San Pedro and Uyuni. Chile and Bolivia
10.06.2011 - 14.06.2011 10 °C
Final stop in Chile, San Pedro de Atacama, and it was nice to soak up a bit of sun. A drastic change from Santiago with many hut like buildings rather than skyscrapers and an unbelievable amount of dust rather than smog, there was a real small town feel to the place. I spent a good few hours sitting on the benches in the Plaza de Armas reading my book, I highly recommend Memoirs of a Geisha, and doing a spot of people watching. I also popped into the church alongside the plaza that really does sound like it will fall down with every step that you take inside it, the creaking echoing around the entire structure. After a good bit of relaxing it was then time for some action so I headed out with a group to go sandboarding in Death Valley.
I would love to take up sandboarding as a hobby but I don't think the environment of the UK will allow me to. By my second run I managed to not fall over, however before the correct technique was explained to me I pulled off a spectacular face plant into the dune followed by a few rolls. It really doesn't matter, it's such a soft landing, however if sand getting everywhere irritates you then I don't suggest sandboarding, or just make sure you never fall. By the end of the boarding I was picking up quite a good pace and turning etc. however you really wanted to make each run last as long as possible as it was hell walking back to the top of the dunes. A heavy board and boiling sun does not make for easy climbing. From Death Valley we then went to the Moon Valley for the most spectacular sunset accompanied by a few pisco sours. The variety of colours that the setting sun produced on the background of the mountains and volcanoes was pretty unbelievable and they altered with each minute. The climb back down the Moon Valley was a little dangerous with no lights etc. however this created the perfect setting to walk through the caves to then gaze at the stars. I got a lot of help so that I could spot the different stars, no matter how many times Stew explains I never remember, and it was quite refreshing to see how much more beautiful the world can be at times when you remove human influence. It was then nice to go out for a few drinks with some people from the tour however I did what I was warned not to do, have several Pisco Sours, which are not great for your stomach in large quantities.
This meant that for once I was not wide awake and ready to go for my 7am tour start the next day, and it earned me the name of Pisco from the French couple on the trip for the entire tour. I guess it beats the different versions of Rebecca. Heading into Bolivia I had to deal with another immigration office however it couldn't have been more different to the last, a little hut where there was one official and he changed desks to stamp your passport depending on if you were arriving or departing from the country. This meant that getting into Bolivia only took 10 mins rather than 2 hours and we were soon at Laguna Blanca. If I had known about the lack of hot water for the next few days I may have stayed longer in the hot springs however 15 minutes was enough to enjoy a soak and it is certainly the nearest thing to a bath that I have had in the last couple of months. We then made our way to the Geysers where you were surrounded by the lovely aroma of rotting eggs. Yet once you could ignore the smell you could get quite close to the white and blue thick liquid powerfully bubbling away inside them. Unlike most tours I have been on we were surprisingly well fed with Colque Tour Group so after a nice cooked lunch we then arrived at our final destination for the day, Laguna Colorado. I wish the photos I have taken could capture this lake however they will only give a snap shot of the red water surrounded by yellow rocks that were both dotted with flamingos.
When the tour guide said basic accommodation she meant basic, and at nearly 5000m above sea level not having heating makes a big difference even if you do have coca tea to help you keep warm and acclimatize. To be fair to them, they did have a fire burning until 10pm, however when the temperature drops to minus 12 in the night the flames are a distant memory. I wore to bed that night nearly every item of clothing that I had with me however I was still aware of the cold and I don't really like sleeping in my coat, gloves and hat etc. I think we were all relieved to get up and out in the morning into the vaguely warmer van. Mario, our driver, tried to lighten our mood with a few of his Bolivian tapes. These were really fun at first however the 2 tapes that he had contained about 3 songs each and they played on repeat continuously for the next two days, I can still hum the tune now. Day 2 of the tour was really a Lake Day and we had great fun trying to see how far we could walk over the frozen water until we could hear cracking sounds and had to swiftly make our way back. Visiting the train cemetery also provided a good climbing frame, these abandoned due to the switch from coal to gas.
For the final day of our tour we left Uyuni to visit the nearby village where they process the salt from the salt flats. Seeing a four year old boy helping bag salt with his family really brought you down to earth, the reality of families working just to live, knowing that if they do not make any money then there is not a welfare system for them to fall back on. The market stalls were amazing and I had to stop myself from buying all of the goods that they produce, the colours and fabrics are just so lively and you really can't begrudge the prices. My main restriction is obviously my rucksack. The final point of the trip, and by far the most breathtaking, were the salt flats, the Salar de Uyuni. A never ending 12,000 sq. km. expanse of glistening white crystals only broken by a few volcanoes and the cactus island that we had a very surreal picnic on. We of course couldn't resist trying to create some of the famous pictues, using the white background, to look like we were standing on each other etc. The only testing part of this was that it was a very bumpy journey in the 4X4 back across the flats which does not help when you have a very full bladder.
Saying that it was not nearly as bumpy as the night bus to La Paz, where there wasn't a toliet on board and you felt that you were sitting on one of those massage chairs that had lost control. But it did the job and I am now in the Capital to experience a bit of city life Bolivian style.