Monday, June 15, 2009

whistlestop Chile and chilly Bolivia

The last post came at the end of our time in Argentina. Saying goodbye to Bariloche ended up being quite a sad experience and some hasty plans were made to return there as soon as economically possible. We'll see what pans out, but if you ever are in that part of the world Bariloche definitely is worth a visit *wipes tear from eye*.

Anyways we crossed into Chile on an amazing bus journey through the Andes. In total we spent just 7 days in Chile though since we were eager to make it up to Bolivia. Firstly we stopped off in Santiago for 2 nights (not terribly impressive though did have a lovely fish meal there and unsuccessfully tried to go to a rock ballet). In our hostel we met Mike a Kiwi guy who had just bought a tiny little Mitsubishi van with a 550cc engine. His grand plan to make money and stay afloat in South America was to start giving travellers lifts in his van to their chosen destinations. And so it was that Mary and I went on the van's maiden voyage, to Valparaiso. There were some hairy moments given that the motorway is very hilly and there were 3 of us plus all our luggage on board, but thankfully it managed to arrive in Valpo and navigate the hilly, narrow streets to our hostel. A much needed drink was in order after the trip and of course we had to go native and opt for "pisco sours" which are made from a mix of pisco (popular spirit in this neck of the woods), lemons and (i think) egg whites. anyways, 3 drinks later and we were on our ears. A cheap night out though....

Valparaiso itself is a really cool city. Lots of brilliant grafitti all over the place. Myself and Mary felt in particular like street-art connoiseurs when we recognised murals by an Argentinian painter who we had seen on our BA street-art tour. The city is crazy.... definitely no such thing as planning permission required here; if you feel like adding another story to your house you just go right on ahead and do it. And paint it pink while your at it. Also it is mandatory for each building to have at least five dogs and seven cats as part of the homestead. The place is FULL of them roaming the streets, though thankfully they're very friendly. Our second night there was quiet enough, apart from a impromtu YouTube karaoke session with the hostel owner Coco that is. I'm not sure I'll ever be able to wipe away the memory of us wailing along to Pink Floyd while all the other hostel guests (well, all 3 of them) tried to get to sleep...

The next day we headed back into our luxury transport and headed back to Santiago, only to hop straight on a bus to San Pedro de Atacama in the northern part of the country. This was definitely the most horrible bus journey so far at a full 24 hours long and with very little water and food provided by the bus company. Good training for what is to follow in Bolivia and Peru I hear though. Apparently there are 5 bus accidents every week in Peru, not that the companies seem to care as they continue to drive like total lunatics. Anyways, on the bus journey we passed through several deserts including the Atacama, the driest in the world. San Pedro itself is a strange little oasis town with mostly unpaved streets apart from the main tourist high street. We arrived at night in the freezing cold; this was the first time we hit serious altitude and boy does it make a difference to the temperature at night. Thankfully we rocked up to a hostel which had an outdoor courtyard which contained a massive firepit in the middle so all was cosy. We spent 3 days in San Pedro checking out the surrounding weird rock formations and sand dunes and also organising our first big "tour"; a three day, two night trip into Bolivia and across lagoons, desert and salt plains. We had a brilliant time busting around on a 4x4 jeep during the day and staying in not-too-elaborate accomodation at night. We'd been warned beforehand that the temperature at night could fall as low as minus 14 degrees, which made me really freak out. In the end I wore so many layers of clothes and blankets I was too hot at night. Go figure... The tour was great though and we met loads of really cool people, notably a pair of crazy Weegies which we'll hopefully catch up with later on down the tracks.

After the tour there was the mandatory knees-up in our destination town Uyuni, which left me in ribbons the next day and only fit for the bed. Altitude really does make hangovers worse! The "a word" is a big thing at the moment as most of Bolivia is at quite a high elavation. At the moment we're in a city called Potosi, which is the highest city in the world. Thankfully neither me or Mary have had any bad side effects apart from a few headaches and some sinus troubles.

Next stop Sucre and onto La Paz for a party weekend I`m hoping. Dying for some good music at this stage; there`s only so many hours of pan pipes a person can take.

Until next time,