HIII EVERYBODY!! HIIII DR NICK!!
Kate has decided to unleash me on you all once again, and I hope I can follow in my own prodigious footsteps and bore you all to death again on a subject that should be quite interesting!!
After my birthday and a few ridiculously expensive, smoggy-lunged days in Santiago we headed to San Pedro de Atacama, a little tourist town on the edge of the driest desert in the world and jumping off point for tours to all the amazing natural sites there are near there. The days are warm, but the nights are freezing and since we arrived in Chile (or Chilly) we haven´t had a single room with heating. The night sky was pretty amazing in San Pedro though because there is so little light pollution. On our second day, we hired bikes and rode into the desert. It was pretty hot and dusty (to spoil all your misconceptions about deserts) and Kash´s knees were still hurting after competing in the last Tour De France so we didn´t get too far.
The next day I got up at 3.30am to go on the Tatio Geyser tour. Kate decided against it, probably for the best as, to put it mildly, she has a rather sensitive inner ear and the 2 and a half hour bus to the geyser field was like nothing I have ever experienced in my life. I hit the roof of the bus a few times and the rest of the time was subjected to an absolute bone pulverising, pneumatic shuddering on the terrible "road" which apparently used to be much worse!!
The geysers were incredible, really eerie at that time in the morning, but the -15 degree temperatures and 4,800 metre (16,000 feet) altitude were a little painful. There was also a little terma or hot pool which was not as consistently hot as I had expected (or hoped) it was going to be when i was stripping off in the bus! I was the only one in my group to do it and had to walk from the bus to the pool wearing just my hat, shorts, t-shirt and my big hiking boots sin socks, I must have looked like one of the village people.
Then, that same evening, Kash and I went on the Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon) tour for the sunset. It was nice but not incredibly interesting (I know I have you on the edges of your seats at the moment!) so I´ll just let you look at the pictures. (Ali Mac, you´d have loved it mate, I thought of you a lot as the geology was just so impressive there).
So, the next day (I slept well that night!!) we got up at 7 to start the 3 day jeep tour to Uyuni. There were 6 of us in our jeep, including a driver called Juan, and a cook (and maybe his girlfriend) Magda. The other two travellers were an Israeli lad of 21 called Gill and a Swiss girl of 30 called Lisa. Juan is a young guy and was a little moody and unhelpful at times and at others very quick to laugh or pull a funny face, or dance like a spaz to the gringo music we were playing through the car stereo. Magda was just really shy but tried really hard with the food which was much better than we had expected. Lisa is a really sweet girl and really easy to get on with. She was also quite adept at giving Gill a much needed knocking down on occasion. He´s quite a funny lad, but is also the tightest person I have ever met in my life (yes, yes, tighter than me. . .groan) and kept telling us how good he was at something (yes, yes, I know. . .groan!). What was hilarious was he´d add the word "too" after every boast. . ."I´m an amazing cook too". . .seriously! During one fascinating conversation, he enlightened us with the fact that "all capital cities are boring, and there is nothing special to do there that you can´t do in any other big city" naming London, Paris, and New York as examples. . .he then went on to say that actually having said that, "Tel Aviv and Jerusalem" were "pretty special"!! I thought it was quite funny though, but Kate couldn´t stand him by the end!!
Ok, so, the tour. . .on our way to Uyuni we stopped at several impressive sites including loads of beautiful lakes with incredible mountain/volcano backdrops, some with really weird coloured water caused by the specific mineral content of the water, some had flamingoes (actually coloured by eating the same micro organism that colours the water this cool blood red colour). We also saw an erupting volcano whilst eating lunch on one of its old magma fields (the scenery looked just like an early Star Trek set where they go down to a planet surface and the guy in the red suit, who you´ve never seen dies a horrible death. . .I couldn´t resist a James T. Turk pose (sorry, that´s a Hughes in-joke)) We saw the Arbol de Piedra (Tree of Stone) and the massive volcanic rock formations behind it. There is no volcano seeminlgy near enough to have produced these lumps of rock, so it really is a mystery to me, but Kate assures me that anything can happen over a long enough period of time. You never know, Spurs might even win a Premiership one day. . .(ok, calm down, loving the Gio deal by the way!) We also saw another geyser field with pools of metallic grey and burnt orange liquids (why do I know these colours? Kashy!)
As well as the flamingoes we also saw a load of wild llamas (Kate loves them!), a few desert foxes and one of the most amazing things I have ever seen. . .an ostrich running flat out right next to the jeep. The photo/video, as usual, doesn´t really do it justice, but the speed of it was incredible. I love the way it can keep its head perfectly still, even at top speed. . .reminded me of Michael Johnson (the legendary, 200 and 400 metre, runner Lucy, not the new exciting English midfield prospect at Man City!!)
The first night was a little uncomfortable though. We spent it in a refugio which basically means a brick shack in the middle of nowhere. The stars there though were absolutely incredible. You could see millions and all the way to the horizon. It is Kate´s favourite site from the whole trip so far, and I have never seen anything like it in my life. The cold was pretty incredible that night though. I had to get ready for bed in the dark as the generator went off on me! Kash and I wore ALL our clothes, were inside our sleeping bags, and the sleeping bag they gave us, and under the 4 blankets they provided too!! It was the most uncomfortable night of our lives. We tried huddling on the same bunk for warmth a couple of times, but Kashy, being a girl, and being uncomfortable, threw a couple of I´m-giving-up-I´m-uncomfortable-I´m cold-it´s-all-your-fault-and-I-hate-you fits so I was kicked backed to my own lump of stone. My sleeping bag is a bit small and so I had to either lie like I was in a coffin, and freeze my face off, or lie on my front and be gassed by my hood, and I couldn´t even put my arms out to make space as they would freeze despite the 5 layers covering them. . .not a good night!! At least it was too cold for the bed bugs too though.
On the second night we stayed in a Hotel de Sal on the edge of the Salar de Uyuni. It was entirely made of salt, even the floor, which sounds fun but was not at all practical, and was nearly as cold as the 1st night. The need for candles after the generator went off was a highlight though.
The days were awesome enough to make up for lack of home comforts at night though, and we had saved the best ´til last. The Salar de Uyuni is the biggest salt flat in the world. To quote the guide book, it´s 12,000 km squared and as much as 6 metres deep over large areas. We had to fire the candles up at 5 in the morning to get there for the sunrise. I hope you like the photos from there, we managed to get quite inventive with perspective, but a lot of ideas didn´t work and ended up hurting poor Kashle´s sensitive knees again, in particular when we tried to become a football for Gill to kick.
Anyway, it was awesome, and we saw lots of other stuff including a train graveyard (Kate, the super geek was enthralled. . .seriously, she loves trains!) and a girls football match in a little town (yes they were crap; the No.11 might require representation though!) but I´ve had to be brief (ha ha!!).
We´re in Tupiza, in southern Bolivia, now by the way. We got a 7 hour bus at 6 in the morning yesterday from Uyuni, and we are now relaxing in our luxury (10 pound a night!) hotel, and stuffing our faces with 1.50 all english breakfasts. . . SO glad we´re finally in Bolivia. We´re going horseriding (again!!) in the next couple of days, as apparently it is unmissable here. Something to do with where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid died. . .
Love to all. . .I think I´ll let Kashy write the next couple!!
More pics coming soon