Thursday, October 31, 2019

Tatia Geyser and More



We had a 5am start to head to the Tatia Geyser field 2 hours north of San Pedro de Atacama. We were in the bus/truck again which had comfy seats that recline so we could nap on the way. It was quite cold out so we were dressed warmly with our down jackets and wool hats.

The reason for the early start was that as the air warms the steam from the geysers gets less visible so it's best to be at the geysers when the air is still cold so you can see everything steaming away.

We arrived at the Tatia geyser field, 4,300 meters above sea level around 7:30am. Our guide Marcus explained the various types of geysers and that this field was the 3rd largest in the world after Yellowstone National Park and a geyser field in Russia.




We saw hot water bubbling and spitting out of various geyser cones and the venting steam gave the landscape an eerie feel. I took advantage and utilized the warm geyser steam to thaw my bottom.


There was a hot spring on the site where you could bathe but we didn't go in,,.too cold out.


We then had a nice breakfast cooked on site at our bus which had a pull out kitchen and grill complete with tables and chairs.


The cutest black faced gulls flew around us, begging for food.


On our way back we stopped at the small town of Machuca where we visited the picturesque little church and bought some barbequed llama meat to have for dinner.


After a few more stops for photos of the scenery we headed back to San Pedro de Atacama arriving around 1:00pm.


We bought some food supplies for dinner then  relaxed the rest of the afternoon.

We spoke to another guest (a guy from Germany) who just came in from Santiago. He said he had been staying in the centre of the city where a lot of the rioting action was centered. He arrived in the late afternoon and got into his hotel room just in time. He was watching the riots down below on TV but could hear the same yelling coming from outside. He said he also felt his eyes burning when the police released tear gas. Fortunately John and I are not staying in that area of the city.

Everyone who either lives or has recently been to Santiago says the same thing, you are fine in the morning and early afternoon but come the late afternoon and at night people in masks come out and start rioting and burning things.

We will be staying at an AirBnB with a Chilean couple in a safe neighbourhood.

 I made dinner in the hostel kitchen: pasta with the llama meat added and we finished our bottle of red wine. We invited one of the hostel guests,   a girl from France, to join us and then we were joined by a another guy from Germany who is motorcycling around South America.  Together we chatted about travel and politics until it was time to head to bed.


Wednesday, October 30, 2019

San Pedro- Death Valley and Moon Valley




Today we slept in until after 9am and went out for a leisurely breakfast. Being a bit tired of eggs every morning, I had a cheese and mushroom quesadilla. Oh my goodness, it was delicious. I ordered a second one but fortunately the waiter didn't understand because in twenty minutes I was feeling full (and that would have been very glutinous of me).

John and I then wandered around the picturesque town of San Pedro de Atacama.


A large group of women (some with children), were staging a peaceful demonstration. A few police officers watched on the sidelines.

The women were holding signs, yelling out slogans, playing music and dancing. It looked kind of fun. I think John was worried that I was going to join them.


We picked up a few groceries at the mini market and farmer's market. Of course we had to pop into a wine store that sold many of Chile's delicious wines. We chose a bottle made from grapes from the coast that cannot be purchased outside of Chile.


Like in La Paz,  you still have to watch where you step because there are so many dogs running around free. Most of them wear collars. 
This one reminded me of Eyore for some reason.


Simone, the resident cat decided to make herself comfortable on John's lap when we were resting in our hostel courtyard.


In the afternoon we went to the tour company office for 3:30pm to start our tour to Death Valley and Moon Valley which are near San Pedro de Atacama.

We had booked our tours through a company called Grado 10. Our guide was Marcus and this company uses a large truck/bus for their tours, very similar to the one we were touring in in Africa.


We first went to Death Valley and had a short but steep hike up to the overlook. Marcus explained the various geological processes that resulted in the landscape. We then had a 30 minute hike through the valley where our bus was waiting for us with some refreshing cold juice to drink.


Next was Moon Valley which had some really amazing rock formations and a massive sand dune that looked like a dam.


We had a much longer hike uphill through the rocks and sand to a pinnacle where we rested and watched the colours change over the somewhat lunar landscape as the sun set.


Then we hiked back to the bus and returned to San Pedro at about 8:30pm. 

Back at the hostel I made nachos and we opened our bottle of red wine and had a relaxing evening in preparation for a 5am start the next morning.

Geysers, Hot Springs and Border Crossing



Four am came quickly. David informed us that it was -7 degrees celsius outside. We all packed up and dressed quickly...most of us wearing the same clothes we wore the day before (and some of us to bed) , except we wore our bathing suits underneath.

After having a basic breakfast of hot drinks and bread we loaded the jeeps and headed out into the darkness. Dawn broke as we were driving.

At 4,900 meters above sea level, the geysers were our first stop. The magma in this area is only 17km from the surface which is considered very shallow. It was still really cold out and steam from the geysers rose all around us. None of these geysers erupt at regular intervals but they bubble and hiss continuously. 

Our next stop was the Dali Desert. They call it that because the mountains look like they are melting.


There are no roads anywhere we have been travelling, only jeep tracks.


Our next attraction was the hot springs. I asked David if there were heated changerooms. His mirthful laugh gave me my answer. 

There were changerooms but they weren't heated. I quickly stripped down to my bathing suit in the cold air and got into the hot springs. They felt wonderful. Because our bodies were so warmed up, getting out wasn't as bad as getting in.  Fully clothed, we headed to our final attraction.


The green lagoon, nestled between numerous volcanoes was stunning. The green colour came from arsenic and copper. Then too soon it was time for us to say goodbye to our fellow travellers on this awesome tour. David took a group picture and then those of us going onto Chile got into one jeep and everyone else got into the other jeep heading back to our starting point in Uyuni, Bolivia.


The jeep took us to the Bolivian border post where we had to pay 15 Bolivars to get our passports stamped. We were told this is not an official fee but something the border agents decided to charge. The jeep then drove us to the Chilean border where a bus was waiting. We transferred our luggage from the jeep to the bus and carried on a few kilometers into Chile where we stopped at the Chilean customs post.  Immigration into Chile took awhile because there were a few buses ahead of us. There was much chuckling and laughing when the border agent found Bob the rubber chicken in my backpack. He said animal products weren't allowed to pass but he would let Bob through.


Upon entering Chile, we were in the Atacama Desert. We continued to go down in altitude as we made our way to San Pedro de Atacama.


From starting the day at -7, we found ourselves in the high 20s. We checked into our hostel- La Casa de Matilde. John and I decided to wait out the heat in the shaded courtyard of this family run hostel. I was able to use their outdoor laundry sink and with a few hours on the clothesline, our clothes were dry.


Chile is a lot more expensive than the other South American countries we have been to so far. 

At 6pm we headed out into the main town (5 minute walk). It has an old New Mexico town feel with its pitted, dirt streets, one or two story buildings and dogs running all over the place. Almost every second business is a tour company. More tour companies than restaurants. The old Adobe church in the square was lovely.

After going to a bank machine and booking our next three days of tours, we found a restaurant. I just ordered an empanada which I was able to finish and John ordered the supper special which would have been enough for our whole family. Although it was pricey, the food was disappointing.

While eating, a peaceful demonstration parade passed in front of the restaurant.


We are still trying to get information on Santiago which we are scheduled to go to in four days.


TIPS & COSTS

La Casa de Matilde- $56 CAD per night

Grado 10- tour company- 3 tours 70,000 Chilean Peso (about $125 CAD)- this is after we had negotiated them down a bit because we were booking three tours. You can get 3 tours for as low as 45,000 Chilean Pesos but you often get what you pay for. Our tour was highly recommended on trip advisor. We had some very good hot meals included and our guide was excellent; very knowledgeable about the geology a d spoke excellent English, Spanish, French and German.



Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Siloli Desert-Llamas, Vicunas and Flamingos



Refreshed from a good nights sleep, after breakfast our drivers loaded the jeeps and we headed out into the remoteness that is the Siloli Desert. I could see no one but us every direction we looked. We were driving on hard mud and  clay but it was still part of the salt flats. It reminded me a bit of the area around the Grand Canyon.

We passed many wild vicuna and llamas with their shepherd.


As we got closer to the base of the mountains we got into some scrubby vegetation.

We stopped in a place called the coral or stone army. This area used to be under the sea millions of years ago. We were told to watch out for a little armadillo that is rather awkward and if your not looking you can step on him. Unfortunately he did not show up. The large  coral blicks are scattered everywhere so it does kind of look like an army.


Our next short stop was at a railway track in the middle of nowhere.  We soaked in the scenery,  played around on the tracks and ate chocolate biscuits that our guide David handed out.


Back in the jeep, David kept a soundtrack of great tunes while we drove through the amazing landscape. The group in the other van were quite envious because they had been getting nonstop Bolivian folk music...not that there is anything wrong with Bolivian folk music.



The landscape  in Bolivia changes quickly. As we drove higher in altitude, the terraine became more mountainous. A 2,500 year old plant which looked like either broccoli or a green brain but was hard in texture was easy to spot. 


We had an opportunity to try llama sausage but nobody was hungry. 

We continued on our way, travelling up in altitude. Our jeep drove along a rocky track that had steep drop offs and no guardrails...you get the picture.


We passed mountains that looked like they were painted in technicolor. Awesome.


And then we were in flamingo paradise. We arrived at a lagoon that was about 3/4 covered in salt and flamingos were hanging out in the other quarter while llamas grazed on shore. This was the place where they set up the tables and chairs for lunch. We were at about 4,100 meters above sea level.  Besides being a tad breathless, we felt fine.





After lunch, we continued to drive up in altitude. Just when I thought it couldn't get any better, we arrived at a lagoon that had even more flamingos.





We stopped for photos overlooking a lake polka- dotted with thousands of pink flamingos. It felt like we were on top of the world but we still ascended to higher elevations.

Our next stop was at 4,690 meters. We were in the Siloli Desert, the highest desert in South America. We had a great view of the Seven Colour Mountain.



We stopped at a rock outcrop where we watched the Viscacha (a large rabbit like rodent with a long tail) playing in the rocks. Very cute.



Next on the itinerary was an area of strangely formed rocks. I felt like I was on the set of a star wars movie.


Our final stop before our hotel was the red lagoon which is 300,000 years old, needless to say, it is a very old lagoon. The red colour comes from a type of algae . It is surrounded by four main volcanoes.



Our hotel for the night was in a really remote area and it was quite basic. As a matter of fact, the five of us from our jeep stayed in the same room. It was kind of fun, like a sleep over.

There was no heating and we only had a few hours of electricity from the generator. The temperature outside was dropping.

David heated the dining room with a propane heater. We had tea and a really good pasta supper. There was also wine with dinner.

After supper, we layered up and went out to check the stars. The sky was so clear especially the Milky Way because there was no light pollution. We didn't stay out long because it was really cold.

We all went to bed early cause we needed to be up for 4am. I slept in my merino wool leggings, long sleeve top, hat and gloves. Under the covers I was warm and toasty.