Going Through the Mangle

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Why do this to yourself? This isn’t a holiday this is an assault on the body.
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I had no idea when we booked this trip quite what we were letting ourselves in for, it all seems so exciting and organised when you look at it on a computer screen, there’s no diahorea, no nausea, no itchy mosquito bites, no altitude sickness….
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No one actually warns you about altitude sickness, it is totally debilitating, it comes in varying degrees and has nothing to do with age or fitness. You step off the plane at 4000m altitude- which in itself is a stupid thing to do, the advice is to go somewhere halfway up first and spend a few days acclimatising then go up 500m each couple of days, however I think this advice is meant for mountain climbers and not people visiting Bolivia and Peru. We had two days in Salta at 1200m then direct to 4000m as you have to fly to La Paz in Bolivia as there isn’t anywhere in between.
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We step off the plane onto a carpeted walkway, normally when you disembark there is this mad rush to see who can get to passport control first, not here however, it is more like moonwalking, everything’s in slow motion, people trying to take it very slowly, signs on the wall telling you what to do if you vomit or get a fever. We are met and taken to the Hotel Europa and we feel fine.
I wake up the next morning and my head is spinning, I can’t walk in a straight line, I have a bad headache and need the loo. Is this a hangover? Did we have a skin full the night before? We have our first taste of altitude sickness, Liam hasn’t slept well at all and I have the squits- sorry but this bit is important.
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After a shower we feel slightly more with it and head out for our guided tour of La Paz and all the artefacts, museums, politics and whatnot of day to day Bolivian life. Ximena is our guide and is a little hyper, she laughs continuously and can’t speak English. Rodrigo is our driver, a small to medium man well packaged into some tight jeans who can speak a little English. The first thing you realise is that the Bolivians are genuinely nice people, they seem more personable than the Argentinians, we explain to Ximema and Rodrigo that we are both feeling altitude sickness and Rodrigo whips out an ‘Oxishot’ which is basically an aerosol full of oxygen, the lid turns into a face mask and blows oxygen at you. It helped a little but we ask to go back to the hotel to try and sleep it off.
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Back at the hotel I realise that I have got a serious squits issue, we call the hotel reception and ask for a doctor, within 20 minutes a man in a lumberjacks shirt appears and attaches all sorts of gadgets to me – I only have 83% oxygen in my blood, 88-95% is normal, and he thinks I have a salmonella infection, great so I have imported the squits from Argentina and have altitude sickness as a garnish. He gives me an antibiotic and anti-nausea injection, a prescription for half a dozen pills. $80 later I am sat up in bed. We order room service and a miraculous bowl of chicken broth appears and then sleep for 2 hours.
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We step out onto the streets of La Paz which are always teaming with people: the ‘cholas’ ladies wearing 7 petticoats and a bowler hat, the non-cholas and the thousands of mini buses transporting the 2 million population of La Paz and El Alto to and from their places of work. There’s a farmacia across the road laid out like a bank inside, we handover my prescription and head back to the hotel with a carrier bag full of yummy antibiotics, anti-inflammatories and things for killing micro bacterias.
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We decide to eat something in the bistro of the hotel and I opt for another bowl of their miracle chicken soup, Liam has ravioli.
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We seem to have confined ourselves to the hotel europa which is like a 1990s Miami hotel- lots of curves and gaudy peach colours, but to us it is home. Liam has slept and feels better but the altitude sickness is still there and he is happy to sit in bed next to me playing scrabble.
I have a feeling that the antibiotics are starting to work, but feel downhearted that this trip that we were so excited about seems to have gone downhill. We even look up flights to get us home.
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I wake up, it is 6am, at 7.30am Ximena and Rodrigo are coming to collect us and take us to the island of the sun, I feel better, Liam feels better and we quickly grab our bags and head to reception, we ask the receptionist for our bill and she says ‘ brrrrptuprt’ (several Spanish words spoken so quickly that even she didn’t know what she’d said), I ask her to speak more slowly and she says ‘brrrrrpptuprt t’ her colleague standing next to her laughs and says ‘ she wants to know if you had anything from the mini bar?
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Mark, La Paz, Bolivia, 18 January 2017
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