A Travellerspoint blog

San Pedro de Atacama

sunny 30 °C

We got a night bus to San Pedro de Atacama - slightly more luxourious than the N47 but takes a bit longer (17 hours)! We didn`t get much sleep on the bus but at least there were some good films on and the view wasn't too bad either. The sky is so clear here that you can see so many stars they almost look like clouds. We arrived nice and early at the hostel and were a bit groggy but got planning the excursions we were going to do here right away.

We did a tour to Valle de Luna (Moon Valley) and Valle de la Muerte (Death Valley). This tour took us to some caves that used to be an underwater sea system until an earthquake exposed it to the scorching desert sun. Now there's just empty caves with salt deposits, climbing around in these was really fun! We walked up to the top of Valle de Luna which does look like you've landed on the moon. The conditions are so harsh here that nothing at all can live here. We stopped off at some rock formations that have been carved by the wind and sand over 1000's of years and then stopped of at Valle de la Muerte. Although this valley is really steep and you wouldn't survive a fall, it was actually called this due to a mistranslation from from Belgian settlers who called it Mars Valley to the spanish settlers. The red sand and rocks (and lack of oxygen) does make you feel like you're on Mars!

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The next day we enjoyed lazying around the hostel in the hammocks and enjoying the cloudless sky! Avocados are so cheap we've had them for lunch most days. That night we did some star gazing. The Atacama desert is one of the best places on Earth to do it because there's only about 10 cloudy nights a year (opposite to home!) and the high altitude means there's less atmosphere getting in the way between us and the rest of the universe! The guide was very interesting. He showed us all the constellations and taught us about basic astrology. We then got to look through different telescopes to see different star clusters, saturn and its rings and see the detail of the moon's surface, craters and all. We then had a. Q&A session over a hot chocolate, which was definitely needed as it got pretty chilly!

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The next day (Tues 19th March) we said bye to Alex who we'd been travelling with since Valparaiso. I lost my paper that I got at the border from Argentina so I had to get a new one from customs. Fortunately it didn't take long so we did a bit of shopping and paid for our 3 day tour to Bolivia via the salt flats. We also had to change money to pay for the entance to the national park. The normal exchange rate doesn't exist in San Pedro so you get ripped off everywhere but I guess they've got to make their money in the desert somehow! We went to bed fairly early in preparation for our tour.

Posted by Ninirock 14:04 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

La Serena

We can see the sea!

semi-overcast 20 °C

We left Valparaiso and got the bus to a seaside town of La Serena. We experienced our first bit of pick-pocketing on the bus but all he got away with is Alex's hoody!

The view out the window was really interesting. The mountains rise straight out of the sea so you can see the moisture being forced up over the mountains forming clouds. They call this the camachaca which is very important as a source of water for the cacti and other plants that live there. There are a few olive plantations and vineyards. The farmers plant cacti in a line to make a fence - i think they're probably quite effective!

We arrived at La Serena, made fajitas for dinner and went to bed. The hostel is run by the loveliest Chileans who gave us a great breakfast with melon juice - it was soo good! We walked down to the beach and walked along. It was a bit cold for sunbathing/swimming so we just dipped our toes in! We then went to a local restaurant where no tourists go. The Chilean food is pretty simple with just meat salad and potatoes but it was very good value! We then went to the market and the archeological museum that had mummies and skeletons from 50 A.D.

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The next day we went on a tour to Islas Damas and Choros, which are islands a couple of hours up the coast from La Serena. The islands have been protected since 1990 because of all the wildlife found there. We got on a small boat in a group of 12 and it felt like we were on a roller coaster on the ways to the islands! During our visit we saw sea otters feeding on a rock and swimming in the water, a family of dolphins jumping and chasing their breakfast, sea lions sunbathing, thousands of comorants and vultures feeding on a dead cormorant. We also saw humbolt penguins, which are the smallest species in the world! The tour was amazing, it was great to see so much wildlife in so close proximity. On the way to and from the islands we also saw Guanacos (no alpacas yet!) and the Culpeo (Andean fox).

We made dinner in the hostel again and left the nest day to head north to San Pedro de Atacama.

Posted by Ninirock 14:38 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

Valparaiso

semi-overcast 20 °C

We had a short bus journey from Santiago to Valparaiso. We met up with Alex at the hostel and went out to explore the multicoloured hillside town. Valparaiso used to be one of the most important ports before the panama canal was built. The town is very higgledy piggledy with steep cobbled streets and no houses that look the same. They say that girls from Valparaiso are famous for their muscular legs - now I can see why! We went on a few of the 'ascensors' which are verniculars that take you down the hillside. These were built 1883-early 1900s and I don't think they've changed then since!

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After walking up and down the town we found a place that had tea and cake. There were lots of seagulls around and some British architecture- we felt like we were in Brighton!

We visited Pablo Nerudas 3rd and final house. You can see the whole of Valparaiso from his house. We had an empanada for lunch and then headed back to our hostel via the oldest Ascensor in Valparaiso. We ate dinner in the hostel and then went out to a local bar that was really atmospheric because it was loud and all the table were scratched and there were posters all over the wall. Not at all like the bars we get at home - you'd probably avoid it if you did ha!

Posted by Ninirock 06:47 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

Santiago

sunny 29 °C

We left Mendoza and Argentina behind us as we head into the Andes to reach Santiago. We passed glaciers and ski resorts that are used in the winter when the Andes are covered in snow and when the only way to get to Santiago from Argentina is by plane. The terrain is really dry and (from what I could see) only small shrubs and birds live there. We crossed the border at 3000m high. We had to get out to go through customs which was quite nice after a few hours of windy roads.

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We got to our hostel in the evening. The taxi driver was very chatty and welcoming but didn't seem very impressed that we didn't learn all about Chilean culture and history at school! The hostel was really nice and had a roof terrace where everyone got together to have a piscola (pisco is a liquor made from grapes and mixed with coke!).

We did a walking tour around the main sites such as the square that the spanish 'founders' fought the Mapuche (natives) and their main buildings. There was a lot of restoration work going on and most of the oldest buildings have been restored numerous times because of the earthquakes they have every 10-15 years.

We visited Pablo Neruda's house. Neruda was a poet born in 1904 and was friends with Picasso and other famous people were around during the Spanish civil war. He collected everything from paintings of watermelons to coloured glasses and dolls, which is why his houses are interesting to look at!

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We met our waiter from the night before who showed us a typical chilean restaurant and the best place to buy ice creams.

Our friend Alex who we met in Santiago came to our hostel for dinner and we agreed to meet up in Valparaiso (our next destination).

Santiago is a very flat city apart from some random hills that jut out between the buildings. So on our last day in Santiago we went up the tallest of these called San Cristobal. Luckily there's a free bus that takes you right to top so we didn't have to climb all the way up (although it would've been good practise for the inca trail)! At the top 'La madre de Santiago' looks down in the city and just at her feet they hold outdoor mass on a Sunday. We decided to walk down the hill which was helped by having a mote. Mote is a drink that taste like sweet iced tea with dried peaches and corn at the bottom - it sounds weird but surprisingly nice!

Posted by Ninirock 06:33 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

Mendoza - Argentinian Wine Country

sunny 29 °C

We had a nightmare journey from Iguazu to Mendoza - the plane was delayed by 2 hours and then we had a stop in Salta (right in the North of Argentina) and then they decided to stop there for 2+ hours for no good reason. There is definately a difference between Argentinian time and British time. Nothing leaves on time! So we ended up getting to Mendoza 4 hours late, which meant that the hostel thought we weren't coming so filled our places! They sent us to another hostel to the end of town where no tourists go. This hostel was run by 3 ladies with the fattest cat I've ever seen! They were very nice and it would've been a good place to practise spanish but not to meet people so we changed hostels the next day.

We went to the hostel and met a really nice Chilean guy called Yerko who came with us to book a wine tour for the next day. We walked around Mendoza and got a taxi around the park in the city - which was such a contrast to Iguazu as Mendoza is a semi-desert climate. We went to a pizza party in another (nicer) hostel who also gave out free tequila!

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The next day we did a bike wine tour where you ride a bike to the different Bodegas (wineries). Each bodega had a tour where they showed you the process of how they made the wine and then you could try some. It was pretty nice! We had a nice lunch in a place recommended by the bike man. The wineries obviously bring in a lot of money as there were some nice houses around there and the bodegas were very manicured and well presented for the tourists!

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Posted by Ninirock 08:23 Archived in Argentina Comments (1)

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