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June 28th 2011
Published: June 29th 2011
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Day 147 – 150

After a change to our flight (apparently Bolivian politicians took our seats) we end up back in La Paz after 2 dodgy Aero Sur flights and one stop in Santa Cruz. Slight scare when my bag doesn’t show up in the baggage reclaim but after some panicky Spanish we find out it came on the politician plane and is safe in another room.

After checking in we set out to find out if the rumours of a national strike on Monday are true. These are quickly confirmed and when we ask how long the strike will go on for we are told a day... maybe 2... maybe all week. With it being Saturday we decide it is best to book 2 bus tickets to Chile for Sunday as we can’t risk getting caught here and ending up missing our flights to Easter Island. The bad news is that I can’t do death road so try to tell myself it’s overrated and that all will be better once we hit Chile.
That evening we head out with the remainder of the group for a farewell dinner at a French restaurant called ‘La Comedie’, which is excellent.

Again up early to catch our 14 hour bus to Chile and fearing the worst we are genuinely surprised when we get a fairly comfortable bus, although our seats are next to the toilet. Border control is also a little stricter as we have to empty the entire contents of our bags (lucky our packing skills mean it only takes a couple of mins to repack.) We arrive in Iquique at 9.30 and Em asks a Chilean couple who are on the bus where to get taxis. Their friends are picking them up from the station and after telling us not to get into one taxi (which looks ok to us), and failing to flag an official taxi, they look at us in a concerned way and offer us a lift to our Hostel. If we weren’t worried about getting a cab before, we are now, and so we accept the lift in their plush leather seated 4x4. (It’s soo good to be back in Chile)

After a restful night’s sleep we amble round the surf town of Iquique basking in the glow of Chile civilisation. The history of the town can be seen through the old style houses built during the 19th century nitrate boom and it often feels like we are back in the Wild West. After watching the surfers getting smashed by the 6 meter waves we head out for a meal to celebrate.

The next day feeling we need some excitement we decide to do some Paragliding, as Iquique is one of the best spots in the world for it. It is actually Em who wants to try this and I feel that I can’t face the shame of wimping out. So feeling more than a bit nervous we set off in a van to the top of the sand dunes that surround the town. The company are fantastic and we are given a full detailed brief on the way to the take off site. Obviously it will be a tandem ride and we can expect to be in the air for up to 40 minutes reaching up to 1,000 metres. Em is matched with an acrobatic expert who competes in competitions and can actually do mid air tumbles, whilst I get the older more safety conscious guy.

We are kitted out and attached to our pilots and have about 5 safety checks which make me feel a little more relaxed. I’m also relieved to hear there is an emergency chute just in case something goes wrong. As we take off it actually feels really smooth and nowhere near as scary as you would think and we head straight towards the first thermal to get some height while we wait for Em to take off. Once Em and her acrobatic pilot catch up with us we head higher as begin to glide above the town watching the condors to find the next thermal lift. The ride is truly amazing and you really feel what it must be like to be a bird. I get a little worried when my instructor suddenly swears as we hit a strong thermal but all seems normal. As we glide over the town we head towards the beach for the landing and I can even see sea lions jumping around in the sea. As we approach the landing the pilot lets me know that we are going to do some sharp spirals to lose altitude and I prepare myself for the landing with some air running... and as we hit the sand I gracefully fall straight on my backside only to turn and see Em land perfectly on her feet (obvious fluke).

With the adrenaline still flowing we head for some drinks and a long lunch with Rob (who also did the paragliding) and Nicki from London. So long that the owners have to tell us they are closing to get us to leave! After collecting our stuff from the hostel it’s back on the road as we head to the bus station to catch our night bus further south to Copiapo down south.

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