Viva America Del Sur!
30/06/2012 20 °C
The start of the final chapter of our trip began with a 38 hour day and the longest of our lives! We left Auckland at 4pm on the 11th June and arrived in Santiago 11 hours later around 11am.
After struggling with the Spanish ATM at the airport we managed to say the right things to get us onto a bus into the city centre. A 15 minute walk and we easily found our hostel. The rest of the day was a complete wash out as we just hibernated in our room not really knowing who or where we were! After a long nights sleep we woke up still blearly eyed and feeling the effects of the jet lag to a rainy Santiago day. We had some breakfast at the hostel then took a walk into the city centre, by which time the rain had stopped. There wasn´t too much to see there so we headed back to the hostel and just had a chilled evening.
Next day it was still raining so it was another slow start. We headed to the metro and took a train to a nearby shopping mall to look for some warm clothing in preperation for our trip to San Pedro de Atacama. Found out it was a big, modern shopping mall with prices to match so after trying on a few items and managing to order some lunch in Spanish we headed back to the hostel empty handed, deciding we would be able to pick something up in San Pedro for less. We had three nights in Santiago which we used to aclimiatise and recover from jet leg, but from speaking to a few people we didn´t miss too much as there isn´t too much to see in Santiago itself.
Very early start the following day to catch our 7am flight to Calama. The early start was worth it as we had an amazing view of sunrise from the plane and a good view of the desest on our way down (and free plane food!).
Arriving in Calama was a bit of a shock for the senses as we found ourselves in the middle of a desert, and couldn´t really believe we were still in the same country. We quickly found a minibus that would take us to our accommodation in San Pedro, 60km away, and up to 2400 metres above sea level. We spent the rest of the day looking round the small town enjoying the warmth of the sunshine. As a town that caters heavily for tourists we easily found several shops that sold alpaca wool knitwear, and it was cheaper than what we were looking at in Santiago so we got ourselves a jumper, hat, gloves and cowel each, and all for 40 pounds.
After deciding to change our itinery to include Bolivia we also spoke to a few travel agents about tours to Uyuni and booked one to leave in a couple of days time. As the chill set in our first bottle of Chilean red was enjoyed in the evening along with a filling three course set menu.
A lazy start to the next day and after enjoying breakfast at the hostel we took a 3km walk to some nearby Inca ruins. After climbing up the smaller of the two hills and checking out the view Ramsey of course wanted to run up the bigger hill, so I took a slow walk down while he went off up the second hill; quickly realising the effects of the altitude when it comes to speedily going up hill! It was a nice walk and there were some good desert views.
Having run out of time for lunch we snacked on some chocolate we had from New Zealand and waited to be picked up from our hostel for our trip to Valley of the Moon, Death Valley (which we found out was meant to be called Mars Valley but it was lost in translation and Mars was changed into Muerte (death in Spanish)), a walk to the top of a sand dune,
and a beautiful sunset over the mountains.
It was a good trip and we got to see lots of variations of the landscape. An early night was had ready for our early rise in the morning.
The alarm went off at 3am to wake us up for our sunrise trip to the Geysers del Tatio. We sleepily got on the bus at 4am for our steep climb from 2400 upto 4200 metres above sea level. I started to feel a little light headed on the way up and didn't feel myself again until we came back down, but still enjoyed the trip. I can't describe how cold it felt when we got off the bus but we were told it was -13 degress, and with the added wind chill we were absolutely freezing! It was just starting to get light when we arrived so we carefully followed our guide around the geysers, enjoying their heat and watching it slowly start to get lighter.
In desperate need of some warmth we were very happy when the hot chocolate, tea and coffee came out, along with the boiled eggs for breakfast that had been cooked in a geyser. Warm drink in hand we watched the sun continue to rise.
Once the sun was up we jumped back onto the bus to let our toes thaw out and travelled onto some thermal hot pools, which we declined to get in as we couldn't bare the thought of getting undressed in the cold, but it was a beautiful setting.
After a brief stop at an old abondened town, on the way back to San Pedro we saw some ostritches and llama which topped off the trip.
In preperation for our next expedition into the cold we went to buy some warm woolen socks, before stopping for a lunch of giant sandwiches while enjoying a replay of the England-Sweden match. For our final trip from San Pedro we went to Cejas Lagoons for a dip in a salt water lagoon. Having never floated in salt water before it was a slightly strange experience, but good fun once the layer of cold water had been penetrated to lay in the warm water below.
After drying and warming up in the evening sunshine we enjoyed Pisco Sours while watching the awesome sunset over the lakes.
(All our trips were booked with Desert Adventures, www.desertadventure.cl, and for each one we had a great guide who knew his stuff and spoke good English, would recommend this company for anyone planning a tour out of San Pedro). When we got back to the hostel we decided to go out for steak at a place recommended to us - Ramsey asked twice for the name of the place, and twice forget, so on the third time the guy offered to write it down, but Ramsey declined claiming he would remember. San Pedro is only a small place but somehow we ended up in the wrong (and much more expensive) restaurant! Note: don't ask Ramsey to remember anything after a 3am start and going up and down 2000m in altitude in a short space of time - he was also deaf in one ear for the evening due to the pressure change making dinner conversation a bit of a struggle.
We began the next day by getting a bus to the Chile/Bolivia border and waiting in a queue (for a long time) to be stamped out of the country. Once we had eventually set off into Bolivia it was a few miles to the Bolivian immigration for our next stamp. Here we had some breakfast and swapped to two 4WDs - unfortunately for us our driver didn't speak any English so we had to rely on the occasional translation from the Spanish speakers in our jeep. Our first stops were two lakes; Laguna Verde and Laguna Blanca for some nice scenery, followed by a stop at some geysers and a thermal hot pool for an optional dip.
After we had reached our accommodation and eaten lunch we went to visit Laguna Colorada where there were plenty of flamingos to be seen. A beautiful sight and can only imagine what it is like in a couple of months when the lake is full of them.
At 4500 metres above sea level we expected a cold night at our accommodation, and we weren't disappointed! As it started to get dark we turned on the one and only gas fire in the dining room and after some poor dinner sat and played some cards with the four Aussies who were also on the trip. At 8:30pm the fire was turned off and we were told the lights would be going out at 9pm! An early, uncomfortable and pretty sleepless night in our 10 layers of clothing.
Wake up with a headache, partly from not sleeping and partially from the terrible pillows! After a hot drink and some paracetamol we hit the road and headed to Siloli Desert to see the rock formations and the coloured lagoons for some good scenery and more flamingos.
Our second night was spent at the Salt Hotel, which was considerably better than the previous night's accommodation, and everything was made out of salt. Ramsey took a walk up a hill behind the hotel to watch sunset while I enjoy a much needed hot shower! After dinner some more cards are played by the fire before another early night.
Following day a few of us are up to watch the sunrise over the salt flats, which was good but would have been better if we had actually been on the salt (as we were in Tunisia a few years ago) and if Ramsey hadn't lost his head torch.
After breakfast we drove onto the salt flats and had a couple of hours to enjoy the unique environment, by taking lots of silly pictures mostly.
We then had a stop at a salt museum and a small town before heading to Uyuni to a train graveyard (some abandoned trains from when the mining industry collapsed in the 1940s).
We were dropped off in Uyuni where the tour ended. We had five hours to kill before our night bus to La Paz so we spent the afternon using the internet and enjoying some Bolivian food - Llama steak!
The night bus to La Paz was quite brutal for the first two hours but then the road smoothed out and we both managed to get a little sleep. Arriving in La Paz at 06:30 we made our way to our hostel. Feeling both a bit whacked from the journey we spent the morning relaxing at the hotel and making the most of the free breakfast, pool and internet. In the afternoon we went out for a stroll near our hostel checking out San Francisco Square and the local markets.
That evening we took it easy and had a few beers in the hostel room while checking out some cable TV - bring on the SyFy channel!
The following day we arranged a city tour. We were greeted at our hotel at 09:00 by our guide Mauricio. He took us on a tour of the local markets we visted the previous day but gave us explanations for some of the things we saw - namely, dried llama foetuses on sale that are used in daily offering ceremonies by the locals where they burn them along with lots of other things. He took us down to the the main city square and showed us the parliament house and city cathedral.
We jumped on a local bus and the next stop was the coca market - this is where coca leaves from all different regions of Bolivia are brought for sale to the locals in La Paz. It is large three story building and every corner is packed with coca leaves in massive 25kg bags - Ill have you know it is all for chewing and making tea though! We then paid a visit to San Pedro Prison (if you don´t know the history look it up, or read the book Marching Powder), we only looked in from the outside though. The last stop on the tour was up to El Alto - a small village at the top of the hills surrounding La Paz - It started off as a small village with a market but has now expanded to have a population of over 1 million. Up at El Alto we checked out the vast market and topped off the tour by me having my coca leaves read by a local warlock - I am going to be rich and have a happy life but I need to quit smoking!
The tour was great and we would highly recommend the company (www.banjotours.com). In addition to being shown some sights off the beaten track it was good fun sampling some local street food and making our way around the city using various different forms of local transport. After being taken on the tour and feeling we had the measure of Bolivian markets we spent the afternoon browsing and shopping, and watching a parade go by. That evening we had another chilled one.
Up early the next day we jumped on a bus to Copacabana (Bolivia not Brazil - It is a small little town on the shore of the massive Lake Titicaca). As part of the bus journey we had to take a ferry across the lake - the bus went across separatly on a dodgy wooden barge and we caught a boat, when we arrived on the opposite side we saw a cute little alpacca and proceeded to take a photo - we were hit with a 5 boliviano fee! 50p. The first time we have been caught with that scam on the whole trip!
We arrived around lunchtime and spent the afternoon checking out the town and relaxing by the lake. We also took the chance to make arrangements for our onward travel to Puno and booked a boat trip to the Isle Del Sol for the next day. With the night being cold we went out for some food (steaks all round) and a couple of beers then called it an early one to get some rest.
The next day we set off on our boat trip at 08:30 - there were about 50 people crammed onto a little boat with only two small outboard motors. The planned 45 minute journey to the northern tip of the Isle Del Sol took about 2.5 hours! When we arrived we took the time to walk around the village on the northern shores, check out some Incan ruins and take in the Mediterranean style scenery.
We did have the option to walk the length of the island but with Elaine getting over a cold we instead decided to catch the boat back to the southern end of the island just after lunchtime. Once we arrived there we just chilled by the lake watching the locals offload all their supplies and load up the army of donkeys that were waiting to carry the load up the extremely steep hills.
Back at town for about 17:30 we relaxed at the hostel for a bit. Elaine was feeling the effects of her cold and spending a day in the sun so I went out and did some shopping and brought back some food to enjoy in our room with some cable TV.
When we woke up the next day we both felt a bit rough. Elaine had a touch of sunstroke and the eggs I had for breakfast the previous day were causing me some trouble. Feeling a little bit jaded we packed up our stuff, skipped breakfast, and made our way for the bus to Puno. Within 30 minutes we were at the Bolivian border where we got stamped out with no troubles. A short walk over a bridge in no mans land and we arrived at Peruvian immigration - the first time we have entered a country without the official saying even a single word. Now we are in Peru for the final two weeks of our trip, bring on the Amazon, Macchu Picchu, the Nazca lines and sand boarding in the desert........
With our revised plans of visiting Bolivia we ended up not seing much of Chile, we would like to go back and in the right season to travel south to Patagonia and check out some glaciers. The places we visitied in Bolivia gave us a good feel for the country, the people are friendly and the scenary is unique. While we enjoyed our time in Bolivia and there is certainly more to see, I think we filled our boots and would not especially feel the need to go back.