The bus was full on the first day of the tour, so I was pretty happy!! Also I instantly warmed to our gorgeous guide Jorge, who is seeing one of the lovely English girls I met at La Casa Roja. It was a real mixed group, and although it took a while on the first day, we all got to know each other pretty well. The first day we visited a beautiful beach town on Pichidangui, which was like a dusty ghost town at this time of the year, but was completely stunning. Alot of north Chile I am going to let the photos speak for themselves, cos there is only so many times I can use the same words with my lack of thesauraus!! We spent that evening in the very cool city of La Serena, where everyone except me (who stayed in to recover from the night before) went out and had a very good time. They even managed to lose one of our group, who had got a little tipsy and woken up on a beach at 5am, and took 4 hours to find the hostel, so we had to leave with out him. He is a 44 year old teacher you will be pleased to know!
After La Serena, we headed to the National Reserve Pinguino de Humboldt, where Jorge took us out on a boat to see PENGUINS!! It was wicked!! We saw loads of other things, including a sea elephant, and sea lions, but the penguins were superb. They were tiny, and so cute!! Such an amazing experience. We spent some time on one of the tiny islands investigating the wildlife and the rest of the time out on the boats. We all ended up completely soaked, but it was well worth it!
Next we travelled on to the seaside town of Bahia Inglesa where we stayed in the most fabulous huts. It was bloody freezing (and this was only the start of things to come), but really great fun. Three of us shared a hut, and after losing rock/paper/scissors for the double, I decided to go for the bed in the roof instead. Was nice having my own space, but im not sure it was all that safe. We had a really chilled out couple of days, just sitting in the sun and visiting local villages. On the second evening, we all put money in and Jorge cooked us a Chilean BBQ. It was ridiculous. He said the Chileans take alot of pride in their BBQ´s but I have never seen so much meat in my life. It was scrummy. I now really like steak, which is something I wasnt fussed by before. Cant wait to get to Argentina now!
Travelling north through Chile really is stunning, but it requires alot of driving. Sometimes it is easier to just do it as one big block (from Santiago to San Pedro is 23 hours striaght)! We headed to Antofagasto for the evening, and on the way had some great stops. We spent an hour or so at the old cemetary of Oficina Alemania, which is the remains of an old village, where people worked in the mines to extract Nitrate. You can walk around the cemetary, and the remains of the village and mine. We also stopped at the famous Mano del Desierto (the hand of the desert). This is a sculpture that you may have seen before by Mario Irarrazabel to represent the hand of nature and the damage we have done. Oe of the most interesting stops was at a trucker food place in the middle of nowhere. Really do get some odd characters in there. You can have the set menu, of go hungry!
Antofagasto really isnt anywhere to get excited about - infact, its abit scary. Its the main urban centre in the middle of the desert. They are trying to improve it, and you could see this, but it still wasnt nice. We stayed in a hotel here, which was a treat, and managed to go to the supermarket then crawl into bed after a hot shower! That was enough for us.