Our time in Salta was pleasantly spent. On Sunday (May 23rd) we took the bus to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile. The road takes a pass over the Andes mountains which was 5,200 meters (17,100 feet). Being at such high altitude caused my stomach to rumble and tumble and I felt like I had a bayonet twirling around in there. Add to that a headache and difficulty breathing and it all adds up to a very miserable twelve hour bus ride. Thomas and his iron constitution did not have any trouble and pleasantly read his book during the bus ride.
After arriving at San Pedro we had to walk a bit into town from the customs station on the edge of town and got settled in to the Hostel International. San Pedro is a very cool little town with adobe buildings and dusty streets. The town and desert landscape is straight from the planet Tattoine (Star Wars). On Monday we did a tour to the Valley of the Moon, Tuesday a early morning (4AM) tour to the Geysers and Wednesday we did an all day tour to the Salama salt flats, some lakes & mountains and a caynon. After getting back to San Pedro at 6pm we hopped onto a bus and headed for Calama which is about an hour and a half away.
In Calama we checked out our bus options and found that there was a bus leaving at 9:30pm heading overnight to Arica, which is where we wanted to wind up. So we bought tickets from a little too friendly ticket agent and headed down the street to the local pub to kill the time before the bus. The bus ride went well and we got to Arica at 6am. After a quick taxi to the hotel we slept off the travel weariness and had a look around town. The plan from here is to head to Arequipa, Peru.
I survived the boat ride. It was pretty fun actually. The Chef on board moonlighted as an electric keyboard player at night in the pub. He was actually a way better musician then a chef, but that is not saying too much either way. It was smooth sailing most of the trip, however, on the second day we had to venture out into the open sea for a while and it was very bumpy on board. They had free sea sickness relief tablets though and after taking one of those I felt fine. There were only about thirty passengers on board (in the summer the ship is full and can hold like 300 passengers) so it was pretty cool because everyone got to know each other. Yesterday we had our only stop on the boat which was at Puerto Eden, a small village of about 200 people. We got off there and walked around for an hour or so and got back on the boat. And that was that. So now I am in Puerto Natales and tomorrow we are going to go on a tour of the Torres Del Paine National Park and then bugger outta here on the next day.
Tomorrow Thomas and I are going to set sail on board the Navimag ship Magallanes from Puerto Montt, where we are now, to Puerto Natales. We should arrive there on Thursday. It cost US$275 each, which is pretty spendy and my guidebook says that it´s both cheaper and quicker to either fly or to take a bus through Argentina to get to Puerto Natales, but we figure the voyage should hopefully be worth it. The boat goes through the fjords of Patagonia, which should be cool.
Yesterday Thomas and I went on an organized tour mountain climb of a volcano near the town of Pucon in Chile. The pictures say it all, but basically it was a very physically challenging event and I made it two hours up the climb but then turned back because I was totally exhausted and could not keep going. Thomas kept going and made it all the way up. At the stopping point where I turned back everyone had to put on crampons (Spikes on the boots) and really started to use their pick axes. We had two guides with our group of ten people so one of the guides, a woman from Germany, took me down to the bottom and we picked up another straggler on the way. It was fun going down because I got to slide most of the way down making it go about ten times quicker! Once at the bottom we had to wait for about four hours until the first group made it down and we hitched a ride back to town with them. I had a great time even though I only made it up the easy third of the volcano.
Today we took a bus south to the town of Puerto Montt and from here are going to try to take a ferry boat south through the fjords of Patagonia. But we will find out more details about that tomorrow.
I left Valparaiso today and took the bus seven hours south to a city named Chillan. It was raining today and starting to get cold. For some reason I didn’t think it was going to be cold here so I left my fleece in Australia because I had not used it yet. But after reading through some of my guidebook today I think it is only going to get colder and wetter the further south we go and we are planning on going all the way down. Time to invest in some sort of local clothing I guess.
Not much going on in this town though. It is the birthplace of the first head of state of Chile and national hero Bernardo O’Higgins, but besides that it is your average place I guess. We are leaving tomorrow on the bus in the afternoon to head another six hours south to Pucon.
I arrived in Santiago, Chile at 2:30am on April 17th. Thomas and I had arranged to meet up at the Hotel Paris in downtown Santiago and I made it there via a taxi with no problems. Thomas had arrived the morning before me and just rested up in the hotel. On Saturday we walked around the center of Santiago and checked things out. It´s your basic big South American city I guess. Saturday night we dined on Chinese food and afterwards sampled a few of the local beers at a nearby pub.
Sunday we slept in and I was awoken by the phone in our room ringing. I answered and the hotel receptionist asked me if we were staying another night. I told him no and asked when check out was. He said 1pm. I hung up the phone and said to Thomas “They have a one o´clock check out time here, that´s pretty friendly.¨ And Thomas looked at his watch and said ¨Well, it´s five to one right now!¨ So we packed up quick and took a taxi to the bus station and hopped on the next bus to Valparaiso (the ticket for the two hour bus ride was cheaper then the 10 minute taxi we took the the bus station!).
Yesterday we checked out Valparaiso and today we took the train over to Vino Del Mar to find the famous Hotel O´Higgins where Uncle Walter stayed many years ago. I read the map wrong so we walked around for and hour trying to find it and the whole time we were just a few blocks away. But we eventually made it there to find a pretty empty big fancy hotel. So we had a beer there and then headed back on the train to Valparaiso.
Last week Thomas and I went on a tour to Parque Nacional Torres Del Paine. We left Friday morning (April 30th) a little after 8am. There were nine of us in total, including two couples who had been on board the Magallanes with us, a pair of crazy Italian guys and a cute Japanese girl. First we went to the Monumento Natural Cueva Milodon (The Milodon cave) which is a cave where the remains of a 10,000 year old giant sloth were found a while ago but today all their is is the cave and a big fiberglass replica of what the Milodon looked like. After that we drove for about an hour or so to get to the national park. We were supposedly behind schedule and our driver was really putting the pedal to the metal, which scared some of the old people on the tour. But I think he just liked to drive fast anyways. Thomas and I were in the front seat of the van right behind our driver and our tour guide, José. They were talking to us the whole time and cracking jokes. They shared their Mate with us too.
Mate is originally an Argentinean drink and is a a strong tea. The tea leaves are put in a mate cup (or a gourd is used traditionally) and then filled with just a little bit of hot water. Then it is drunk out of a metal straw that has a sieve on the bottom which just allows the water to get sucked into the straw. Then more hot water is added and the cup is passed along to the next person. I liked it a lot.
The park is just amazing though. It was definitely the best day I have had on my whole adventure so far. All over Chile there are huge mountains but the mountains there were just spectacular. We had perfect weather too and could see everything. We made lots of photo stops at various look outs and got out to check out the Salto Grande (Big Salt) Waterfall. It was super windy there! After that we headed to this super fancy hotel in the park to have lunch and then after that walked across a suspension bridge to the Lago Grey (Grey Lake). At the other side of the lake from where we were there was the Grey Glacier which just comes right down off the mountains and into the lake. Amazing! After visiting the lake we started our drive back to Puerto Natallis and got back around 6pm.
On Saturday we took a tour to the Parque Nacional Bernardo O´Higgins on board the boat 21 de Mayo. We left at 8am and took about four hours to get to the main attraction, The Serrano Glacier. We docked at Puerto Toro and walked along an easy 1200 meter trail to get pretty close to the glacier. Both Thomas and I thought it was a little disappointing compared to the scenery we saw the day before. But overall it was ok. On the way back we stopped at a Estancia (Farm) where most of the people had lunch, but Thomas and I just hung out for the hour we were there because the lunch was a real rip off price. We got back to town about 5pm.
Sunday we took the bus south three hours to Punta Arenas, which lies on the Straight of Magellan. The “beach” along the straight was about the most disgusting and filthy beach I have ever seen I think. Arriving on Sunday almost all the stores and restaurants were closed but we found a place to eat that had empanadas(which are a Chilean baked burrito sort of thing). Later that night I went out drinking with some travelers I met at the hostel. An English guy and a couple from Greece. We had lots of fun and ended up finding a small restaurant open on the way back to the hotel after the pubs closed and had a delicious sandwich called a “Boca Loco,” which is like a steak sandwich with cheese and mayonnaise.
Monday we caught the bus to Rio Gallegos. We decided to forgo Tierra Del Fuego and instead spend more time in (hopefully) warmer climates. We were in Rip Gallegos just for a few hours, hit up the ATM to get some Argentinean money and had a big feed. Then we hopped on the night bus north and got off at small town (13,000 people) of Caleta Olivia. We got here this morning at 7am and my guidebook only has two paragraphs about the place, mostly talking about attractions that are over 100 Kilometers away from the town. For the first time in South America we had a problem finding a hotel. We got a taxi from the bus station and he took us to three different hotels that all told me they were full. I think they just were scared of gringos or something though. We got lucky on our forth hotel though. It´s nice and sunny here today and I think it´s further north from here tomorrow probably.