The past four days, I spent without wifi or a computer, in the rural area of the XV region of Chile, Parinacota, in the “city” of Putre. In this entire region, there are only about 1,300 people, mostly living in the main pueblo of Putre, others in smaller, farther out communities of 30-40 people. Health care in this region is not only complicated by the geography (the huge rolling desert hills of the Altiplano make for very treacherous windy roads) but is also enriched by the influence of the Aymara traditional healing practices (Aymara are another indigenous group in Chile; they inhabit northern Chile, Bolivia, Argentina, and Peru). This half of the region of Chile is 90% Aymara.
Despite feeling a little dizzy from the lack of oxygen (Putre sits at about 3,000 meters above sea level), I really enjoyed the excursion. The first day, we toured the public family health center in the city, and talked to the doctors, nurses, nutritionists, techs etc. there. The next day, we learned about the herbs and medicines of the Aymara, ate lunch with some locals and discussed community empowerment with them (Side note: lunch was alpaca meat, actually pretty good!). We got a chance to go to one of the smaller pueblos, Socoroma, to visit the primary school and play with the children. Also in Socoroma, we learned about the monthly rounds the health team in Putre makes to the smaller surrounding villages, to do check ups and lab work for patients who can’t travel to the center in Putre. Some of these villages are 3 hours away from Putre. In cases of emergencies, these villages have radios, from which they can call an ambulance, but if you live 3 hours from Putre, you’ll need to wait, and the center there is only a primary care center: barely equipped to handle the most basic emergencies. The closest secondary or tertiary (more serious) care hospital is in Arica, which can be an additional 3 hours away, on a good day.
On the last day, we took a trip up to one of the highest lakes in the world, lake Chungara, which sits up there at 4,500 meters or 14763.8 feet above sea level. There were a lot of llamas hanging out, this is probably my favorite shot of the day.