On the Altiplano
by Robert Coats
Awake early, I saw the green flash as the sun
rose behind the Cordillera de Chichas,
glare of the Salar de Uyuni.
After a simple breakfast we loaded up,
my son in back with the three Argentinos,
I up front with our Bolivian guide.
Higher into the arid Andes on a gravel road,
a snow-cloaked volcano on our right,
before us a wide open, uninhabited valley.
Shy guanacos on the road shoulder.
Above, the vibrant blue sky…
“…que me ha dado tanto
Me ha dado la marcha de mis pies cansados
Con ellos anduve ciudades y charcos
Playas y desiertos, montañas y llanos…”
I turn, meet eyes.
Everyone’s face is lit up, grinning,
the woman blinking back tears.
No one speaks.
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Violeta Parra was a popular Chilean folksinger. Her song “Gracias a la Vida” is well-known throughout Latin America. The lyric fragment in the poem says:
“Thanks to life
that has given me so much.
It has given me the march of my tired feet.
With them I walked through cities and puddles,
on beaches and deserts, mountains and plains.”
The Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat, with an area of 3,900 square miles. It lies at an elevation of about 12,000 ft. in southwest Bolivia.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Robert Coats has been writing poetry for more than 40 years. His poems have appeared on the Canary Website, in Orion, Zone 3, Windfall, Song of the San Joaquin, in two anthologies (Fresh Water: Poems from the Rivers, Lakes and Streams and Fire and Rain: Ecopoetry of California, and in his book The Harsh Green World, published by Sugartown Publishing. He is a Research Associate with the University of California Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center.
PHOTO: The author with Yareta (Azorella compacta) on the Altiplano (Bolivia).
NOTE: Yareta is a flowering plant native to South America. It grows in the Puna grasslands of the Andes in Peru, Bolivia, northern Chile, and western Argentina at altitudes between 10,500 and 17,220 ft.