Beach, desert, air and water in Northern Chile!
San Pedro De Atacama, Chile
So today I am just having a very chill day here in the desert of San Pedro de Atacama (world's driest desert) and since I am leaving Chile to go to Bolivia tomorrow morning I figured this was a good time for another blog entry! So let me tell you about everything that's happened since I left the south and headed back up north.
I went from Pucón to La Serena with a little stop in Valparaiso to visit my friend Nacho (and to get back some clothes that I'd left at his place, oops). Otherwise it would have been an unbearably long trip. From Pucón to Valpo was 12 hours and from Valpo to La Serena was another 7 hours. 7 hours is of course next to nothing now that I've tried the longer distances, especially since it was overnight.
I got to La Serena eeearly in the morning and waited till the sun got up before I dared leave the bus station to go downtown. La Serena seemed like a pretty city, very clean and nice and then of course it had the beautiful beaches. I had high expectations for this place and especially its surroundings, Elqui Valley and the Humboldt Penguin Reserve. Nothing much happened on this first day, so I won't go into much detail. I got two tours booked, one for the following day to the Elqui Valley and one for Monday to the Penguin Reserves. I also finally managed to buy a prepaid cellphone so that I could call Ivan, who I was going to stay with. He picked me up in the afternoon after I had strolled around the city and enjoyed the sun and pondered over how good life is. We dropped off my bags and went to the BEACH. It was so good. Ivan is a surfer but I just needed to relax after having almost lived on a bus the past 24 hours, so that's exactly what I did. After that he showed me a local little marked and then we had some food and a nice Cristal (local beer, it's cheap and also not very good).
The next day it got more interesting. I was picked up around 9 in the morning and found that I was the only English speaking person on this tour. Luckily I did get some of what the guide said in Spanish because he left out around 70 percent of the info when he talked in English. I think he will NOT get a tip. The Elqui Valley was really pretty, there were lots of vineyards and Pisco farms and of course lots of hills and valleys. Of course we stopped at a Pisco farm to learn how the oh so famous Pisco was made and to have a try ourselves. Making the Pisco was a really long process and some of the places we walked around we could smell the distilling grapes. Mmmhmmm! We also went down to the Pisco cellar to have a look at all the bottles. There were thousands! But then again, everyone in Chile drinks Pisco, whether it's Pisco Sours, Piscola or Pisco with Ginger Ale or other kinds of beverages, so I am sure it's a pretty good business. I bought a nice big bottle of Pisco for 3500 pesos (=35 DKK or 7 USD) that I am hoping to bring back to Denmark if it lasts that long ;) The tour also made a stop at the famous poet Gabriela Mistral's hometown and at a tiny museum in her honor. It honestly wasn't that interesting, even if her poems are pretty good the museum was too small to really be exciting. So I admit, when I came back from the tour I wasn't completely satisfied. The guide was beyond boring so I kind of missed some enthusiasm from his side. It's a shame because Elqui Valley is absolutely gorgeous. So in case you guys ever go to La Serena DO NOT pick the company Eco Turismo, they didn't do a great job. Good thing I had reservations with another company for the Penguin Reserve the next day!
I also had to get up early Monday as it was a two hour drive to where the tour actually started. But as soon as my guide picked me up, I knew this tour couldn't be bad. He was AWESOME. He was full of energy, cracked jokes all the time and was super excited about doing the tour. His name was Jared and he is from Delfines Chile Tours. Not only was he a great guy on this tour, but this far he has given me some good advise on travels in Bolivia as he has been a guide there. How lucky am I. Anyway, so we drove for a couple hours in the desert and we saw vicuñas and wild donkeys. When we made it to the little town from which our boat would depart we were told to change to our swimsuits underneath our clothes and then off we went. Jared was so much fun and it was a beautiful tour. The first island we went to was filled with the cutest penguins waddling around on the black and white rocks. The water was sooo blue and crystal clear, pictures couldn't quite do it justice. Besides for penguins we also saw some big fat sealions chilling on a rock probably just enjoying the sun, AND we saw a sea elephant! Jared told us a story about the Humboldt Penguins, that they mate up for life so when their mates die they don't find a new mate. Aww how cute. He compared that to the men of South America. Hmm I have my doubts on that one.... ;) After this island, we went to Isla Damas. There were no penguins here, but the island was very beautiful. I paired up with a couple girls fom Japan and we hiked around on the island for half an hour and then we went and lay down on the beach. The water was cold but I had to go out to get a few pictures, just to impress you guys back home. Jajaja! Way too soon did we get called back to the boat and sailed back. Then we went and got some lunch which Jared and I really craved and then we drove back to La Serena. My bus for Antofagasta already left tonightas I'd seen what I wanted to in La Serena, so Jared kept me company until I had to go to the bus station. I met a couple girls on the way, and when I said I was on my way to Iquique (Antofagasta was just a stopover) one of them got all excited and told me how lindooo the north was. Turns out she was from Arica which is up a little further north than Iquique. With this in mind I got on the bus and immediatly fell asleep. The heat and all the activities are really making me sleepy. Ciao ciao La Serena, you weren't my favorite city but I have no regrets.
I am going to skip over Antofagasta as I did nothing here but change buses. It took me 12 hours to get here, and now it was another 7 hours to Iquique. I slept alot but luckily I was awake when we got close to Iquique because it was spectacular. We had been driving through the dry desert (driest in the world, remember) and suddenly we were driving down the dunes and had a great view of the city of Iquique...and the beaches! How surreal to be so close to both the desert and the ocean at the same time. At the bus station I was picked up by Marcos who I was supposed to stay with. He did not have room anyways though, but he had hooked me up with his friend Anahi who turned out to be great so I didn't mind. We went to his hostal were I met a guy from Mexico and a guy from Switzerland who were both working there. The Mexican guy made us all pizza and then we stayed up most of the night and drank beers. Bienvenido a Iquique!
The following day Marcos took a whole day out of his calendar to show me around a bit. We walked along the beaches Playa Brava and Playa Cavancha. The waves were huge so this was a paradise for surfers, windsurfers, bodysurfers and the like. And because of the sand dunes Iquique was also great for sandboarding and one of the best places in South America for paragliding. Or if you wanted to relax you could just chill on one of the many beaches. How can anyone ask for more? I also almost felt like I was walking around in some US beach-show, being surrounded by surfer dudes and people rollerblading. After strolling on the beaches for hours we went to Anahi's house with my backpacks and then Marcos invited me to a party at his friend's place. It was great fun meeting some of his friends, drinking some Chilean wine and practising my Spanish, but I went home around midnight as I had booked a paragliding trip for tomorrow morning! Ai ai ai!
Needless to say I was extremely excited about paragliding, and nervous too with the whole being afraid of heights thing. They picked me up around 10 and then we drove up to the top of the sand dunes. Here the guide gave me my suit so that I wouldn't be cold with all the wind, and I got to put on the harness as well. We had to wait a bit for the air currents to get nice and strong, and meanwhile the guide told me what was going to happen. I was so excited I was about to burst. Finally finally finally he told me that we could get going because the wind and the clouds looked good. So we got attached to each other with some metal bars. Then as he had explained to me we at first walked backwards a little, then he opened the parachute (or whatever it is called) and then we ran forward and RAN OUT OVER THE SIDE OF THE CLIFF!!!!!! And flew! It was such an amazing feeling, I had never tried anything the like. I would do this every day if I could. I had forgotten all about being nervous, now I just enjoyed the view. We flew for around half an hour when suddenly we lost height and didn't regain it. Oh noo. So we had to make a crash landing in the dunes and got attacked by dogs (just kidding, they were just barking). I didn't care though, the trip had been so amazing. And landing here gave me a chance to see the "dark side" of Iquique, because on the side of the dunes there were teeny tiny shacks that from above just looked like piles of trash but that actually were homes to the poor people of Iquique. It was definitely thought provocing. My guide and I made our way down the sand dune and I got a ton of sand in my shoes that I dragged around the next couple days. Then we were picked up and they agreed to drive me to the Plaza. I met with Marcos here an hour later than we agreed (chileans). He helped me book a bodyboarding trip with his friend Cristian for the following evening. Nothing much else happened this night, we had talked about going out as Cristian worked at the local disco and could give us free entrance, but when I got to Anahi's house and went to take a nap I slept through the whole night. I guess I needed my beauty sleep reeal bad.
The most interesting thing that happened the following day was actually what happened at night. In the morning I had gone with Anahi to a dance class and then I had went to the dentist and got something fixed for 20.000 pesos (200 kr or 40 USD). At night though I met up with Marcos and Cristian around 6pm for the bodyboarding class. We put on our wetsuits and then went down to the water where Cristian showed me the important positions on the board. Then we got going! I thought it was so difficult to keep my balance on the board with all the waves and stuff, but I did as good as I could and I thought he found it very amusing. We practiced for a while before he helped me actually ride a wave. Woooohooooo!! It was so much fun I couldn't help laughing and laughing. We kept at it for a couple hours and watched the sun go down. It was so cool. After the class he told us we should go to the disco tonight as he was working again. So Marcos and I went to a pre party at one of his and Anahi's friends' place, then we went to Anahi's house so I could put on a decent dress and then we went to the disco. It was SO MUCH FUN. We danced and danced all night and at 5 in the morning when the others dragged me home I totally didn't want to leave the party scene.
For some reason when Anahi and I got up the next day late in the afternoon we were feeling fine. Anahi's family were having a barbeque that night to celebrate her younger brother's birthday so we spent some time preparing the food and other than that we just chilled out and drank some sweet tea. The barbeque was actually a great experience. Anahi, her mother, her brother's girlfriend and I were in the kitchen while Anahi's dad took care of the grill. And the food was sooooo good, I need to get the recipes. Also we drank some red wine with sugar and strawberries in it. Delicious, I am telling you. We stayed up till late and Anahi and I danced with her mother to some sweet Chilean serenades before we went to bed. All in all a perfect day.
The next day was going to be my last in Iquique, so I had decided to visit Humberstone, which is an old abandoned mining town from back when the nitrate mine was still open. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and with good reason. When I came there, I really felt like I was walking around in a ghost town. Some of the houses had been made into little exhibitions of different things from that time, like kitchen tools or old ways of communication. The most interesting house I thought was the one that simply displayed what the houses used to look like 50 or so years ago. Then I went closer to the actual mine and the big factory halls with the old trains and big machines. Everytime I went inside somewhere the whole place was making noises as if it was going to collapse on top of me. Walking around on the outskirts of town was actually a little creepy, because the houses looked lik they had just been abandoned in the matter of no time. One place a car was still parked in the backyard and all the curtains were drawn. Creeepy. I also went to the theatre that is said to be haunted. Of course I don't believe stuff like that...but I hurried out anyway and didn't look back! I ended up spending several hours here before I had to head back to Iquique to catch a bus to Calama, the town I had to go to in order to get a connection to San Pedro de Atacama. I had really really loved being in Iquique, it is now my favorite place along with Pucón. But I felt like I had seen what I wanted to see, and it was time to go explore a new place. Ciao Iquique, hopefully I will see you again some day!
It didn't take more than 8 hours to get to San Pedro where I am right now. I met with Eduardo, the guy I was going to stay with, in Calama and we took the bus together from there. San Pedro is a tiny, dusty little town very different from what I've seen so far. I love it! When Eduardo and I got to his place I met a girl from Slovakia, Alex, who had been staying with him over the weekend. She was headed for the nearby ruins Pukará de Quitor and asked if I would join her which of course I would. It was 3km from San Pedro so it didn't take too long to get there. She was so cool, she had been travelling around the world for 9 years or so and seen so many great places. She was also going to both Bolivia and Peru so hopefully she can be a future travel partner. We spent some hours at the ruins that were build into the cliff overlooking an oasis, and we even allowed ourselves to sunbathe a little from the highest point. When we went back to the city, Alex helped me book a couple tours, one for the Altiplano Lakes the next day and one for the Tatio geyser field for the day after that. When I booked them I was told that I shouldn't eat any red meat the night before and also I shouldn't drink alcohol or smoke. I should make sure to get enough sleep and bring plenty of water but not eat too much during the trip. All of these advises were to avoid altitude sickness, as both the altiplano lakes and the geysers were located in around 5000 m above the surface of the ocean. I actually did have a drink that night when we went out with a couple of guys from Slovakia, but it wasn't that late and as soon as we got home I went to sleep.
The following morning I got picked up around 8. The guide was excellent and the group as well. There were a couple cool guys from Canada and I met a really nice couple from Germany, Catrin and Danny, whom I walked around with for most of the day. The first stop was at a couple lakes where the flamingos had their habitat. There weren't so many as it was mating season, but the ones that were there were beautiful, and the surface of the water was like a mirror so the reflections were really cool. There was a great view to all of the surrounding volcanoes. The guide explained to me that the white stuff on top of the volcanoes wasn't snow but salt! I guess we really are in a salt desert. Crazyyy! We had some breakfast before continuing on to some even higher altitudes. The bus stopped at a big pretty lake really close to some of the volcanoes and we went out and did some hiking. I talked to Catrin a lot and we both had a slight headache and felt like it was getting harder to breathe, and our hearts started beating faster if we moved too fast. It really felt like we were just in a bad shape. On out way back we also stopped in a nice little village the size of nothing, but it was cute to walk around in and there was a llama in a cage that we could feed (but what is that compared to the real thing that I actually saw yesterday with Alex). Back home in San Pedro the guide, the Geman couple and I went to have some food and then I went back to Eduardo's place to relax a bit and drink some tea and go to bed early as I had to be at the bus tomorrow morning at 4 am!! Before going to bed Eduardo gave me his big jacket and a blanket for the bus as he said it would be freezing. I came to appreciate that.
When my alarm woke me up at 3.30 I so wasn't ready to get out of bed. I did everything with my eyes closed, put on layers and layers of clothes but yet when I went outside it was FREEZING! At the hostel where I waited for the bus I met another couple, Astrid and Philip from Switzerland. During the day I learned that Astrid had been on exchange in Denmark and spoke Danish! How cool. Well the bus finally came and I wrapped myself in my blanket and tried to sleep those two hours it took to get to the geysers. It was impossible though as it was so cold and the roads were terrible so my head was bumping up and down. It was all well worth it when we did arrive to the geyser field though. It was so cool, like walking around in a different world. We spent an hour at this field which was where the smaller geysers were, then we had breakfast and went to the geyser field where the big geysers were. There was a hot spring here as well that we were allowed to swim in but only 20 minutes otherwise our skin could get irritated from all the minerals. It was spectacular, I mean, changing was ridiculously cold but getting in the water just felt so good, unless you accidentally stepped on a spot where boiling water came to the surface. I just lay there like a lazy sealion and enjoyed the heat and dreaded the moment when I had to get up. It was awful too, getting up, going from 35 degrees to 5 degrees. UGH! I had forgotten a towel so I had to dry myself off with my scarf (thanks for the scarf Mom). Then I checked out the huuuuge geyser before we had to leave to go to a little pueblo where we could buy some empanadas and meat on sticks, and then we headed back home to San Pedro. I had another tour at 16 for the Moon Valley so I hurried home and changed to some more comfortable clothes and then I got going. The valley was so cool, there was salt everywhere making it look like it had just snowed. Our guide was amazing too, she was great at explaining and doing so in an interesting way. After this we went to the Death Valley. It was so hot here, but so different from the Moon Valley, this looked more like Mars or a little version of Grand Canyon. Finally we went to the place where the climax of the tour was going to happen: we were going to watch the sun set in this beautiful landscape. Yes yes yes it was very romantic and yes I know there are beautiful sunsets all over the world, but it was still spectacular sitting on a cliff with your legs dangling down in empty space and seeing how the sun made the surrounding mountains and volcanoes change color. I met a ton of new people too as there were many different groups here. I felt so small looking at the hgue mountains surrounding me, and I just tried to take in all the beauty around me. I can't help but feel really lucky all the time that I get to see and experience what I do. Aah *sigh of satisfaction*. When I got back home I really tried to stay awake but I ended up falling asleep before saying goodnight to Eduardo. It had been a loong day.
The next day, Thursday, I was going to go to Calama, the so called s***hole of Chile, and visit my friend Astrid from Denmark. She picked me up at the bus station and then we went to her home to have some lunch with her family. She told me about the coppermine nearby which is like the world's biggest open faced coppermine, and about the town that had been up there. From one day to the next the whole town had been moved down to Calama and the town had been closed. A lot of Astrid's classmates used to live there, so she said it was really strange when they showed her pictures of the places where they used to live and that we're now sealed off. What is with the north and their ghost towns? After lunch Astrid's host dad drove us to a nearby oasis that was really pretty and obviously very different from the surrounding desert as there was actually some water here. It was fun to see. Then we went to downtown Calama to go to the mall. It was just like being back in the US and we just walked around and talked in Danish which I think was a bit weird for the both of us. Unfortunately I had to leave at 17 so it was a short visit, but it had been great to see her and I am definitely looking forward to being reunited with her in Denmark. Back in San Pedro I went to an agency where I had booked a star gazing trip. I waited to hear the result of whether or not the tour was happening. I met an American guy who had also been at the Moon Valley yesterday and who was also waiting for the result. Sadly, it was too cloudy so everything was cancelled. We hurried to make reservations for the next night (which is tonight, as I am sitting here writing this) and we are keeping our fingers crossed. Then I went and had a light dinner with Aaron as the guy's name was, an a girl from the US named Ashley. They both had to get up early for the geyser tour tomorrow so we kept it early and then I went back to Eduardo and had a nice cup of tea and tried to read a little in my Spanish book before going to bed.
And all of this brings us to today! I have had a day with absolutely no plans, I have just been relaxing and inhaling the dust of the San Pedro streets, chilling on the sunny square and it has actually been really great. In a second I am going to go home to Eduardo, maybe drink our usual cup of tea, and tonight I a going to see if the star gazing trip is going to happen. If not, that's just too bad, because tomorrow I am going to Bolivia at 8 in the morning. I've already changed 60 USD to 300 Bolivian pesos so that should be enough for the first days until I find an ATM in Uyuni or Potosí or wherever else my feet decide to go. I have absolutely loved Chile, every bit of it, I can't believe how much beauty and variety this country and its people holds. To be a little poetic, I am leaving a pieve of my heart here and Chile will always have its own place in my heart. Ciao ciao Chile, hopefully I will see you in the future! I am really excited to go to Bolivia now, and excited to tell you all about my experiences there. Ciao chicos!