Walden World

The wacky and wonderful tales of Beth's and Catherine's global adventures. And all things Walden too.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Too High

Got a small tour at 6 am to go to the summit of The Sleeping Lion, Nevada del Ruiz, a giant vocano that took out some 25,000 people in 1985. The scientists told the government that an eruption was imminent but apparently authorities erred on the side of caution and when a small eruption stopped at about 7 PM, the evacuation order was cancelled.

However hours later anofher, bigger eruption occured sending millions of cubic meters of lava, ash, and melted glacier ice: essentially a hot horrid flow of mud, speeding down the mountain burying an entire town in an agonizing death.

I remember it now: 1985.

The trip up to the volcano a magical drive of giant wax palms, bucolic villages of free range cattle, happy dogs and bright green valleys.

There was James, the driver, who is Colombian,  C and I, and the first canadian, Steve, we had met on our travels.

From the get go, James kept warning about altitude sickness as we were going above 4500 meters today and told us to keep the windows open and take deep breaths.

We were however not prepared for how cold it would get so we had to keep closing the window.

By about 3500 meters we got out to look down at the city below at 2195 meters.

It hit me like a hammer; dizziness and feeling confused.

C, Steve and James wandered up a high path while the sun smashed my eyes. The higher you get the stronger the sun. You burn very easily so all of us including James, slathered on sunblock.

By the entrance to the park, now over 3950 meters I thought I might be sick or faint after running up stairs to the small bathroom above the traditional  shack restaurant we stopped at for breakfast. Sweet dogs begged for food.

A group of Americans from the FDA swaggered in. A man with a giant Texas style mustache said to a small begging dog: "you know I'm not a tourist and I dont fall for that" as he pushed the dog away with his feet.

We drank coca tea given to us by the shack restaurant owner: yes the plants cocaine is manufactured from, however here the leaves are legal and it is used by all tour operators, government officials and health practitioners to counter serocho.

Next the seismo bureau (geological) colombians showed up in tow with the colombian Red Cross.  All studying the active volcano which puts over 500,000 people in harms way.

C came back after walking up a tiny hill  next to the restsurant and said she felt like she could barely make it she was so exhausted.

Altitude sickness. Serocho.

The driver James is trying to learn English so he likes to have C or Steve speak into his cell phone and repeat words  to get the proper pronunciation while he also says the word in spanish.

We get to the park Los Nevados, home the volcanoes.

It is now  freezing fog and C, Steve and i are all chilled. We walk to watch a short film about the parks ecosystem. Because of strict environmental concerns and volcano danger you must go in a convoy, just us and two other cars, and you must utilize a guide.

In our case small Pablo. A tiny punk rocker guide with huge ear piercings, fabulous jewelry and a really cool haircut.

At stop 3, we all got out to see the weird near volcano summit. The sign told us we were at 4565 meters.  I felt a headache like a vise squeezING  my head.  I felt so dizzy I was  worried about falling over and that is when I also started feeling very confused.

Pablo was talking about the 1985 eruption. I can't describe the feeling: dizzines?confusion? It was a most like an anesthetic. A vertigo zombie.

I was worried about whether I could walk the few feet to the car.

I picked up the piece of pumice Pablo pointed at so I could focus on something. I held it tight in my hand.

I went back to the van where C and James practiced spanish. James noted that it was hailing while they both looked through the spanish phrase book about how to say "hail" in spanish.

Steve returns to the bus as Pablo and the others start to show up.

It is at that moment, a piercing headache and vertgo beyond belief, I realize I am going to throw up.

I run out of the car and start wretching against a post by a small structure, the start of an tourist operation long since abandoned.

In the 50s they used to have international skiing competitions here but the eruption of 1985 coupled with global warming means that there is no snow left. Out of 19 glaciers only 4 remain.

 I watch the cold rain and small hail pellet the ground while hitting me in the head.

The small guide Pablo tells me to make myself sick by sticking my fingers down my throat.

The Colombians in the other two cars are standing with me along with Pablo.  They take my coat off and insist I drink water they pilfer from Steve.

By the time we got to 5000 meters, I just walked staring at the ground while the others disappeared into a thick fog. It looked like we were on a strange and dismal moon.

5000 feet is where almost all humans will experience terrible altitude sickness. It is thought that people will not be able to acclimate permanently beyond 5500 meters.

You get used to altitude by your body producing more red bloods cells to carry the limited oxygen.

7000 meters is the famous death zone where the human body starts dying. That's why they have finite time to get people down from everest.

I found a small bench beside a weird metal structure, perhaps for the use of geological Survey people, who were a half hour behind us in trucks, coming up in the deserted pre-summit.

I could hear Steve and the 5 colombians speaking through  the fog. C and James are in the bus practicing Spanish.

I could only look at my shoes and get up, walk a small circle and again look at my shoes.

A large or perhaps small bird landed a few feet in front of me. She hopped back and forth pecking at the ground for what seemed like hours.

What kind of food could exist at this great height that would give nutrients to this bird?

The hail got worse and then rain came down heavily.

The others returned from the fog and we descended again to bucolic villages, happy dogs and free range cows.

I still felt weak yesterday but a miraculous thing happened tonight.  We flew out of perreira and when we landed in bogota, home of our initial altitude sickness, C was feeling exhausted and sick just walking to a local restaurant.

However the 3450 meter air felt rich and invigorating to me.

That I think, means my body has started to adapt.


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