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Memories will be made of this.....

The driest desert in the world

CHILE | Sunday, 4 April 2004 | Views [769]

After dragging ourselves away from Bariloche (highly recommend it), we took (another) overnight bus up to Mendoza.  Mendoza is the country's largest wine producing region (about 90% of the country's wine is made there) and obviously had to visit a few vineyards while we were there.  The best one was Bodegas Lopez, which pumps out 50 million litres of the white and (predominantly) red stuff a year.  The bottling section produces 13,000 bottles every hour, 10 hours per day, 360 days per year - pretty impressive.  Obviously, got a few wines to taste and bought 3 bottles for about a pound - bargain.  Apart from the vineyards, Mendoza was quite a quiet place and there wasn't too much else to do there, so we got the bus over the Andes over to Santiago de Chile.
The main purpose of going over to Santiago was to see if we could get a deal to get over to Easter Island - however, even though we could get a flight there, we would have had to wait for three weeks in order to get a flight back, so we decided that this would have to be included on a trip to New Zealand in the future.  Santiago itself seemed an okay city (very impressive underground), however it didn't have the charm or cuisine of Buenos Aires (which every Capital is now being compared to).  Plus everything is so much more expensive in Chile than elsewhere on the continent, so we stayed a few days before heading back (again) to Argentina.
The 33 bus hour journey took us to Salta in Northern Argentina.  A lot of people had raved about how it was a highlight of Argentina, so we thought not to miss it.  On the bus, we had to endure the film '.com for Murder' at about midnight, which didn't help us sleep at all - I wouldn't recommend it at all.  Psycho killing people, not really the brain-dead comedy that we usually get.  In Salta, we went onto a tour down to Cafayate, about 200 kilometres south of Salta.  On the trip, went to some amazing rock formations and beautiful Andean scenery, which was beautiful.  In Cafayate, we visited a couple more vineyards - however, the wine seemed a lot heavier and fully-bodied, which wasn't really to our taste.  On the way back, there was an amazing flash-flood (only the third time we've seen rain on the trip).  To begin with, we thought that the bus driver was being a bit over cautious, as the roads weren't that badly flooded and the rain didn't seem as bad as what we experience at home.  However, we then passed a town where all the electrical cabling had been pulled down and hundreds of trees had been uprooted - as if a hurricane had passed through. 
Our last night in Salta was spent at the hostel barbeque, which included all you can eat beef and all you can drink wine and naturally had quite a lot of both.  Unfortunately, the next day, we had to take a 7am bus over to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile.  I eventually managed to drag Clare onto the bus (despite pleas to just wait for the one in 4 days time) and despite sweating alcohol for the first few hours, we eventually made it to San Pedro de Atacama.  The bus journey was one of the worst yet (even without the hangovers), as the road was a dirt track all the way.  On arriving in San Pedro de Atacama, it is like venturing into a set for Star Wars - very isolated, dusty and like a different age.  All the buildings are made from adobe.  However, it is a really cool town, with lots of wonderful restaurants and finally managed to get a taste of some decent Chilean wine, as we hadn't seen the point with the awful food we'd had in the rest of Chile. It wasn't quite what we'd expected from the driest place in the world - it rains on about 2 days per year).
Yesterday, we visited Valley of the Moon and walked around the sand dunes.  Had amazing views of the sunset, moon rising and the changing colours of the volcanoes and mountains.  In the next couple of days we will be moving onwards to Bolivia for the last month or so of our trip and am really looking forward to them as we've still got so much to see - Uyuni Salt Flats, Lake Titicaca, Machu Picchu and Galapagos.

Tags: I should have known better!

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