A Travellerspoint blog

Salt, salt and more salt!

March 31 - April 4

sunny

Wednesday March 31, 2010
Today we embark on our 3 day 2 night off-road adventure to Uyuni. We get up early and are picked up at around 7:30. We are dropped off in front of the tour agency along with 25 other people going on the tour. We all pile into 2 buses and head to the Bolivian border, Chilean customs is no problem, and at Bolivian customs they single out the American, there are four of us and take our passports, as they don't issue visas at this particular immigration point. The driver is suppose to keep them, but our driver Walter gives us them as soon as he gets in the truck. At the boarder we meet 5 Land Rovers and are put 6 passengers in each. The land rover we are traveling in is circa the late 70s, but it does have a winch and on board air. The first day we see several lagunas (I am not sure if a laguna translates to lake, lagoon or something else), we also go to a thermal bath and see some geysers. The geysers are at roughly 5,000 meters or 16,000 feet. I feel a little light headed, but nothing worse than that. After the geysers we head to out hostel, have lunch, get situated and then head off to another laguna. The laguna's range from green, to white, to red. After that we eat dinner and get into bed for a very cold night, roughly 18 degrees Fahrenheit with no heat. It was cold!
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Thursday April 1, 2010
The next morning Laurel and I along with our traveling buddies J.P., Thumi, Leahla and Ryan (the spellings have been changed to protect the innocent, or because I don't know how to spell them) load our stuff into the Land Rover and head to some incredible rock formations, after these, we see some more lagunas (I have seen more than enough high altitude lagunas). Laurel on the other had has not, she is so intrigued by the lagunas and the flamingos living at high altitude that she ventures to close and manages to get herself stuck up to her thighs in mud and Leahla and I had to pull her out,
laurel loses a shoe in the process. After that we head to a hostel made completely of salt (walls, floor, tables everything) and spend the night there.
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Friday April 2, 2010
The next day we make it to the Solar of Uyuni Salt Flat, it is the largest salt flat in the world. We weren't anticipating it to be that exciting, but it turned out to be the highlight of the trip. It is so big that we can see nothing but white, in any direction. The lack of perspective makes it the perfect place to take some interesting photos and we did so. After the salt flat we head to the town of Uyuni where our day becomes very interesting. First our guide Walter almost runs out of gas getting us into town, then the immigration office where we need to get our Visas is closed because it is good Friday and election weekend. Walter manages to get someone from immigration to come to the office, then we head to the ATM to get cash to pay for our visas and it wont give us any cash. Leahla manages to convince the immigration guy to let us go to La Paz (she and Ryan are stuck in the same visa boat that Laurel and I are, and her Spanish is much better than ours). One hurdle passed now the next is getting the bus, Tierra Mistica jerks us around and overcharges us for the bus ride, and we have to put all our money together to get the six of us to La Paz and ride on two different buses (my 70 lucky euros from Munich
put us over the edge). We end up having to changes buses at 4 AM. Finally we arrive in La Paz on Saturday morning exhausted but happy to be in La Paz. I forgot to mention that it election weekend so they're not selling any liquor or beer :(
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Saturday April 3, 2010
This morning we check out several hostels, something that Yo and I are not use to. It pays off we manage to book a double with private bath for about the same price we payed for dorm beds in San Pedro De Atacama. The six of us are traveling together until Monday. We don't do a whole lot, relax Laurel takes a nap, we do some shopping (my toiletries were lost/stolen in Uyuni), eat dinner watch some cable TV and go to Bed. A note about La Paz is everywhere you look there are street vendors trying to sell anything and everything. It is a very interesting city, I think my favorite big city so far.

Sunday April 4, 2010
Today is a very interesting day in La Paz. Everything is closed because it is election day. So we wonder the eerily empty streets. The only thing on the streets are people voting military police, and the occasional tourist trying to figure out what to do with themselves. After wondering the streets for hours we decide to eat dinner at one of the only places open, a steak house....big mistake. The service is terrible, they don't haven half of the things on the menu and they won't serve alcohol because it is election weekend. After dinner the six of us find a place that is serving alcohol....finally!!! we hang out and drink until 2 AM.
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Posted by AnzelcL 20:11 Archived in Bolivia Tagged backpacking Comments (2)

Internet

Unreliable internet, and often no internet, has made it difficult for us to keep up with posting blogs - but we've still been writing! We'll probably post several today and tomorrow, hopefully catching everyone up on everything we've been up to through Chile, Bolivia and now Peru!

Posted by AnzelcL 16:29 Comments (1)

Desert

The bus ride went surprisingly well, even in a semi-cama. Finding our hostel, now that was a different story. We arrived in San Pedro de Atacama at around 3:30, unsure as to whether or not the owner of our hostel would be picking us up. When it appeared that we were on our own we headed out down the dusty roads. This tiny town (about 3,000 people) didn't seem to have any maps. Not to mention, our hostel didn't have one online and it was non existent in our book. But... Eric and I have been finding hostels for a while now, so we think “No problem!'

Problem. All that we know is that it is a 10 minute walk out of town. And we're in the desert, with our backpacks on. We ask multiple people for directions, getting the following responses: “Take a left, go two streets and turn left,” “I've never heard of that street in my life” “Right, I think you need to go right,” “I don't know, let me ask others. Nope, they don't know either.” We finally found the one information center in the town... closed. This continued for a little longer (read: forever), before we finally found a taxi and had him take us the 100 meters to our hostel. Guess we're were almost there.

San Pedro de Atacama is exactly how you would imagine an old west town to be. Most of the buildings are made of adobe, there is dust everywhere and a seemingly endless supply of sunshine in an amazingly blue sky. Eric and I both love it! And our hostel is no different; talk about character. We're staying in a six bed dorm, which seems to have been built recently and is really nice. The room is separate from the rest of the rooms, and there is a giant patio in the middle. The patio is full of cats, kittens, dirt, dogs, cacti, dirt, hammocks and a little more dirt. Eric and I both agree that this is the best one yet.

On our first day here we mostly just explored the town and ate some amazing lunch at this little shack of a restaurant. We made reservations for some upcoming tours, spent some time laying in the sun and relaxed – nothing too exciting. The next day we rented bikes and headed out to see the Atacamian ruins that are just outside of town. Had we known we were in for a hike, we may have skipped the flip flops. The ride itself wasn't so bad and the amazing views made the strenuous hike worth while. The rest of the day was again spent relaxing, including a nice dinner out and preparation for the excitement of sandboarding.

Sandboarding is hard.

This is what Eric told me when I said I wanted to do it. I would say that sandboarding is a lot like snowboarding. And like snowboarding, I am just not that good at it. Probably the worst part for me was that the more you fall, the more wax comes of your board and the slower you go. Sounds fine at first, until you're halfway down the dune trying to get the board to move - unsuccessfully. I'm still not sure the twenty minutes up the 70 meter dune is quite worth it (at least after the first 10 times), but it was a hell of a time.

Sandboarding is hard. Eric was right.
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So now we are preparing for our three day tour to Uyuni, Bolivia. We are both incredibly excited about the largest salt flat in the world, the geysers, the hotel made of salt, the dangerous four wheel driving (which we're told will certainly scare us, especially me) and the 15,000ft above sea level – should be interesting.

Eric is getting excited as seeing Stephanie gets closer and closer. I'm getting nervous now that I'm realizing that all this travel only has one effect on me – all I want to do is travel more!

Posted by AnzelcL 15:33 Comments (1)

Beaches, boats and birds

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!
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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!).
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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.
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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.
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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!

Posted by AnzelcL 17:51 Archived in Chile Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Okay so time to get you guys up to date....

sunny 14 °C

The rest of the day after our hike was pretty uneventful we hung around the hostel and then went out for a late dinner and then hit the sac. Friday morning and its the 19th of March and its Maipu wine road bike tour day, but its raining (for a place that only gets 5 days of rain a year it certainly seems to be raining a lot!)... So we hang around the hostel until the rain lets up and head to Maipu by bus. Once there we head to Mr. Hugo's to rent a bike he is closed because of the earlier rain. So we walk around and realize that we wont be able to see the wineries (Bodegas) on foot we find someone who is renting bikes and head out. The first place we visit is a not a winery, but they do make olive oil, chocolate, green olives, and liquor. Laurel and I both try absinth, not as good as I had hoped. We then head to our first winery.
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When we get to the first winery there is no one in the tasting room, and when someone does show up they tell us just to pour wine ourselves. This was really more of a wine drinking than a wine tasting. The next winery we get a tour of the facility and have some samples. We bike to and drink at 2 more wineries. By this time we are a bit tipsy and decide to have Mario the guy who rented us the bikes come pick us up. Once back at his house he serves us some snack food, and some more wine. After sitting and chatting with Mario (in Spanish, and Mario talks 100 miles an hour) he invites us over for dinner. Laurel loves this, but I am a bit nervous, wondering why complete strangers want to invite strangers over who don't really speak their language. We agree, Mario, his wife, his aunt and 2 kids provide the wine, and all the fixings and we buy the beef. We drink wine and eat asado (which is the traditional Argentinean way of preparing bbq). At around midnight its time to go and Mario and his wife and 2 kinds drive us back to our hostel.
Note from Laurel: Eric does not do this experience justice. Not only were the vineyards, wineries and surrounding scenery absolutely amazing but the time with family was unlike anything I've experienced before!
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The next morning its Saturday and we wake up a bit groggy from all the wine and activities from yesterday. We pack our stuff and catch a 10:30 bus to Santiago. The bus ride is suppose to be 6 hours, but it ends up taking 9 due to road construction (not sure if it is from earthquake related damage or not), and a bike race which had cars blocking the road behind the bikes so our bus can't get by. We probably followed the bike race at around 15 MPH for about 2 hours, all the while buses and natural gas semi trucks jockey for position, at time driving on the wrong side of the road, and close enough where I could have high fived passengers from other buses. Once in Santiago we navigate our way to the hostel and we go out to a restaurant claiming authentic Mexican food. We were pleasantly surprised to see how much the nachos were like those we get back home (I think the owner of the joint is an expatriate from California). I enjoyed having some food that reminded me of home, and it was the first time in nearly two weeks that I had hot sauce! After dinner we head back to the hostel and hit the sac.
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On Sunday we both need a day to relax so we don't do anything very exciting, we hang around the hostel, I skype Stephanie for about 45 minutes, I miss her :(, and we do a little exploring. We try some fast food and I get a hot dog with pico del gallo and guacamole, which was very good. After this we get Laurel some coffee and relax, discussing where our next destination will be, no decision is made. We enjoy a free dinner at the hostel, right up my alley, and play some spades, after our game of spades we are hungry again so we go out to try find some grub, nothing is open, although we do find a group of guys pushing around a shopping cart selling shish-kabobs. The shopping cart has half of a steel drum welded into it and they are cooking right there, just what we need! We each get 2, when we go to pay we accidentally give the guy 12,000 (a 10,000 and two 1,000 peso bills) instead of 3,000 (3 1,000 peso bills) and he gives us 4,000 back claiming they were more expensive than he said charging us $16 USD instead of $5. I hate getting ripped off!! After that I am aggravated and we head home and get some shuteye.

It now Monday morning the 22nd of March 2010, and I am sitting outside enjoying the cool morning, trying to decide if we should head south to Patagonia, and check out some glaciers, stunning scenery, ice climbing and volcanoes or head north to the Atacama desert and see, oasis, ghost towns, secluded beaches, a rainforest without rain (water condensing from the fog creates this rainforest) and the clearest night skies anywhere in the world. I'm leaning towards north because it is the direction we need to go anyway and it sounds warmer. When Laurel wakes up we will make our final decision. I a anxious to get out of the city and explore the more rural parts of Chile.
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P.S - Rex we're in Santiago, Chile how are your speeds to us now? No ice cold beer on the buses, yet but I'll make it my top priority on our next long bus ride ;-)
P.P.S. - Phil we didn't take it to Montevideo, I hears it beautiful, but the beer in Colonia was pretty good, I think the best beer we've had so far was Pilsen from Uruguay, whats your vote on where we should go Patagonia or Atacama?

Posted by AnzelcL 11:36 Archived in Chile Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

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