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The journal formerly known as ...Latin America

Deserts, valleys & a river - Peru to Chile

CHILE | Tuesday, 14 December 2010 | Views [1680]

So today I will write to you for as long as my battery permits, because at our campsite next to the river there is no power outlet! Its almost 11am the morning after our first night of camping in the Latin American adventure…and man, this changes everything!

We are now 100% self reliant (besides food, since I didn’t want to spend the money on a fishing pole…yet). Last night was a test run to see if we remember to get everything we needed and if everything we got worked the way it is supposed to. I (Brett) will say it was a huge success, my better half may tell a slightly different story, but that is probably just due to her lack of camping experience. You see, being a little bit cold when you go to bed and being a little bit hot when you wake up in a tent is a very normal thing J I’m really excited about all the new experiences this equipment will enable us to have, so excited that I skipped telling you about the last part of Peru and northern Chile (where we are now) so I better back track a bit. 

Sophia left off after Machu Picchu and wow, what an amazing experience…we hiked up so many stairs that day it took my calve muscles 4 days to recover.  I had no idea how many other ruin sites there are around Machu Picchu and Cusco, they are endless, although being possibly the most impressive ruins the Incan people only lived in Machu Picchu for 80 years.  There is another site 6 times the size of Machu that just opened to the public 4 years ago and it currently involves a challenging 4 night 5 day trek to reach (using pack animals to carry water, food, etc.) this place may be the Machu Picchu of the future (in popularity), so if you’re headed to the area and looking for a challenge, check it out. Unfortunately the name of the place is buried in my bag somewhere, but it started with a “ch”, I’m sure you can find it if you search, or send me an e-mail and I’ll dig it out once were back in civilization.

Ok, after we left Ollantaytambo (outside of Machu Picchu) we headed to a town called Puno on Lake Titicaca, a huge lake known not for its size but for its elevation at somewhere over 3000meters, all that water at that height is truly beautiful, the air is crisp and clean and the colors of the sky and water reflecting back at each other is awesome. The lake is shared between Peru & Bolivia, and in ancient times was so big that portions reached in Chile and Argentina as well. Now, Peru has a larger portion of lake so they say Titi from Peru, Caca from Bolivia…lol. So, the beauty of the lake is pretty much where the cool parts stop, I was not real impressed the Puno, the streets are narrow and crowded and there is really not much going on. Although not advised by our guide book, due to our lack of time in the area we signed up for a island tour for the day after we arrived…and this was weird. The first island they took us too was a floating island that the locals make themselves but cutting 1sq. meter chunks of soil from the ground and tying them together, then they put about 1 meter thick of dried plants on top of that. Next anchor the island to the ground and wa-la , you have a floating island. The only reasons I can tell that these people live out there are one, they do not have to pay taxes like the people that live on the shore and two, they get a guaranteed flow of tourist traffic from these island tour boats. But really, I feel the people out there are exploiting themselves for this tourist money, it was ridiculous, they were trying to sing to us for tips, offering to hold their baby for tips, practically begging us to buy anything they had made. They even charge $1 to use their bathroom (although every public place in Latin American charges to use the bathroom, but usually only .50).  So we left the floating islands and headed to an actual island about 20miles away, after the excruciatingly slow 3 hour boat ride, we arrived. The views of lake were incredible and trout fish lunch was great (trout is very popular there). We met some nice people on the tour as well, a couple girls from Japan and a brother and sister from Panama, it was fun chatting with them about our experiences while there. The book has Lake Titicaca as a highlight of Peru, but we were definitely ready to get moving onto Chile…which means of course another marathon bus session, this one was, about 10hrs, then find a collectivo to drive us 30minutes to the actual border, do the paperwork, then continue the drive another 40minutes the bus stop in Chile were we can catch an 11hr bus to our destination. We made it to the bus station in Chile and we needed some breakfast because our first bus was an overnighter. I hit the ATM and asked a local money exchange guy what the current money conversion was from Dollars to Chilean pesos and he told me there were 287 pesos to 1 dollar. So we get a typical breakfast, a couple eggs, coffee and a piece of bread and the total came to about 2500 pesos, and we were like holy shit, $10 for breakfast, this is 3 to 4 times the normal amount, but it’s a new country and we don’t know. So then, we go to the station for bus tickets, each ticket is 29,000 pesos….$100 a ticket!! Holy shit, were thinking we just stepped into the twilight zone. On top of that, the only bus going to where we want to go (San Pedro de Atacama) don’t leave until 8:30p. It was 10am and we had no where to go. So, it occurs to me that maybe I should confirm that currency conversion number I got…and what do you know, it’s actually 487 to 1…only double what that jerk told me. I guess he thought I was going to change money with him and he was trying to rip me off. My own fault, I usually check the conversion before entering a new country but had forgotten this time.

So, rather than waiting all day for our bus, we bought a ticket to Antofagasta, it was about 4hours out of our way, but at least we didn’t have to wait in a bus station all day. So, were cruising along in the bus about 5 hours in and out of nowhere appears a beautiful resort like city nestled between huge sweeping sand dunes and the blue sparkles of the pacific ocean we quickly checked our map and read about Iquique. When the bus stopped at the station for more passengers, we jumped out, sure we wasted a bit of cash on the ticket, but now, we had a awesome place to stay for the night and didn’t go out the way at all.  We spent that evening walking along the coast at sunset, watching the surfers and body boarders, then enjoyed a nice Mexican dinner. Chile also has an excellent selection of imported beers, so the occasional splurge on a Stella Artois or a Heineken is pretty nice. 

Next day we were back on the bus for the remaining 6 hours or so to San Pedro de Atacama, in the Atacama desert. Claim to fame, “the driest desert in the world”. And man, it’s true, your skin and lips just shrivel up, we were drinking water like it’s going out of style and loading on chapstick non-stop. The desert does provide one very cool and unique activity, sandboarding! Done with just a regular snowboard and some hiking boots, you hike your butt to the top of the biggest sand dune you can find and fly down, feels like riding in deep powder, keep your weight on your back foot and don’t expect to have too much control. Lots of fun. We went with a tour that included sand boarding, then a trip the salt caves, a part of their desert where everything is salt and then the Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley for you Gringos), named this because it resembles a crater on the moon. Truly a beautiful area, a huge crater with surrounded with volcanoes on all sides and rock formations formed from millions of years of erosion. Then just as the sun is going behind the mountains, the light causes the entire mountain range to change colors and gives it a beautiful red tint.  

Next day we were back on the bus for a 23hr ride directly to Santiago. You see, a lot of Chile is just desert and nothingness, except for mining. Which btw, our guide told us that hundreds of people die every year mining in Chile…and all that tv coverage of those trapped miners had something to do with it being the first month in office for their new President. Anyway, Santiago is about half way south in Chile, so in that one ride we covered a distance larger than Ecuador and larger than a few Central American countries combined. The beauty of being so much further south and it being summer time is that we are getting long days of sunshine. The entire time we were in and near the equator, it was about 12hrs sun, 12hrs dark. Now, were getting almost 16hrs of sun, it’s really not dark until a little after 9pm. So by the time we get to Tierra del Fuego (at the tip of South America) it should be some really long days. Which is perfect for camping and hiking. So, continuing on, we arrived to Santiago and were both really impressed with the development of the city, they have a really easy to use subway and bus system with electronic cards that you just load money onto and off you go. So that’s what we did, loaded a metro card and headed off to the Parque Arauco mall and Sodimac Homecenter to shop for camping gear. I had found a blog on-line about how the Chilean people love to camp and that you could buy equipment for good prices. The Parque Arauco mall is pretty incredible, movie theatre, ice skating rink, bowling alley, live music and of course hundreds and hundreds of stores, we showed up on a holiday and the place was a mad house of Christmas shoppers…even Santa was there…which btw, kinda weird hearing Santa speak Spanish to the kids. So we found a north face store, but that stuff is even more expensive here, I guess because of import costs, but then we found a store called Doite, pronounced “Doit-a”, a great Chilean company that only sells their gear in a South America and couple European countries. They make a full line of literally everything you could possible need for camping, backpacking, exploration, etc. You must realize how awesome this is for us, were now in a position where spending hundreds of dollars buying all the backpacking equipment we want will actually SAVE us money in a just a few weeks. Neat little flip of the coin huh? In addition to this Doite store, next door at the Sodimac they carry the full line of Doite gear plus a couple other brands. Which btw, I haven’t researched it yet, but this Sodimac has to be the same company as Homedepot, the stores are almost identical, even down to the hand written name tags on the employees vests. Between these 2 stores we were able to compare prices and stock up. We got a nice, lightweight, 2 person/ 3 season tent, 2- 32degree sleeping bags that can zip together to make one big bag, one of those nice tiny camp stoves that screw onto the gas bottle, a cookware and dish set for 2 people that fits a tiny bag, 2 foam sleeping pads, a led flashlight/lantern combo and another small flashlight…I think that’s it. We got all that stuff for about $400! I am one happy camper…lol

And now…here we are at the campsite and the battery is about toast…so, Adios por ahora.


Tags: camping, chile, iquique, lake titicaca, peru, pino, san pedro de atacama, sand boarding, santiago, valley of the moon


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