Stunning North Chile: Lauca and Salar de Surire

Trip Start Oct 07, 2010
Trip End Mar 13, 2011

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Sunday, January 16, 2011

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Took the bus in from Areqipa and the first thing really noticeable was the really dry desert in Peru once leaving the Andes. Getting to the town of Tapna near the border, a changeover to the border crossing bus full of Peruvianw heading to Chile I guess for working.
Chile is 2 hours in front of Peru and the resr of western South America. I quickly went to the hostel and took some pictures ofmthe sunset. The climate is very pleasant here to say the least!
Dinner at a restaurant on the water with huge waves crashing nearby before heading out with a group from the hostel to a concert on the beach (no beer anywhere) and onto the local club. The peeps here are definitely South American height, the drinks not cheap at all and generally poor service all meant fun and games :-) a major difference to Brazil where they were taller, more boisterous and the boys much chattier.

Day 1 of the 3 day tour, the morning was spent checking out the local museum with mummies preserved by the super dry conditions (some over 5000 years old!) After picking up 2 others for the tour, we had lunch in a very cute restaurant in a valley at drains into Arica. Dry all around except for the valley floor, which was a lush green. We passed various geoglyphics that were apparently over 2000 years old. There are 2 ways at they are done in this part of e world, dug out or stones piled up.  In this case, it was just stones piled up. What made it interesting is that there is so little rain here that they survived all that time!  Water rights are really important in this super parched piece of turf, and by all a CPU ts the rainfall is down 70% in the past 5 years. So this part of the world is going to have some interesting times in the near future as it depletes it's water table. 
We learned the reason the nearby Atacama is very dry is that it's a high desert, protected from the coastal and Amazonian moisture by the Andes on either side. As we started to ascend, the landscape changed in unusual ways. The desert at sea level remained till 1km and some of the valleys started having water in them. We continued up the Andes, stopping at cure villages along the way and having coca tea before arriving in the gorgeous  but unfortunately named place called Putre.     
Day 2 of the tour, park Lauca Chile. What more can you ask for, set on the altiplano at 4.3km with plenty of 6km mountains around, clear blue skies, wide range of scenery from Atacama desert dry, to valleys of cactus to lush green plains backed by white capped volcanoes. The park is fed by snowmelt and rains in the huge mountains around, creating a lush valley with stunning surroundings. What's amazing is there are no tourists!  Lots of vicunas, llamas, guanacos and alpacas: all 4 are from the same family though Alpacas and Llamas are domesticated, Alpacas edible and good wool, Llamas also eaten but less favoured and  usually used for carrying things, vicunas have the softest fur in the world (silk is the only natural fibre softer), the Guanaco looks like a Vicuna but taller and isn't usually eaten or used for anything. Higher in the park are lagoons teeming with birds ranging from ducks, flamingos, swallows, cormorants and storks. The pity about the park is that the main road from Bolivia to the port goes rough it, so lot a of trucks ply the road though the stunning park. Once off the road, it was truly bliss, with a plethora of animals such as the local rabbit with a curly tail, the flamingos making a great foreground in the lakes with snow capped volcanoes behind. After a series of walks, we had a quick tour of a church that was on the main route of transporting the silver and tin from Potosi to the Pacific where it would go to Panama, be hauled overland to the Caribbean and sailed to Spain. The church had lots of silver in it as gifts from the travelling groups as luck for their journey.  Very interestingly, it stopped being used once the French and British went to war with Spain mid 17 century and their blockade and support of the pirates meant it was too dangerous in the Pacific. Instead, the took it via Tarija (Bolivia) and Salta in Argentina to the aptly named, Rio Plata. The river took it's Anke from transporting all the silver up it. Even more so, Argento is the Latin name for silver.  Argentina has it's name originated in the silver transportation business, well, at least that's what our guide said :-)      
Day 3: Salar de Surire: another day of stunning altiplano views.  Drier landscape than yesterday though only a valley over.  It was another gorgeous morning as we drove up the same road as yesterday. There was a lot of frost around.  Apparently it's rainy season here but the winds from Pacific push back the clouds from the Amazon keeping the nights cooler and the rain way down on usual.  We turned onto a side dirt road that was heavily used by trucks transporting the mineral sands / salt from the dried salt lake we were visiting. It was about 100km in all on dirt roads and we passed huge gaggles of flamingos, prides of alpaca and jitters of vicunas (ok so going a little overboard on the animal group adjective ;-) took a million pictures and plenty of Disco in the thermal hot springs 
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