Published: August 19th 2007July 12th 2007
Getting up at 4am in sub zero temperatures was definitely worth it for this. The guide advised us that it would be below zero. "Maybe -5", he said "maybe -10, maybe -15..."
Enough of this winter already, it was time to head towards the Equator! Bizarrely enough, seeing as we are supposed to be backpacking around the world, this is actually the first time we have done any actual backpacking since Zambia in February. It was long over due! This wasn´t the only momentous occasion. It was around this time where Marissa surpassed all previous records and my expectations about her sleeping; she managed to sleep for over 25 hours in a 36 hour period. I caught up on some reading.
First stop on our crawl northwards towards Peru is a Chilean seaside town called La Serana. OK I´m not going to try and kid anyone about the climate, it isn´t seaside weather. It is very much still winter, but temperate winter at that, with blue skies and plenty of sunshine. We had a lovely couple of days here hanging out with 2 French girls we met in our hostel. The only real draw back was that hearing French so early in our South American adventure proved chaos for our Spanish. Oui, si, que ... what??
First we took in the beautiful Valle de Elqui. This is where most of the
The thought of removing all 7 layers to jump in seemed quite inconceivable but once we were in, the hots pools got a big thumbs up
countries agriculture is and where grapes for the famous Pisco brandy are grown. It is also the site where the Chilean government decided to build a damn to trap the water flowing down from the Andies. A damn which put four local villages underwater. Luckily for the residents, the Chilean government rebuilt them elsewhere, but there are still amusing road signs pointing into the middle of a lake. We finished the day at the Mamalluca observatory, open to the public at night for cod astronomy lessons and viewings. It is a perfect spot for a giant telescope as not only are the skies crystal clear but you feel so close to them. This was the first time I had seen the Milky Way and its two Magellanic Clouds with my naked eyes. Through the telescope we saw Venus, Saturn (complete with rings), Jupiter (complete with equatorial band and 4 moons) and the star cluster known as the 47th Toucan. I have always liked Toucans.
For our second day, still with Delphine and Sylvette, we hired some bikes and did a 12k trip along the coast to nearby Coquimbo. As a millennium birthday present, Coquimbo was given a giant concrete
Delphine, Sylvette & James
In the Plaza De Armas in La Serana
cross to stand on the hillside overlooking the town. From the outside it is a bit of a monstrosity, but you can take a lift up the middle of it and get treated to amazing views of the city.
A 20 hour (luxury) coach journey later and we arrived in the little town of San Pedro. We were now in the middle of the Atacama desert, the driest desert in the world with an average annual rainfall of 1mm. In some parts it have never rained. This landscape of salt basins, sand and lava flows is caused by Chile´s long ribbon like shape. Although Chile is 4500km long it is extremely narrow, where we are in the north there is only about 200km between the Pacific Ocean and the Andies. This creates a virtually sterile area in between, blocked from all moisture except an occasional fog. In fact the only reason Sand Pedro exists is to provide a base for tourists of all kinds to take tours to visit the amazing landscape. And that, is exactly what we did. The main attraction was El Tatio, one of only 7 geyser fields in the world. This particular one is at
If your name´s not down you´re not coming in!
4200m above sea level at is best witnessed at dawn. They were right, the sight of the sun rising over the field and shining through 5m spurts of steaming water was stunning. To top it all off we were treated to a dip in some thermal springs. There is a point, not far from El Tatio, where these thermal currents pop us in the middle of a fresh water river. The result is a hot steaming natural bath, which after a 4am start and temperatures of at least minus 10, was just what the doctor ordered. Spanish Word of the Week:
Melé, meaning rugby scrum. A rather nice way of putting it I thought.
This Weeks Likes
This Weeks Dislikes
- Being on the road again, staying in hostels and meeting other travellers.
- Blitz and Pap. Great names for soft drinks.
- Eventually finding an Australian to South American adaptor for the hair clippers. James was able to lose some hair at last.
- Not being able to see the dolphins with Dephine ... due to high seas
- James foolishy sleeping in his lenses on the overnight bus because he forgot to put his
lens case in his hand luggage. Left eye was impressed, so much so that it had be in agonising pain for a day and unable to wear lenses for the next 5. Idiot.
Vicuñas & Volcanos
I think it was hearing the word ´vicuña´for the 73rd time that I was finally able to recall it for myself. How I´ll grasp the other few thousand words of Spanish is somewhat beyond me.
- Lovely bike ride, terrible saddles. 22km on concrete T didn´t do much for our butts.
There are more photos below