Jul 4 2009

3 days, 2 nights, Chile to Bolivia, 2 minds blown

Monica

We’re now in La Paz, Bolivia.  We arrived before dawn yesterday after a night bus from the town of Uyuni.  Our 3 day tour from San Pedro de Atacama ended in Uyuni on Thursday.

The three day tour through the Andes and altiplano was amazing.  It’s rather hard to describe in words here….Beatiful landscapes, deserts, volcanos, lakes in every brilliant color, flamingos, salt hostels….the list goes on.  I’ll try to hit some highlights of the trip that truly blew my mind.

Day 1

Sitting pretty in our Toyota Land Cruiser with new friends Alex, Laura and Tobi and our wonderful guide Alberto, we crossed the Bolivian border and made our way into the National Park. Our first stop was the ¨Wicked¨ green Laguna Verde. This is a salt lake in the southwest and it´s vivid green color is caused by sediments, containing copper minerals. It is elevated some 4,300 m (14,000 ft) above sea level….and we get much higher than this as the day goes on.

As we climb in altitude we see lagoons of every color, take hundreds of pictures and brave the chill to relax in the natural hot springs. We reach our highest point of 5,000m, which is the highest I´ve EVER been, to see boiling, stinky, pre-historic geysers.  The air is so thin at this point that I´m having to take it a little slower than normal.

We stayed at a COLD hostel that night and I had to fight through some serious altitude sickness but was up early the next morning feeling good and ready for more.

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Laguna Verde (note the color)

Day 2

We started the day fresh from the cold hostel, eager to greet the sun.  We were tooling across the desert (altiplano) to our first stop, catching glimpses of now-familiar llamas and vicuñas.  The first stop of the day was the Arbol de Piedra, which means “tree of rock”.  And it’s just that - it looks like a tree but it’s actually rock.  Because of erosion and all, this rock sticks up and hardly looks like it should be able to stand at all.  Apparently this was a favorite site of the surrealist artist Salvador Dali as well as the surrounding area which now bears his name as the Desierto del Dali.

We saw green stuff growing on the boulders!  Our guide explained that it is a hardy little natural plant that can live with very little water and lives for a very long time.  It was weird to see it amidst the lifeless desert.

We saw a few more lagunas, each different colored and with different character, but of relatively similar concept.  And flamingos!  Yes, flamingos!  There they were, just hanging out in the ice cold water doing their flamingo thing.

After more driving and seeing the Spanish-built railroad that used to ferry passengers and freight to the boundary of Chile and Bolivia, we finally arrived at our hotel for the night - the Hotel of Salt!  The walls were made of salt bricks extracted from the Salar de Uyuni!  The floor was covered in salt rocks (we have a picture of Bodhi and me licking it together).  Even the platform for the mattress was made entirely of salt.  What a crazy place!

Day 3

This day we finally hit the Salar de Uyuni.  This is the world’s largest salt flat, and sits at an altitude of 3653 m and covers 12,000 sq km.  It is part of the remnants of a prehistoric salt lake, which left salt meters deep for as far as the eye can see.  It is blindingly white.  Our mind thinks “snow” when it sees such a sight, so it is flipped a bit when it’s not snow, nor even water.  When we stepped out of the truck onto it, expecting to slip on ice, we started to grin hugely and laugh and giggle and began to take tons and tons of pictures.  Think teenage girls at a New Kids on the Block concert.  Here are some of the shots we took:

I believe I can fly

I believe I can fly

ñasdklfjfklñasdj

cute

Im so little

Im so little

My great thinker

My great thinker

Perspective is completely warped.  Things look absurdly far away when they’re no more than 50 paces.  The mountains in the distance look like they’re floating.  It’s one of those things that is hard to imagine that it even really exists until you see it for yourself.  Even when we were cruising along at a healthy pace of 60 mph in the Land Cruiser and it felt like a perfectly smooth freeway, we stared out the window and felt like we were actually not moving at all.  You look ahead and the mountains in the distance look the same.  There are no near-distance landmarks to judge speed by.  It’s truly a perspective-warping experience.

As if the Salar itself is not crazy enough, there was an ISLAND!  This big piece of land that rises up out of the Salar floor and is an island surrounded by salt plain.  The island has cacti on it!  They look a lot like saguaro cacti in Arizona, said Bodhi.  So we hiked up it and gawked at the view of white plain off into the distance in all directions.  So cool.  The description can go on and on, but this is plenty for now!

On top of Isla de Incahuasi in the middle of the Salar de Uyuni

On top of Isla de Incahuasi in the middle of the Salar de Uyuni

One sad note… Bodhi´s camera was lifted from his pocket yesterday and while most of his pics were stored elsewhere through the day prior to the salt falt….pics from the day at the salt flats were lost.  I have some posted here and many more to upload from my Canon at some point soon.


Jun 29 2009

San Pedro de Atacama

Bodhi

Other post titles we considered were “The highest and the coldest” and “Valle de la Luna”.

We are coming to the end of our second full day in San Pedro de Atacama, and here are some brief thoughts. This is a little pueblo in the north of Chile, in the Atacama desert (as the name implies). The population, including tourists, is somewhere around 5000. I think the continuous population is only 2000 though. The streets are hardened dirt, there is basically one main road, and it’s very dusty. Walking 5 minutes takes you anywhere in town. It’s pleasant during the day, and quite cold at night. All the storefronts look basically the same - adobe walls and chalkboard signs telling you what they offer. Inside, however, the various businesses are quite different and interesting and nice and full of character.

We haven’t wasted a minute in this town. Yesterday we rented bikes (4th time on the journey so far) and rode the 30 km (there and back) to Valle de la Luna. This is a national park nearby, with moon-like landscapes, hence the name. The highlight is a giant sand dune that everyone gathers at to watch the sun set. Annoying to have 50 other tourists there with you, but it was still beautiful. We even met a retired couple from the US, with the husband being an astronomer (Caltech PhD back in the day) who’s working on a telescope near here. So we sat and enjoyed our bottle of wine we bought from a bodega in Mendoza back in Argentina and have been schlepping around til now. It was delicious, even straight from the bottle sans cups, or “sin copas”.

View of the main valley from up on top of the giant sand dune

View of the main valley from up on top of the giant sand dune

Watching the sun set in a perfect natural amphitheatre

Watching the sun set in a perfect natural amphitheatre

Looking out in thought from a giant pile of sand

Looking out in thought from a giant pile of sand

Today we took the Geysers del Taito tour, leaving at 4 am with 8 others in a Hyundai van. The driver (our second named “Sergio” so far) was friendly and spoke no english. Guess that’s why it was cheaper than the other tours. We arrived in bitter cold (4 F, -14 C) temperatures before sunrise, and we could only handle a few minutes outside the van at a time. There was a field of geysers amidst salt crystal covered ground. And ice because it was damn cold. I learned that these are the highest elevation geysers in the world, while of course Yellowstone in the US has the highest shooting geyser. We sipped our Nescafe and ate our pan (bread). After shivering there a while, we moved on to another field, which had a pool collected from one of the geysers. I, of course, had to jump in and swim with the rest of the idiots. It looked so warm because of all the steam coming off it, but it was still a tepid 75 F at best! And oh baby was it cold getting out. Totally worth it though!

Sunrise and geysers way up high

Sunrise and geysers way up high

It was still too cold for Moni to get out of the van

It was still too cold for Moni to get out of the van

More geysers and salt and ice

More geysers and salt and ice

Not as warm as I'd hoped

Not as warm as I'd hoped!

More driving, sightings of wild vicuñas and domesticated llamas, ice covered streams with weird Andean birds, and a stop in a little pueblo where Monica ate her first llama meat (to her knowledge), and absolutely loved it, going as far as to say it was the best meat she’d ever had!

With some llamas in the background

With some llamas in the background

Llamas peacefully grazing in an ice-covered (!) stream

Llamas peacefully grazing in an ice-covered (!) stream

Now we’re ready to leave Chile and head out into the more rugged (and cheaper) Bolivia. We’re doing a 3 day, 2 night jeep tour through the altiplano and the world’s largest salt flat. The Lonely Planet book describes it as having “mind-altering vistas”. No drugs required.


Jun 25 2009

Santiago graffiti and stencils

Bodhi

I had the unexpected opportunity to walk through Barrio Bellavista in Santiago and the graffiti there blew my mind!  This stuff was so much better and in such greater quantity than anything I’d seen in Buenos Aires.  Most of it was just huge, filling the entire wall.  And it seems that the authorities really didn’t seem to mind so much as the streets were filled with it.  Either that or the artists were very skilled at getting their work done quickly in the cover of night.

Some stencils, some giant freehand pieces here.  Some that make use of other art or the surroundings daftly in a Banksy-esque way.  I am told there are many more other brilliant pieces that await me in Valparaiso.  And there are so many more other shots on my camera that I can’t post right now.  ::drool::

Banksy?

In the style of Banksy..if only the "perder" one didn't conflict with it

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The rose is a nice touch

Doubly cute

Doubly cute

Just go ahead and use the whole wall

Just go ahead and use the whole wall

Back to basics

Back to basics

small and good

small and good

Weird and artsy..I love it

Weird and artsy..I love it