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Published: February 4th 2008
Colourful Houses in ValparisoSantiago de Chile
Many colourful houses built into the hillsides around Valpariso
After Pucon, Helen and I arrived in Santiago de Chile for a couple of days. Santiago is a fairly huge city, located about half way up Chile, with the high Andes located to its West, and the Pacific located about an hour and a half drive to the East. Its the usual big and intimidating city feeling, with a scattering of nice building to look at and streets to walk along.
Some of the nicest views of the city are from the top of the San Cristobal hill, complete with obligatory Virgin Mary on top looking down over the city. However, the views of the Andes are often obscured by the smog that accumulates over the city, trapped by the high Andes. And of course, this was the case the day i visited! Valpariso
To Escape the heat of the city, i went on a day trip to Valpariso, an hour and a half drive from Santiago on the coast. This city has been a busy port for most of the 19th and 20th centurys, especially used as a stopping off point for the Americans during the gold rush. Its a nice place to
wander round, with 42 hills circling round the city, trapping it against the sea.
Many of the old buildings have been destroyed through various earthquakes that have struck over the years. However, now there are thousands of homes of all colours, shapes and sizes built into all the hillsides, giving a great spectacle around the town. San Pedro de Atacama
After spending a few days in and around Santiago, I travelled up to San Pedro de Atacama to meet up with Helen again (who had travelled earlier with her new tour group). San Pedro is up in the North of Chile, on the plateaus where the Andes really begin to push up to very high altitudes. Sitting at 2,400m altitude, the town itself is surrounded by a number of 5,000m plus volcanoes and on the edge of the border with Bolivia. The town also sits on the edge of the Salar de Atacama salt flats and atacama desert, one of the driest points on earth.
San Pedro is very different to anywhere i have visited before. All the buildings are adobe style, painted white outside and typically constructed of clay. There is a very remote feel
about the town in all ways, walking along the clay streets. Although they do now have cash machines and internet, so there is no escape from modernisation! I could even have remotely logged in to the office i guess, should i be really, really bored. But i wasn´t, so i didn´t. El Tatio Geysers
Surrounding the town are a number of places to visit which means you are never really bored in the town. The geysers at El Tatio are one of the biggest draws though.
The geysers are located about 2 hours out of town, at a fairly breathless 4,300m altitude. They form when the snow meltwaters from the Andes go underground and hit the molten magma below the volcanoes. The water instantly boils, cracking the rocks above and creating huge jets of steam and water at the surface. These are most spectacular at sunrise, when the air temp is around -5 deg C, so the steam vents become really spectacular. Unfortunately, this means setting off from town at 4am to see them! However, the trip is worth it. There are also some thermally heated pools at the geysers where you can swim, as long as
you can brave the very cold air temp after the swim. Of course i had a go! Valley of the Moon
Located near San Pedro is an area called the Valley of the Moon. This is an area of salt mountains that have formed in the area between two mountain chains. (A salt pan which has since been pushed up to form hills). The valley is so called because salt is lain on all of the area after rainfall, giving the area a very strange, moon like appearance. The salt has also been carved out into all sort of strange rock formations. Its a pretty strange area to walk around as due to all the salt, there is not an awful lot living around there.
Its also called the valley of the moon because it is one of the best places on earth to star gaze from. This is because clear skies are almost guaranteed, as well as the area being so remote and away from light pollution. There are a number of observatorys in the area, and also a trip that goes stargazing to identify lots of formations. Now notice that i said almost guaranteed to
have a clear sky, except it would seem for the 2 nights i would try and go on the trip, when cloud caused the stars to be obscured on both nights! Darn luck! It guess i will still have to make up what i am actually looking at. Sandboarding
Also while in the area, Helen and I had a go at sandboarding on some of the huge dunes that surround the town. I think she was much better than i was, but i made sure i didn´t admit that to her! Its essentially like snowboarding, but on sand, so with a much softer landing when you fall off, as i did on every descent. But the most exhausting part was the walk back up the dune again, before falling off once again. A lot of fun though, and i now have sand in every orifice of my body! Onwards
So after a few days in the atacama desert, i am about to leave on a 3 day trip across the border into Bolivia. The trip crosses the vast high altitude altiplano of Bolivia, including the salt flats of Uyuni, the largest in the world.
Helen shows how it is done!
Sandboarding in Death Valley
updates soon. Bye,
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