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The Big Trip. Stephen, Laura, James and Sinead head for an epic adventure: 17 weeks in South America 8 weeks in New Zealand 2 weeks in Fiji 11 weeks in Australia 14 weeks in South East Asia.


CHILE | Tuesday, 18 August 2009 | Views [1222]


After another night out haha

So after a few exciting days in Huacachina we got yet another overnight bus to the border town of Tacna, Peru. When we got off the bus we had two options for crossing the border into Chile, wait four hours and get the train to Arica, which is the cheapest way to go. Or get a taxi to drive us from Tacna to the boarder and den onto Arica which is the more expensive option. So what did we do? We went for the more expensive option in our exhausted confusion with us not speaking Spanish and him not speaking English we handed over the money and den more money and more money it seems there are a lot of taxes in Chile…. So we were ripped off, not for the first time but we didn’t care we just wanted a shower and a bed! Finally we arrived in our first Chilean destination the coastal city of Arica. This town has not got much going for it besides the fact that it has some nice beaches and the sun was shining. We stayed in the” gayest hostel in south America” (we didn’t make this up) why is it so gay? We have no idea.  Any way what was meant to be a two night stay turned into 4 nights with plenty of hangovers thrown in. While we were there we went down to the beach to watch the world body boarding championships, walked along the harbor and saw some seals. On one of the nights the hostel had an “All you can eat and drink BBQ” the food was good but the beer ran out pretty quick so we headed for town with our fellow guests and ended up in a Simpsons themed bar until 6am. We all ended up walking the deserted streets looking for a taxi when along came a police car. In Ireland we all know that a group of drunken Irish, English, Argentina, Belgium, Bolivian and Chilean’s wondering round the streets at 6am would get a pretty frosty reception if a Garda car pulled up but here they chatted to us called us a few taxis even took pictures of us with their camera and got out of the car to get in pictures with us, it was mad.

The lovely cops who stopped to take pics of us on the street at 6 in the morning... so nice

The next night after a few too many drinks we headed for the local casino. Stephen left with a bit of extra money in his pocket but me and James didn’t have such good luck. The next day we decided to move on to Iquique.


Iquique is also on the coast but has nicer beaches, even though the weather was good it is winter in Chile so too cold for swimming.  Our main reason for going to Iquique was to do paragliding as it is one of the top ten places in the worrld to do it and the best place in Getting ready...

South America. So we booked our trip and drove to the outskirts of the city to the top of a 500 meter cliff overlooking the city and the ocean. When we arrived one by one we were kitted out in overalls and harnesses and strapped to our pilot. During takeoff the pilot raises the glider so it catches the wind then we have to run towards the edge of the cliff until your feet no longer touch the ground. Once we were in the air the pilot said that in order to fly over the city and land on the beach we have to gain altitude. So we go round in circles getting higher and higher reaching a height of about 700 meters until we can fly all the way to the beach. The flight lasted about 30mins and was amazing from that height the city looks so small. At the end of the trip we land on the beach one by one.  Other than the paragliding Iquique was pretty boarding so we left and headed for San Pedro de Atacama.

San Pedro de Atacama

From the top of Chile starts the Atacama Desert which stretches about 1/3 of the way down, Arica and Iquique are in this region. This is the driest desert in the world, some parts like Arica and Iquique it only rains once every two years while in other parts it’s been hundreds of years since it has rained. San Pedro de Atacama is a tiny dusty town in the middle of the driest region.  We decided to go on a few tours while we were here. So we decided to go see a geyser field the 3rd largest in the world. The 4 am start we could handle what we weren’t prepared for was how cold it was. We had to drive for 3 hours on a freezing cold bus with no heating up into the mountains so the higher we got the colder it go there was ice covering the inside of all the windows it was so cold -15 we later discovered. To top it all off we were on a bus full of pensioners there were only a handful of us who were under 65. We arrived at the geyser field in time to see sunrise and had breakfast in front of hundreds of bubbling geysers with boiling steam rising into the air it was an amazing sight. We went to see a cycling geyser which erupts every 10 mins when all boiling water shoots out in an amazing display. At the edge of the geyser field there is a natural pool which is filled with the hot water from the geysers. We decided we would brave the freezing temperatures and get in. Once we were in the lovely warm water it was worth it but getting out getting dressed was hell.

Us in the hot pool heated by the Geysers... it was freezing out but the water was sooo hot

That evening we took a tour to Valley de Luna which is a valley of sand dunes and rock formations carved out by the weather. It was a little disappointing as we did a similar trip in Argentina which was much more impressive. The highlight was scrambling through some small winding caves. Laura and James are a bit claustrophobic didn’t enjoy it as much as me and Stephen.

James does NOT like small spaces...

 We ended the day by climbing a huge sand dune to watch the sun set over the desert. The next morning James awoke with swollen infected tonsils and spent the day in bed. That evening Myself, Laura and Stephen took an astronomy tour. The tours are run by a hilarious French astronomer and his wife who have an observatory outside their house. The tour was excellent and because of its position in the world and the clear night sky’s Atacama is a top spot for this kind of activity. At the start of the tour we were treated to a view of the moon rise over the Andes. After seeing so many sunrises this was something special. We viewed the stars and constellations which cannot be seen from Ireland through huge telescopes and even got a photo of the moon through one.

 Tours done and time running out we set out on our last overnight bus journey, 23 hours to Santiago.


We arrived in Santiago and checked into our hostel La Casa Roja which is a huge converted mansion in the city. We were in an 8 bed dorm and for the first time on the trip Laura got a top bunk. Anyone who knows Laura knows she is vertically challenged and it was a funny sight for us watching her struggle in and out of the very high bunk with no ladder, i can only imagine what the other people in the dorm thought of her. We spent a few days relaxing checking out some of the city (there is not much to see) and enjoying our last chance to have some really cheap drink. Were going to miss 1liter of beer for 1.30 and a bottle of great wine for 4euro and bars that stay open until 6am. Santiago seems to be the city where everyone is ending their South America trip most people we met here are flying to New Zealand or Australia. We gathered a few good tips from some New Zealanders we met along with some drunken attempts at map drawing but I’m sure they will come in handy at some stage.

On Thursday we decided to take a trip to Valparaiso a harbor town two hours from Santiago. Valparaiso is a UNSCO world heritage site it’s a very unusual city with loads of coloured houses and graffiti everywhere. as you can see from the pics the hostal had a trapize swing in the common area which james too a liking to, he was actuly very good at. we think hes found a new calling.  While we were here on our way home from a night out we saw rain for the first time in 3 months. It rained for the next two days, we didn’t miss it!! Back to Santiago Laura was getting a cold and went to bed while me James and Stephen went for a steak dinner, which was a little disappointing but at this stage I think that the steak in Argentina was so good that we will be forever disappointed with any steak we get. Then back to the hostel bar for a few drinks which turned into a trip to a nightclub and crawling into be at 7am. Not bad for our last night out in South America. .           

We leave Santiago on tonight Monday the 17th of Aug and arrive in Auckland on Wednesday the 19th (we cross the international date line and lose Tuesday therefore because Stephens birthday is on Tuesday he will have no birthday this year and will remain 27). So this is our last blog entry for South America and were all a bit sad that it’s the end of over 4 months of our trip but while there are many things we will miss we are looking forward to going to a new country where people speak English again and don’t try kill you every time you get into a taxi.

Written by Sinead

Tags: arica, chile, iquique, paraglding, santiago



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