Thursday, April 3, 2014

Santiago, Chile

Amber:  We had a lot of fun in Santiago.  Tim and I had a couple days to explore before Tim's folks joined us for three weeks of traveling throughout Chili and Argentina.  Tim booked us at a nice hostel and we got to experience our second ever in a shared room.  Our first was in San Pedro de Atacama.  Considering we have traveled three winters as budget vagabonds, we have been really spoiled as we found that in most countries its just as affordable to stay the two of us in a twin room as it is to rent two bunks in a shared dorm room.  Not so in Chili!  Housing is pretty pricey compared to what we are used to, so we finally broke down and stayed in dorms.  We were very fortunate, both places were quiet and clean with no creeper dorm mates.  And it came with a kitchen, so more cooking in for us!  The food is expensive in Chili, and we had not had much luck finding local dishes we loved.

Considering Santiago is a really big city, I really liked it.  The public transit system is clean and efficient and in the University district we were staying in, the walking streets, shops and wine cafes were very nice.  The streets were lined with big oak trees, and parks were everywhere.  We climbed up two hills that had been turned into parks in the two days we waited for Robin and Valerie to join us.  We had lost about 10 pounds each during our first part of our trip in Peru and into Chili, so we did our last bit of exercise before the Chilean and Argentine wine tasting began!

Tim: We arrived in Santiago two days before my parents were to arrive. Santiago is a city of over 7 million people. We were happy to find a very efficient public transportation system that included a good network of subways. The airport is located 20 kilometers from the downtown of the city so we opted for a bus that dropped us off at the subway line that would take us into the downtown area.
The subway brought us to within 300 meters of our hostel called Poker Hostel. Our hostel was located in a very chic area near the Catholic University. There were many pleasant cafes and restaurants within 100 meters of our hostel.

Our first day in Santiago we checked out the Santa Lucia hill just 200 meters from our hostel. The hill is a park with a beautiful fountain and stair case. There are several pathways that lead up to the top lookout which gives excellent views of the surrounding city with the backdrop of the Andes Mountains.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Northern Chile - San Pedro de Atacama

Tim: We arrived in Chile with only 14 days to reach Santiago in time to meet up with my parents. Our original plan was to bus the entire Northern portion of the country. Our friend Jess was also traveling in South America and was currently in Bolivia not to far from us. If we were able to stay a few more days in Northern Chile we would be able to meet up with Jess and her friend Tammy in San Pedro de Atacama, the most popular tourist attraction in Northern Chile. This meant that we would not have sufficient time to bus so we would need to fly.

We were able to use some of our free mileage to catch a flight from nearby Calama to Santiago saving us some 21 hours of bus rides. Yeah!

Looking for a deal I found a good rate on a rental car for our 5 day stay in San Pedro de Atacama. First we had to bus from Iquique to Calama, then take a taxi to the airport so we could pick up our rental car then drive 1 1/2 hours to San Pedro. I paid for the cheapest smallest rental car that was available, but on arrival we were upgraded to a midsize 4 door, 4x4, diesel Nissan pickup truck. We were happy for the upgrade. It took a few minutes to get use to driving again as I had not drive in almost two months since leaving the US.

We had two days in San Pedro de Atacama before our friend Jess arrived. Our first day we visited some ancient petraglyphs and what was called the rainbow valley. The valley was so named because of the different colors of the rocks because of different salt concentrations. The area is absolutely a desert. It was very very dry with cool weather in the morning turning to blazing hot by mid afternoon.

It turned out to be a good thing we got upgraded to the 4x4 truck. Many of the side roads we traveled on were in ill repair and very bumpy.

On our second day we lounged around our guesthouse till late afternoon in hopes the temperatures would cool off. We jumped in the truck and headed for Laguna Cejar.  This small lake more like a pond is located just 15 kilometers from town following a dirt road into the middle of the salt flats of San Pedro de Atacama. We arrived at the pool and paid the $2.50 USD entrance fee. The pool is one of the only lakes that you are allowed to swim in. The lake just 70 meters across is similar in salinity to the Dead Sea. This makes it impossible to drown.

I usually sink in swimming pools, but the water was so salty that I could cross my arms and legs and the top of my shoulders and head would still be completely out of the water. It was actually difficult to swim with your belly down and you could not use your legs to kick because doing so would force your head into the water. You do not want to put your head into the water because the water is too salty.
The water was quite cold and after 15 minutes in the water you need to get out and warm yourself in the sun. Once you dry in the sun it is as few you covered yourself in table salt and you can bruss off layers of dried salt from your skin.

The next afternoon Jess and Tammy arrived after a long day of busing from the Uni Salt Flats of Bolivia. The chose a hostel down the street from our place. We had planned a trip to the Valle de Luna for the afternoon. The Valle de Luna is the biggest attraction in the area. It is a desolate landscape that is compared to the surface of the moon. NASA even tested out moon rovers here. We got a little lost trying to navigate into the valley. The scenery was very beautiful.

Amber: San Pedro de Atacama was so pretty!  And so unlike anything I've ever seen.  I kept telling Tim that if anyone wanted to make a really convincing movie on how I imagined Hell, this would be the place.  Hot and dry and you will die if you some how get stranded.  From it being so hot and dry.

We had a great time exploring the desert.  We walked on salt flats, saw ancient petroglifs, crazy green, pink, black and crystallized-brown-mud mountains, floated in a salt pool, hiked through crazy salt tunnels, got up at four am to see geysers that have the highest elevation in the world, and boiled beans for over ten hours.  As it turns out, for beans, you never ever add salt to them until they are done cooking.  We learned this the hard way, and went hungry for most of two meals and made our hostel host hate us for the amount of gas we burned boiling them trying get them to soften up.  Lesson learned!  LOL.

Northern Chile - Iquique

Tim: After four days in Arica, we boarded a bus for Iquique. The bust trip took longer than expected because of road construction that stopped us to different times. The trip took almost 7 hours. We arrive in Iquique in the late afternoon. Iquique is much larger and more developed than Arica. The beach front was canvassed with high-rise condos and five star hotels. There was even a large casino 50 meters from the beach.

We stayed at the Raddison Iquique for free using points from one of our many credit cards. The hotel was very nice and located right on the beach. Our room had a beautiful view overlooking the water. The only downside was its location on the outskirts of town which made it necessary to hire a taxi to get to the middle of town. We enjoyed to relaxing days by the beach. Ate at a good sushi restaurant and went to the cinema and watched a movie.

The terrain of Iquique is similar to the Miraflores District in Lima because the city is located at sea level on the beach. Immediately behind the city are towering sand cliffs that climb 300 meters before leveling off. This makes the backdrop of the city not very pretty, but the sandy beaches were very nice.

Northern Chile - Arica

Tim: We crossed into Arica, Chile from Tacna, Peru without issue. The process was simple. We jumped on a collectivo (shared taxi) for about $10 USD each. The driver drove us an 3 other people to the Peruvian boarder crossing, then continued on to the Chilean boarder crossing before dropping us off at the main bus station in Arica. Arica is on the beach; the area is very arid and sandy with very few trees or plants of any kind.

Our guest house was called Hostel Sunny Days. It was owned by an older man from New Zealand who was very friendly and accommodating. The cost of hostels is much more expensive in Chile than it was in Peru. The most we ever paid for a room in Peru was around $30 USD.  Our first night in Chile cost $40 USD. Even with the additional expensive the property was nicer than most we stayed at in Peru. The complimentary breakfast was very good. The free breakfast in Peru was often simple bread with margarine and jam along with tea or coffee.

Our guesthouse provided free use of boogie boards which Amber and I used for two days. We enjoyed the beach which was fairly undeveloped.

Chile is two hours ahead of Peru even though the two countries are about on the same longitude. Chile is even an hour ahead of Bolivia which is significantly more to the east. As a result it doesn't get light in Arica till 8 am and sunset was not until 8 PM. This made for some nice evening strolls. This also put the heat of the day at around 5 PM. We enjoyed the beach so much that we both got pretty bad sunburn.

One of our days in Arica we chose to go on a tour of the distant Lauca National Park. The highlight was a beautifully formed snowy volcano with a lovely high altitude lake at the base. The drive took us from 0 feet to over 15,000 feet in 4 hours.

Our original plan was to stay in Arica only one or two nights, but we ended up staying for 4 nights. We liked the well equipped kitchen at the hostel that allowed us to cook for ourselves from the local market. Produce was cheap so we bought lots of avocado and mango. We even made delicious fajitas to evenings in a row.

Amber:  Tim and I loved our 45 days in Peru, but we were excited to experience another South American country; Chili!  And after retiring my passport and getting a brand new one for this trip, I was excited to get more stamps in my new, shiny, very empty passport!  After being inland a lot in Peru, we enjoyed the sun and water in Erika, perhaps too much!  Both of us should have known better considering how very sunburned we got our first day of buggy boarding.  It was just too nice to be in the ocean, and we were having too much fun!

The tour to the Lauca National Park was a day long bus ride with many stops at very touristy road side shops.  Everyone but Tim and I were delighted to purchase Llama wool hats, alpaca sweaters, and other nick nacks.  We had seen our fill in Peru, and really just wanted to get to the beautiful park.  We finally arrived, and after viewing the absolutely gorgeous snow capped volcano perched right next to a crystal blue lake for about 30 minutes (calendar page for sure for my silly yearly calendar!!) our tour boarded back onto our bus, and we drove back to Erica. Wish we could have skipped all the stops and gone hiking, but oh well.  The photos were amazing!!