Arica-The past two weeks!

Trip Start Jan 05, 2006
Trip End Jul 21, 2006

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Saturday, March 18, 2006 starts monday. :( My adventures in northern Chile and Bolivia are coming to an end, as Eleni and i take a bus in 2 hours back to Santiago. Oh yes, a 20 hour bus ride back to Santiago. In seats 41 and 42...that means the back of the bus. Which means next to the bathroom. This could be a very unpleasant 20 hours! The reason why we are sitting in the back of the bus?

It all starts last week, when Eleni and I decided that we liked Bolivia too much, and we wanted to stay longer......but I´m getting ahead of myself. I still have 2 weeks to tell!

SO, two weeks ago, Eleni and I left Santiago on an overnight bus to La Serena. We went with my host mom´s brother-in-law, Pedro, who is visiting from Spain, where he lives. He was so helpful, and told us exactly what to do and see in our two days there. THe first day, we visited ¨Valle de Elqui¨...a big valley close to La Serena, where Gabriela Mistral was from, and where they make Pisco. BTW, if I havent mentioned it, Pisco to Chile is like Tequila to Mexico. So we bought this all day riding on the buses deal, so we could travel from town to town in Valle de Elqui. First, we visited Vicuña, where we went on a tour of the Pisco Capel plant.....of course the best part was the free Pisco sample at the end. :) Then we headed to Montegrande...where we visited another Pisco plant. Here, we skipped out on the tour, and joined another group for the Pisco sampling at the end.....yummy! Then we visited an extremely fome (Chilean for lame, dumb) Gabriela Mistral museum. Next we went to Pisco Elqui...the last town in the valley. We found a hostel....and proceeded to pass out for a few hours...I think it was a combination of the lack of sleep and the Pisco. :) When we woke up....we diecided to go horseback riding. We ended up at a place with a USA couple, and of course, a guide, on a 3 hour excursion through the mountains of Valle de Elqui. This place is known for having one of the clearest, brightest views of the stars at our guide took us to an area where there was no light pollution. After sunset, we got to see more stars than I´ve ever seen in the sky. He explained a lot to us..and I feel so much more knowledgeable now! We rode back, and grabbed some dinner before passing out at the hostel once again. btw....after I stepped into the shower at this place, i realized there was no hot water. Once again, I was showering in what felt like a big bowl of ice. Brrr!

The next day, we headed back to La Serena, where Pedro met us, and took us around the city. This is where we began the church hopping. I love visiting churches...and my dear Jewish friend Eleni didnt complain once! We visited four churches and half a mass at La Serena.

At 7am the next morning, Eleni went further north to Caldera. There, we met up with Kelly and her sister who is visiting for two weeks, Theresa. Caldera is pretty much an ugly boring city, but 10 minutes south is Bahia Inglesa, resort town with white white white beaches. So, we spent the day at the beach! In all of the times I´ve been to the Pacific Ocean this year, this was the first time it was warm enough to swim.

That night, we headed to San Pedro de Atacama....our travel guides claimed this is the backpackers place to be. 20 years ago, San Pedro was completely free of tourists....but someone discovered the natural beauty it has to offer, and now the entire city is composed of tourist excursion offices, reataurants, and artesenal markets. SO, we decided to check it out. The four of us were so lucky in finding a great hostel, with nice hot water until 10pm at night! Our first night here, we went on a tour to Valle de la Muerte y Valle de La Luna. They were both really neat places...with interesting stories behind them, that I dont remember now. :) We did a lot of hiking up and down sand dunes (because we were in the Atacama desert, the driest in the worñd), climbing through caves, and ended up watching the sunset over Valle de la Luna. But thats obviously not why it is called Valle de La Luna. When the moon came out, it was so large, I felt like I could touch it. It was so beautiful.

The next morning, we got up at 3:30...oh yes, 3:30am, to go to see the Geysers of Tatio. We were in a bus with 8 other tourists (4 french, 2 chilean, 2 Irish) in a 2 hour bumpy bus ride to the geysers. We arrived at 6am......and spent an hour (in the freezing cold...go figure in such a dry desert!) walking around this volcano crater. We were warned about the altitude, so we had to take it slow. Nonetheless, we all felt quite sick by the end of the trip. After eating breakfast, our tour headed over to hot water springs...where we went swimming for a bit! On the way back to San Pedro, we stopped at a little town called Machuco (sp??), saw an old church, and ate some te de coca. Oh yes, coca leaves. the same ones that are used to make cocaine. Here, in northern Chile and Bolivia, the altitude is so high that everyone drinks coca tea to help with the headaches and stomachaches that accompany the altitude.

The four of us became friends with the chileans from this tour, who happened to be staying at the same hostel. They are brother and sister, from Santiago, and to Eleni´s delight, Jewish! :) We went to dinner with them that night...our first restaurant in a while (normally meals consist of bread and cheese from the supermaket). Eyal, the brother, owns a restaurant in Santiago, so we received VIP treatment, and free Pisco Sour! This night got even better, when I got a call from my beloved family in the US. I miss them so much!

The next morning, Eleni and I parted ways with Kelly and Theresa. They headed back to Santiago, while Eleni and I headed east to Bolivia. An extremely popular outing in San Pedro, is to go on a jeep tour of Southwest Bolivia. So Eleni and I went on a 3 day, 2 night tour of Southwest Bolivia for US $75. Oh yes, and that included everything...meals, hostels and all. In our jeep was Lucas, our guide/ driver, Phil (Irish guy), Danielle, and Matt (English couple), Eleni, and me. We set out Monday morning, and headed into Bolivia. We spent two days in Bolivia´s national park......more geysers, hot water springs, enormous rocks, shaped by the wind, lakes that change from green to blue to red to purple throughout the day, volcanoes, lots of llamas, vicuñas, and the best part, FLAMINGOS! Lots and lots and lots of flamingos. I wanted to make friends with some, but they seemed to be afraid of me. :(

No one was able to sleep our first night in the park....we were at 5,000 meters (no idea in feet, but really high!).....and we woke up every half an hour, with the headaches getting worse.

At the end of day 2, we ended up in Uyuni, a small city in Bolivia. We spent the evening getting to know Bolivian culture, eating Bolivian food, and admiring Bolivian women. Bolivia has a huge indigenous population...and most of the older women wear their indigenous outfit.....colorful skirts, shawls, and little bowler hats. So cute!

Day three was a day trip to the Salar de Uyuni....the largest salt flat in the world. It was insane. This is where out table salt comes from. I cant even describe how interesting it was. We went in a jeep driving through the salt we were driving on salt, but it looked like we were driving on snow or white, so incredibly bright. As we drove deeper in (its HUGE....once you are in, all you see is white) there began to be a layer of water on the salt. Now, it looked like we were driving on water. Matt, the English guy commented ¨When they said Jesus walked on water, he was really just on a salt flat¨. LOL. It was spectacular. The mountains and volcanoes in the distance were reflected perfectly on the salt flat. We got some amazing pictures that I(´ll put up when I get back to Santiago. For lunch, we reached ¨Isla del Pescado¨ island in the middle of the salt flat covered with nothing but cactus! What a strange phenomenon! We climbed to the top of this island.....surrounded by cactus, and we looked out to see the salt flat....that looks like ice. It was so surreal!

This was supossed to be the end of our time on Bolivia....driving back to Chile that night and the next day. On the ride back to Uyuni, I was looking at a map of South America, and I commented to Eleni on what a shame it was that we were so far north already, and we dont get to see more of Bolivia. After a few minutes, we looked at eachother mischeviously, and hurridly began planning a way to stay in Bolivia. We had quite a few obstacles to overcome....we´d already paid for the trip back to Chile, as well as for our tickets back to Santiago. This was Weds, and we also knew we had to be back in Santiago by Sunday...since school starts monday. When we arrived in Uyuni, we took all the necessary measures to allow us to stay in Bolivia.

This is why we are sitting near the bathrooms on the way back to Santiago. We had to call the bus company, and ask them to change our tickets. Except they couldnt over the phone. So we sent our tickets with a girl going back to San Pedro...who brought them to the office the next day to exchange them for a later date. All quite sketchy...and we were pretty afraid we´d lose out on the US $45 we spent on the tickets back.

But, we thought, you only live once! So, we jumped on a night bus to La Paz, the capital of Bolivia. You would not believe how sketchy it was! An old crappy bus, and Bolivia does not have paved roads that cross the country. At 4:30 in the morning, we arrived at some city, Oruru I think, and we told to change buses for the rest of the way. Wayyyyyyy sketchy. We arrived in La Paz in the morning Thursday...and spent the morning walking around the city. It is so is modern, to some extent, but has so much of an indigenous influence.

In the afternoon, we went to the Peru/Bolivia border, to Lake Titicaca, the famous Inca Lake. We spent the afternoon in Copacabana, where I climbed up an Inca ruin mountainside. It was amazing...and when I reached the top, there was a rainbow crossing the sky. What a perfect moment.

We spent that night in La Paz......US $8 for a hotel...yes a hotel room, with all the luxuries of a hotel. That was 4 dollars each. The most luxurious place we´ve stayed thus far, and the cheapest. That is just an example of how incredibly cheap Bolivia is. Its sad, because the people are so poor...but a little bit of money goes a long way.

Friday morning, we headed back to Chile :( . We spent the afternoon in Arica, the resort-ish northern most city of Chile. It felt like a tropical island city. How fun!

Now we are heading back to Santiago........and although I am incredibly sad that my 7 weeks of traveling throughout South America are over, I am thrilled that my sister is coming to visit in a week!

CIAO and I hope all is well with everyone!
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