Tuesday, 5 October 2010

San Pedro de Atacama and Santiago, Chile - the end of chapter one

Bloody hell! It's been four months since we set off and this is the end of our stay in South America. We fly to New Zealand tomorrow evening, but arrive two days after due to a strange time warp, which can of course be explained by simple physics and the way early humans decided to divide up time... or fairies, or orks, or dragons, or spirits, or spirrims, or whatever. Anyway it's very exciting but also has also proved that time travels really quickly when you're having fun.

The last two months especially have been a whirlwind and we've seen tonnes of amazing things, which has meant spending very little time in Chile really. Still it's been a nice transition to what we expect from New Zealand in terms of the luxuries we take for granted at home, for example; being able to flush loo roll down the toilet, only being asked once whether you want to buy the same old tourist crap that every man and his street dog buddy has to sell, the taxi's having windscreens with no cracks in it and the driver not needing your directions to get to where you're going (and probably holds a real driving license), getting on buses that have toilets and look like they've been cleaned in the last week, no howler monkeys (or any other animals) on the buses, getting breakfast that's more than just stale bread and strawberry jam (we have blackberry jam at the moment, and we get corn flakes with real milk, no UHT, get in!), a proper cup of tea (Earl Grey in fact), and a kitchen to cook in... blah blah blah, anyone who's been to S.America will appreciate what we're talking about here.

Anyway, a quick summary of the last two weeks...

We left Arequipa a week and a half ago to get get to San Pedro de Atacama, a town built in an oasis in the middle of the world's driest desert (not the world's driest dessert Tom O'Hara, as you kindly pointed out earlier, that is in fact the flapjack). It was another 24 hour journey, with a few hours in Arica to break it up.

Arica was a cultural experience... we had a beer and a McDonalds and went on Facebook. There isn't a lot to do there really. We got to the desert at about 7am and found a nice chilled hostel that played reggae all day and had hammocks in the sun - Hostel Rural in case anyone's wondering, and it was cheap - 6,000 Pesos per night for a dorm.

Fia at the border of San Pedro de Atacama
Welcome to San Pedro de Atacama!
San Pedro de Atacama
Volcanoes behind the oasis
We needed some chill out time and were a bit tired of hiking (ungrateful I know), so we just mostly hung around in the sunshine and made good use of the kitchen. We didn´t only laze around though, we met some nice locals who took us to a party where everyone was some kind of circus master, and we walked out of town to watch the sun go down.

San Pedro de Atacmama at sunset
San Pedro at sunset
We'd also heard good things about a star gazing tour that you could do in the desert - makes sense seeing as it's about as close to the middle of nowhere as you can get. We were looking forward to it and it was a very pleasant surprise. We were driven for about half an hour out of the Oasis where there's no light pollution and a couple of really freindly astronomers took us on a guided tour of the night sky explaining about all the constellations, the rotation of the Earth and how the stars rise and fall, and how the night sky we saw in the southern hemisphere is completely different to the sky we see in the northern hemisphere... without wanting to sound like a nob I already knew all of this but it was still nice to be reminded of it and actually see it all in real life. We saw Mars, Venus and Jupiter, and lots of nebulae and other cool stuff through the telescopes they had at the site AND the Milky Way as we never saw it before. Check out this amazing photo the guy helped us take. Maybe I'm quite sad, but I think this something really quite awesome!

The milky way taken from the middle of the Atacama Desert - awesome!
To counter-balance the geekiness we got up the next day to go sandboarding on some nearby dunes (after missing our alarm and running to the tour company, because of the party with the locals the night before). We used snowboards, but it wasn't that similar to snowboarding at all really. It was much harder, the sand was really heavy so it made turning hard and wiping out much easier. We both ate a lot of sand, and no joke, Fia's still finding sand in her ears a week later! It was really fun once we got the hang of it, if a little tiring walking all the way back up the dune each time.

The walk to the top of the dune
Walking up the dunes
Me on the dunes
We both had some wipeouts but none was as spectacular as the one where Fia did a no handed flying superman into head-in-the-sand-like-an-ostrich front somersault triple flip. It looked REALLY bad in real life, the photo gives an idea but it looked like hospital bad. Thankfully, apart from a pair of burried sunglasses and a slight graze to the nose Fia was fine. Phew.

Looking good...
The big wipeout 2
Oh! Shit! NOOO!!!!
After another day of 'chillaxing' we got on our last long haul bus in S.America, it took 24 hours to get from San Pedro de Atacama to Santiagio but we were welcomed with a better than expected hostel and friendly people. Santiago's quite nice, it's well developed with good shops and restaurants, and of course Plaza de Armas - which every city in South America has thanks to the unimaginative spanish who took over the place 500 years ago and couldn't be bothered to give things different names (it's just a square in the middle of the city). The area we're staying in reminds us of Bristol a little bit, which is nice, but at the end of the day it's just another city where you can just spend a heap of money eating and drinking and we're saving our money for New Zealand so we haven't done an awful lot here.

High rise with snow-capped mountains behind
High rise with mountains in the background
Belles Artes
Arty street corner
Reflection of the cathedral
Cathedral reflected in office block windows
That's it for South America then, we've met lots of amazing people and we've experienced some of the most amazing things of our lives so far. We feel like we've only scratched the surface but New Zealand is next on the list and we need to get there while we have enough money to buy a van and begin the road trip around north and south island. Life's a bitch eh! ;o)

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