Tom´s blog: Santiago, Chile´s capital city - I could take it or leave it to be honest. What it does have going for it is it´s stunning snow-tipped Andean mountain backdrop. Fortunately, we arrived on a clear blue sky day and the famous smog was not as dense as we had expected. We took to the streets, and quickly came to the opinion that this is a civilized and orderly place. Quite pleasant you could say, but it definitely lacked something. So we decided to use the time to recharge our batteries, re-order our itinerary, and my personal highlight… get up to date with our laundry. Maybe I´m doing Santiago a disservice, but we will return here in 6 weeks to board our flight to Sydney. Perhaps we´ll see another side to it then.
Batteries recharged, we headed north by bus to San Pedro de Atacama. 24 hours later, having journeyed across some impressive landscapes (rugged coastline, then cacti-strewn scrubland, and finally vast expansive desert) we arrived. This small town is at the north end of an enormous saline lake, Salar de Atacama, in the driest desert in the world. Oh and it was hot. Very hot. We wandered around the dusty streets before Anna decided I needed to be educated on the Atacameno culture and its developments through the Inca invasion and Spanish conquest. So in the museum I was dragged… Admittedly, it was quite interesting, particularly the ancient´s obsession with snuff and the array of hallucinogenic accessories on show. These people got high. A lot.
The highlight of this place was undoubtedly the Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon), a barren open moonscape where we got to see the sun set over the desert valley. A never ceasing penetrating wind blew fine sandy particles in to every available orifice, and as I write this four days later Anna is still finding grit in her hair.
Day two in San Pedro saw us hire some mountain bikes. After 10 minutes or so Anna remembered how to ride a bike and off we went. We visited Pukara de Quitar, the ruins of an Atacameno fortress from the 12th Century which rose hundreds of metres up. We were treated to spectacular views of a volcano (no snow this time) and the oases before it. Anna spent the time prancing around pretending to be a native Atacameno warrior, whilst I, more usefully, took some photos.
We took a nine hour bus journey north to the coastal city of Arica near the border with Peru. The highlight of the journey was a historical Chinese film dubbed in Spanish which played twice in a row for no apparent reason. I´m fairly certain that Anna and I were the only ones that noticed. Arica is known as ´the city of the eternal spring´and has the same desert hallmarks as San Pedro, a little rough round the edges, but with a year-round comfortable climate and sea breeze. Anna finally got to sample some of Chile´s much lauded seafood, and we had one of our best restaurant experiences so far with the sound of surf crashing beneath our terrace balcony.
Thus completes our Chilean chapter. On reflection, it is a stunning country of diverse landscapes owing to its long and narrow shape and over 4,000km of coastline. It´s probably been our quietest week of the four so far. So much so that when I said to Anna ´What can I blog about this week´, she replied ´Write down what you´re thinking´. Well, I´m thinking… ´Am I supposed to shampoo my moustache?´
It´s tough on the road with a lot on your mind…