Eric and I are lightening our loads. As we carried our backpacks through our third country, we decided it was time to get rid of some stuff. Luckily, our hostel was collecting donations for those in need after the earthquake. I got rid of a pair of shorts and a long sleeved shirt while Eric parted with a small bag and a t-shirt.
Our last days in Santiago were mostly spent relaxing and planning – it seems that we needed a little break. We didn't really do anything worth noting, other than our ride up the steepest funicar in the world. I was a little scared, Eric loved it almost as much as he loved trying to scare me and making fun of me for finally being the one to worry (my comebacks, “OMG, what if we lose the camera?” “What would happen if we can't get our bus tomorrow?” I guess different things scare all of us!). Early in the morning on Tuesday we headed out to La Serena. La Serena is a relatively small town that serves mostly as a jumping off point, at least as far as tourists are concerned. For the first time, we decided not to book our hostel before getting into town – bad plan. When we arrived (after a 7 hour bus ride) we grabbed our bags and slowly started making our way uphill to Maria's Casa. Some friendly strangers pointed us in the direction, only to for us to find out that the Germans had stolen our beds. And where was Maria anyway? The next lead was El Punto, which only had one room left! Score... except it was with one double bed. “No bueno, senior. Somos hermanos!” We finally landed in Hostel Vergada, which looked amazing from the street. However, it was not so amazing from inside. It seemed to be more of a long term lodging for locals, and we were certainly the only backpackers in sight. The room was dirty, with molding food and loads of fruit flies. On the upside, we did have a kitchen which we made good use out of!
As we settled into our dowdy little room, I reached in my pocket to find.... nothing!! After several hours and several trips to the bus station, we finally determined that my iPhone had a new permanent home in Chile (Call me optimistic, but I'm pretty sure that a poor family found it, tried to return, and when unable to, sold it. Now they will now be able to eat for the next several months, I'm sure of it!). The searching itself took up a good chunk of our day, so we stuffed ourselves with pizza, planned the next couple days and went to sleep.
That night we decided that the next day would be MY day (we have days in these parts, too). Which meant beach time!! Unfortunately, the beach wasn't nearly as pretty as we expected, and Eric wasn't really excited about the prospect of laying out all day. So, we did have a little beach time, but spent the majority of our day exploring the city, looking for flip flops (to replace the ones that were carried away by the thunderstorm in Mendoza) and making dinner. We set up a tour for the following day and had picture by picture movie night (Super Troopers really is a good movie!).
The next couple days didn't exactly go as planned. Our tour was canceled due to bad weather and we scrambled around the city (literally) trying to change our rental car reservation, trying to get our money back or and trying to set up another tour. We finally were able to rent a car for Thursday, and headed off in the morning to Fray Jorge Nacional Parque, a cloud forest in the middle of the desert. Eric was especially excited about this – another one of his Planet Earth finds! This was such a fun day trip! Eric was incredibly nervous about driving a manual car in a foreign country (Lonely Planet quote: “If you are involved in a automobile accident your licensed will be confiscated until the case is resolved … a blood alcohol test is obligatory; purchase a sterile syringe at the hospital when the police take you there … ordinarily, you can't leave Chile until the matter is resolved.”). However, we safely made it out of the city, down the Panamerica and up the hour long dirt road. They (who??) say its the journey, and not the destination – well this time it was definitely both! The dirt road was rocky, uphill and dotted with tiny towns full of ramshackle houses – I loved it! We were lucky enough to get there while the forest was still covered in fast moving clouds, an amazing sight that pictures cannot do justice. There was a hike through the forest which was short, but beautiful. We tried to get off the beaten path a little bit, but we weren't able to find anything but dead ends. We had heard the wild foxes would come close the people, so we sat in the picnic area for a while hoping to spot one. We never saw one, maybe because our leftover pizza wasn't that appealing or maybe because they respond to "Hola Zorros" and not “Hey foxes!” (You learn words in the most interesting ways when traveling). We made dinner again after getting home, this time chicken and vegetable stir fry (how come no one ever taught me how to cut chicken, mom?). I loved it, but it wasn't Eric's favorite.
So now we're caught up to today. We woke up early this morning and headed out on an organized tour to Isla Damas. The main attraction at this national park is the Humbolt Penguins, which we figured might look a little different than the ones we are used to in the zoo. We took a two hour bus ride to the park, ready with our bathing suits and sunblock on! Unfortunately, it was rainy and cold (even more so since my jacket is so neatly hung up in Sacramento) without a ray of sunshine in sight. I'm not really sure what I expected out of this tour, but it was definitely more. The tiny boat we took made it to the furthest of the three islands in a little less than a half hour where we saw several species of birds, penguins, sea otters, sea lions and an elephant seal. On our way to the second island there were about twenty dolphins that swam right next to the boat, it was amazing! We hiked around the second island for about an hour before heading back to the mainland for a delicious lunch (empanadas, salmon and rice for Eric and I). When we got back, we heard there was an earthquake up north, near Caldera. We were on the water and didn't feel a thing. From what we heard it was a 7.1 and there was little damage. The locals said that they are very used to earthquakes, but that this many, especially so big and so close, is extremely rare. We're hoping for no more for quite a while.
So now were are sitting in the bus station waiting for our ride to San Pedro de Atacama. We got here around 6:30 and our bus leaves at 10:05 – a nice little patch of time to catch everyone up. We'll be spending the next 16 hours fighting for our sanity on a 16 hour bus ride, we'll let you know how it goes!