Currency is Chile Peso, 1 GBP = 1050 pesos
Monday 13/6/05 (Rita writes...)
Santiago hs a lot going for it including a great airport//town centre shuttle bus which took us to central train stn, from where we unpacked bikes and cycled to Habitat our chosen guest house. Sadly our route took us through a less than
desirble industrial area and a pitiful array of houses all barred at windows and wild dogs wandering the streets. They looked well fed we just hoped they weren't surviving on legs of cyclists.
Our first guest house in Santiago, Chile was called Habitat owned by and american called Scott and his south american ex wife as we understood the set up. It was less than desirable even though we stopped two nights, that is until the hot water stopped flowing. We used our own silk sheet and didnt take our shoes off and declined the full breakfast on accunt of the cleanliness of the kitchen, still it only cost 8ooo pesos. 8 quid.
our first evening we dined at the local cafe callled del rapido and found it good clean food if a little boring so it became our haunt for the 2 days when near the guest house.
Tuesday 14th June
our first full day in Santiago it was literally tipping down all day - despite this we walked in to the Plaza de armas town centre but spent much of afternoon in an internet cafe as it was just a waste of time in the pouring rain. We also checked out the cheap ski resorts on the outskirts of town and and tried a couple of hostelries. All very cheap here compared with Tahiti and our spanish now getting surprisingly coherent - Easier than french anyway.
I determined that above all I would take Paul skiing as promised some years
ago. skiing in the Andes while in Chile is a great option. Not only is it very handy at just an hours drive from Santiago, but is also well supported by a good all round supply shop and is cheap compared with anything in europe. So we checked it out later.
Talking food for a moment- Mayonnaise is the order of the day, almost anything - food in a hurry - comes plastered in the stuff and I mean plastered, unless you specify otherwise, hotdogs, burgers and pizzas are big here, but many of the meals contain plentiful quantities of good quality beef!!! in addition to la planta - green beans and palta- avocados of which there are an abundace.
The centre of the town is very congested and extremely busy with pedestrians with unyielding umbrellas if you get my meaning!!!
It was a good day spent catching up on e mail and chilling out after a bit of jet lag.
The sun was shining and put a completely different aspect on the whole place including the grotty Habitat, hence we didnt change our mind over moving out when we saw it in a different light. Still no hot water.
We snacked at Del rapido before cycling into town to the bike - bicicletas area of the town where there are tens of cycle shops and very cheap. Our bargain of the morning was two pairs of cycle shorts for 900pesos. It was mainly dry
till lunchtime when we cycled up the main drag of Avenue O'higgins towards the Ave san antonio to our next accommodation. Sadly en route I took off my yellow - amarillo- goretex jacket and stupidly tucked it under the bungies on the back of my bike, only to have it nicked within the first ten minutes b4 reaching our hostel residencial San Antonio. Despite the theft it feels quite a safe place.
Ah well I didnt get mugged as I was relieved of belongings so I think myself lucky there and clothes, new and second hand are dead cheap, so not really a problem on that score.
our guest house turned out fine with huge room and hot water, but a suspect carpet so we still keep our shoes on whenever, and use our silk sheet. The patron is very friendly and we can get ourselves understood so all is well.
After reporting the theft of my jacket to the local carabaneros in the police station a couple of blocks away we did a walking tour of the city centre took some pics of the old buildings which now looked more interesting in the sun.
we also checked out the skiing weather forecast and decided it was too bad for the next couple of days to go up so we postponed on that front.
Thursday 15th June
Another sunny day and we rather regretted putting off the ski trip but met up with fellow travellers Lee and Vicky, who we had first met in Easter Island, in the town centre at lunch time at the Mercado Central, which is a huge market area, beautifully presented with individual restaurant areas and mainly selling all kinds of seafood. It is said you can eat here the finest seafood in the whole of Chile and some say south america. Also very good price!!!
We were offered King Crab by our host Augusto, but decline his very kind offer of a live crab. Paul ate sole, and I bass whereas our friends stuck with the steak and chicken. We were all pleased with our choices.
Later, we left our friends and decided to bite the bullet on the weather and book up for skiing for the friday afternoon.
We are up early, the sun is shining and we have chosen a great day for the slopes and trek off to Ski Total to collect our gear. We were welcomed by Alex from Holland who is setting up a cycle business in Santiago and he kitted us out with fitting gear, and after paying up, we jumped on the bus for el colorado resort which took about an hour and half.
We met Monica with her German boyfriend on the journey who gave us tips on the resort features, lockers, slopes, sunblock etc and our lesson started about 11am. All went so well with few falls we decided to go for another hours lesson and go further up on the lift. We both made astoundingly brilliant falls at the top of the lift sliding off in all directions except the right one, then commenced our SLIDE down!! Ignatio or Nacho for short our instructor showed enormous tolerance and by the end of our second lesson we were snow ploughing with confidence!!!
Finding the strain in our legs a little we decided on a snack and break for an hour.
We later attempted the drag lift of which I have considerable memorable experiences, only to repeat our earlier spectacular double fault and much grunting and puffing by the lift attendants, who did nothing to assist our attempt.
We then proceeded to practice for the last hour or so on the lower slopes b4 catching our bus back to the city.
Great day, we were delighted at having performed so well in every respect, we decided to reward ourselves with what turned out to be a truly excellent meal at the only indian restaurant in chile ( allegedly ). Indian cuisine at its best and reasonable at 35000 pesos all in. And to add to our delight (sorry Carroll), I was presented with a silk neckchief and a bottle of the wine of the month, a Chilean Chilcas chardonnay - since the restaurant was holding a festival of chilean wines. Great stuff!!
The weather was trully bad again and so we were glad we had chosen not to ski 2 days in a row but Paul was really keen to do it again so we decided on monday and tuesday for further expiditions to the slopes. The weekends are much dearer and usually the slopes are packed with locals so a good decision of ours to stear clear.
First time for Paul skiing and el colarado' is a good, compact resort with plenty of slopes and lifts. so Paul excelled as we guessed he might after a couple of lessons for us both and we had a great time, weather and snow perfect. However his terrifying downhill speed b4 mastering snow
plough stop was to be seen to be believed.
We stayed some 5 night at residencial san antonio and it was a good place, shame about the carpet in our room- grey but what with??. The central stairase on 4 floors was exposed wood and kept well polished, a traditional spanish style. The folk understood us and we them, thou our spanish has improved ten fold on our last visit to a spnish speaking country, which is handy to say
the least, but it is so much easier than French!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
On monday we did a second day on the slopes and took another lesson. Both of us improved beyond our expectation and the instructor for this lesson Ignation or Nacho for short was a great tutor with pretty good english - which helped greatly. He took us down slopes we really would not have expected to achieve at such an early stage- fantastic!
After our succesful skiing expedition we decided to clear off to Valparaiso on and since the roads are hideously dangerous, and the bus drivers actually try to run us off the road, we decided to take the Tur bus from the terminal. We have seen very few cyclists in the city and the 2
reasons for that are safety and security I would suggest!!
However en route cycling to the terminal we spotted a campng shop and since it was really tipping down yet again, I stopped to pick up a poncho ( having had my goretex jkt stolen) for a couple of quid and we purchased a tent w/o fly for just 14000 pesos - bargain- for emergencies in Peru and /or Ecuador.
We caught a mostly empty bus to Valparaiso after our near death experience on the outskirts of town and checked bikes in below for 1000pesos each.
There is no bother about buses taking bikes on board here - one just has to pay.
Its not far to Valparaiso, about an hour and three quarters from Santiago, but on arrival we found guest house close at hand.
The pouring rain continued all our journey and just as we arrived the sun began to shine. That was good for two reasons, bus termini are grotty at the best of times and improved by a little sunshine and Paul had developed a puncture so necessary to walk to our guest house, not more than a half mile.
Holiday Inn was on the movie channel in our room of relative luxury, at the el rincon universal hostal .......... so we watched it!!!!!!!!!!!!we haven't watched a film in ages. Chill!!!
This guest house/ residencial is 150 years old and is beautiful. Old beams, old furniture, old fashioned hospitality which is the same en espagnol as in Ingleterra. A little more than budget at 12000 pesos!
The uppermost small doble room(which we did not occupy )has a great view over all the city of
Valparaiso which is stunning by night and day, despite the smog, here also, as in Santiago.
After un packing we took a long wlk up the main street, ave avenida, which took all evening . En route we managed to hear the sad story of a gay alcoholic in a wine bar and later suffered the attention of three likely lads in a papas fritas bar - Paul put bob marley on the juke box and we made friends for life. We ate papas fritas and drank beer!!!
central valpariso is not the safest of places, especially at night, there is plenty of unemployment here, street kids and alcoholics, other than us of course!!!!!!!!
Wednesday 22/06/05 was great weather sunny and clear and great for views across the city from the bay and the pier. There is colony of sea lions in the bay area, lazing in the sun.
An avenue of palms stretches along the fore shore displaying at intervals statues of the heroes of SA: ohiggins, cochrane, prat, queen isabel of spain and an arch memorial to the colonial brits from 1810-1910. Beyond the avenue is the huge
plaza sotomayor where is the old indepencia building now the seat of the admiralty-armada de chile on the south side and the statue of the heroes of the battle of Iquique-(yet to read up about that one).
We made plan to walk the route of the ecommended back streets, up the sides of the little mountains, cerros, for the views, to see the old buildings and fabulous spanish style villas mostly built since the 1906 earthquake,
apparently (if dates wrong I'm sure Paul will edit later!!!!!!!!)We were not disappointed.
We made slowish progress as the variety of buildings are colourful and ramshackle and the steps are steep. We were also accompnied part way by an athletic persona in black hat and black tracksuit and red sprinting shoes, so I ostracised him after he passed slowly for the third time and that was enough to scare him off- well wouldn't you be scared??
Around 3 ish we found a bijou place and ate ensalata accompanied by wine from the mission winery we had visited in New Zealand, for a rip off 12000 pesos.
A little negotiation went on in spanish/french (since the waiter was) and english before a 1000 peso rebate was agreed. But the sun was beaming as we sat on the balcony which made up for the tab.
We continued for another hour or so till the hotel alegre also sporting a balcony with bright yellow and white table cloths where we drank pisco sours.
It had to be done in Chile of course. They have a fabulous in white silk honeymoon suite here for just 35000 pesos if any one intrerested- Mel,
By the time we reached back at our guest house it was dark and we were able to see the great view of the city fom the 3rd floor balcony. Spectacular.
Thursday 230605 (Rita writes...)
we started our shortish cycle from Valparaiso to Horcon vi Vina del Mar and Con con. There was a sea mist over Valparaiso as we started off and cycling close to the coast relatively all the way we suffered it the whole distance making our trip doubly dangerous.
In addition the road near Valparaiso was perilous and we took our lives in our hands til the rail crossing, some 5kms out of centre, where we crossed over to a cycle path. This was much safer and more enjoyable. There were a host of pelicans, shags and black back gulls on rocks in the bay just after the crossing. We are so lucky seeing all the natural wildlife
Vina del mar a tourist town full of condominia was dead (it is winter) and the horses and carriages all sadly stood dismally unoccupied, but it was a useful place for a pit stop.
We continued along the coast road for a few more klometers b4 heading uphill into very dense mists. The visibility dropped to less than 30 metres at times and between the towns we scarily had to continue. Wearing yelow flourescents Paul lead the way up hill and down dale, with barely less than 6 inches of kerbside most of the way. Does that sound scary !? Add buses and camions thundering by and you have the picture.
We were delighted to pass through a couple of villages where the mists decreased. Just b4 our stop we passed the enormous plant at Ventana, which reminded us both of Port Talbot, and finally we arrived in Horcon.
The village drops right down to the coast on a very steep descent. At the very bottom we were met by a french speaking spaniard who seemed to be expecting us, dont ask me how he knew we were coming. He asked if we wanted a room and showed me one of his cabanas back up the hill. It was made completely of wood by himself, was empty and con agua calientes and good bike security I took it at 12000 pesos. Despite the Fact he lead me to believe the whole was 6000pesos, not each. The original place we had chosen ran at 15000 so we saved a little. Even out of season
hotels in our budget come relatively expensive in Chile and the west coast resorts really target the wealthy Chileans.
Horcon is a tiny fishing harbour with a touristy feel and pleny of little restaurants and a quaint church. We could just see some boats coming in through the sea mist from our balcony - (no you're wrong it wasn't grand but adequate) around 5ish.
We took a walk to the shore and to find a place to eat.
The fish is of course very fresh but the prices were high and we settled for papas fritas for energy to cycle tomorrow plus a beer or two.
The main attraction at Horcon is the sight of horses pulling the fishing boats up the shore after el pescadores have been out fishing all day or all night as the case may be. We were down by the beach at 9am to see the spectacle enacted, although the sea mist was still dense and pics a little dull to say the least.
We continued cycling up the coast today again through hellish mists and one continuous up hill. However, there were many fewer trucks today as we realised they were taking coal, fuel etc up to and only so far as the plant at Ventana from Santiago and so the road was quieter.
Sadly the mist continued ad we were unable to see Humboldt penguins on an off shore island but never mind the sun began just as we reached our destination at Papudo.
Another resort full of condominia but smaller than Vina del Mar and it has seen its heyday, which was fine for us.
Again we found another lovely guest house, about 120 years old, completely wooden built with ancient patron and his wife.
We checked in then tootled off to the beach where one of the restaurants on the shore was getting rid of some fish waste and we were swarmed with pelicans and gulls, all gobbling up the food.
En route from la serena on the endless sleeper cama(full bed) bus with flota barrios coaches we stopped at the seedy town of calama in order to book a tour.
At the touirist office we got on a tour to the copper miing town of chuquicmata. This is a very interesting place and ios largest open copper mine in the world.
The mine is owned by the chilean people but run by Codelco management company who realising the risks involved offer all 7000+ employees free medical for life and have also built a hospital for their use.
When you visit you are first struck by the pollution cloud which overhangs the pit.
Then the thick layer of grayish dust covering all the rooves of the accommodation blocks. codelco have moved most all of employees to nueva clama out of the immediate area out of the immediate pollution, and also out of the pit area which they want to expand from 4kms to 15kms long over the next 50years.
Then the fiine dust in the mining area catches the back of the throat and stays there leaving you with a cough that lasts days we were later to find out.
I hope they find a way of dealing with the dust!!!!!!!!
Eat you heart out tonka toys, the trucks used here to shift the ore to the elevators and shift the slag are gigantic. They carry 250tonnes at a time, wheels are 3m highand tyres cost 6500 USdollars each.
More useless facts to follow if you are interested,if not move on to San pedro de Atacama.
The mine not only produces copper from oxide but also molybdenum frrom sulphide and hence sulphuric acid as a by product. Howewver they don't catch all the sulphur dioxide, they say bout 95% but the rest goes into the atmosphere- that's ok then!!!!
They produce beautiful copper slabs (cathodes) of 99.99% pure and we were lucky enough to see a train load of these bound for China, presently we hear.
This mine produces 16% of world supply and is a mainstay of the Chilean economy.
One more fact- since water is so scarce here they reclaim 80% of all water used in its operations, thereby reusing water several times.
Returned to Calama after the tour, en route to san pedro and on return journey to tocapillo. A modern place and en route to Sn pedro de Atacama, which is far more of inerest.
San Pedro de Atacama
We were told there was the fest of San Pedro on in the town and this we witnessed by the packed bus of stars of the show carrying their huge feathered head dresses and sequined and colourrful costumes.
We caught the bus and arrived bout 6pm , realizing when we reached the Chiloe guest house that we had dropped our main bike lock cable in the hold of the bus which had already returned to Calama , by the time Paul got back to the terminal office.
But Paul now fluent in Spanish managed to communicate the loss and sure enough after several tel calls the cable was returned to Sn Pedro for us too collect the following day.
The sun was setting as we arrived there which was beautiful and there was music playing in the main plaza by the little white adobe church.
It was great to arrive in the warmth but out here in the desert it cools down quickly.
The village is also at around 2,500 metres and I began to suffer from altitude, along with the irritating cough picked up at the mine.
Paul hit the town while I stayed in, comfortable but cold room, using an empty water bottle with hot tap water as a hot water bottle.
(Paul writes) Yeah, I went off in search of good cheap local nosh, couldn't find any on the main drag, they're all too expensive and run by in-comers, but did manage to find some ham and bread for Rita (how kind I am). Also found a little water heater, the type that boils a cup of water in a couple of minutes. Only 700pesos. Rita will be impressed when I make her a cup of tea!
Ended up in a run down locals place at the end of our road for chicken casserole with rice, not bad for 1500pesos.
Wed 29/6/05 (Rita writes....)
The following day wed 29th the village was really putting on the show.
It was a marvellous carnival for San Pedro, much like those we are used to in England but with a totally Catholic format. Proceedings got going with a service performed by the regions bishop around 11ish in the square..
Numerous beautifully dressed young girls, boys and old and young locals stood in the congregation by the church in all their traditional costumes.
I booked onto an afternoon tour of some of the local sights/sites, ending with a view of the sunset from Valle de Lunes. The tour set out at 3pm, picked up punters from various hotels, and set out to a mirador (viewing place) just off the main road outside town. The view was of some quite amazing carved rocks towards the Valle de Lunes, its hard to describe in words so I'll leave it up to the pictures. The next stop was the Valle de la Muerte for more interesting rock formations and views of the volcanoes of the Andes.
Finally we arrived at the Valle de la Lunes, and after paying the 1500 peso entrance, the driver pulled up next to one of the smaller features of the national park, the Tres Vigilantes. He then spent several minutes explaining why we didn't have enough time to visit all the attractions in the park (such as the one we were parked next to) as we had limited time and had to be at the top of the big sand dune to see the sunset. While he was saying this I managed to click off a few photos of the TVs, then he drove off. Why dont they start the tour earlier so that we can visit more attractions?
We were taken to a small winding tunnel, cut from the rock by water over a long period of time, and led through it by our driver. He had a tourch, but it was pretty dark at times in there and we were all frequently stumbling and banging our heads and backs on the low ceiling. What fun that was! Not ideal for anybody who suffers at all from claustrophobia, I'd say.
Back in our minibus we were taken to the big sand dune we had to climb to see the sunset. The driver explained that in actual fact, we weren't there to watch the sunset in the west, but to watch the colours of the sunset across the mountains and volcanoes of the Andes to the east. A number of other buses turned up around the same time, so there was a bit opf a scramble up the dune, the very loose sand didn't help either.
The view from the top was quite good, but I was a little disappointed in the sunset. Seems to be one of those things touted as the thing everyone must do in this area, but I think I should have got to the park a lot earlier and looked around some of the other features of the park, such as an enormous natural amphitheatre, which I only caught a brief glimpse of from afar. My advice would be, go to the park but don't do the sunset tour.
Returned to town by 7pm, found Rita in an internet cafe and took her for a meal at a nice little local restaurant.
Our journey there was interupted by yet another celebration, this time a procession around the town, with dancing and music, and carrying the 6 foot statues of their favourite saints around with them as well.
Unfortunately, the restaurant was closed when we got there, must have been something to do with the celebrations, so we dined in an Italian style restaurant nearby. Run by a nice girl from the south of Chile, it was a little posh and expensive, but not too bad. Spent 8000 pesos on the menu of the day, (pumpkin soup, milanese and bread pudding) and a few drinks.
Rita was suffering from a spot of altitude sickness, and also had a chesty cough, so she elected to stay in bed while I did some laundry (things dry incredibly quickly in this sun) and road out to see the ruins of a pre Inca village, a few miles out of town.
Cycling was a little difficult, not because of the terrain, but the lack of oxygen. Had to take it quite steady. The ruins were fairly interesting, but were basically a series of old stone walls spread up the side of a steep hill. Once I made it to the top, again, not easy, the views across a large canyon were quite interesting, with a small river flowing through the midle and the lush green of the vegetation around the river contrasting sharply with the red, rocky terrain of the surrounding cliffs.
Rita still not upto going out, so went to the locasl restaurant (open this time) and had lomo a la pobro, a poor mans steak. Its a bit of a misnomer, as it is a nice piece of stake served with chips, fried eggs, onions and salad. Ok, so its not the healthiest of meals, but its my first one in Chile and we've been here three weeks, so I think I deserved it.
Friday 1/7/05 (Rita writes....)
On friday 1st July we left San Pedro on the 10.30 collectivo 32 seater bus for our second visit to Calama. Our 4 hours there left an indelible print on paul's mind. Firstly for the free wireless access he was able to tap into to down load mail from internet to our pdas but also for the seedy window blackened bars. It took him 2 hours or more to find one without skimpily clad barmaids!!!!!!He told me!!!!!!!!
On the 4.30 bus to Tocapillo a journey of four and a half hours in total. I was pleased to travel downhill and back to the fresh sea air.
En route I must mention we stopped to drop passengers at the small mining town of Maria Helena which produces nitrates for fertilisers. This is the only nitrate producing mining town left in Chile. There used to be many more but died the death when mined nitrates were taken out by chemically produced fertiliozers. There are many dust covered ghost towns along the rouite in this region. However, Maria helena has survived because mined nitrates have come back into favour as natural fertilizers and having good reserves its future is looking good.
But I would hate to live there in the polluted densely dusty atmosphere making the air unbreathable and the shack like houses grey and dismal.
We arrived on time at 7.30 in Tocapillo. Chilean coaches are reliable and punctual if smelly and stuffy.
We could smell the sea air getting of the coach and on the main street, 21 de Mayo,(most unusul the main streets are normally called ave ohiggins ) we picked out a hotel and I bartered a discount to 6500pesos from 8000 por dos noches.
We hit the town right away, picking up fruit, bread baps, tomatoes and tea bags and found everyone extremely friendly. We couldn't work out what we had done right. It was if we were the only tourists in town!!!!!!!
Now maybe there we have it as this town could be suffering lack of tourists after the earthquake just up the road at Iquique.
Saturday and Sunday 2 - 3/7/05 (Rita writes...)
After mostly bready breakfast we cycled up the coast a way to see some turtles allegedly along the shore, but no luck, hardly surprising since the refuse and by the looks sewage goes into the sea.
We the went to the real beaches south of the town, very scrappy and deserted, of course (winter here), past the huge belgium owned thermal power station which is the big local employer.
Here there were some beautiful cactus flowers in bloom, you never know , the pics of which might make it through to our web site.
There are lots of british colonial buildings in town, including a wooden church and clocktower which a local pescadores was pleased to tell me about when he discovered "Que Pais" - Inglaterra!!!!! THIS TOWER 150 yrs and built by the british is in excellent condition. They like Brits in Chile and especially here, not yet figured out why, Paul tells me its all about the war of the Pacific!!! He's damn clever that Paul.
I am still suffering with chesty pollution cough from the ore dust, sulphur dioxide and nitrates dust from the mining areas, but we can at least see and smell the PACIFIC even if there is a daily sea mist still (Chacamata), which burns off about 2 if we're lucky. We stayed here just 2 nights, fri and satuday before catching a long distance pullman bus to Arica on the sunday at around 1pm for the cost of 8000pesos for 2. Plus 6000 blagged off us by the driver and conductor for transport of our bikes. At first they wanted 8000 for the privilege of transporting them. I am sure that conductor is the wrong name.
This was a fabulous journey travelling along the mostly deserted, mostly dead flat route which sticks to the coast until Iquique. Seeing en route the totally sand golf courses one outside Tocapillo and the other outside Iquique, fantastic rocky, rugged shoreline and a few subsistence villages. Iquique was affected by the recent earthquaake, according to news reports, but we saw no sign of it. This is by Chilean standards an up market resort, with casinos and restaurants by the score, but we had decided we would get to Arica.
We stopped for a hlf hour here then continued, now travelling up into the steppe desert region, very barren, not a bush in sight - still in the Atacama. Hot and hazy with dust in the air until 6.30ish at sundown.
we stopped at an accident black spot where a couple of trucks had collided, one being Pullman property, and our conductor gave the drivers and helpers there some packed meals from our coach reserves. Kind! They looked like they would be there some time-fortunately no injuries and lots of smiley faces when food packs distributed.
Todays packs, which we also were given, consisted of local type bread,rice and cooked chicken thigh followed when the sun had gone down with hot sweet tea and choccy biscuits. What more could you ask. Chilean infrastucture is very good, they use unleaded fuel and run lots of services daily, which are reliably run by conscientious staff. Driving coaches is a well regarded and rlatively well paid job.
Certainly without the hazards of mining, which I understand is also relatively well paid.
We arrived on Arica at 7.30pm and cycled off to Sunny Days hotel a stones throw away from terminal -- extremely friendly reception from your host Ross, who is a kiwi, renowned for their hospitality. Great room, clean, comfy bed, hot shower, kitchen, tour info, brekkers, washing and kitchen facility, tv, book exchange, and no undesirables - you know who I mean. What more could you ask - Paul says free beer!!!!!!! We rarely get so many plus points in one place.
Monday 4/7/05 (Rita writes...)
We saw the news that the yanks hit the meteor on british liberation day!!!!! (Paul: I believe the USA call it Independece Day, but it was a big relief for the Brits to get rid of it, hence liberation day). Deep Impact was a success.
We cycled around 15kms to local museo arceological' a converted olive mill in the famous Azapa valley north of the town.
It was well worth the distance and full of excellent originl artefact from in particular the chinchorro and Inca periods, not to mention stuff from the early hispanic days.
There is also displayed the enormous original olive mill but also some petroglyphs from around the valley, brought to the museum because they were being vandalised in their original positions.
The ride back to Arica was a bit faster because it was downhill and despite the headwind. We had a quick ride around Arica centre, looking for an Indian restaurant, or at least one that sold Indian style food, that we vaguely remebered going to when we were last in Arica in 1996. We remebered roughly where it had been, but couldn't find anything that resembled it, so returned to our hostal, stopping at a supermercado on the way to buy enough ingredients to make our own curry.
The kitchen in the hostal was quite good, and, as with most kitchens in hostal, mainly only used for cooking pasta and tomato sauce or making tea and coffee, the mainstay of the majority of travellers. Manage to russle up a half decent chicken curry, although I say so myself, especially considering the limited spice range available. Must say I think the local chilli powder is rather tame.
Tuesday 5/7/05 (Paul writes...)
We had planned to be at the bus station by 9am and try and get a bus upto Putre this morning, but plans were made for changing, so we didn't. After a leisurely breakfast and chat with our fellow inmates, we cycled off to town to look for the sea lions, allegedly near the fish key. That would figure, I guess.
Firstly we cycle around the huge cliff face, a prominent feature of the Arica landscape, upto a restaurant we thought we had been to on our previous visit, but although we were fairly sure we were in the right place, the whole area had been redeveloped with a big new sea wall and new a few new buildings. Never mind, its sometimes nice to go back to a distant place thats you've visited before. Ah, nostalgia, its not what it used to be, you know.
Found the fish key with numerous grubby and smelly restaurants, and sprawled out on the concrete inbetween were a couple of rather large sea lions, sunbathing. In larger male moved frequently, and snarled and sneezed a few times as well. Must put some photos on this page!
Spent some time on the internet and making a few phonecalls to England. There are still a lot of things you cant do over the internet, like making dentist appointments (not at our dentist, anyway) and checking on the progress of the engine rebuild we're having done on our camper van. On that point, one problem we've had with getting the engine done, is that we told them we wouldn't be back until early August, so, of course, nothing happened at all for the first 4 months. At least things are progrssing now, or so we're told!
On the way back to Happy Days, stopped off at the international bus terminal to try and get a seat on the La Paz bus to get to Putre. Spoke to numerous people, all of which said no buses went to Putre. This we knew, but all the buses going to La Paz pass Putre on the way, they just have to drop you off at the right point. Eventually, someone suggested trying the non-international bus station next door, a little strange as we were looking for an international bus. All became clear a little later when we found the international bus terminal was for non-Chile owned buses. Got seats on the 9:30 bus in the morning for 3000pesos each, a bit steep by local standards.
Back at Sunny Days, took full advantage of having a kitchen and russled up a chilli con-carne. Rather appropriate for the country we're in, but not a dish you'll find in Chile, strangely enough.
Wed 6/7/05 (Paul writes...)
Up early(ish) packed up stuff for our trip to Putre into one pannier each, packed the rest into our other panniers to leave in storage at the hostal. We are also leaving our bikes here, we don't think we will have time to acclimatise enough to use them and it saves the hassle and expense of getting them onto the bus.
After yet another lovely breakfast of puffed wheat with drinking yoghurt followed by bread rolls and peach jam, we walked to the bus station, 10 minutes away.
For some reason they had said we should be there at 9 for the 9:30 bus, which we were, but nothing happened until 9:30 when there was a mad rush to get on the bus. Don't know why they need to rush, the seats are all pre-assigned, but when in Rome...we were up there with the leaders and managed to get on ahead of the rabble.
Headed north out of Arica for 10km, then turned east onto route 11, the main highway to La Paz and Bolivia. Followed a valley that was lush green and cultivated for 15km or more along the bottom of the valley, in stark contrast to the huge sandy hills that rose steeply up either side. Shortly after we started climbing, sometimes quite steeply, and with several sharp hair-pin bends. The views were quite spectacular at times, but it was difficult to get photos through the windows of the bus with the reflections from the sun.
After 2 hours we arrived at the turning off to Putre, where we disembarked. Just picking up our bags and walking across the road was enough to take our breath away. Arriving at an altitude of 3500 meters, higher than anywhere in the UK (I think, though I feel sure someone will correct me) after being at sea level a couple of hours, is not a good time to partake in any strenuous form of exercise, e.g. standing up suddenly or something similar.
We now faced a 5km walk into the town, which was only about 2km as the crow flies, but, not being crows, that option wasn't open to us. The road actually heads away from the town at first, fllowing the contours of the valley to cross a deep canyon running down the valley. So we set off at a slow stroll, hoping somebody would give us a lift and sure enough, after only five minutes, the first vehicle to happen along took pity on us and gave us a lift into Putre. What's more, he didn't want any money for doing so, what a nice chap he was.
Checked into the Hostal Cali as it was quite cheap and not too far to walk. Small clean room with shared bathrooms 10 meters up the yard for 7000 pesos a night.
Took a walk around the Plaza de Armas and the few other streets that comprised the town. There's an internet cafe and telephone centre with international facilities. Its everywhere these days, useful, but it seems to take something away from being stuck in a lost corner of the world.
We were looking for a guide who had been recommended to us by Ross at Sunny Days. In the town square there was a very useful map outside the tourist info centre (closed - not so useful) which told us that Justines office was across the road from our hostal! Returned to our hostal and realised the reason we hadn't noticed it - there was no sign and he had been closed. Luckily, he was there now, he showed us a presentation on his PC of his one day tour of NP Lauca, which seemed to cover all the highlights of the park we wanted to see, so we booked to go tomorrow. The cost was 35000, or 42000 for 4 people, so we said we would try and get some more people if we could.
Bought some rather bright local hats, not because we thought we would look good in them, but because we needed them for protection from the sun. Well, that's our story and we're sticking to it. Also bought a small supply of coca leaves, purely for medicinal purposes, of course. As we learnt when we did the Inca Trail in 1996, chewing coca leaves or making a "mate de coca" by steeping the leaves in hot water is an effective way of countering the effects of altitude sickness. Coca leaves are actually what cocaine is extracted from, but the cocaine content of the leaves is very low, less than 1%. So thats ok then. Isn't it?
Lunch at the pub next-door to our hotel was interesting, there was a choice of veg soup followed by meat and veg casserole, or ..... Go hungry. We opted for the former, as we weren't prepared for the latter. And very nice they were too.
During the afternoon ad evening, Rita spent some time on the internet while I started with a walk around the extremities of the town looking for any good viewpoints before joining Rita on email and website duties.
For our evening meal we returned to the "pub" near our hotel and had a bowl of soup each, takes your appetite away this altitude adjustment. Managed a couple of beers as well, though.
Thursday 7/7/05 (Paul writes...)
Up before most people in town, I think they were recovering from the kareoke night at the pub last night.
Met Justine, our guide for the day, outside at spot on 8am. He has a small Mitsubishi minibus, but at least its 4wd, so it should get us around.
Our first stop was after half an hour of slow uphill driving, taking us above 4000 meters. Saw our first vicuna of the day, and explored a couple of small caves. Justine also showed us the Jareta (well, thats what it sounded like) plant, which is bright green and looks a bit like a ball of corral, but has a woody texture within.
20 minutes later and higher still, we stopped at a group of rocks that we immediately could see were populated by viscachas, which look like large rabbits with long tails, but are not related to rabbits at all. They are obviously quite used to visitors, and only seemed to take any notice of us when we got too close for comfort, then they would bound away nimbly across the rocks. Facinating creatures.
By now we were up to 4300 meters and the thin air was starting to give Rita a headache, one of the main symptons of altitude sickness. We stopped at a small cafe, in the midle of nowhere, for a light breakfast of bread and jam washed down mate de coca. Justine was a little concerned about Rita, but Rita insisted we carry on, we were going to have to pay for the whole day anyway so Rita was determined not to miss out on anything.
10km further into the park, we drove off-road for 15 minutes and arrived at a mirador for the Cotacotani lakes, a series of small lakes surrounded by piles of volcanic boulders. The view was fairly good, but Justine had decided that we should just view the lakes from here, instead of getting closer and walking right upto them, as had been on the itinerary. Rita persuaded him otherwise, and we were soon bouncing across the rough tracks down to the lakes. The main rerason for insisitng on getting closer was that it would be probably our only chance of getting a close up view of some pink flamingos.
20 bouncy minutes later and a 10 minute walk later, we were stood on the edge of one of the lakes watching 4 Chilean flamingos, within 100 meters of us. Well worth the extra effort.
The views of the volcanoes that surround Lauca were pretty good from here too, especially with the clear bright blue skies.
Lago Chungara, one of the world's highest lakes (some say the highest) was our next stop. From the shores of the lake there are spectacular views of the the surrounding volcanoes. The nearest volcano is Payachatas, and looms large above the lake with its dazzling white snow cap contrasting with the dark stone of the lower levels of the volcano and the cobalt blue of the lake. A sight well worth the effort of getting to.
By now the altitude, by now 4500 meters, was also giving me headache, and running (almost) around getting as many photos from different viewpoints was not helping me at all. Finally succumbed and, after a brief drive to the eastern end of the lake for a slightly different view ( and a quick look at the Chileno customs post for the border into Bolivia) we started our descent to a less heady altitude.
Our last visit of the day was to some hot water springs, where a small swimming pool and some bathing pools had been contructed. Not over impressed.
Back down at 3500 meters in Putre, my headach had gone, but Rita's was persisting. Dined out on my own at the local bar again, just a bowl of soup tonight. Seems to take your appetite away, this altitude.
Friday 8/7/05 (Paul writes...)
The only bus back to Arica directly from Putre (as opposed to hiking 5km up to the main road and hitching) leaves at 2pm. We made our own breakfast from the leftovers from yesterdays lunch, namely bread, cheese and salami, then whiled away the morning in the sunshine of the town square.
The journey back down to sea level was even more spectacular than the ascent, mainly because we saw the view on the opposite side of the road, seemed to see an awful lot more. Perhaps we were more awake today.
At Arica bus staion, booked onto a bus to Lima for tomorrow, it seems the strikes in Peru had abated, at least for the time being, so we thought it would be best to get as far into Peru as possible, while the going was good.
We were welcomed back at the Sunny Days hostal like old friends. Rita's headache finally totally cleared, so we cycled off into town for a meal and a beer or two. Its nice to be back.
Saturday 9/7/05 (Paul writes...)
Our bus was not until 1pm, so we had a leisurely morning, the usual chat around the breakfast table, a relaxing feature of the Sunny Days hostal. Also had to download our photos to cd. I had taken a lot of photos yesterday and was running out of memory cards. Almost filled 3 cds with our photos, not bad going. I would never have taken that many photos if I was still using film, would have cost a fortune to buy the film let alone proces and print it. One of the main benefits of digital cameras, I'd say.
Packed up and said our goodbyes, cycled to the bus station, only 5 minutes on our bikes.
The first leg of our journey was to be by collectiveo, we would catch the bus to Lima in Tacna, on the Peruvian side of the border.
What we hadn't nanked on was that we would have to wait for the collectivo to fill up before the driver would leave. After 30 minutes, we started to worry about making it in time to catch the bus, and the driver appeared to be a litttle anxious as well, but he couldÂ´'t afford to nake the 60km for just us. So, eventually, we decided to pay the extra 6000 pesos fares for the other 3 passengers he could't get, and we raced off to the border, wondering if we would make it in time. Did we? You'll have to read the next thrilling instalment, on the Peru page!
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