It’s the Altitude!

February 16, 2012

La Paz, Bolivia is situated at 13,313 feet above sea level. In other words: 2.52 miles.

During our week-long Workaway stay in the region, Karen, our charming British flatmate, shed humorous insight into life at drastic heights above sea level, and the collective tally of random quirks grew as the days went by. What follows is our incredibly precise and highly scientific collection of odd happenings at lofty altitudes:

1 ) There’s less air to breathe. Much, much less air.

2) Laptop battery chargers last only a year and computer hard drives mysteriously “burn up.”

3 ) Increased chocolate cravings attack with fury. (Well, all sweet cravings attack, really.)

4 ) Supremely aggravating levels of fatigue result from ordinary work.

5 ) Lowland natives experience higher frequency of illness (yes, beyond classic altitude-sickness).

6 ) Rats can’t survive – i.e., expose them to high altitudes and they die. (Why scientists are, according to Karen, currently working to breed an altitude-hardy strain of rats is beyond me…)

And…such a depressing one:

7 ) Proper cakes won’t bake…

I’d like to say that we did semi-conquer that last hurdle: I picked up a boxed mix (gasp!*) at the grocery store and baked a delicious chocolate dessert just as an excuse to spend a cool, rainy night puttering in the kitchen and eating sweets next to the clay wood stove. (*to my credit, the frosting was from semi-scratch…a melted Bolivian chocolate bar swimming in butter and sugar!)

Do any of you other high-altitude-dwellers have contributions from first-hand experience? (Heather W.??) We’re so spoiled at home, we almost-sea-level-dwelling-Oregonians…

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  • Reply Gary February 16, 2012 at 7:56 am

    Drink lots of water!!!

    • Reply twoOregonians February 18, 2012 at 6:05 pm


  • Reply Heather W February 16, 2012 at 8:33 pm

    I was so scared of baking when we moved to Denver, especially when my no-fail chocolate chip cookies turned into hideous flat messes. But now I bake with hardly any fear- the key is to add extra flour (about 1 TB for every cup of flour) and cut back on leavening. At such extreme altitude, I think more drastic tinkering would have to be done. A great book is: Pie in the Sky by Susan G. Purdy….but she only tested her recipes up to 10,000 feet!

    • Reply twoOregonians February 18, 2012 at 6:08 pm

      “Only” – ha : ) That’s still crazy high! Thanks for the 1 TB per cup of flour tip. Thankfully, we’re back at sea level for now. I’m hoping to make dulche de leche brownies of some sort in the next few weeks (if the temperature ever drops!) – nice to know we’ll be dealing with standard baking chemistry. Love you, friend! xx

  • Reply Stephanie - The Travel Chica February 17, 2012 at 5:06 am

    I’ve lived short-term at high altitudes a few times, but I didn’t know all of these quirky things. Definitely explains my chocolate cravings in Quito though :-)

    • Reply twoOregonians February 18, 2012 at 6:09 pm

      I’m certainly not vouching for the scientific accuracy of the notes above, but *anything* that explains away chocolate cravings is helpful in my book : ) Mmm….

  • Reply Heather Espana February 17, 2012 at 11:13 am

    I remember just trying to go up stairs at Rift Valley Academy in Africa [which I believe is a lower altitude] and it killed! High-altitude soccer players kick butt, anytime they have games away from home. It’s a cinch.

    • Reply twoOregonians February 18, 2012 at 6:11 pm

      Totally! They have a killer advantage after all that high altitude training. We, on the other hand… Well, let’s just say we didn’t end up playing in the local soccer tournament. The invitation was nice, but I think we would’ve died.

  • Reply Andi of My Beautiful Adventures February 17, 2012 at 5:12 pm

    I’m so sad that I was beyond ill the entire time I was there. :(

    • Reply twoOregonians February 18, 2012 at 6:18 pm

      Oh! That’s such a shame, Andi. Hopefully you will be able to return again and have a wonderful experience to make up for it. Such a beautiful country…

    What say you?