Patagonia is one of those regions that other travellers had been very enthusiastic about when I told them where my round the world trip would take me. With good reason! I am now part of that group of enthusiasts! And I’d love to go back and discover its further mysteries!
Here is what I’ve been doing in march this year – highly recommended:
Hiking in Los Glaciares National Park in Argentina near El Chalten – hike to Mt Fitz Roy: https://satteltdiehuehner.com/2015/03/24/fitzroy-oh-fitzroy/
Ice Trekking on the famous Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina, near El Calafate: https://satteltdiehuehner.com/2015/04/10/ice-ice-baby/
Hiking the “W-trek” in Torres del Paine Natinal Park in Chile: https://satteltdiehuehner.com/2015/04/05/torres-del-paine-tekking-with-the-team/
Boat trip to Isla Magdalena near Punta Arenas – to see Magellan penguins: https://satteltdiehuehner.com/2015/04/11/pinguinos/
We, 17 people, most of whom I already knew because we’d stayed at the same hostel in San Pedro, hopped onto a bus just after sunrise at 7.30 am and were driven to the Chilean border control outside of San Pedro. Like all other vehicles we were to wait there for around two hours before allowed through, because there had been an accident somewhere on the road and also because it was likely to rain, which usually means that the steep dirt road connecting Chile with Bolivia would be closed.
Finally, we were allowed to pass and for another hour or so we drove through no man’s land, passing the impressive Mt. Licancabur, until we finally reached the Bolivian border control in the middle of nowhere. It was windy and cold – no wonder, we had reached 4900m above sea level! There is almost only tourists crossing the border at this point, as it’s a major tourist route along the Bolivian / Chilean border and into the famous Salar de Uyuni! Six people plus driver fit into each 4×4 and so we were split up. We were extremely lucky with our driver, as none of the horror scenarios we’d heard so much about came true! It all went smoothly, no breakdowns, no drinking, no skipping sites – Edgar was an experienced driver and (no offence) was quite friendly for a Bolivian…
I am very glad that I agreed to take the tour a day earlier than planned, for I was rewarded with a great travelmate and friend. Thank you, Laura! Plus we had a great time with our fab four other Tour de Uyuni family members!
Three days of awesome scenery lay ahead of us:
On the road
Geyser Sol de Mañana
It was bloody cold here. I was basically wearing everything I had: long John’s, trousers, rain trousers, short sleeve merino, long sleeve merino, merino jacket, doown west, rain jacket… the refugios at Laguna Colorada, where we spent our first night, are very simple. No showers, no heating. We really appreciated those extra sleeping bags on top of the three blankets. Outside, the temperature drops to -10° C at night!
…it was a truly marvellous adventure!
It took me 23 hours to get from Pisco Elqui to San Pedro de Atacama in the north of Chile. That is because I had to change buses twice and because of the delay caused by the road conditions around Copiapó and Antofagasta. A terrible flood had hit this arid region shortly before, as a result of unseasonal heavy rains. Rivers swelled and poured water and thick mud all over the area. To make it worse, the mud that now covers the towns, is contaminated as the water ran through this regions many mines before reaching the cities.
I was lucky that the roads were open again and when I peaked out of the window of my bus at 2 am I saw a ghost city covered in mud where bulldozers were busy cleaning up the streets.
Thankfully, the region’s main tourism spot, the area around San Pedro de Atacama, had not been hit by the floods and the blackout caused by these had been fixed when I got there. San Pedro de Atacama is a pleasant little tourist town and the gateway to the Atacama desert and tours into Bolivia and its famous Salar de Uyuni.
The Atacama desert is said to be the driest place in the world. You can feel the aridness of this desert region with every pore of your body. Everything instantly becomes dry, your sinuses, your hair, your skin.
Hoewever, the area is stunning:
The cactus fruit was a little harder to find as it was not the right season, but we finally got to try some. You’ve got to sqeeze it and you can eat the gluey green mass that is inside. It looks gross, but it’s said to be very healthy and tastes a bit like a sour kiwi.
The Valle de la Luna and Valle de la Muerte are two of the most fascinating landscapes around SPdA…:
Heading further north I opted for a stopover in the Elqui Valley.I had a very relaxing three days at “El Tesoro de Elqui” (http://www.tesoro-elqui.cl/eng) in Pisco Elqui – thanks to my brother, who knew about this heavenly place because he’d partied with the two german proprietresses ages ago in Braunschweig, Germany.
It was about time for a vacation, i.e. a break from travelling. Which is why I mostly dozed on a sunbed at the pool, ate, drank and slept.
My only exercise was a 4 km bike ride to the oldest Pisco distillery in Chile: “Los Nichos”. After all, I had to finally figure out how Pisco is made! Unfortunately I was too late for the last tour, but fortunately three girls from Viña del Mar turned up at the same time and they were just as diappointed as I was. After a free Pisco tasting the guy behind the counter showed compassion with us and simply gave us a free private tour (in spanish, that is, …)!
And here is why it is called Los Nichos: in the cellar the owner enjoyed drinking in the company of his friends. This cellar has several niches where the pisco bottles were stored to age and each friend was allocated a niche as a tomb, a place for his ghost to rest after death. One niche, however, remains empty. If I understood it correctly the man was simply too big for his niche…
Santiago hit me big time as I hadn’t been in a large city ever since Buenos Aires, which was over a month ago. It is amazing to see the snowcapped Andes from the city. For some reason I hadn’t expected Santiago to be this close to the mountains. It made me realize how narrow this country is. Because Santiago is surrounded by mountains and hills, the city is almost always covered by a cloud of smog. That, the amount traffic and the many people was just too much to handle and thus I escaped the city on my first day for a bike and wine tour at Cousiño Macul on the outskirts of the city. Highly recommended! It does not involve a lot of cycling, just a short ride to the vineyards. But it includes a wine tasting and an interesting tour around this old winery.
Plus, you have to get there, which is part of the fun if you take the metro – it is a great place to people watch. I don’t think I have ever seen this many women breastfeeding their babies on public transport!!! It made me realize how conservative we are in Europe. Here it just seems very normal. One three or four year old kid, however, sat on his mothers lap and simply got out the breast himself… I would imagine that being rather unusual, but who knows?!
On day two I took the free walking tour (tour for tips), which had been recommended to me by numerous people and I, too, highly recommend it! I especially enjoyed the markets, a Santiago institution, where you can also go for a great meal.
The large cemeterio was nothing like any other cemetery I’ve seen before. It is so big that a sceen at the entrance lists the funerals and their location. Apart from the usual graves there are large buildings, e.g. one designed like an italian shopping mall, including an elevator, some enormous mausoleums and the presidents buried here all have very special graves, too.
This was the point when I finally learned a lot more details about chilean history, i.e. the presidency of Salvador Allende in the early seventies, the 15 year long dictatorship under Pinochet and the turn to democracy in 1989. Chile’s constitution established that at the 1988 plebiscite the voters could accept or reject Pinochet and to Pinochet’s surprise he was rejected by 54,4% – which also shows that the country was basically split into half! Most importantly our sympathetic chilean guide explained to us that the Pinochet era, after 25 years, still divides the country. That is because some people benefited while lots of others suffered, disappeared or were killed. This topic might even split families into half, resulting it to be a tabu at family reunions!