Up high in the Andes

Trip Start Feb 09, 2006
Trip End Aug 27, 2006

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Thursday, May 25, 2006

Hi everyone...since we last spoke I have come out of Argentina, via Chile and into Peru. As always on this trip it has been a bit of a whirlwind few days. I have spent a lot of it on buses but have had time to reach 4700m, bump into some old friends and meet some natives of the land.

So I left Puerto Iguazu and flew to Salta...not cheap but I couldnt face two days on a bus...in the end the flight was pretty spectacular because i had a window seat and the plane travelled alongside the Andes as the sun was setting. This was another moment where I sort of had to pinch myself to realise where I am! I arrived into Salta in N.West Argentina and suddenly things were very different from anything I had seen so far on my trip. Instantly I stood out so much as a gringo because the majority of the population were Quecha. The town was also much more unorganised and chaotic than elsewhere in Argentina or Chile. Anyway I knew I had a full day here and I was going to make the most of it. I climbed one of the hills and got a view over the city, then I had my haircut...finally - bit of a daunting prospect when i realised my hairdresser spoke NO english - turned out ok though and then I went to watch the Da Vinci Code in the most uncomfortable cinema I have ever been in. The highlight of the day though was early afternoon when I had just bought a Sandwich and was walking around a corner when suddenly walking towards me was a French couple - Cyril and Barbara who live in Dublin - that I had spent a few days with in NZ. They were in South America too at the same time, on the same street, in the same city, in the same country! Was a surreal moment...but it is really cool when you meet people you have liked and got along with when you never really expect to see them again. Especially when we met before in a totally different culture and environment. Anyway we spent the evening eating more fine steaks...comparing tales of what we had done and were going to do. I couldnt drink too much wine though because the next morning I had a bus to San Pedro Atacama at 7am!

The bus ride in itself was an adventure...climbing up to 4000m and winding its way through the deserts and mountains of the Andes...hardly passing any other vehicles. We arrived in San Pedro de Atacama - the driest desert in the world - at about 4pm and I instantly went and bought two tours for the next day. In my first tour I was woken at 3:30am to be picked up at 4am by the company for a tour to the Geysers at a height of 4700m and temperature of -15. It really was freezing cold and i was glad i had worn all the clothes i had taken for Patagonia! The geysers were pretty spectacular - purely because there were such contrasts - boiling water poured out of the ground, turning into steam and ice, the whole spectacle taking place on the desert surrounded by volcanoes. We returned to San Pedro at 12 and i had 4 hours - or so i thought - before my next tour to watch the sunset over the Moon Valley. Unfortunately i had thought wrong because the tour had started at 3pm and I missed it. Anyway I took a taxi to a road junction where i was going to meet up with the tour. However waiting at this junction a pick up truck full of Belgians pulled over and offered me a lift to where they were going...the death valley. So watched the sunset here before returning to take the night bus to the far north of Chile...the bus was okay and i managed to sleep before arriving at 7am in the border town of Arica and checking into what was a dingy hostel.

I spent the day here trying to organise a trip into the Park National Lauca...recommended but it appears there were no other tourists in Arica...so i couldnīt do the trip. In the end i wasnīt that bothered because i had my first dodgy stomach of the trip...apparently altitude has this affect.

The next day I felt a bit better and crossed the border into Peru bound for Arequipa via Tacna. I arrived in Tacna bus terminal and the first Peruvian i spoke to mentioned Nolberto Solano (for those of you who dont know he is Peruīs finest footballing export who happens to play and be a fans favourite for Newcastle United). The bus to Arequipa was 5 hours - interupted by constant police checks and loud badly dubbed films - but on the bus i met a Peruvian girl and her mother (Elizabet and Ena). It was obvious Elizabet wanted to practice her English and I NEEDED to practice some Spanish - so we all went out for some dinner and coffee. Then today we went to an old convent in Arequipa - a really old and atmospheric place - away from the noise of Arequipa outside. I like Arequipa though...it has a lot of character and a real Spanish colonial feel. It also has thousands of tiny taxis of the same brand, colour and about 0.8l rushing around its cobbled streets...and i thought things couldnīt get any worse than my mums Nissan Micra! Earlier today we also went out for a traditional Peruvian meal...not really sure what i was eating but it wasnīt Guinea Pig! Tasted good though and was a nice way to say good bye to Elizabet and Ena who were returning to Tacna this afternoon...with one request that I send them a T-Shirt with Newcastle on - just writing this so i remember.

Well this e-mail has turned into a bit of a marathon...hope it hasnt been too long for you...i was just enjoying myself in this Internet Cafe too much listening to Meatloaf, The Police and Simply Red!

I guess this post sort of shows a typical week travelling...i was feeling a bit down in this dingy hostel in Arica after having an unproductive day and crap sleep on a bus...but within 24 hours i was having new amazing experiences. Tomorrow I am taking a two day tour around the surrounding countryside to watch condors, volcanoes and see the deepest canyon in the world...its all good!

Hope you are all well and that the British summer is starting to kick in...with football soon to be on TV allday...now that does make me feel homesick!

All the best


P.S photos in a few days hopefully.
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