Leaving Bolivia- the Hard Way ! Salty flats, Jungle Snatch and Chilean culture shock !!!!

Valparaiso Travel Blog

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Okey dokey, memory fading fast and not helped by large quantities of Argentinain wine, but I will persevere !!

We left our sordid trallelers ( well, me anyway, H is not so sordid !) recovering in Bolivia from ill advised activites involving large quadrupeds that in reality, we are a bit old to be pratting about on ( not being trained, thansk for the heads up Vic! etc) and were about to set off on a 4 day, 3 night jeep tour to see one of the 7 natural wonders of the world, the Salar de Uyuni, or better known as,Bolivian salt flats. We jumped into out home for the next 4 days about 8am after procuring much needed supplies ( chocolate and a bottle of the local grog, Singari ( rocket fuel with a dash of turps) with our "jeepmates" Ed and Luisa. The first day was mostly driving through amazing scenery such as the "valley of the moon " ( of which every Bolivian town seems to have at least one) and some amazing vistas over real cowboy country. We lunched in a field full of llamas ( that H had a whale of a time chasing around with her camera) , and had quite a few stops along the way for other glorious photo ops. The entire set up was great, Our driver was excellent , he had been doing this for 5 years so knew the route backwards and we had a nice lady called Lydia who made sure we NEVER went hungry ! What made the whole trip however was the boundless energy and overal friendlyness of Ed and Luisa, as you can imagine, being stuck in a car for 4 days with anyone can be draining, but these two always had a sunny disposition, telling stories, making jokes ( some as bad as mine)  and it made the whole trip a real pleasure !!

The first evening was spent locked in a compound out in the desert (no joke, we were locked in !) in an adobe mud hut with no heating and limited power, it was cold but not to bad and we spent the evening drinking the nasty booze and playing "jungle snatch"  a game loosly based on Snap, but with a stick and a lot more violence ! great fun.. the perfect gift for all ages :-)

We were up the next day at 4am for an "early start", but it was so worth it, as in the desert you have little or no light pollution and so the sky was amazing, I have never seen so many stars etc.. but it was FRUCKING COLD AS HELL !! so we set off asap ! First stop at dawn was an abandoned ghost town called st Antonio, it was very creepy ( apparently the devil used to pop up and scare off all the miners - call scooby do if you ask me) and pre- dawn, the abandoned church was very omenesque and creepy ! We then set off to see 5 different lagoons of varying colour and Flamingo occupancy that were very nice, before driving across the DALI desert ( so named for the swirling colours and rocks that inspired the artist).
We rounded off the day at the highest point ( some 5000m above sea level) of the tour to see the Geysers. This was amazing , bubbling water and mud pools, steam everywhere, but it was also about minus 10, hailing and with a 80mph wind , so we did not stick around for long :-) Another cold night in a adobe room, this time with Beer, "shithead" and some interesting folk music that Ed and the weasel introduced us to, ready for day 3 !
Day 3 began with laguna verde, a vibrant place filled with flamingos, from here we went to see the Dali Rocks ( not like Hanoi rocks, just some inanimate stones) including the very photogenic stone tree, where we stayed for about 2 hrs while our driver helped another driver with a breakdown. It was amazingly beautiful to see, but if you went exploring, behind most of the rocks were piles of human excrement, possibly years old ( this was the desert) which was a bit grim, so we stayed to the "tourist side" where the nice photos are taken :-)
From here we headed of to another laguna for lunch where our excelent driver got us there early, so we had use of the natural hot spring to ourselves for about 30 minutes before the throngs of other jeep tours coming out of Uyuni ( about 7 other jeeps) showed up !.
More driving in the Pm and a long distance view of a smoking volcano brought us eventually to the edge of the Salar de Uyuni and the salt hotel, yep, made out of salt bricks cut from the salar. Here at last we could have a hot shower ( for a price) but it was so worth it !

The last ( and biggest day) started again at 4am for a short drive to fish island in the middle of the salt flats for a dawn view ! This was incredible as it was so dark you could not see anything until the sun came, and then everything was a dazzeling white !! WE hung around for breakfast and the mandatory comedy photos messing with depth perceptions before heading of into the middle of the flats to see the water holes ( filled with amazing coloured salt crystal formations), the salt hotel "museum"(- bit shit actually), the "eyes of the salar" - more pools of bubbling water and eventually, a market full of artisan crap made of salt !! Unfortunatly Im  not a writer and can´t do this place justice with superlatives, so check out H´s photos or go yourself.. its just.... wow !

WE eventually arrived at the town of Uyuni mid afternoon ( everything closed of course) and had a bit of difficulty seeing how we could now get to Chile !! we would have to go by jeep as there were no buses, but the company we were recommended, well, we met some folks who had just been on a tour with them and the driver got so drunk he couldn´t drive on the last day and the touísts themselves had to do it.. Also there were 9 people per jeep ( compared to our 6) so we figured that would not be a good choice. But eventually we found one company and after an interminable wait ( about 6 hrs delay) we said goodbye to Ed and the Weasel ( who were heading off north on the train) and set off back down the way we came , on our way to Chile !!

An uneventful trip later ( with another night in a cold room , no electricity etc) and a 4am start, we crossed the border to chile without incident (well , except for when they were going to charge us again for the national park entry, and we had no cash, but blagged it through the checkpoint for Free :-)  and arrived in the Tourist mecca of San Pedro de Atacama, the oasis in the middle of the dryest place in the world !!

WOW , what a culture shock, We had gone from bleak deserts and seeing perhaps one other jeep per day to this !! teeming with tourists, shops, interet cafes etc and still about 35 degrees in the shade. But the thing that shocked us the most was the cost.. the hostels here ( and it is known as the most expencive town in chile) were about 5 times the costs of those in Bolivia, and without half of the facilities ! EEEEP !
But after trying a few, H found us a great one at not too high a price where we could hold up for a couple of days and get over the numb bum sensation thet 5 days in the back of a jeep will give you !
The town itself is lovely, a real wild west feel with low adobe buildings all whitewashed and dusty streets. Its the base for loads of activites, horse riding, sky diving, rafting and all manner of other fun stuff that we were not going to do :-) so we just chilled out for a bit .
IF the hostels were expencive , that was nothing compared to the tourist restaurants that were just amazingly priced and usually included a compulsory "show" that we opted out of...) ! so we made do with take away pizza and wine from over the road from the hostel (and anyway,  on the first night the whole town had a power cut so you could not even get a draft beer !)
The next day we did find a cheap cafe for sandwiches ( yay Chicken mayo sarnie on white bread .. heaven !!) and expolred the town a  bit more, but really there is nothing there except tour agencies and restaurants, so we got on the next available bus for the 17 hour ride to La Serena.. aya !!( think of the song Macarena, and yes I was singing this for the whole 17 hours, eventually H had to have me tranquillized) We had seats at the front of the bus , loads of room and it was an excellent way to se the Atacama desert without taking a tour, we even saw the famous Valley of the moon ( yes, another one) from the bus that was excellent ! and continued snaking our way up mountains and through huge deserted deserts where it (in some places) has never rained ! we were getting seriously Vista Spoiled !!

The entire journey after this was uneventful, more inappropriate movies, punctuated by bad adam sandler or Ben stiller comedies kept us amused and at about 6am the next day we rolled into town. Here lady luck smiled upon us as we were met by a nice man with a hostel ( incidentally the same one we had reserved in advance) and offered us a room for a cheaper price ! So we took it and kept quiet ! The hostel was great and just out of the town centre, so was perfect ! and after a siesta we went exploring again. La Serena was a great town , not at all touristsy, but a normal working chilean town, the plazas were grand, churches white and imposing in the arid heat, and there was a book festival on at the time so bookshops lined the plaza giving the place a very high brow feel.
We sat in the park for  a while and watched a group of women ( all dressed the same, a bit romany) hassling men for money.. and could not work out if they were just begging or were prossies ?... Had a great lunch then went for a long walk on the beautiful beach ( though the sea was a bit cold for us) in the glorious afternoon sunshine !
Evening came as did my urge to hit some bars after being cooped up on the jeep and unable to afford it in San Pedro, so we got some street food ( seriously, the BEST street chips we have ever had in our lives came from MR Chips just by our hostel) and hit some bars, meeting strange other travellers who had somehow ended up here also (most seemed confused as to why.. but enjoying it..)! a great night out, especially as the beers come in 1litre bottles " for sharing" ..............shyea Roight !!!! :-)
NO surprises that next day we had hangovers, but as we were planning to relax anyway this did not matter ! so after a long lie in, we sorted out our bus tickets to the next town ( 7 hrs) and HIT THE MALL !! yay, western culture, McDonalds, bookshops, clothes shops all that crap, we were wallowing in it after Bolivia !
Back in town after out western fix ( didnt actually buy anything, just hung out) we found a really nice wine shop and bought some chilean wines that we drank back at the hostel ( amazingly good and super cheap), with more fantastic chips for H and a completo ( Its a hot dog with mayo, guacamole and tomatoes). WE did plan to go out again, but were to tired after such an exerting day, so just fell alseep ! Our last day in La Serena followed a similar path, we hung about in town for a bit ( we had a night bus booked at about 10pm, but check out from the hostel was 11am, this happens a lot and you have to find ways to fill your day whilst being "in Limbo" with no base to get back to.. like the last day of a package holiday to magaluf... if you have ever been there :-)
So we hit the museum and saw shrunken heads, mummies etc and best of all an authentic head from Rapa Nui !! YAY ! as we cant afford to go there this was the next best thing and made me very happy !! then back off to the mall to the cinema for the evening ( Jim Carrey movie.. yes man... hmm. I wouldnt bother, its not a bad movie, but he is about 20 years to old for the character he is playing and it made it more shit and unbelievable than it should have been, but it killed a few hours.. ) then off on the bus, filled with drunken singing argentinain football fans to our next destination, the bohemian seaside town of Valpareso !!!
Until next time.. you stay classy San Diego ! xxx

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photo by: montecarlostar