Hola from Chile
The flight certainly seemed quicker on the way back. Could it be because we had our own individual in flight systems and I was hooked on playing “Who wants to be a millionaire”, quite possibly, as they had the English version of the game. I hopped once again in the VIP taxi and back to “Hostal de Sammy”. I’m whacked so caught up on email and had an early night.
The next morning my paranoia has kicked in. I’m chatting with some of the hostal workers who are from all over the place and one of them has been robbed three times. This continent certainly has it’s share of horror stories. I think in Chile though it’s mostly petty crime and they don’t come after you armed. I’m Lonely Planetless and despite my griping about it, it is great for giving you an idea of where to go and stay. I search for an English bookshop but the only one appears to have closed down. I have the added problem of it’s a Sunday so a lot of things aren’t open. I ask for a hint of where bookshops may be and then I head outside. Time to kick this paranoia once and for all. I head for the Metro and buy a ticket at 38p one way (hear that Mr Livingstone !!) to Providencia. I walk for a bit and find tourist information which is also closed. Then I find an English book shop. It’s closed but at least I know where it is for tomorrow. The Chileans must be avid readers as I then find another 5 shops, 3 of which are open. The third miraculously has a South America Lonely Planet in English, ok it’s double the price of the UK but it’s worth that not to have carried it all this time. I head back to the hostel to start planning Chile.
Back at the hostel I meet Richard, a Canadian guy, he borrows my book and I decide that initially I’m going to head north to the desert. He suggests we go to the bus station together to get our tickets. He’s heading south. This sounds like a great idea as I need to go to the cash machine and added male protection would be a bonus. We get our tickets and then head to the supermarket. My journey is 23 hours and includes food, his doesn’t. The Chileans do have a sense of humour. Maybe it’s the sun I don’t know. Richard buys some fruit and veg and as it is being weighed he says the name of each item in Spanish to the grocery man. As he says “tomate”, the assistant says “you say tomato and I say tomate”. I collapse laughing, it was really very funny and I can’t imagine a guy in a UK supermarket coming up with the same quick wit. We head back to the hostel, mission completed and spend the night chatting in the courtyard with the other travellers.
In the morning I catch up on the blog and do the laundry (it’s free here) and then await my taxi. I’d left myself a bit of time. That was just as well as the driver drops me at the completely wrong terminal. It’s boiling, I’ve got all my bags and the woman at information tells me I’m a good four blocks of weaving through terminals. I walk for a couple of blocks and then in danger of missing my bus I grab a taxi. This guy takes me exactly where I need to be and doesn’t want any money but I give him enough to cover the fare and more, I’m just so grateful to have made it.
I’d booked semi cama which is the worst class. I’m with Tur Bus and I have to say the seats are amazing. I have leg room, they recline right back and most importantly there’s no one sitting next to me, well at the moment, I can spread out for my 23 hours. I’m also the only non Chilean on the bus. What must the top price be like ? We tend to stop every 3 hours. I’m going to abstain from the bus toilet and use the ones at stops. You have to pay but they are really clean. It really is a very civilised country. Initially, on leaving Santiago various traders come on and sell food. A few people also seem to board randomly. We get given a salami roll and a bottle of fanta. They do like their bread here. After 6 hours we stop at a town called La Serena one of the oldest towns in Chile and a couple of Aussie girls get on. They are seated across the aisle from me. A crying child gets on and sits behind me – always a worry but he settles down pretty quickly. Another roll is given out, this time it has some kind of fish paste inside. It’s time to sleep. I have packed eye shades and ear plugs and literally fall asleep straight away. I’m woken a little while later, my adjacent seat is now needed for some new passengers. I awake at 7.30am, now the seat is occupied by David our bus steward. He’s been giving us the food and blankets all the way through – and it’s service with a smile !!. I go back to sleep and finally wake up at 9am. Outside the scenery has turned to desert. We get to watch “24” in Spanish and “School of Rock”, then we stop at Antifagusta, another beach side town so the bus can be cleaned. Finally at 3pm, 24 hours after we left, we arrive.
The Aussie girls (Sky and Liz) adopt me, as it so happens I’d picked out the hostel they’d booked at as a possibility for myself. The town, San Pedro de Atacama is amazing, it looks like something straight out of a spaghetti western. I swear a gun fight was going to break out at any moment and I could hear “The Shadows” playing “Apache” in the background. Was that Clint Eastwood walking by ? No…… but you get my drift (I hope !!). We reached the beautiful plaza de armes which is the town square and longingly looked at some tourists downing cold beer. Maybe later. 80% of the income here comes from tourists while 20% comes from agriculture. We found our “Hostal la Ruca” and were all put in the same dorm. After a quick cup of tea and chat with some people who’d been there a couple of days to get a few tips it was time to go for a wander. Or in our case, straight to the square for a couple of pitchers of beers. We just chatted and then went for dinner. I was served a huge pizza which ended up lasting me 3 days.
I woke up early so made some tea. I have been eaten alive by mosquito’s or does Macca the hostel dog have fleas ? Probably, but I think it’s the mozzies. We walked down to the bakery for a pastry and then walked around town to book our tours. The girls were planning to leave for Bolivia the next day and I had a few trips that I wanted to do. We accomplished that pretty quickly and then searched for gloves and hats for the girls as their journey was going to be extremely cold at night. The shops seemed to contain everything you can get in Peru for quadruple the price so I didn’t bother. I’m sure I’ll pick a few things up when I finally get to Bolivia. An earthquake had hit 100km away from here last week so apart from one restaurant collapsing they were digging up the streets to make sure the water mains were okay. I can imagine that no water in the desert would become an issue.
We’d decided to go on the same trip that afternoon so were headed to the Valley of the Moon and Dead Valley. We were taken initially to a look out point where we could see the local volcanoes. You can see smoke every morning from one of them although it’s last explosion was 4 years ago but this was only small. Next stop Dead Valley. Actually it’s original name was Mars valley because the sand was quite red but the word for Mars and Dead are very similar in Spanish so the name got a bit lost in translation. In the distance we could see some really cool sand twisters. It’s windy out here as I was soon to find out. To get in to the valley we had to run down some huge dunes. Some people took their shoes off, although I had a feeling their feet would hot up pretty quickly and they did. As I emptied my shoes the wind picked up and kindly lodged some sand in between my contact lenses. I tried to sluish it away with water which eased the pain for a minute before it started again. Down in the valley the guide threw some stones at the edge of the cliff. Small rocks broke off and the noise sounded just like a xylophone – nice !! Then deeper through the valley and we came to a cave. Dead Valley done it was time to go to Valley of the Moon.
Moon valley got it’s name due to the fact that a lot of it is supposed to look like the moon’s surface. It was incredibly windy once again and I tried to wrap my fleece around me to avoid more getting i to my eyes. Liz was very sensible, she had what looked like an Arabic scarf tied all the way around her head – wish I’d improvised with my sarong. We had to walk up to the main hill so that we could get a good view of the sunset. The setting sun was actually partially blocked by a dune but then the best bit of the tour happened. As the sun set the landscape completely changed colour, it was so beautiful and really I would have started the tour later so you can get more of the spectacular scene(I’ve attached a picture). Oh well, time to go back and remove that contact lens. We went out for a simple pasta dinner – 80% of the food seems to be Italian here and then it was time for bed.
I got up early and said goodbye to the girls who were off to Bolivia. I was getting picked up at 8am for my archeological tour. I decided to do this one as you get to learn a bit more about the original inhabitants. Firstly, we were driven to Quitor which housed an old desert fortress. The fortress consisted of 2 houses and 120 walls. It was built high in the hills which enabled them to see any approaching enemy. From there, they could run and inform the villagers who would then take shelter in the fortress. The actual Atacama people arrived in the area around 3000 years ago, way before the Inca’s. Although they were beaten by the Inca’s and also later the Spanish. The recent earthquake had caused a few of the rocks from the walls to fall down so we had to be quite careful as to where we trod. There was a great view over the whole valley. After we walked back up to the top to look at the views we walked down and were driven to Tulor. What I really like about Chile is that when you pay to go in to the local protected areas all of the fees go back in to the individual villages to give them a better way of life (Cambodia – look and learn !!). Tulor was a village that contained around 120 round mud houses, only 7 remain. They were built circular so that they were more protected from the wind. They had rebuilt one house so we could see inside, it did look quite cosy. Unfortunately a lot of the existing houses are a bit delapidated and full of sand but they can’t remove it as the houses would collapse. At this point a Dutch girl in our group got stung by something and it seemed very painful. The guide just said oh well, you’ll be okay. I don’t think she was allergic as I did see her walking around the town later on. Later that afternoon I decided to go to the museum to find out a bit more. It did go back to the beginning of their people and at least it had some English translations for me to read.
I went to bed early as I was getting up at 3.30am to go on my next tour. As the girls had gone I was sharing a room with a French couple, an oriental guy and another guy who we’ll call meditation man as we often found him sitting in the dark with the door wide open in the lotus position. The French came in and were going out again so were very considerate. It’s nearly 10pm and I’m just dozing off finally when the other two get back. They turn on the light, completely ignoring the fact that I’m there. I cover my head with the sheet to block out the light, all hope of immediate sleep lost. Then they start rustling carrier bags against my ear or that’s what it felt like. Then they decide to go to the kitchen or somewhere – leaving the light on and door open, there are people talking in the courtyard so I can now hear them aswell. I slam it and turn off the light. 20 minutes later in they come again, light on, same ritual repeated. I have to get up for fear of committing violence and have a cup of tea. I stare daggers at them as I go – it’s just so inconsiderate. In dorms you get the incredibly considerate and the immensely selfish – I hope I fall in to the first category. I have now decided that if they are packing at least I’ll get rid of them tomorrow, if not I’ll have a word with them when I get back from my tour. If they don’t apologise then I have decided to invest in a carton of milk which I will distribute amongst their rucksacks. This has the added benefit of not staining clothes but in the desert heat it will definitely make them smell after a couple of days when I’m long gone. Of course, you always have to be a bit careful as it’s very possible that you could bump into these people again. I’m also comforted by the fact that my alarm will be going off at 3.30am – see how they like it !! (Apologies for stooping so low but I really wanted some sleep). Okay, now I have insomnia, the French come in with their torches (so as not to turn the light on – again consideration !!!!!) and I finally drift off at 1.30am – great !! 2 hours sleep.
We wake up as per alarm and are ready in time for our 4am bus. We coincidentally booked the same tour with the same company. Our hostel always seems to get picked up first but we made it on time so that was lucky, unlike a couple of people who hadn’t managed to wake up. The bus did try them again after they’d picked everyone else up but still no sign of them, wonder if you lose your money.
It was a two hour drive to the “El Tatio Geysers”. The temperature in the desert at that time of the morning is -5 degrees. The desert valley looks stunning and between 6am and 7am is the best time to see the geysers at their highest (the picture above is as the sun is coming up). Again, the recent earthquake had caused seven new geysers to appear. We are instructed not to inhale the fumes and to stay close to the guide as the mist can make you lose your way. Four people have died by not following these instructions. The last was a Spanish guy two years ago. They used to have a foot bridge over one of the geysers where you would quickly take a photo and then get off. The Spanish guy stayed too long and died from inhaling the fumes. Some have fallen in, and once you’re in there’s no chance of rescue. After the geysers we were served a welcome breakfast and then it was time to go to the hot pools. I had dressed in bikini but as we only had twenty minutes decided not to bother. The springs turned out to be warm rather than hot so I’m glad I didn’t.
After the springs we went to check out the wildlife at the local watering holes. We got to see vicuna (a deer like animal), Suri (or rhea, similar to ostrich), more birds and then a whole flock of black tailed flamenco birds (I think they meant flamenco and not flamingo although they looked very similar). Then it was time to go to a canyon full of cacti. They were huge and grow 1cm per year which meant some of them must have been nearly 300 years old. We were told not to buy cacti products from the locals as they should be protected. One had fallen due to the earthquake so the locals were allowed to take that one. There was a marquee being set up for a wedding – what a great setting !!
I got back to my hostel and the weirdo’s had gone, so had my alarm clock !! Should have gone for it with the milk after all. The French checked out and I now had two Irish girls who were lovely. I went in to town with one of them, Niamph, for a late lunch early dinner. We came back and she had a bottle of red which after some digging around with the cork we managed to open. A Belgian guy joined us and we invited the owner for a drink. They all spoke Spanish and I got the general gist. I went to bed early and in the morning said goodbye to the hostel’s dog Magga who’d really taken a liking to me. The desert has been amazing, I’d really recommend it as it’s so totally different to the rest of Chile. Oh well, time for another long bus journey and to head to Valparaiso……..
Plane = 15, Bus = 52, Train = 2, Boat =14, Sunglasses = 5, Mosquito Repellent = 8
Take care all