evening, the team arrived back from Uynie and the expedition doc sent me back to San Pedro – with passport in hand. I spent the next five days in San Pedro, and I stayed in bed mostly because I was trying to heal myself as quickly as possible.

Image: The view looking out the guest house, Laguna Verde National Park.

Gearing up for the 2008 NASA/ SETI High Lakes Expedition

29 October - 01 November 2008

Blogger's Note: I have been incredibly slack in getting all my blogs posted over the past two months. My apologies to my one fan, my Mom, who keeps up with my blogs. Sorry Mom!

The team loading up the bus and truck. We're getting ready for our departure to San Pedro de Atacama.

Gosh, it seems I never left here. It's been a little over two months since I was here. The first couple of days back in Chile was uneventful. As is tradition with the High Lakes project, we fly into Antofagasta. Our first day is a down day; this is a much needed day. It allows us to recover from the long flight. Day two involves going to the grocery store and purchasing comfort foods – nothing glamorous, but food is an essential part of any expedition. Then, we pack, boxed up all the food and the remaining gear and prepare ourselves for departure to San Pedro.

Image: Waiting to depart for San Pedro. Credit: Cristian Tambley.

San Pedro is our home for the cave detection work. So, I know this town well. It is always nice to return to SP.

The San Pedro stop is rather important for most of the expedition team members. Two days at 8000ft starts the acclimatization process, and prepares us for the higher elevation work that we will ultimately do. Living in Flagstaff, and training at altitude, I should be able to adapt to high elevation working and living. We shall see.

Image: Group photo at the Tropic of Capricorn.

En route to San Pedro, we made a couple of stops that I was unfamiliar with. We stopped at an old mining town along the highway. This mining town was likely a boom town during the turn of the century. They were mining nitrates in the area, and the town suffered the same boon to bust fate that most old towns in the American Southwest have suffered. Today, all that remains are numerous adobe structures and all the artifacts one may expect to find in association with an old mining town.

Image: A crypt that was broken into. Unfortunately, the remains have been heavily disturbed. In many cases, the skulls were stolen.

The cemetery leaves some tell-tail signs of this town’s demise as well. We encountered numerous headstones with the dates 1933-1935. There may have been some sort of epidemic that went through the town. Perhaps this epidemic ushered in the demise of this once bustling mining town. Along the back wall of the cemetery, there were numerous mausoleums that had been disturbed and looted by grave robbers. There were numerous burials completely exposed. Most disheartening was that many of the skulls had been removed. We saw many of the flower arrangements that were interred with these departed souls. We even saw their clothes that they were wearing. In most cases, we could actually see the bodies in various stages of mummification. I took a few pictures of this, but chose to do it tastefully. These are the remains of someone’s loved ones and should be respected; however, now mother nature is continuing her work to return these individuals to dust and dirt.

Image: We also saw this lone and rather desert-worn vicuña (Vicugna vicugna) was observed about 30 miles from San Pedro.

For more information about this expedition, you may go to the NASA/SETI High Lakes 2008 website.