Published: November 16th 2011November 16th 2011
After 10 days without internet or not enough time to give you some news, we have many things to show you! We did a bus trip with a transport company called "Pachamama". The advantage of this company is that they bring you to places where you can't go without a car. And because you can't rent a car in Chile when you're under 25 years old, it was the only solution that we had!! So... let's see day after day what we did in this mervelous trip!
Santiago to La Serena
It's a 470km long ride, that we broke in one stop in Pichidangui, a small town with a beautiful long gold sand beach, frequented in summer from many Santiaginos. Here we had probably the biggest salmon part that we've ever eaten! After this stop we hit the road again and arrived late in La Serena, so we didn't visit it.
La Serena to Bahia Inglesa
It is a 490km drive, that we broke in one stop in the National Reserve Pinguino de Humboldt. This National Park is composed of three island, and we could make a boat tour to see two of them. Before we arrived
at the first island, we had the chance to see "Bottle Nose" dolphins, who swam right next to our boat! Then we stopped first on the Isla Damas on which we had time to see the particular flora of the reserva. On the Isla de Choros, we could observe three different kind of cormorans, as well as sea otters, sea lions, and off course the stars of the reserva: the Humboldt pinguins! It is possible to observe these animals at this latitude (between 25°S and 30°S), because of the Humboldt Stream, a very cold stream in the Pacific, along the shore of Chile and Peru.
Day off in Bahia Inglesia
Because of the Humboldt stream, it is not recommended to swim in the Pacific, because it is too cold... that's why we did it!! After trying to get out our camping site, which was not easy (about 5 km to walk to the ocean although it was probably only 50m from our cabine), we tried to swim in the ocean. We had no thermometer with us, but we think the water was under 10°C. On this day, we also visited Caldera, were the first mechanized port in South
America is located, built by Gustave Eiffel (yes yes, the same guy who build the Eiffel tower!). In this town, we tried another chilean specialities: empanadas. That's a kind of "pizza calzone" filled with all sorts of food you can find in Chile: for example sea food or avocados. For dinner we had a big barbecue with the group travelling with us. We could try a chilean salat called Pebre, based generally on tomatoes, green onions and coriander.
Bahia Inglesa to Antofagasta
On the road between this two towns, we drove through the Atacama desert, crossing its driest part, where some meteorogical stations have never registered any rain in over 50 years. That's why observatories grow like mushrooms in this region (one of the most famous observatory is Paranal). For lunch, we stopped in the middle of nowhere, in a road restaurant called "Aqua verde", where we could eat a hot soup (Casuela) made out of chicken, mais, pumkin and potatoe. When we saw this place, we alle thought of this famous music of the movie "Once Upon a time in the West". After that, we went to the old cemetery of Oficina Chile. It is an abandonned
cemetery nearby an abandoned Nitrate mine. Since Chile had a very important nitrate production in the XIXth century, which ended after the second world war, because in Germany, artificial nitrate was invented. Our next stop was at the "Mano del Desierto" (hand of the desert), a huge sculptured hand, which was created to show the people how the world would look like if we don't stop destroying our planet: a huge dry desert without any live. But this hand is also a "welcome to the desert" sign for people coming from Antofagasta. After that, we arrived in Antofagasta, were we spent the night, and went to the "La Portada" cliffs before the sunset, a rock formation in the ocean shaped like an arch, a bit similar to "Etretat in Normandy"!
Antofagasta to San Pedro de Atacama (2440m)
On this day, we continued straight across the desert. After we past the Tropic of Capricorn, we did a first stop in Baquedano, where we visited another cemetery, but this time it was a train cemetery. Here we could see old locomotives, abandoned after the nitrate mining operations. Although they are not in use anymore, most of them would still work,
because of the complete lack of humidity which makes them resistent to corrosion. After Baquedano, we left the highway to head to the Atacama Salt Flat, where we drived on a compact salt paved road. This Salt Flat is situated between the desert and the Andes mountains. We had the chance to stop in a site where we could still see "salt hexagones", a particular salt formation due to the evaporation of the underground water. At the time we got there, the fresh underground water coming from the Andes mountains destroyed a lot of hexagons, which made it nearly impossible to walk on the salt flat.After the Salt Flat, we went to an oasis, Peine, situated on the foot of the Andes mountains, were we could swimm in natural rock pools. It was very refreshing after the dry road we had this day! And it was such a good feeling to be in the water at the end of the driest desert of the world,while having it behind our backs the same time!! After that, we could enjoy the sunset in the Natural Reserve Los Flamencos, situated in the Salar de Tara, not far away from Argentina and Bolivia. In
this reserva, three different kind of flamingos are recenssed: Andino, Chileno and James. This Reserva offers a beautiful view on the Andes mountains, which turn from red to blue after the sunset. We also had the chance to see the full moon rising above the coloured mountain range on this day which was breathtaking.
Day off in San Pedro de Atacama
After the long day 5, we woke up at 3:45 hour in the morning to get to the Tatio Geysers in the Altiplano before the sunrise. They are situated at 4300m above sea level and before the sun rose, it was about -8°C! It was a big difference compared to the desert temperatures the day before. The Geysers area is surrounded from multiples vulcanos. The Chilean energy firms tried to make geothermy with it but it didn't happen until now and this sight will be soon classified as a natural reserve. On this sight, we also had breakfast and after that, we could swim in a famous geyser hot pool! Don't forget that we had to change our clothes by -8 or -4°C outside temperature!! So we changed very fast and jumped into the hot water! It
was so hot that we burned ourselves on the ground, were the hot water bubbled out! It was a fantastic experience to swim in a hot spring at 4300m by -8°C outside, surrounded by the smoke of the geysers. The toughest moment was to get out again! But the feeling inside was worth it! After that, on the afternoon, we went swimming a second time, but this time in the Laguna Cejar, a very salty lake, where the density of water doesn't allow you to sink!! This was also a funny experience to float like a cork without moving yout arms or legs!! It was good that the salt hurt our skin after a few minutes, otherwise we would have stayed there the whole afternoon!! But we had something else to see: the moon valley or Valle de la Luna. It got its name from its moon like landscape. We waited here for the sunset too and this was also an incredible feeling, with sand dunes, wind and gold colours. The only sad point is that we didn't see the moon in this moon valley, because it rose too late...
San Pedro de Atacama to Pan de Azucar
After these two busy days, we had a long driving day across the desert on our way back to Santiago. Nevertheless, we did a short stop in Pampa Union, a ghost mining town abandonned after the Nitrate mining industry collapsed. It was as if the citizen of this town left it in a hurry, because we could still find some shoes or metallic canes, which we supposed date from this time. After four or five hours, we reached Pan de Azucar at the sunset. We set up the tents in the twilight and had a nice barbecue on the beach and could see the moonrise. The night was really great because we could hear the sound of the ocean, less than 20 meters away from our campsite.
Pan de Azucar to Vicuna
This day was probably the funniest day of our trip. Not because of the things we saw, but because of our bus. The road trip was about 600km and our bus had a problem after maybe 150km: some screws of the rear wheel broke and we had to change them. First, the driver and the guide tried to locate the problem. After that, they
called a garage to pick up our bus and to repare it. The nearest town was in about 100km and it took maybe 3 hours for the tow-car to come! During this time, we had lunch in the middle of nowhere, with a beautiful view on the ocean. Luckily, it didn't happen on the day before, because we would have been in the middle of the desert ( 40°C)!! On this day, the weather was pretty cloudy, so this was okay. Then, they told us that the group stayed in the bus while it got towed away.When we saw the truck, we all thought: we are gonna die!! The truck was as big as the bus or maybe a little bit smaller, so that the bus almost touched the road!!! So we decided to hitch hike to the nearest city. After a bunch of cars passing by a public bus decided to stop and brought us to Copiapo where our bus was beeing repared, in a "Mercedes" garage (that's what they told us). We stayed till 23:00 O'Clock in copiapo with 400km ahead of us . And the garage was no "Mercedes" garage but a kind of inner courtyard whith
old craps and two broken vehicles!! We arrived at 5 a.m. at our hostel in Vicuna! But we arrived safe and we really had to thank the driver, who was awake all the time as we slept ..... Muchas Gracias Pedro!
Day off in Vicuna
First of all, I want to thank all of those who remembered my birthday! Even if we got to bed late on the day before, my bithday was beautiful! It began at 13 p.m. in the afternoon (so we had time to sleep!) with a visit of a Pisco distilleries (ABA) and of course also a Pisco degustation! Vicuna is situated in the Elqui Valley, the Valley where Pisco, a chilean alkohol speciality, is fabricated. Nobody really knows, if Pisco is peruan or chilean, but the most part of the production is probably done in Chile in the Elqui Valley. They make a different kind of Pisco. Pisco Sour is the most famous and tastes like Margarita. Pisco Mango is a mix of Pisco and Mango juce and tastes very sweet! Hmmm! For lunch, we had another Pisco and real chilean empanadas, probably the best one we ate till then, because they weren't
fried. After that, most of the group did a horse ride in the valley, but we went only hiking in the Valley and in the town of Pisco Elqui. It was a good idea, because one person of the group was scared of her horse and fell off and they had to return without doing the whole tour. During this time, the busdriver and the guide repared a flat tire!! After the sunset, we went to the Mamalluca observatory, an amateur observatory, where we could see the wonderfull southern hemisphere starry sky: galaxies, the Scorpion constellation, Jupiter, Nebulous (star nursery) and many other things like satellites or shooting stars. After that, we had a barbecue paid from the Pachamama office to excuse themselves for the day before! So my birthday was really a great day!
Vicuna to Santiago
On this day, we should have stopped in the Fray Jorge National Park, but because of the bumpy road and the bus conditions ( this day we had an oil problem and had to refill the oil tank 30 min after the departure!!) they decided to go to an "accessible" park (Encantado) with hieroglyphes on the rocks. We arrived late
in Santiago in the evening and were happy to sleep!
In Resume, it was a beautiful trip with a funny chilean action with the bus in the end and we can only recommand it if you are travelling to Chile some day! We saw in 10 days more than we could have done by ourselves and met people from all over the world (most of them from europe indeed!!). It was an unforgettable experience!
There are more photos below