Getting low in a high place

I’ve had a messed-up health week. The bug bites were actually a couple weeks ago, by the way, and they’ve since faded into memory quite nicely :) I have, however, run-into other travelers who too recently became midnight snacks for some bichos, in the volcanic hot spring in fact, where my next story begins.

My local buddy, Alex, and I took a bus out a little ways from Potosi, to a thermal lake atop an inactive volcano, set within a panorama of multi-colored hills. Modest blue ropes, not 20-feet-in from the perimeter, cautioned that swimming to the middle wasn’t a wise idea, as the perfectly round pool contained a deadly whirlpool in the middle, which could in theory sink a person 200 meters to its bottom.

So we kept to the safe-zone, which dropped-off steeply from the edges, and covered ourselves and some of the thick, black, and mineral-rich volcanic mud. An Incan King would supposedly frequent these very waters, to treat his leprosy. Three bug-bitten Israeli girls joined us in our spa treatment, hoping the volcano would help cure their imperfections too.

I was up till 3:30am the night before (writing my last blog), and only got three hours of sleep. I had no energy, and soreness in my neck and lower-back. Trying to shrug it off as sleep-deprivation/poor writing posture, I carried-on with my day, but my symptoms were getting to me. I felt like bad company, too sore and beat to move. Eventually I made it back to the bus and to town, and I was too exhausted to go to the arcade and play Dante’s Inferno, the siesta-plan. I was in-between accommodations that day, and seeing how thoroughly spent I was, Alex hooked me-up with a bed in a his baby-momma’s place to take an afternoon nap.

The nap turned into an overnight-stay, and finally at rest, I got sick. I’ll spare you the details, but it involved a complete loss of appetite, in immediate loss of anything I tried to eat or drink, from various directions. Nasty, weak, de-habilitating stuff.

After two full days of rest, 20 hours of sleep a day, and not feeling any better, I willed myself back to my feet. Gaunt, empty, and light-headed, I walked into town, and had lunch at Manzana Magica, a real vegetarian restaurant serving Bolivian food. Had me a 5-course meal, and it was divine. I was so stuffed (and bloated) that I had to take siesta in the park for over an hour before carrying-on to the 2-hour tour of the Casa de Moneda, a huge complex which was for many years Bolivia’s national Mint.

Above the arched entrance smiles a 2m round head of Tío, whom I still know nothing about, as he wasn’t mentioned in the tour, nor have I gone to the mines yet. It’s fascinating to see how they made coins from the mined silver since the 16th century. The machinery, much of it wood and multi-storied, was incredible, much of it manually-powered by mule, indigenous people, black slaves, and eventually steam and electric engines from Providence and Philadelphia. All the museums in South America seem to have mummies, and here was no exception. I saw my finest examples to date: four little kids, with clothes, hair, and skin almost perfectly intact. Highly recommended.

Feeling much better, and pleased for allowing myself to sap three days of my week for rest, I booked a tour to go see the mines today (with my friends at Bolivia Explorer). When I turned-in for the night, I thought I was okay, but my stomach started turning tricks again, and from 2-8am I was running a half-marathon to the WC.

Not sure what to do this morning, for two hours I slowly tried to pull myself together, before Alex came by the flat to pick me up. I didn’t want to admit defeat and stay in bed another day, so I suggested we take a walk and see how it goes. But I was ill. As we walked through the market, I asked him if he knew of a doctor around. Across the street was a Sexual Health clinic, so we popped-in.

As always in my travels, I am repeatedly awed by how good medical care can be outside of the USA. Clean, professional, charming, thorough, hassle-free, and extremely affordable, I got what I needed in under 30 minutes, and, including a week’s supply of 3 prescriptions, it cost less than $10.

Doc suggested I take it easy today, postpone the mines, and get started eating “white foods” (whatever that means). Alex and I head back into the market, and I barely manage to eat a third of my rice and potatoes. My stomach still in a knot, we decide to hit the arcade, where I can sit, and where we can finally play Dante’s Inferno on XBox 360.

I’ve longed so many times over the last couple years, when I find free time on my hands, to have my Wii, or some good video games at my disposal. Well today I got it. Arcades here are awesome. In contrast to ours in the States, which are usually quite depressing, half-baked graveyards of a bygone-era, in Bolivia they thrive. Only they’re different: Some look like classic stand-up arcade machines with the big colored buttons and joysticks, but the guts contain many games, which are administered by a jockey. Others look like like internet cafes, with 20-30 PCs connected for network play, and during siesta and after school, they are full to the brim with kids gaming. Finally, some have XBoxes and Playstations, connected to big flat-screens, where you can play many of the hottest platform games for $.60 an hour. This was the chicken soup of my (final) sick day.

Alex and I fired up the XBox 360 (my first time) and got into it. We started in the AM, watched kids come and go, descended circle by circle deeper into Dante’s Hell, ignored our stomachs and bladders (no WC), watched the day turn into night outside, until we stuck it to Lucifer and rescued our busty (dead) damsel. Was a fine ten-hour session. And for winning the game, the shop keep rewarded us with free Cokes.

I haven’t done that in (15) years! One time I was snowed-in in Vermont and played Wii Zelda for 6 hours, but this takes the cake. And it feels so good. Tomorrow, I descend into the real Hell of Cerro Rico.

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