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  • Day63

    San Pedro de Atacama

    We left Valparaiso on the afternoon of the 22nd September, headed for the desert. First, another bus trip (only 6 hours this time), hugging the coast on part of the Pan Americana Highway, which runs from Ushuaia in Argentina to Prudhoe Bay in Alaska! Weird cacti dotted the cliffs, flashes of ocean, and strange feathered plants, like Indian braves riding over the headland from the sea. We arrived around 10pm at a large modern hotel in a place called La Serena where we were to spend one night. After dumping our bags in the room, we headed straight for the bar, for the complimentary pisco sours. Priorities. There's not a lot to say about La Serena, except that it is the second oldest town in Chile after Santiago. We visited the central square and three out of its many churches in the morning, then had a bizarre, porridge like meal called chupa for lunch - a one pot, faintly seafood tasting dish, covered in cheese, with a crab's claw stuck in the middle of it.

    The second bus trip left La Serena around 4pm, an overnighter, arriving in San Pedro de Atacama around 8am. It rarely rains in the Atacama Desert (15mm a year), so we had been lucky enough to witness a particularly rare spectacle in these parts on the bus journey - the Desierto Florido, or Flowering of the Desert, although we didn't realise we'd seen it until afterwards. I had heard of the flowering of the desert, but imagined exotic blooms on cacti, not a ground cover of delicate yellow and purple flowers that looked like moorland blooms. After breakfast at the bus station cafe, we hot-hiked over pot holes with our bags to our hotel, a ranch style hostel behind an anonymous red clay wall. Built around a central courtyard, it had a small outdoor pool and comfy outdoor seating. The Portuguese receptionist wasn't up for letting us check into our room early, so she filled a bit of time by giving us detailed info on the trips we could take over the next couple of days. We chose one for that afternoon, to visit 'The Valley of the Moon' (Valle de la Luna) and to see the sunset over the desert. It didn't start until 4pm and it was hot in the desert, so we sat for a while to cool off under the verandah and drank coca tea - it was also very high where we were going.

    We headed into 'town' where we looked around the small central square. It was Sunday morning so we walked into the beautiful *adobe church, to the sound of children singing - they were practising up on the minstrels gallery, led by a nun on an electric guitar. Other children were milling around excitedly, giving out the service sheets and consulting with the priest. Apart from the Sister Act up on the balcony and the priest who gave the sermon, the service was conducted by the children. The whole affair was very relaxed - people walked around, went out, came back in again or ran after their toddlers. Then, about 10 minutes in, an elderly lady walked down the aisle from the back, with a small white poodle on a lead, dressed for the occasion in a frill-edged flowery dress, and I mean the dog, not the old lady. The creature looked decidedly unimpressed by proceedings and sat under its owner's chair trying to stare us out. Perhaps she didn't like having her photo taken, or wearing a dress. Half way through, we left by the large double-doored side entrance which had been left open throughout, letting the sun in, and went for lunch (the priest was going on a bit). We had the 'Quiche Menu' in a small cafe - Spanish omelette style pie, followed by apple pie. Diet starts on our return.

    *"Adobe is a building material made from earth and often organic material. Adobe means 'mudbrick' in Spanish" - Wikipaedia

    On the afternoon minibus trip, the lunar landscape consisted of strange twisted rock formations, peach coloured crags dusted with a frosting of salt, and large sand dunes scattered with small stone chippings, bleached pure white by the sun. The view when we climbed up and across the top of the sand dune was to a barren valley, clay roads and a backdrop of snow-topped volcanoes. 'Chris of Atacama' in his makeshift scarf-turban completed the picture, before we headed to an escarpment to watch the sunset over the desert.

    Our next trip, with a 7am start was called Las Rocas Rojas (Red Rocks). First we drove to the salt flats, getting closer and closer to the steaming volcano (reassuringly, the guide told us it does this every morning) to see the flamingos. There are three types - Andean, which are the rarest, and have yellow legs. Chilean, which have greyish legs, pink knees, and bills that are more than 50% black. Then there are the James flamingos, thought to be extinct, until a single colony was found in 1956 - they have brick red legs, a yellow bill, and are pale pink with carmine streaks. We also saw black and white Andean avocets and the small puna plover, which moves in a darting fashion making it difficult to capture facing the right way. After our short trek round the water, we were ready for breakfast, cooked by our driver/guide/chef, on a small gas stove in front of the van. The best breakfast of our trip, it consisted of scrambled eggs, toasted cobs, mashed avocado, orange juice, tea and coffee, and 'brownie' which was like a ginger cake texture, but with a chocolaty taste. After a brief stop, to visit a tiny adobe church, with stonework porch, thatched roof, and hand painted friezes, we arrived at the beautiful flower blue lakes of the altiplano, 4,120m high. First was Lake Miscanti, which we hiked down to and around, a lone vicuña on its far side, significant patches of snow still lying due to storms the previous week. This day was clear and bright though, the tufts of 'pasta brava' or 'brave grass', (because it survives in the hostile environment) golden in the sunshine. We then walked over a boulder-marked way, across the plain, with backward views to the lake and the snow-topped volcano-mountains behind. The largest of these volcanos, 'Miniques', gives its name to the smaller lake which we visited later for a 'panorama' because its eruption (hopefully some time ago) separated it from the larger Lake Miscanti. On the road again, our guide spotted a fluffy-tailed rabbit creature. What it was, nobody knows - perhaps it was that mystery creature sighted in Quorn a couple of months back.

    Finally, Red Rocks - an unassuming name for a truly gorgeous beach, on the edge of the palest aquamarine and lavender lake, heavenly in its elevated spot. The red rocks themselves were a pastel pavement of salmon pinks, blues, lemons and browns, scattered with Neolithic tomb arrangements of terracotta boulders, creating pools near the shore, which would have been tempting if it hadn't been for the arsenic contained in those seemingly clear waters. All of this with a backdrop of the obligatory snow-capped volcanos. Two of our party were so enamoured that they were half an hour late back for our meet at the bus. The rest of the passengers (and ourselves) were not very forgiving as our late lunch was now even later, at a pre-arranged restaurant about 40 minutes away! We did get to see vicuña on the way though, very close up, as they decided to cross our path and stand in the middle of the road, posing for a heavily laden passing cyclist who had his camera out. After lunch we crossed the Tropic of Capricorn and visited a small village with a shot-up church (or possibly just paint-flaked by the heat), and a realistic phallic cactus.

    The next morning, before we left the desert, we chose a relaxing trip to the thermal pools, fed by the volcanos (who knew). Next stop, Arequipa. Finally, Peru!
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  • Day54

    We left the Wild Hostal early on the Sunday, to catch the bus back to Punta Arenas for our flight to Santiago. It was a beautiful afternoon as we approached the city - a silver pool of molten silver in the river delta, and blue waves of mountains under the wing as we came into land. The 'boutique' hotel was 1930s deco, with a black and white tiled hall leading to a wide, winding, concrete staircase. We were at the very top, in a large room with very very creaky floorboards, extra wide bed and antique furniture. We could hear that next door had the same flooring. Breakfast was at chintzy tables overlooking the courtyard garden, and I had my daily fight with the avant garde fruit juicing machine to the sound of 30s and 40s dance band music. Following check-in, we walked across the bridge into an area recommended by the hotel and had dinner, high up on an outside terrace, looking out over a lively mall of restaurants bars and shops. It was Independence Day weekend, so whole families were out celebrating.

    After breakfast on the Monday, we walked through the Parque Forestal which connected our hotel in Providencia with downtown Santiago. The sun was shining, and even though it was early, it was pleasantly warm. Created on reclaimed land from the Mapocho River, the park consists of a central walkway, edged with lines of plane trees and small grassy areas dotted with sculptures, including the imposing German Fountain. With a large boat at its heart and surrounded by numerous Roman sea gods, the fountain symbolises the different aspects of Chile's Independence and was commissioned by the Germans in the run up to the centenary of the event. This led us, up a steep slope, to yet another park, on a hill, with a palace at its peak. After signing the visitor's book at the entrance gate, we strolled around the flowerbeds and took photos of the views, before heading towards the Plaza de Armas where we were hoping there may be a parade. We were not disappointed. People had already started to gather at the gated railings which had been closed under the colonnades, to prevent access along the near side of the square, and soldiers with white plumed helmets had begun to line up on the far side. We stood with a very diverse and extremely friendly group of people. In fact some may say that we were accosted. There was the man who (once he realised we were English) gave us a running commentary of the event, a large amount of which we didn't understand. This was after he had shown us his identity card to prove his own English heritage - his surname was Taylor. Another man told us in which direction the soldiers would march. He informed us that the open-topped limo (presently parked outside the cathedral and flanked by security) had been used to transport the Queen around Santiago when she went on her tour of South America in 1967. He must have been a mere child in the 60s, so we were aware of how significant this event must have been for the Chileans. However, on this occasion the car was waiting to transport the president, who was attending a service in the cathedral. Another man who had obviously prepared for the occasion with a few drinks, told us where we could find food - most shops were closed for the day. When we got stuck on one part of the conversation, he asked his partner to help because, he said, he spoke good English. He promptly replied (in English), "Oh I don't feel like speaking English today". Front view 'seats' at the railings were taken by the lady in a wheelchair wearing full arctic weather gear (remember it was warm), and her friend, who was slumped asleep at her feet. The open car, the sniper on the roof of the tower block, the high ranking military with gold lanyards and epaulettes, dripping with medals that they couldn't possibly have lived long enough to earn - I couldn't help thinking of President Kennedy and the grassy knoll, or The Day of the Jackal. I was very wary of using the telephoto on my camera in case the man on the roof mistook it for a gun, but I summoned the courage and I shot him.

    In the afternoon, we crossed the bridge to explore downtown Providencia, a grungy area over the bridge from our hotel, with dramatic, slightly militant street art and numerous cafes and restaurants. Santiago's funicular is in this area, and the foot of the hill is full of stalls crammed with essential items for the tourists to buy. The merchandise was very similar to the stuff on sale at Goose Fair - sugary drinks and greasy snacks and brightly coloured, fluffy, shiny things. You know it's a fiesta day in South America when there's a man with a llama (decked out in pom-poms and embroidered saddle cloths) walking through the market - selling photos. There were massive queues for the lift, so we walked up part way to get misty views of the bottoms of the mountains that surround Santiago. We returned for dinner to this area - a barbecue restaurant where we sat outside (in our coats) to eat charred chunks of meat on sticks, called anticucchos. Rather chewy, but very authentic.

    On Tuesday, we returned to the Plaza de Armas, which was now open for viewing - a lovely square with large, protected trees, a cathedral and a grand, iced, wedgewood-blue building, and three felt hobby horses (without the rockers), mummy, daddy and baby sized, decorating the central space?! Chris had his hair cut by a hairdresser who seemed to specialise in wigs, which were hanging from every available space in the tiny salon. Fortunately Chris decided to opt for the razaradora, rather than the rug. We had lunch in a fish hall - rather cold, but good fish in sauce, with fried potatoes. In the afternoon, we caught the metro out to O'Higgins Park for the main Independence Day military parade, with floats and flags and feathers in abundance, and the president's head, just visible above the crowd, in that car again. We had had to work for this spectacle - at least an hour queueing, resisting the obligatory food and drink from the impromptu street vendors, and a dodgy scrum at the end when late arrivals tried to push in. We were entertained though, by a man carrying a can of beer, with rouged cheeks, false eyelashes, and wearing a plaited wig and a flowery dress, probably shouting 'Up the army!', but we weren't sure.

    Wednesday morning, before our bus trip to Valparaiso, we got up early to avoid the competition for the funicular, and were first on the car to the top to see the statue of Mary, the outdoor church, the 3 crosses, and the magnificent views over the city. Quick trip on the metro again with our luggage, and onwards, by bus, yet again.
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  • Day43

    Ushuaia to Puerto Natales

    The 5.15am coach to Punta Arenas was on time but we were early, so we waited in the cold at the shut-up bus station in Ushuaia for about 25 minutes - we had spotted a taxi at the top of the hill near to our apartment, although we had had to knock on the car window to wake the lady driver. "Disculpe" did the trick though. At least we hadn't had to walk. We had been on our way for just ten minutes when the coach came to a standstill - it had got stuck on the hill in the snow. We weren't even out of the Ushuaia boundary at this point. An hour of tapping and shunting and boiling of hot water for tea by the 'Chuckle Brothers' as we named the driver and his mate, and a further half hour for them to summon a replacement bus, and we were finally on the move again, through a very snowy and very hilly landscape - a bit dark for photos, but I captured some interesting lighting effects with the sunrise which caused the snow on the mountains to turn a delicate shade of pink. We also passed by a large lake - steel grey next to a golden sky and snow streaked hills.

    A particular ambition of mine is to take a good picture of a road-side shrine (sad I know). There are many different types - wooden shed like affairs, white stone chapel-shaped ones, even model village style groups of shrines. They can be decorated with flowers or have offerings of food and water ranged around them. We had also noticed that a lot of them were decorated with red flags, so we looked for an explanation on google and found the following tale:
    In the 1840s a Robin Hood type figure called Gauchito Gil was going around Argentina robbing the rich and giving to the poor. Just before his beheading for his 'crimes', he told the executioner that if he went ahead and killed him, his son would be stricken by a deadly illness, and that the only way to save him would be to give Gauchito a proper burial. Legend is that this came true, and ever since, the Argentinian people (and the Chileans) have built shrines to his memory and hung them with red flags, either to represent his blood, or his political leanings.

    Travel continued again, through a pretty barren landscape, but this time with views of the sea, as we hugged the East coast as far as Rio Grande where we were to change for Punta Arenas. Our planned, leisurely, 3-hour breakfast had now become a 'snatch and grab' pastry and tea from the station cafe, but just a few more hours and we were at the border with Chile at San Sebastián. Prior to arriving, we had been given forms to fill in, in preparation for crossing into Chile. I had (I think quite reasonably) thought that leaving Argentina and entering Chile were one and the same thing, but apparently this is not the case. You leave the bus, to enter a building, to give in your passport, just to leave Argentina. There is then a journey across a 'no man's land' to the border with Chile where the bus assistant (having obsessively shuffled and sorted the forms) goes into Border Control. You await his return before again leaving the bus. You enter the building to have your passport checked off against the list created by the forms and are given a visa, before everything is unloaded off the coach, including your checked luggage which you then put through a scanner for customs. Add in a biting, arctic, gale force wind tunnel in the unloading bay between passport control and customs, and you get a vision of pain, and that is before the 2 hour wait for the woman escorted to Customs for bringing in too much food - fresh fruit and veg had to be offloaded (or eaten) before entering the new country, or (as we were advised on a later border-hopping trip) carried in coat pockets because border control don't check! This did lead to a 'hairy' moment on said trip when a dog came down the line jumping up and sniffing. Luckily, the 'sniffer dog' turned out to be a 'border pet'.

    We could tell we had finally entered Chile because the road had turned to a dirt track. It did eventually improve to a very narrow concrete road (you could feel the draught and the threat of oncoming traffic) until a sign saying 'FIN DE CAMINO' or 'End of the Road'. We had reached a *body of water*, and the road had became a slipway for a vehicle ferry. We had just missed one ferry, so briefly got out of the coach for a bit of 'fresh air' or 'a battle to remain standing against the gale'. The next ferry couldn't fit us on (too many trucks). So, third time lucky. We were instructed to walk onto the ferry, where we sat in closed-in side areas, whilst LARGE waves crashed (making beautiful salt patterns) against the windows!

    *The area of water that separates Tierrra del Fuego from mainland Chile*

    Just a 'few more hours' and we eventually arrived in Punta Arenas around 8pm. A quick dash in the dark and rain with our bags, via a couple of hotels for directions, and we were in a lovely, traditional, very cosy and warm, and quite grand hotel, just off the main Plaza de Armas. Our balconied window was in sight and sound of the bell tower of the main church. In under an hour we were eating one of the best meals of the trip in a French restaurant nearby - guanaco! for me and beef for Chris, with delicious merlot and a shared trio of flans, including calafate berries (a national seasonal delicacy).

    The following morning, after a quick tour of the banks to get cash (money is a whole other blog!), a photographic circuit of the Plaza, and a church visit, we were off again - on the 12.30 (las doce y media) coach to Puerto Natales, our ultimate destination for the next few days, to see the glaciers and the wildlife.
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  • Day49

    Thursday 14th Sept, late afternoon...

    A taxi from the bus station at Puerto Natales took us to the Wild Hostal and a warm welcome from Yari, our Finnish host. Hijo (Son), the dog, was looking out for us on the back of the sofa in the window of the reception bar. Yari's Chilean partner was on the late shift. Our room for the first two nights was one of 3 in a chalet in the garden, very influenced by the owner's Scandinavian roots - coat hooks made out of tree branches, wood floors, and all hand-made fixtures and fittings. A lovely view of the white blossom tree from the stepped verandah. Very cosy. After a trip to the bank, and then to the travel agents to book our onward flight (too tortuous to describe! - maybe later), we 'stayed in' and had home-made beef burgers made by Yari and his daughter (working there for the season), local (and free) beer, and alfajores (a biscuit filled with dulce de leche).

    On Yari's advice, we had booked trips for the next two days. The first, to see the massive Perito Moreno Glacier was the following day, and involved a very long journey. After a speedy breakfast at the hostal, we set off at 6.30am and didn't arrive until about 2pm in the afternoon. We had taken bread, cheese and fruit but were grateful for the hot chocolate & croissant and empanada stops. The glacier is at a place called Calafate and is part of the Parque Nacional de Los Glaciares which melt to create Lago 'Argentina'. So, unfortunately this also meant that we had to endure another border crossing(s), because the huge Glacier is just into Argentina and you may remember that Puerto Natales is in Chile. Sigh. We actually had to wait for the border (a series of huts) to open at 8am. This is where our 'hairy' moment with the 'mascota mut' took place. Luckily, he obviously hadn't got a taste for apples and oranges stuffed into pockets.

    The Moreno is much visited because of how close you can get to it - the walkway and viewing points are almost suspended above it. It is a spectacular size and colour - its edges are like the White Cliffs of Dover, and it is true, ice-blue. Small sections had broken away, or calved, to form ice flows. The glacier moves, and we heard the great boom and groan as it came into contact with and was compressed against the capes. The weather was 'apocalyptic, torrential rain', and even though we were wearing over capes, I have to admit that we virtually jogged the route over the walkways, frantically snapping pics and trying to use small dry bits of my clothing (there were none after the first five minutes) to wipe the lens. By the time we reached the cafe we were drenched, but others of the party were wet down to their underwear. It was only Chris' internet ponchos that saved us the same fate. We made the long trek home, drying scarves and socks on the bus heaters as we went.

    The next day, we went on a much more relaxing mini-bus tour, with a guide who took us into the Torres del Paine National Park, searching for wildlife and stopping as and when we found anything :) Again, we paid foreigners' rates to get in. There was just one easy trek, to one of the two waterfalls that we visited. We stopped for a 'panorama' of a lake. We saw an American Eagle. We were able to get close-ups of guanaco, and we saw a long distance puma - as the guide said, "probably better long-distance". At a lunch stop, where we ate our pre-prepared lunch in a picnic shelter at a chalet site, we also saw cara cara birds. Actually, I think they were after our bread and cheese. The best bit for me though, was a walk across a beautiful beach, situated at the foot of a swish hotel, with misty views of the 6km wide and 30m high Great Grey Glacier in the distance - it could just be seen as a pure white area connecting the two promontories of the bay. The beach itself was water-colour and charcoal, in tonal greys. Finally, a trip to a wide-mouthed cave (not a frog) in an area where dinosaurs roamed free. There were even dinosaur sized guanaco and horses in them days, but the main character was a massive sloth/bear, which was re-created for visitors at the cave entrance.

    A reasonable return time meant a leisurely meal at the 'Wild' place, again with free beer, and a move to our new room (very large) in the main house, with shared washing facilities with the true hostellers in the dorms. We don't even share a bathroom with each other at home, but it was ok. We survived.
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  • Day56

    We stayed at the Hotel Brighton, a yellow, clapperboard house, perched on the edge of one of the many hills upon which Valparaiso is built. Opinion varies - the poet Pablo Neruda said that there were no hills in Valparaiso, using the geographical definition of a hill as a separate entity. However, the general consensus is that there are at least 42. From our black and white tiled hotel terrace, there were views to the city, the sea, and to a small square, directly down from our bedroom window. When we stood in the square, at the beginning of our free walking tour, the hotel loomed garishly over the group, and we were simply able to point skyward when asked where we were staying. In fact, our walking route eventually took us past our accommodation, to take in the brilliant views from the promenade just beyond it.

    Valparaiso was once very grand, an important naval town because of its location, and has a number of fine buildings and monuments that indicate its former glory. However, the building of the Panama Canal put paid to all that - Valparaiso is no longer a stopping point for shipping, travelling between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, and has gone into a steady decline ever since. For example, in its heyday, there were thirty one lifts dotted around Valparaiso, to assist with pedestrian transport up its many hills, but now only fourteen remain, most of which are out of service. When we were there, only two were in use. Another, the one nearest to our hotel, was under renovation.

    The walking tour we joined was led by Dani, a very knowledgable local who has lived in Valparaiso all his life, even attending one of the many universities in the city. I don't think there is anything he doesn't know about his place of birth - politics, street art, culture, history, and more politics, and he didn't leave anything out. We started about 10.15, and he said to expect his tour to last about 5 hours! Luckily there was a stop for lunch, at a cafe that sold great empanadas (South American pasties).

    Valparaiso is particularly known for its colourful houses, street art and graffiti and it did seem that every available space was decorated. Dani said that there is a section of Valparaiso society who feel that this is a bad thing, and that some of the culture of the town is being lost as a result. He took us to a gated alleyway that had once been his favourite tour stop because of the variety and ever-changing nature of its artwork. It was now painted in magnolia - the owner had decided that, although he appreciated the street art, he wanted things doing "the right way" and was only going to allow specially invited artists to decorate his walls. It is true that even the most traditional of buildings has not been spared the vivid decorative treatment. There is graffiti on walls, floors, doors, steps - one staircase was painted as a piano keyboard, and another with a message, "We are not hippies, we are happies". Not quite as profound as the 'poesia' that I saw written on Cusco's walls three years earlier, but very flowery and cheerful, nonetheless. A rare place without graffiti, a telegraph pole, was yarn bombed in protest, and bunting was strung in the gaps between houses. I personally think the wiring in the town is more of an eyesore than some of the less accomplished graffiti and tags (all of it visible, twisted like some Gordian knot, and often hanging within touching distance), and also a serious fire hazard - there was in fact a massive fire in Valparaiso in 2014 that killed 15 people and destroyed more than 2000 homes.

    Transport was interesting in Valparaiso too. We saw a VW Beatle, still in working order being driven round the cobbled streets near our hotel, and obviously there was the remains of the lift system for higher ground. My personal favourite however, was the slide that connected one level of ground to another on Concepcion HilI. I may even have used it if it hadn't have been for my dodgy back. Chris didn't hold back though, despite the queue of school children waiting for a turn. Most interesting though were the trolley buses, many of which were relics from the 1950s. As we left the town, we deliberately travelled on one of the oldest of these vehicles, and were rewarded with a tune from a busker on a mandolin who serenaded us from the back of the bus.

    Would I recommend staying at Hotel Brighton? Probably not. Our room was quite dark and dingy, down some stairs in the middle of the terrrace. The bathroom was fairly grotty, with a Bleasby style 'killer shower' (personal family joke), and the bed was very uncomfortable, with shot springs - extremely painful on a bad back. However, the restaurant was excellent - the food was delicious, and the views from the terrace (where we could have taken the very good breakfast, if we were hard enough) were exceptional.
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  • Day220

    Fanny wasn't staying in Arica for the night but wanted to catch another bus to go further to Calama. As her bus wasn't leaving till 10pm at night and it was only 6pm I asked her to just come with me to the hostel. Probably they wouldn't mind her hanging out there for a while and we could go to dinner together to kill her time.
    Booking a hostel in Chile had been kind of shocking. Prices easily doubled compared to Peru and othe countries. So when I booked my hostel in Arica I had really read the recommendations to make sure I don't pay so much for a bad place. The "Sunny Days Hostel" had pretty good reviews but when we entered the hostel I couldn't believe that no one had mentioned it was like staying with someone's grandparents!
    The owner was unbelievable nice and had no problem with Fanny hanging out till her bus left. He led us into the "reception" which was inside his living room that was plastered with souvenirs from visiting travelers and lots of other stuff. For my taste the room was definitely to crowded and messy but it still gave it a really personal touch. While I was filling out the check in paper he put a plate with cookies and two glasses of juice for us on the table. Supersweet welcome.
    I had a quick shower while Fanny was charging her phone and using the WIFI (she had already been on busses since 24hours all the way from Lima). Afterwards we headed over to the market for dinner (recommendation from grandpa) and were surprised to find a french place with sweet and hearty Crepes in there. Fanny talked a bit with the owner and she told her they had the shop for about a year now and it was running quite well. It's pretty unusual to find a foreign restaurant inside a local market. Especially in a town this little touristy as Arica. The crepes were delicious!
    We headed back to the hostel afterwards and talked till Fanny had to leave to catch her bus.
    In my room I met Dominik. A german guy who had been in Arica and the hostel for a while and almost felt like a local as most people only stay for a night on there journey between Peru and Chile.
    The next morning we had breakfast in the livingroom of our temporary grandparents. The table was set nicely for everybody and the breakfast was quite good with cheese and different kinds of cereal (whoop, not just bread with jam!).
    After breakfast I went with Dominik to the beach as he wanted to check out the waves. As there weren't any we decided to go to a big local market instead. We walked around between the many stands. Even though I've been to so many markets by now it's still fascinating. There were also a lot of little restaurants at the market where we decided to get lunch. Originally Dominik wanted to try Alpaca but we ended up eating at the place with the most customers which served this nice lentil stew.
    We caught a bus back to the center of town from where I walked up to Morro de Arica from where you had a nice view over the town and the ocean.
    On my way back to the hostel I took a wrong street and ended up walking along a big road. There were lots of construction sites for huge residential buildings. At one I even got handed a brochure by the security guard watching the gate. Arica was a pretty dry and boring place. Even though it was at the beach it didn't really have a flair. I don't know who would choose to live here. But it does have a big harbor so maybe there is work and money here.
    After dinner at the hostel with Dominik I headed back to the bus terminal to catch my nightbus to San Pedro de Atacama.
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  • Day224

    The tour to Uyuni started with the bordercrossing from Chile to Bolivia. We were picked up in San Pedro with a minivan that would take us across the border. There we would change to a 4x4 for the drive through the desert.
    After about an hour on the road we stopped at a modern looking building with a big gate. After a moment the gate opened and someone took a picture of our car. The gate closed again for a few more minutes. When the gate opened again we saw an office to the left where we could go in and get our stamps out of Chile. So this was the chilean Immigration Office. The officer did the usual fuss with looking at the picture critically comparing it to the person in front of him. Then looking through all the pages in the passport and staring at something on his screen before giving us the stamp. I always wonder what they are actually doing. We got back into the bus inside the building and drove out on the other side.
    After a few hundred meters down a dusty road we had to stop at a barrier next to a basic building. Our driver got out to open the barrier himself and parked next to the building. He send us in saying "It's easier here, they just gonna give you a stamp!" - welcome to Bolivia.
    The contrast between the two offices couldn't have been bigger and was the first sign of the difference between the two countries.
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  • Day221

    San Pedro de Atacama was another strange little town in the middle of the desert. Other than in Huacachina the desert was less sandy and more rocky. But also the town was a lot different. Lots of houses were build from the same stone and matched the color of the desert. The floor was often bare so you would walk on dust. But as it was one of the most touristy places around and Chile is definitely more developed and rich than a lot of the other countries it still wasn't really basic. There were lots of nice restaurants and shops around town. My hostel was nice with rooms arranged around an outdoor communal area. I knew I wanted to do a tour to the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia from here so I used my first day strolling around the little town comparing agencies and figuring out what else was there to do here. At night they had a chilean BBQ with lots of meat at the hostel. It was super good and the fire of the BBQ helped a little against the cold that came after the sun went down. The difference between day and night was big here. During the day you could easily walk around in shorts and a shirt but at night you needed a lot of clothes. I went to bed the first night almost immediately after dinner just because I was so cold. The next day I got me a bike to go to Quebrada del Diabolo. I didn't do a lot of research but heard from some people this should be the best site in the desert reachable by bike. The lady in the bike shop told me I would need to cross the river 3 times. As she said it as if this was completely normal I expected the water to be really flat. But when I drove into the water for the first time I got stock halfway and had to push my bike through kneedeep water. In my shoes. After this I realized I should probably take my shoes of from now on.
    The Quebrada del Diabolo were rock formations with lots of small pathways through them. I wasn't sure if I was supposed to take my bike in so when I got to a point where a lot of bikes were lying I decided to also continue by foot. The site was pretty cool. The path would split of in more different paths between the rocks. As I didn't bring my bike I could also go for the ones climbing over rocks. After a while I found a spot on top of a big rock for my lunchbreak. I realized that it was completely quite here. Only surrounded by rocks you couldn't even here the usual sounds of nature like wind blowing through leaves or animals flying or running around. When I started walking back I realized that it might not be the easiest thing to find out as I had randomly chosen the path that looked more interesting. But turned out I could follow back my footsteps as no one had entered after me.
    Cycling back I decided to not put my shoes back on after the first river crossing but just cycle barefoot. This wasn't super comfortable but still nice and freeing.
    At night I did a stargazing tour. They had told me it weren't the best conditions for this tour as you couldn't see to many stars due to the full moon but I decided to do it anyways. And I actually liked it a lot. Especially as we got to watch the moon through the telescope and could see its rough surface with craters and everything. Our guide told us a little about stars and planets but as the tour was in Spanish I didn't understand to much when it got to more complex explanations. He showed us the cross of the south and some other constellations like the scorpion which was interesting as they were completely different to the ones we can see in the northern hemisphere.
    He also pointed out jupiter and saturn to us and we looked at them through the telescope. You could even see the rings around saturn.
    The next day I walked a bit more around town, treated myself to lunch at a nice little cafe and prepared for the tour to Uyuni. As Chile was really a lot more expensive than most other countries I usually had breakfast and dinner at the hostel. The kitchen here was ok and I actually enjoyed cooking for myself again. The only thing cheaper here than anywhere else was wine - even cheaper that beer!
    I met 2 nice French Canadian girls my last night and we talked over dinner and some wine. But when people started going out I went to bed again. I just couldn't be bothered to go out in the cold. But as I had to get up early the next morning for my tour I at least had a proper excuse ;)
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You might also know this place by the following names:

Republic of Chile, Chile, Chili, Kyili, ቺሌ, Cile, تشيلي, تشيلى, Çile, Tsile, Чілі, Чили, Sili, চিলি, ཅི་ལི་སྤྱི་མཐུན་རྒྱལ་ཁབ།, Čile, Xile, Şili, Chilska, ޗިލީ, Tsile nutome, Χιλή, Ĉilio, Tiiili, Txile, شیلی, Cilii, Kili, Ch·ili, Sily, An tSile, An t-Sile, ચિલી, Yn Çhillee, Cayile, Chṳ-li, צ׳ילה, चिले, Csile, Չիլի, Chíle, チリ共和国, tciles, ჩილე, ឈីលី, ಚಿಲಿ, 칠레, چلي, Shiile, Chilia, Síli, ຊິສິ, Čilė, Shili, Čīle, Чиле, ചിലി, चिली, Ċili, ချီလီ, Tsire, Chíilii, ଚିଲ୍ଲୀ, چېلي, चिलि, Cili, Čiile, Shilïi, චිලී, Cilé, Czile, சிலி, చిలి, ประเทศชิลี, ቺሊ, چىلى, چلی, Ciłe, Chi-lê (Chile), Cilän, Tchili, 智利, Чилмудин Орн, טשילע, Orílẹ́ède ṣílè, i-Chile

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