We had a great time in San Pedro de Atacama, even with the freezing nights, and were so lucky to see all the festivities. The few days we were there was spent looking round the beautiful 17th century church of San Pedro, visiting the Archaeological Museum "Gustavo Le Paige" were we learnt about the Atacameno culture and its developments through the Inca invasion and Spanish conquest. Of interest were the shamanic paraphernalia, including hallucinogenic accessories of the ancients. We also had some great meals including one at Kanas which included chicken soup, chicken/mushroom sauce and chips followed by fruit salad for just over 3 pound, delicious quiches and breakfasts at a cool cafe called Salon de Te and a set meal for just over 6 pounds on our wedding anniversary of delicious Palta Reina (avocado stuffed with chicken), beef stroganoff and apple tart and a bottle of Montes Alpha, cabernet sauvignon 2005. We had one awful meal of Pastel de choclo which is a typical chilean dish made of fresh ground corn (choclo) with basil which is usually served in a paila (earthware bowl). The version we got was a burnt, microwaved, greasy solid block that was inedible.
On the day of the Saints festivity (Sunday 29th June) the whole town, young and old (including this really sweet old lady with a Tommy Hilfiger hat on), were out in the main square listening to mass. People dressed in either traditional clothes or costumes danced through the streets to music. It was a lovely sight and one we´ll definitely remember. During siesta time we watched Spain beat Germany in the footie and then spent the night sitting in front of a nice, warm fire with an English couple called James and Mary.
We spent our first wedding anniversary at Valle de la Muerte (Death Valley) - a big canyon in the desert and then trekking in the Valle de La Luna (Moon Valley) - 13km west of San Pedro in the Cordillera de la Sal, it´s an isolated landscape with stone and sand formations, created through the centuries by floods and wind, which have an extraordinary colour and texture, similar to the moon. We saw salt lakes, lagoons and caves. After a steep climb we watched the, amazing and very colourful, sunset at the top of a large sand dune. At nights of a full moon the view is spectacular, we didn´t have a full moon but it was pretty special all the same!
On Tuesday we got the bus to Salta, Argentina. We drove through more salt flats and saw lots of baby llamas. At the border of Pasa Jama (altitude 4200m) a dog thoroughly searched the bus for food (we´d eaten about 12 satsumas in the space of 2hrs) and then, typically, Jem was picked out to have his whole rucksack searched - must be the dodgy beard!
The journey throught the Andes was fantastic, I just wish had a good enough camera to capture the stunning scenery and colours in the rocks. After 12hrs we arrived at Salta (altitude 1187m) bus station to be greeted by a bunch of idiots trying to get our rucksacks out and expecting payment for it - no chance! We just smiled and grabbed our bags. We´ve been staying at a lovely hostel called Hostal el Duede del la Posta (Alsina, 1070), which is really close to all the bars and restaurants. We had a brilliant meal on our first night, at La Vieja Estacion, and watched a show of traditional dancing and music.
Yesterday was spent walking around the town past the many sweets, fruit and popcorn stalls dotted around the place. It has a great feel about it and a good atmosphere. I wore my tevas and got loads of stares from the locals, as did Jem with his ginger hair and beard (which he got trimmed at a barbers called Sinatras). We´ve visited Plaza Guemes, the central market were Jem had a stew of meat, beans and pulses only to discover that what he thought was corn was actually tripe! Yuk, I´m glad I just had fruit! Met a lovely couple in their 70´s, from the bus, called Iris and George who are from Hong Kong originally but have lived in London for the past 40yrs. Took the teleferico (gondola, 6 pesos, 1 pound, one way) from San Martin´s park to San Bernardo´s Hill for great views of Salta and the Lerma Valley. Climbed the winding staircase down to Guemes Monument at the bottom. From there went to Plaza 9 de Julio (main square) to see inside the 19th century Iglesia Catedral which guards the ashes of General Martin Miguel de Guemes (name of earlier plaza and monument), a hero of wars of independence. Also went inside the nearby Iglesia San Francisco which has been described as being very showy and tastleless but which is a Salta landmark. Further down the street is the 16th century Convento de San Bernardo which has an impressive carved algarrobo (carob tree wood) door.
Last night we had a lovely, cheap meal at a restaurant called "El Charrua", were all the locals eat and Jem got the steak (bife de chorizo) he´s been dreaming of!
Tomorrow we get the bus (4hrs) to Cachi, a beautiful town along the Valles Calchaquies, and on Sunday we go to Cafayate to sample the regions vino!
Hope you´re all well, lots of love from us xxxxx