Hola familia y amigos,
Flying from NZ to Santiago was weird. Not the flight itself but crossing the date line - takeoff was at 4.40pm and I landed at 12.20pm the same day!! The same day twice screwed with my mind and body but I vowed not sleep. 1st challenge was to bat off a tosser of a taxi driver who tried to rip me off as soon a I left the airport. Success. 2nd was to find a bed. I jumped on the underground in what seemed like rush hour, walked 10 blocks and tried my hand at espanol with an old lady in a newspaper stand: "Donde esta blah blah blah..." "Como?" she replied, and so the final adventure began...SOUTH AMERICA BABY!!
It was a long 1st day exploring the city and its people before then heading to a Market in the north for food. I love being back in a country where I can eat cheap again and not be forced to eat pasta with tuna, pasta with sardines, pasta with mackerel, pasta with rice or pasta with pasta!!
I'm surprised by how Chile operates - it seems so inefficient! As an example, shopping for toiletries I went to a bar style counter in the shop where I had to catch the eye of a deodorant waitress, get her to pick my toothpaste and razor blades off the shelf. She then printed me a receipt, I had to go to another counter and pay, they gave me another ticket and I had to go back to another counter to pick up my bagged items. So they have 3 people doing what 1 does back home?? Now if the newly elected government wants to kick start the economy I think they should introduce a similar idea in England to lower unemplyment. Chile withstood the recession a hell of a lot better than we did!
One of the most beautiful cities I have been too. It's centered around the main square, Plaza de Armas and is filled with cafes and little shopping malls. The squares are clean and safe and huge churches and cathedrals stand watching over the streets. I did a tour to the Elqui Valley, filled with fields of grapes for the legendary Pisco. Consequently, there was a lot of Pisco tasting to be done as well as fire water which is the product straight after the wine is distilled - it burned like hell!! The valley gets 320 days of sunshine per year due to a combination of some cool geographical phenomenon - a good place to get a tan! As the skies are so clear here there are a lot of observatories, so we went on a staggering stargazing night in the hills – we saw and and took pictures of Saturn with it's rings which was pretty cool and were shown just how small we are in this magnificent universe! Also, I can now point our a few star constellations beyond Orions belt! Handy.
SAN PEDRO DE ATACAMA
After a 17hr bus trip I arrived at this oasis in the Atacama desert (the driest place on earth). Everyday is scorching hot, until the sun drops below the horizon and the FREEEEZZING night begins! At 4400m above sea level we saw the El Tatio geysers. Unfortunately the best time to see them is at dawn so we had to leave at 4am! Despite wearing all my clothes and socks as gloves it was still icy cold up there, but the geysers were awesome spewing steam 50metres into the air. A tour out into the desert offered some astonishing views, the Andes mountains on one side with it's towering snow capped volcanoes, the Southern mountain range on the other and a huge salt flat bang in the middle. We watched sunset at the Valley of the Moon, site of some NASA testing and listened to the sound of the earth - huge rocks on a canyon wall cracking as they cool from the day's sun. The Incans seemed to like this place too and built a protective fort overlooking the desert, the remains of which still stand...it was pretty cool wandering around there and standing in the very rooms that those great minds did. Absolute geniuses.
On the Peru border, Arica is a bustling city on the coast and it was great to feel an ocean breeze again after drying out in San Pedro! I did a trip to Lauca National Park to see yet more volcanoes and the highest navigable lake in the world - or so the Chileans claim! We visited a tiny village named Panicota dwarfed by it's namesake volcano. The school had 8 children and 1 teacher. We gave the kids and there parents a lift home to save them from there usual hour long walk over rugged terrain. Enroute we were rewarded with a "save a baby llama from drowning in a stream" routine!
Chile done...Peru next.