06.11.2010 - 16.11.2010 20 °C
Hot on the heels of my previous entry comes another, hopefully slightly shorter one, trying to catch up with my travels.
Leaving the salt plains and deserts of Uyuni, I hopped on the bus with Laura, who was heading in the same direction, for the quick journey to San Pedro de Atacama on the Chilean side of the border. It was really interesting to see just how sharply things changed on the border - suddenly we moved from dirt tracks to smooth tarmac, complete with safety barriers, run-off zones and all the bells and whistles. San Pedro itself turned out to be a cute little town, with dusty streets filled with single-storey adobe houses. It has a lovely little square with a very pretty church, and all in all was a nice place to hang out for a couple of days.
The next day, recovered from the exertions of the previous few days, Laura and I hired bikes and cycled out of town to visit Valle de la Luna, a spectactular area of desert which has been likened to the surface of the moon, hence the name. It was an amazing landscape, filled with rocky canyons, vast sand dunes and huge vistas. We had a fun, albeit rather hot, few hours cycling through the valley, stopping along the way to explore some of the canyons and caves along the way.
By the time we got to the end of the park we were both feeling the heat, and weren't looking forward to the long ride back up a steep hill we'd just freewheeled down. Fortunately our saviours arrived in the shape of a friendly Chilean family in a big pick-up truck, who happily let us chuck our bikes in the back and gave us a lift back up the hill. We then raced back to town, just in time to sign up on another tour out to visit some of the lagoons and pools in the area. Our first stop was at a saltwater pool, where the water was salty enough to float in, dead sea style. This was fun, though rather cold, and we hopped back in the bus covered in a layer of salt, ready to drive onto the next, freshwater pool. Here we washed off the salt and played around for a few minutes before getting out and warming up.
Our final stop was at a much larger lagoon with stunning views of the mountains and volcano in the distance, where we stayed to watch the sunset, whilst enjoyig a nice cold pisco sour. We also managed to befriend a group of Chilenos, who were very hospitable and shared a very nice bottle of Chilean champagne with us.
It was 8pm by the time we got back to town, but our day wasn't over yet, as we'd also signed up for an astronomy tour. So we stumbled sleepily back out of the hostel at midnight and were bused out to the middle of the desert, where a slightly eccentric bunch of French astronomers have set up an observatory. We had a very interesting talk on some of the stars and constellations visible, and then got to look a certain stars and galaxies in more detail through the range of telescopes they have there. It was incredible to see some of the galaxies in detail, and I even got to try and take some pictures through the telescope with a special adapator.
The next day was spent recovering from all the activities and catching up on photos, email and blog, before catching a 24 hour bus south to Santiago. It was really interesting watching the scenery change from Featureless desert, to cacti-filled desert to small bushes, then trees and so on, getting greener and greener as we neared Santiago until we were passing vast acres of vineyards.
After a pleasant evening at my hostel in Santiago enjoying my first bottle of Chilean wine, I dragged myself from bed the next morning just in time to join a free city tour. Our guide took us right round the city centre, showing us some of the nicest buildings and areas of the city. The sun was shining and Santiago had a really nice feel to it, with clean streets, lots of beautiful architecture and plenty of green spaces. After the tour I had an interesting look round the house of the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, which is now a museum housing his fairly eclectic collections.
Then it was to visit Mont San Christobel, the highest point in the city where you can get great views of the city, with the snow capped mountains just visible through the smog. After all of this I just had time to visit the museum of Precolombian art, which has an amazing collection of ceramics, statues and other things.
That night I bumped into some of the girls who'd been on the city tour, and they spent the evening trying to persuade me to join their tour heading South through Chile. I had been planning to travel into Argentina and visit Mendoza and Bariloche, so changing this made a big difference to my plans, but in the end after several hours of pondering I decided to take the opportunity to see some more of Chile and signed up for the Pachamama bus tour. This is basically a minibus for travellers which runs from Santiago down to Puerto Montt and back up, stopping at various places along the way for activities, photos and other traveller friendly things.
The first day saw the 10 of us who'd signed up heading South from Santiago through the vast areas of vineyards with Jose our driver and Sergio our guide/fixer. After a couple of brief stops, including a large dam (always good to see a nice bit of engineering!), we made it to our destinaton for the day, Pichilemu. This is a cute little seaside town, famed for it's surfing. A few of us braved the icy cold waters for some surfing, though I seemed to have forgotten everything I'd learnt in Brazil.
The next morning we moved on, with a long day's driving to reach Pucon, a really pretty little town known for its outdoor activites and located on the edge of a lake, with the large and smoking volcano Villarica towering over it. We stopped here for 24hrs, to enable the more intrepid of us to climb the volcano. This involved a 6 hour trudge throug the snow to reach the top, where we enjoyed stunning views of the crater and surrounding mountains. Then we got to slide all the way back down on sledges - definitely the longest toboggan run I've done and probably the most fun way of getting down a mountain!
The next day we drove on to Valdivia, a pretty city set on the banks of several rivers. We enjoyed a traditional Sunday lunch at an amazing place on the edge of town where you could buy all sorts of diferent foods from empanadas to kebabs and seafood, then enjoy the food whilst watching traditional dancing. We also had a boat ride on the river, which was very pretty.
Our final stop (for me at least) was in Puerto Varas, where I said farewell to everyone and left the bus to enjoy a couple of days R&R. BUt more of that in my next post. With only 4 weeks left I'm heading down to Patagonia by ferry on Friday, then trying to cram as much into the kast few days as possible. So more to come next time...