As predicted, we all went to bed immediately after eating for our cold sleep. Actually it wasn't as bad as I thought, for I went to
bed in my winter jacket but woke up and took it off at some stage, as I was roasting in my sleeping bag and 7 blankets. We awoke before the sun so we could see it rise over the geysers, which were absolutely amazing. The ground belched out massive streams of steam that reeked of sulphur, and bubbled and churned with the pressure. Huge pimply pockets dotted the landscape in all directions, each steaming quickly into the cold morning air. After this we headed to a hot spring, which was quite small for all the people that were there. It was lovely and roasting hot though, especially compared to the air, as we were over 5000 meters and it was damn cold.
The painful part therefore was changing in and out of the swimsuit as fast as possible, and since there were no changing rooms it was hard to work fast as one hand was generally keeping a towel around yourself. Behind the hotspring
was another lake, ordinarily coloured but also full of flamingos. It was gorgeous in the morning light, and we had our breakfast there and hazed at the idyllic setting. After this we were nearly done with our tour, however we stopped at one more lake which was surrounded by dry deserty
mountains. Soon after that we arrived at the border and switched vehicles from the jeep to a minivan, and headed into Chile.
The border control isn't located at the border but instead in San Pedro de
Atacama, quite a few kilometers into the country. As nothing sits between these 2 points however but desert, I guess they figured no one would be fool enough to walk through the area. The Chileans are extremely paranoid about fruit coming in the country, so the border control had us haul all our baggage in for inspection, complete with a sniffing dog. The stamp in was easier however, as the officer barely glanced up as he mechanically stamped passport after passport. Once in we rode a little ways further into San Pedro, which looked like an old western town if it was full of tour operators instead of saloons. The first order of business was exchanging money into pesos, which for a rich country are surprisingly low in worth.
Therefore, things cost ridiculously high amounts (my lunch sandwich was 1,700.00). San Pedro is not a cheap town either, and it was a hard transition after Bolivia, especially for the French couple who seemed to really hate parting with any money. We took ages choosing a restaurant for lunch and a hostel because of this, but in the end we sorted both for somewhat reasonable prices. The weather was roasting hot and the sky impeccably blue without any clouds, so we decided to rent bikes and check out the area. The french went immediately but Thomas and I decided to wait until it cooled off a bit before heading off. I ended up falling in love with the area; as I haven't seen proper desert before I didn't know what to expect. Something about all those reddish brown mountains and sand dunes really captured my heart, and when the nearly full moon rose over a volcano on the horizon, turned purple in the dusk light, it was perfect.
We rode only about 5 kms
into a canyon of sorts, and once the sand got too thick for the bikes we walked through the maze of giant sand formations. We tried to climb a few to see the sunset but the crusty exteriors too often broke under our weight, so eventually we headed back to the bikes. On our way back to town we heard the french couple calling us, as they were perched on a hill overlooking the highway
, drinking a beer. We joined them for a while and marvelled at the scenery around us, but soon had to move on as the wind grew sharp and bitterly cold.
That evening we once again searched ages for a restaurant that the French were willing to pay for, and ended up with a French waitress as well.
The entire time travelling with this couple the language has been a complete mix match of English and French, as Thomas spoke both but English better, Jullien
had pretty decent English and Eliza could understand it but had problems speaking. We shifted between the two constantly therefore, as I could understand about 90% of what they say and can still throw out a few phrases myself. We'd even speak in Spanish now and again to each other, as we all had about the same level in that. It was good fun I must admit to play with the words and switch between 3 tongues, as although I wouldn't say I'm fluent in either 2nd
language it does give a sort of pride to be able to say one thing 3 different ways.
Looking back at Bolivia, I'd have to say it was the country where I've had the most fun so far. Sure, I had border issues and almost lost my bus and luggage, I got caught for days as planes can't fly when it rains, nearly got stranded due to a gas crisis, and numerous other adventures that on face surface seem negative, but through it all I had really good travelling partners. Making friends happened easily throughout the whole country, and I was passed from one group to the other like a baton in a marathon, smoothly and naturally. The experiences themselves, although harrowing, also make for the best memories and stories afterwards, once you are once again comfortable and able to laugh at your own previous discomfort. In the end I also seemed to have pretty good luck, as the experiences could always be worse; for instance, I met a girl who left Rurrenabaque
one day earlier than myself by jeep, and she first got caught in a major mudslide and then ran into the blockade and had to walk ages with all her bags into the city.
However, one day later, the planes started running again somehow and the whole messy trip could have been avoided. I suppose that's all part of travelling, where a day earlier or later, or sometimes even 10 minutes difference, can change your experience dramatically.