Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Salta, San Pedro De Atacama and Salares De Uyuni

We wanted to break up our journey from Mendoza to San Pedro De Atacama so we decided to stop off in Salta (northern Arg) for a couple of days. We took a local bus out to the countryside to do a bit of walking and ended up following a little river through a lush, green valley. In fact we could have been in Wales, it was even drizzling! Very beautiful though, even with some of the locals laughing at us having our picnic in the rain.From here we travelled to San Pedro De Atacama in Chile which gave us our first real taste of high altitude as the bus crosses the Andes at an altitude of approx 4400 metres above sea level. As the journey was in the day we were able to appreciate the most amazing views as the bus negotiated endless switchbacks. We weren´t sure whether we experienced any effects of being so high up, at the hostel in Salta the night before we´d enjoyed a BBQ (again with as much wine as we could drink, seems to be a common theme here...!) so felt a bit tender anyway!

San Pedro is a nice little place (if a little on the touristy side) consisting of dirt roads and adobe housing, and is perched on the edge of the Atacama desert, apparently the driest in the world. We were greeted at the bus terminal by different touts from various local hostels and picked one at random. It turned out to be an excellent choice, a gorgeous little adobe development with a courtyard furnished with hammocks. We even upgraded from a standard double to a room with a big double bed, two singles and a little lounge area as it cost 7 pounds per night each as opposed to 6 (and this is a honeymoon you know!).
Julia had bought us a sunrise visit to the nearby El Tatio geysers as a wedding present which, despite the 4am get up, was awesome. The geyser field was amazing (if a little cold at 4321 metres at that time in the morning!). We were given breakfast including hard boiled eggs prepared in the boiling water from the geysers! We also had a dip in some hot springs which was lovely considering the air temperature was still around 5 degrees! On the way back to San Pedro we stopped at a little village and had llama kebabs and goats cheese empanada´s (essentially Cornish pasties!) for lunch - no wine this time though.
Another thing that the area is known for is the very clear and normally cloudless skies, making star gazing opportunities excellent. We´d had recommendations from people we´d met in Salta to do a tour to a little observatory run by a well known French astronomer, so we booked on to do this. The guy is quite an eccentric but obviously really knows his stuff. We started with a session just looking at the sky with the naked eye and he used a green laser pen to point out various stars and constellations. We then moved to his garden which has around 10 different telescopes pointing to different parts of the sky. Through these we got to see jupiter, subaru (the one the car´s named after!) and loads of other stars.

We left San Pedro on a 3 day jeep tour which took us first to the Bolivian Border (a tiny hut in the middle of nowhere with a Bolivian flag) and then to some of the most amazing places we´ve ever seen.
The first day consisted of white, green and red lagoons, more flamingos than you could imagine and a brief swim in some hot springs before dinner. Our driver was called Mario and his wife, Eva did all the cooking. She was fantastic and continually managed to cook up tasty meals for all us hungry gringos! Also in our jeep were Tom and Wendy (from Belgium) and Juan and Jose Luis (from Spain). Quite a squeeze but great fun non the less.
The first nights accommodation was basic to say the least. A six bed cell with no hot water and no electricity. Al and I huddled together under about 7 blankets to conserve body heat as the temperature dropped to -15 degrees.

On the second day we saw Dali´s rocks and views of Bolivias only active volcano. We also broke down and from that point on we all had to push the jeep whenever we needed to get it started! We stayed in a tiny but friendy village called Colcha K and this time we had warm showers - a real treat!

We left Cocha K at 5am in order to reach the salt flats for sunrise. Unfortunately it was a little cloudy but the pancakes smothered in dulche de leche made up for the lack of good photo opportunities. In the middle of the salt flats there is an island covered in massive cacti which you can walk around and see 360 degree views of the salt flats. It was incredible. We sat at the top and looked out at the miles and miles of white salt - a really magical moment.
Where´s the Wally? (Above picture is expecially for Emma - can you spot me?!!)

We then went out onto the salt flats and had lots of fun taking silly photos (the classics - see below!).

The tour ended in Uyuni but as there is not alot to see and do here Mario, our driver, had kindly fixed us up with another jeep to take us the 5 hours down to Tupiza. This turned out to be a brilliant experience as Al and I were the only non-Bolivians in the jeep. Our driver, Carlos was fortunately very careful as the trip through the mountains could have been pretty hairy if we´d taken the bus. The other passengers consisted of a little old lady in her bowler hat who was continually munching coca leaves and giggling and a couple with their young son, Diego. We made two stops on the journey, one to let the couple off and to pick up two more men and a woman and the other in the mountains for "pi pi". It was at this point I realised why the little bolivian women where such big skirts and I began to regret my choice of combat trousers for the journey!

Next stop Potosi,

lots of love

The Masons xxxx

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