I had forgotten about altitude dreams.
My first afternoon in La Paz I awoke, breathless and confused. What time was it? Where was I? I looked around the tiny apartment. From the bed, I could see a kitchenette, a bathroom, a closet and a window. Out the window, reddish cliffs stood towering over steel high rises.
Oh yes: Bolivia.
Altitude dreams are deep, swampy dreams that only plague me above 8,000 feet. In Nepal, at a tea house at 14,000 feet, I dreamed of Meggan, who died the year before, leading me to get matching tattoos. At 10,000 feet in Ecuador, I chased the man I loved through Portland traffic. In La Paz, I dream of Monterey; cold ocean water and the ghostly outline of cypress trees on Lover’s Point, of my friends, dancing around me. The dreams are so life-like I have trouble shaking the memories of them throughout the day.
La Paz is the highest capital city in the world. This is usually the first fact about the city you read anywhere on the internet. It’s 13,000 feet above sea level. Right now, I am sitting two thousand feet higher than the peak of Mount Hood. The city spills down into a canyon formed by the Choqueyapu River, so even though we’re already high up, anywhere you look you can see a higher point. It is dizzying.
When I woke myself up from that first nap, I decided to get up and go exploring. I took a very short walk to buy water, coffee, and a $2 plate of chicken and rice. By the time I made it to the restaurant, a mere half mile away, my heart was pounding in my chest like a caged animal. I was sweating, my head was hurting, and I felt acutely aware that I had spent the last year of my life on the ocean.
I know the tricks: drink water, sleep, don’t eat very much, chew slowly, take short walks, drink coca tea. My body will acclimate.
Now, I need to get to work. I am in Bolivia for the practicum portion of my Master’s degree. Last month I finished the coursework for my MPA, and for the next six months, in La Paz. I’m an intern focusing on Monitoring and Evaluation, Marketing and Communication and Business Growth. It’s a dream come true. It’s a huge opportunity. So now, my challenge lies in how much I can learn. How quickly can I switch my brain into Spanish? How quickly can I adapt to the needs of my office? And most importantly, where can I find coffee that isn’t nescafé?
I’ll be writing here, in this little blog that chronicles my adventures. Sitting here in an old refurbished house in La Paz, it’s interesting for me to go back and read through the experiences that lead me here. I hope you enjoy this next chapter.