The Sajama is high: 6542 meters. It is beautiful: people come from all over the world to contemplate it. He is proud: it is the highest peak in Bolivia. It is a colossus, a pillar that measures an unspoiled region, in which pink flamingos rub shoulders with queñuas, the tallest trees on the planet.
In this period of pandemic, the village of Sajama is difficult to reach. And once there, no restaurant is open. Only a stubborn hostal, the Parinacota, continues to defy a virus that has upset the habits of the small village in western Bolivia.
Sajama, the village, lived off tourism before the Covid-19 decided otherwise. Before the viral ravages, at least half of the houses contained one, two, or 25 rooms for tourists looking to explore the enchanting places of the region. Sajama, the mountain, attracted climbers of all ages and physical conditions, because despite its impressive elevation, its ascent remains relatively easy.
What was true yesterday is however no longer true today: the guides have become herders of llamas, painters in buildings, or have gone to look for work in Chile, a country located a few kilometers from the hamlet and offering good wages. Climbing to the top of Sajama turns out to be difficult, as the guides’ climbing equipment has been sold, so it has become essential to come with the tools for those who want to attempt the ascent.
Whatever the climbing, the region conceals secret beauties which do not take care of human diseases and their consequences. Queñuas, for example, are the tallest trees in the world. They continue their slow growth at a height of between 4000 to 5000 meters, without knowing that the usual line not to be exceeded for trees is at 3500 meters. We find, surprisingly, this plant species only in the park of Sajama.
But many other wonders await only the curious traveler. A long walk, without being difficult, crosses a field of tiny geysers and lagoons in the colors of the sky. The trekking of the “3 lagoons” allows to discover the essence of the park of Sajama, offering to the walker open plains devoured by llamas and some quiet horses technically unemployed, snow-capped mountains which cry out their loneliness, or expanses of water serene sheltering pink flamingos surprising by their capacity of acclimatization.
The trek of the three lagoons of Sajama
From the village of Sajama, we follow the Juntuma River, which borders some dilapidated-looking houses. Eight kilometers separate Sajama from the geysers, but the path is flat and easy, only a few llamas will look up anxiously as you pass. They don’t like strangers.
Geysers are small, don’t expect Icelandic or yellowstone-style spitting from the ground. They are however splendid, adorning themselves with the chemical colors of the primitive soup, inhabited by multicolored algae and expelling their smoke with constancy.
Once these curiosities have been photographed, it’s time to set off for Chile. Because the rest of the walk climbs a few hundred meters of vertical drop towards the neighboring country, where the border is indicated by a sign located a few tens of meters before the first lagoon. It is only after that the serious things begin, and that the wildlife theater of the viscachas and flamingos opens the curtains.
The simplicity and authenticity of the place leave you speechless. Nothing disturbs the imperturbable placidity of the animals, except the noticeable footsteps of the visitor. There emanates a silent harmony in the lagoon, where the birds move smoothly and naturally even when they are frightened.
The third lagoon is reached after a short walk in a Martian atmosphere. Life seems to have been sucked in by a cosmic force: the rocks are gathered in scree, the snow-capped peaks freeze the blood with their coldness. Hostility recedes under your feet, but without ever going very far or really hiding, discretion has never been a mountain quality.
When we come back to Earth to find a more oxygenated place, it is to take advantage of the last lagoon, whose balance is disturbing. Resembling a postcard Canadian lake – without a forest, however – the reflections multiply the number of mountains. The time is for poetic contemplation, which nothing and no one can disturb.
Enjoy the calm before the storm, because the return to Sajama is long. About ten kilometers await you, with sometimes perilous descents. The memories of the lagoons will be of great help, recalling that a world of tranquility is now part of your being, your inner strength is resourced. The struggle up to the village cannot end with your victory.
The Sajama, the colossus of Bolivia
If Bolivia had a roof, the Sajama would be its main pillar. Atlas of the country, the Sajama and its eternal snows attracts tourists from all over the world, who seek to challenge the heights of the summit.
But the Sajama protects many other things. It is home to unique queñua forests, which can be found at its foot in large quantities. Armadillos can be found, difficult to observe in their surroundings, but skeletons gnawed to the bone are reminders that the animal does indeed exist in the region, and that pumas and condors enjoy it.
The Sajama is finally a breathtaking view of its titanic brothers of the region. Such as the Parinacota and Pomerape brothers, who like in a Greek tragedy are the essential supporters of Sajama.
The Sajama offers surprising and apocalyptic views. But it is the whole region that remains essential for nature lovers visiting Bolivia. Thermal waters allow the walker to rest – outside of a pandemic period – tales and legends of witches from people of yesteryear decorate meals with the locals. And with great luck, you might be able to spot pumas and condors.
Unique place in Bolivia, magical place in the world, the Sajama captivates the poetic soul of the walker like no other.