Saturday, December 13, 2014

Chile Pt. 1 (in mostly words)

(Disclaimer: for whatever reason we didn't take many pictures in Chile Pt. 1, but Chile Pt. 2 will have tons!)

We got over the border from Bolivia into Chile with no problems. We found ourself in the town of San Pedro de Atacama in the middle of the Atacama desert, the driest desert in the world. The first order of business was finding a hostel. Compared to Bolivian prices, everything in Chile is unbelievably expensive (although most stuff is still cheaper than the U.S.) The cost for a hostel seemed way too expensive so we pulled out our tent and camped for about $8 each (camping in Chile cost us more than a hotel room in Bolivia!) No matter, I was happy to be back in Chile.

You can do all sorts of awesome tours and excursions out into the desert in San Pedro. There are hot springs and amazing valleys and canyons and mountains, it is a really cool place. However, we were a little "toured out" from our 3 days in the Salt Flats and I had already seen a lot of it anyway (because I spent a weekend there last time) so we decided to just take it easy for a day and then hit the road for Santiago. Originally, I had wanted to make several stops on the way down from San Pedro to Santiago, but we were starting to feel really pressed for time. Instead, we got a direct bus and headed out the next day. It takes 23 hours to reach Santiago, so by the time we pulled into the bus terminal we were REALLY happy to be there and to get off the bus. The bus ride was really not bad though, except they played crappy movies the whole time. The icing on the cake was when they played the movie Godzilla for the SECOND time. Luckily we only had to watch part of it the second time because we arrived in Santiago.

 We spent 6 days in Santiago, and it was so much fun. We stayed with my friend from study abroad who now lives there, Cara, and her Spanish boyfriend, Xabi. They were amazing hosts and we were so happy to take a break from hostels for a bit.

The first day we got in, we chatted with Cara and Xabi for awhile and then went and visited my host family for "once" (pronounced "own-say"). Once is a uniquely Chilean thing. Chileans eat dinner really late, around 9 or 10, so between 3-6pm everyone sits down for a small meal, usually just tea or coffee and bread or crackers and jam. It was so fun to see them again. When I left Santiago, Cristobal was only 12 years old and now he is 14. I've seen pictures on Facebook so I knew he would look older and be taller, but I was not ready for the man voice he greeted me with! Anyway it was awesome seeing them again. They don't speak much English, but Keegan did a great job keeping up with the conversation in Spanish. It was really fun.

The next two days we slept in pretty late and I gave Keegan the whirlwind tour of Santiago. We went to La Vega, which is a giant market. We got Terremotos at La Piojera, the oldest bar in Santiago. (Terremotos, "earthquakes", are a drink made of wine and pineapple sorbet. They call them terremotos because they are highly alcoholic but don't taste very strong and drinking them leads people to fall on the floor like in an earthquake.) We saw the main plaza, Plaza de Armas, but it was under construction. The rest of the time we just walked through some of my favorite neighborhoods and parks near the city center and stopped at all my favorite restaurants and ice cream shops along the way.

One day we jogged up to the Virgen statue that overlooks Santiago

View from the top

Candles lit at the church at the top

We also spent one night out in Valparaiso, a port city about an hour by bus from Santiago. We stayed on a nice hostel with an amazing breakfast. We went to a brewery and just generally explored the town. Valparaiso is known for its colorful buildings and beautiful grafitti murals.

We spent our last days in Santiago preparing for our trip to Patagonia. Food in Santiago is much cheaper and more plentiful than down south so we bought almost everything we needed for the trip in Santiago.

Our last night in town, Cara and Xabi invited us to go with them to a Chilean-style asado with some guys from Xabj's soccer team. An asado is basically just a barbecue where massive quantities of meat are cooked and consumed. They are awesome and very Chilean. Again, everyone there spoke almost exclusively Spanish except us and Cara, but Keegan did great keeping up with the conversations.

The next day we made the final packing preparations, said good bye to Cara and Xabi, and hopped on a plane bound for Punta Arenas, the closest airport to Patagonia. (Thankfully, we had decided ahead of time to take the 4 hour flight instead of the 30-40 hour bus ride.) Staying in Santiago for so long totally rejuvenated us. We had awesome hosts, we ate tons of great food and overall just had a really wonderful time. I was so happy to be back, even just for a short while.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Salt Flats!! In (mostly) pictures

We got into the tiny, dusty town of Uyuni around 7am. We were really well-rested because we had sprung for the nice seats on the bus for the first (and only!) time. It was amazing because the seats fully recline and are extra wide. We had booked a tour in La Paz, so we found the office and then went out for breakfast. At 10:30, we met our driver and headed out on the three day tour through the largest salt flats in the world. 

Day One
For some reason, our tour group changed a lot. We started out with a really nice Bolivian professor and his Norweigan friend. They only stuck with us for the first day, which was a bummer because I got to practice a lot of Spanish with him. 

The first stop on the tour was the train cemetery. Uyuni used to be a major railway hub, but for some reason it isn´t anymore. Someone built some swings and a bunch of people added graffiti and they turned it into a tourist attraction!


The grafiti says "I need a mechanic with experience", haha.

Next stop was the “ojos de agua” (eyes of water) which was a crazy area where hot water is constantly bubbling up from the ground and forming little ponds of water in the salt. We also stopped, at the Bolivian professor’s insistence, to check out a massive llama farm. Then we got our first glimpse at the massive salt flats. They go as far as the eye can see. Closer to town men work all day mining the stuff so it can be used for building and making souvenirs and I think some of it even gets shipped out as table salt. We went to lunch and picked up a kid from France and a fiercely patriotic guy from Switzerland who would stay with us the rest of the trip. We also stopped at a really elaborate hostel made entirely of salt and took some funny pictures.


Salt waiting to be transported

As far as the eye can see

Everything is made of salt!

You don´t have to be very far away for the perspective to get totally thrown off

This is what it looks like while the photo is being taken.

Turns out pretty great, but the shadows mess it up!

The last stop of the day was out to the Isla de Pescado (Island of Fish) which is a giant fossilized coral island. Here we also said good bye to the Bolivian and Norweigan and picked up another couple that spoke French and Spanish but not much English. Unfortunately, everyone in the group now spoke French but us. Actually I could follow along a little, tiny bit with their conversations because French and Spanish are fairly similar. Mostly, it just made dinner conversation really difficult though.

The cacti were all in bloom which made everything extra beautiful!

After the island we drove for awhile to our first resting point for the night, another hostel made totally of salt! The tables, chairs, bed frames, and walls were all made from salt!

Day Two
We woke up at 6am and drove a long ways (the salt flats can be seen from space so the distances between things are realllly far!) On the drive we saw two blue lagoons, a green lagoon and a yellow pond. Something about the minerals here make the ponds different colors I think. Anyway, really cool! We ate lunch by a big pond filled with pink flamingos.

Spotted a herd of llamas on the drive

After lunch we kept driving until we got to a crazy rock garden. The entire area for miles and miles was barren except for this one spot filled with enormous rocks. Thousands of years of erosion by the wind have given the rocks really unique shapes, including one that looks like a tree.



Piedra de Arbol (Rock Tree)

A description of this day wouldn´t be complete without describing the music we listened to the whole time. I have no idea where our guide found his music, but we listened to really terrible 80s music for awhile, then traditional Spanish music for awhile, then some American pop music, followed by several songs of Eminem. Once we had listened to everything once, we went back and kept the terrible 80s music on repeat for the rest of the day. It really made the tour quite unique and also nearly drove us crazy. By the end we were singing along because we knew all the words.

That night we stayed in a much less nice hostel, BUT it was on the edge of a stunningly bright red lagoon filled with flamingos. It was way cool.

Bright red lagoon

Five-star lodging!

But the lake is pretty dang cool.

A woman was doing research on diseases in the flamingo population. Keegan got to nerd out with her for awhile and I got to translate

It was cold outside!

Not the best quality, but we got to see the moon rise and it was beautiful

And the sunset

Day Three
We woke up even earlier on day three, 4am! We got to see the sun come up over the mountains, which was gorgeous. Unfortunately, we were driving east so the sun was really bright on the windshield. Our driver was a grumpy, badass old man and was not deterred at all, he just stuck his head out the door and kept driving.
The first stop was to some awesome geysers.

Next we got to sit in a natural hot spring for awhile. The previous night and all morning I was freezing, but sitting in the hot springs warmed me up for the rest of the day. It was so relaxing and nice.

Finally, we got to the last stop which was the border with Chile. Half the tour was driving back to Uyuni, but we were getting off here. We said good-bye to our Francophone friends and hopped on a bus bound for San Pedro de Atacama, a town in the north of Chile. The bus ride was 45 minutes so Keegan fretted about the border crossing (international borders cause him unfathomable amounts of stress) and I tried to distract him by talking about what an amazing experience the three day tour was. We had seen some beautiful country, learned some French and some 80s songs, and now we were bound for Chile!

La Paz and the Journey to La Paz

Getting to La Paz was a very exciting, three hour bus journey. 80% of the bus ride passed normally, however at one point they tell all of the passengers to get off the bus, basically without explanation. Luckily, I had done this before so I was able to assure all the English-speaking passengers that nothing was wrong. What we were doing was taking a ferry across a part of Lago Titicaca. Most countries build bridges for this, but it is a major source of revenue for the towns on both sides to make everyone get off the bus and pay to be ferried across the lake, so I guess they just never got around to building the bridge. Anyway, this translates to a lot of excitement and uncertainty.

The people are taken on a small boat and the buses get taken on these big barges. Our bus was the big orange one. Our bags were still stored underneath so we were glad it arrived on the other side!

After the bus was safely ferried across, we again hit the road. Another aspect of the journey that you don´t expect is that as you pull into La Paz you get a really cool view of it because it´s situated down in a valley. 

This is only a small part, the city is actually enormous

The second thing you see is a giant statue of Che Guevara crushing an eagle. I guess that is in keeping with the theme of making Americans feel as unwelcome as possible.

We spent about three days in La Paz mostly resting from our whirlwind travels through Peru. My roommate, Isaiah, lived in La Paz for 4 months so he gave us a good list of things to do. We spent some time in a really neat little plaza that had cafes all around it. The plaza was extra interesting because it was filled with anti-Chilean posters that were as tall as buildings. (Quick history lesson: around the turn of the 20th century, Chile and Peru went to war. Bolivia came in on Peru´s side towards the end and Peru ended up losing. Chile took a good chuck out of southern Peru and western Bolivia for its spoils, which meant Bolivia no longer had access to the ocean. Recently, Bolivia has asked Chile for the land back and Chile said no. I think Bolivia is trying to take Chile to the ICC, so there is a lot of hostility right now.)

"Our demand asks the ICC to rule that Chile has the obligation to negotiate sovereign access to the Pacific Ocean"

There is also a really awesome, pedestrian-only part of the city where the streets are really narrow and it is filled with artisan shops and museums. It´s really neat and colorful.

La Paz was a very interesting city. It is also the highest capital city in the world, sitting at over 13,000. However, we didn´t stay long because we were eager to see what else Bolivia had to offer. At the end of the third day, we hopped on a bus bound for the southern Bolivian town of Uyuni: the gateway to the largest salt flats in the world!