Tuesday, 12 February 2013

CHILE - THE NORTH. Highlands, deserts and waves.


Back to CHILE, from Santiago to Arica
La Portada in Antofagasta - reminded me so much of The Great Ocean Road in Australia
Atacama desert
I came back to Santiago after a month in Patagonia, wandering between Chile and Argentina. The smog was quite startling again, especially after the immensity of Patagonia.
Didn’t wanna deal with the Santiago´s smog for too long but had to sort out my Bolivian visa – the easiest visa I’ve ever been given, and the cheapest one too (free!). Just turned up, filled out an application, gave them my Yellow fiver vaccination book, passport, a photo and a photocopy of my credit card.
Smoggy Santiago
Spent the second night with Felipe and Ignacio (CS). Here is the time to say that having met quite a few Chileans already, I came to a conclusion that half of the guys in Chile are called Felipe and the other half Marcelo. Felipe and Ignacio were exactly what I needed after the boredom of the past week… After cooking and eating their special, “pasta with pasta”.. that’s how they call it, spaghetti with avocado (which is called palta here!) and I incorporated half a courgette in it, we had some piscolas (pisco+coke) and were ready to party. They took me to their favourite place “Galpon Victor Jara” where one of the known Chilean bands was playing that night – CONMOCION. In that sense I was quite lucky according to them, to see the band on my last night in Santiago. The place looked like a warehouse, but in a charming way, lots of people and surprisingly lots of foreigners. The music…a  mix of cumbia, salsa, reggaeton. Still loved it! The only down side to it, big hangover next day, apparently Piscola and beer combination is not good!
With Felipe and "piscolas"
Valparaiso – the cultural capital and bohemian part of Chile. Valparaíso stands in contrast to the glitzy Viña del Mar resort town to the north.
The city is widely known for its bohemian culture, brightly colored houses, and beautiful seaside views. North. A meander through the hills of Neruda´s city, the tangle of steep alleyways and stairways reveals eye-catching street art and ocean views. And of course the “asensores” – the 19th-century funiculars. Nothing else distinguishes Valparaiso so much as its hillside ascensores or elevators, once 33 in number but now down to 14 or so. Such a part of the city are they that the Fundación Valparaíso uses the slogan “Un ascensor es un barrio” (“An elevator is a neighborhood,” as their intimacy encourages interaction).

Francisco was my host in Valparaiso. I spent 2 nights in his ghost house on top of one of the hills and he took me around the city. Chile played Paraguay for the World cup qualifications so I met him in a bar in downtown to see the match. They won so everyone was screaming and drinking.
Francisco in Bellavista

Bellavista ...I think

The port in Valparaiso
"Never stop drinking" should be the Chilean motto

El asensor
Another elevator
And another one
Street "parrilla" before the football match

That was champagne + ice cream if I remember well 
Graffiti everywhere

Hitchhiking to La Serena.  Didn’t take long as always. The truck driver was the happiest person ever, as usual he told me his life story but his positive energy was just spreading to me as well. He insisted I try all the food that he had in the truck - mandarins, avocados (we ate 2 each, just like that, like eating an apple, was pretty good though), juice..and we even stopped to buy Pepino dulce (Sweet cucumber) cos I told him that I´ve never tried it before and some homemade bread. Once in La Serena, he made sure I get on the right bus to Avenida del Mar where my host lived.
So far the truck drivers are the most genuine people I meet in South America. I learnt quite a lot from them cos they all have traveled a lot and knew all the places.
I couchsurfed with Michal in La serena, a Polish glaciorologist. From not knowing what glaciarology is, I ended up meeting like 6 glaciorologists here. After all the questions I asked and all the answers I got, only one thing is clear – they all study the glaciers!

La Serena and Coquimbo are pretty nice cities, with narrowed meandering streets and old houses. Michal´s flat was just on the front beach line so the view of the sea was nice even though it wasn’t the season. It was half way between La Serena and Coquimbo so both cities were at walkable distance (well, if like walking). And Coquimbo has a really nice sea food market, very cheap and delicious. My last morning Michal went there before I even woke up and bought all kind of sea delicacy for breakfast, that was quite nice!


La Serena
La Serena 
Plenty of artesanias
Here is the Pepino dulce (sweet cucumber)
Coquimbo´s cross

Always hazy
Walking to Coquimbo
Coquimbo

The port in Coquimbo

Antofagasta

Desierto Florido
On the way to Antofagasta you cross Atacama desert. The very name conjures up images of an arid, lifeless landscape. It is known as one of the driest places in the world, and receives little to no rainfall. But once every few years when there is unusually heavy rainfall, the dry, cracking sands of the desert receive just enough water to precipitate an extraordinary event: el Desierto Florido or the flowered desert. From out of the hot, brown sand sprouts a sea of delicate, colorful flowers that sway steadily but defiantly in the harsh terrain of the desert. Unfortunately I didn't see it but my truck driver told me all about it which made me google it later and find thses photos: 

Antofagasta is the mining sector in the north of Chile is the pillar of the Chilean economics. It  used to be part of Bolivia but after the War of the Pasific (Guerra del Pasifico –between Chile and a united Bolivia and Peru), Bolivia lost their only sea outlet and turned into a land-locked country. They still hate the Chileans for that. Actually all the Chilean neigbours have something against the Chileans – Argentina for some lands in Patagonia and for supporting UK in the Folkland island War (Islas Malvinas); Peru for “stealing” Iquique and Arica; Bolivia for leaving the country without a sea outlet.
Eduardo hosted me here, he came to pick me up at 1am from the petrol station where the truck driver left me. Everyone told me that it is very ugly but hey, look at the photos:
Who said Antofagasta was ugly?
The only park in Antofagasta


La Portada in Antofagasta - reminded me so much of The Great Ocean Road in Australia
La portada
My stay in Antofagasta coincided with the beginning of the Eurocup. Since Eduardo and his friend David were big football fans I saw 4 football matches in one day! I think that was my limit though. One of them was Chile- Venezuela World cup qualification which ended 2:0 for everyone´s joy.
Chile was playing Venezuela. We needed some meat of course.
I often travel with vegetarians, even vegans and it's ok but have to admit: I love meat!
San Pedro de Atacama
San Pedro de Atacama is a region remarkable for its beauty, its geographical location and diversity of nature and cultures. Has Andean peaks, volcanoes, salt flats, geysers, pre-Columbian ruins and endless natural scenery that even NASA has used to test robots designed to explore other planets.
Got a few rides to Calama and luckily the guys that picked me up in Calama offered to stop at Valle de la luna (moon valley) since it was on the way, so lucky again.
El Valle de la Luna (moon valley)

Craters of the moon
San Pedro is definitely the most touristic place in Chile, such a big concentration of foreigners everywhere! Its all about tours!  I couldn’t go sand boarding because of the cast but I think it is one of the greatest things u can do here.
I met Harold from CS who was willing to host me. Somehow we didn’t click so I decided to stay in a hostel this time but I still hung out with him. He took me on a tour for free as he is a tour guide and we went to Lagunas antiplanicas (Miscanti  and Meñiques) and Salar de Atacama (third biggest salt flats in the world), National reserve Los Flamencos whe we saw lots of flamingos obviously – Chilean flamingo, Andean flamingo and James flamingo.
Salar de Atacama

Still in the salt flats



Laguna Meniques

Read for sand boarding
San Pedro de Atacama


My favourite place is Laguna Cejar – 20 km from San Pedro de Atacama. It´s sink hole lake in Salar de Atacama, the salt concentration makes you float just like you would do it in the Dead Sea.  You can also clearly see the volcanoes Licancabur, Lascar (last time it erupted was in 2008) and Corona. 
The ruins Pukara de Quitor is another attraction there – National monument from XII century, including an old  fortress. 


A German guy from the hostel who came with me to the ruins
Stayed in Florida hostel. Only  5000 pesos per night. Quite full, people changing every day, met some other travelers. On the 13th, my last night in San Pedro and since it was my birthday already in Europe, I went out with the girls from my room to the only bar in town.
Apparently I´m not the only one - random guy I met in a bar, same hand, similar story.
My friends sent it to me for my birthday
And one more
Most people go to Bolivia from San Pedro on a tour to Salar de Uyuni (the biggest salt flats in the world). But I really wanted to see the last two cities in Chile (Arica nad Iquique) and then go to Bolivia. Also, all the tours from San Pedro are overpriced, it´s much cheaper if go to Uyuni, once in Bolivia.
Right on my birthday I hitchhiked to Iquique, long way throug the desert.  That wasn’t very smart of me cos I spent probably an hour in the desert waiting for my ride under the burning sun and with a massive hangover. But I made it. 
Good enough to stop and put my thumb up
Done! Took 5 min for the first car to stop.
I stayed with Ignacio (Nacho) and Pablo in their lovely flat on the 17th floor.It was Pablo`s birthday as well which was celebrated over BBQ and lots of alcohol…They even sang Happy birthday for me! Got properly drunk which means I had to spend the whole day next day in pain. Was worth it though.
View from the flat
Iquitos
Pablo cutting his nails :)
My hand started to get quite painful under the cats so I spent 3 useless hours waiting in the Emergency room, did the X-ray again cos had this weird bone sticking out…(for those who haven’t read the previous post, I broke my hand in Argentina, so it was still in cast). Well, was told that have to accept it cos it is for the rest of my life… Since I was for so long in the hospital, I missed a concert of famous cumbia singer…well, next time!
And that night there was another party which I couldn’t miss. Many people again, lots of Cuba libres this time and same story again next day…We went to have Indian food in a little but very busy restaurant run by Peruvians. The food was really good but it took 2 hours and a half, the longest I´ve ever waited for food! At least the company was good – Ignacio and 2 of his friends.
I was in no condition to do anything but it was time to leave so I took a bus to Arica (finally a real bus and no hitchhiking but in the state I was, I couldn’t deal with truck drivers really wanting to tell me their life).
Iquique
Car market - trying to buy a car. Iquique is tax free.
The birthday party, not a good one but the only photo I have
Arica, same as Iquique, it used to be part of Peru. Stayed with Ernesto and his little daughter Antonella. He is a policeman, policia de investigaciones and had this unbelievable life story. And his daughter was the cutest little thing.
Met Toño, a Spanish guy trying to find work in Chile as an industrial engineer in one of the mines but no success so far. And surfing in the meantime. 
Like almost everywhere in Chile, the danger of earthquakes and tsunamis is present

On top of the "morro"
The "morro"
Church of San Marcos designed by Eiffel (yes, the one who designed the Eiffel tower in Paris)
Went to Tacna in Peru for a day, the bus costs1,5 pesos one way. Nice little town with lots of optics and dentists, and cheap food of course. First time I tried ceviche and definitely not the last one. 


The biggest mangos I've seen
Main plaza in Tacna
Got 2 more stamps in my passport, bought my ticket to La Paz for next morning  (6000 Pesos or 9€), and had a lovely last night in Chile with Ernesto and his daughter.

The babysitter doing Antonella's hair
Ernesto and Antonella
The bus to La Paz took much longer than everybody expected but we made it! I realized I took Ernesto´s house key with me to Bolivia, wanted to mail it to him but he said its fine and I should keep it for the next time I go to Arica. Such a nice guy! 


Track lane crossing the border

The cheapest flights in Europe