Thursday, 22 April 2010

South America so Far

It's been amazing so far and quite the culture shock having come from New Zealand! We arrived into Santiago and spent a few days there trying to get over jetlag and exploring the city. We were stayng really near the University next door to a dance school, so the area had a good feel to it. We also headed up the funicular/cable car up small mountain to get an amazing view of the city and the sunset over the mountains. The city looked quite European although seemed more manic and there were signs of the earthquake, with bits of rubble dotted around along wit some cracks in the pavements and buildings. Having counted about a million Santander banks around town, we headed on to Valparaiso on the coast.

It was a 2 hour journey on an amazing Chilean bus - they're incredible comfortable even on the "classico" which is just a seat, but a very comfy one! We've since taken others that are even better - the long distance ones pretty much put you in a bed! Valparaiso was basically an old port town which had really colourful houses up on the hills. We did a bit of shopping there and donated coins to the football fans - they collect money on the street to pay for the journey to the stadium!

From Valpairaso we headed 7 hours north to La Serena, another town near the coast but very different from where we'd just come from. It was a nice little "churchy" town, with a nice local market and a weird garden/zoo where we saw all sorts of birds - vulture-type things, owls, eagles, chickens, sheep, ostriches. It was pretty strange but we saw some things we've never seen before! In the hostel we met a few people over a beer or two, and have been traveling with two of the girls ever since.

It was a 16 hour journey up to San Pedro de Atacama, a small, really dusty town full of dogs and dog poo in the middle of the Atacama desert. We did a trip to a salt lagoon, where it was impossible to sink - the water was 80% salt, with lithium too which is supposed to relax you. The next day we went to the valley of the moon and the valley of death, two amazing rocky/sandy areas in the desert. We also investigated a tour into Bolivia and booked a trip with a recommended agent.

We then spent 3 days touring the Bolivian highlands, seeing lagoons, flamingos, llamas, vicunas, geysers and live volcanoes before ending at he salt flats, and expanse of white literally as far as the eye could see! The first night was tough - we were told to be ready for altitude sickness, and we spent the night at 4700 metres above sea level, breathing was an effort and the night was absolutely freezing. We survived! The next night was much better, although we stayed in a "salt" hostel, with a salt floor and salt bricks. It was fine, but dried us out completely - our soaking towel was dry the next morning as the salt absorbed all the moisture.

The last day was spent on the salt flats, taking ridiculous pictures and seeing a thousand year old cactus on an island in the middle of the flats. We also got hit by a few spots of rain, which for a place that gets 5cm of rain a year was quite an achievement. The last stop on the tour was the train graveyard. Just a load of rusty old trains covered in graffiti. It was an unspectacular end to what had been a great trip!

The tour ended in Uyuni which on first impressions was a bit of a dump, but it wasn't as bad as first thought, though we were glad to only stay there one night. It was our first encounter with the Bolivian traditional ladies, who wear all sorts of colourful dresses and wear bowler hats perched on t heir heads.

From Uyuni, we endured the "nightmare bus from hell", Bolivian vomit galore from the 2nd minute, and 10 hours with one loo stop, and an old smelly woman who was sat in the isle next to us. She was so old so I stood and gave her my seat, at which point she proceeded to fall asleep on Sara dribbling and smelling unsavoury, and then refusing to move once another seat became available. The road, if you can call it a road, was 7 hours of dirt/sand up and down mountains. The toilet stop was actually a bush, in a place which had toilets but no running water. The last three hours were on a tarmac road which was better, although as the sun went down we drove in complete darkness, with the driver only putting on the lights if there was no-one in front of him. We were still traveling with the girls from La Serena and a couple of Danish girls and an Israeli, just laughing our way through the trauma of the bus ride! As the driver turned the lights off, he put "turn around" the song on which spooked everyone, as we imagined turing around to be face to face with a nutter. The girls we're nervously laughing and then just decided to sing along.

We arrived about 8pm ish in Sucre, the old capital, which is really very nice! We've spent a couple of days here, the first night struggling to find something to eat and having fried chicken in what was basically someone's living room! An "authentic Bolivian experience" we later read.

We've also explored a bit, been up to a view point over the city and seen the main markets, along with the Casa de Libertad, which is where the government used to be, and still is ceremonially. We've found it to be very cheap here, and have had some lovely food in some of the "upmarket" places for less than £5. We've paid more for a bus with a toilet for tonight to La Paz, so wish us luck!

1 comment:

  1. Most exciting yet and that's saying something! Great blog and brilliant pics..very Indiana Jones!Thought I couldn't get any more envious but it seems I can - what have I been doing all my life?! Tho possibly not of the 10hr bus journey.. you must be the world authorities on bus travel by now!

    Think that's enough exclamation marks (or not !!) but you get the gist - can't wait for the next installment.