To the "Navel of the World"...

Trip Start Feb 01, 2014
Trip End Jul 03, 2014

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Flag of Chile  ,
Monday, April 7, 2014

-  Distance Travelled since last post : 9,067.5 miles
-  Total Distance Travelled : 20,145.8 miles
-  Total Time on Bus : 181 hours

Time for another entry and, as usual, weīve left it quite a while since we posted anything - sketchy internet and working our way back up the length of Chile and Argentina is to blame! As a result, this entry is a bit of a monster and crams quite a bit in, so in return thereīs extra photos if you make it to the bottom!

After a day of rest following the end of the īWītrek, we headed back to El Calafate where we visit the perito Merino glacier. At 30km long, the Perito Merino glacier is one of the few glaciers in the world that is growing - owed to the fact that 70% of it resides high in the glacial field, in the glacial creation zone. It advances at an average of 2meters/day, this results in a spectacular sight (and sound) of large parts of the glacier constantly dropping off into the lake below. As well as admiring this spectacle, we hiked over the ice and enjoyed a whisky cooled with the ancient glacial ice.

From El Calafate we took our longest bus journey yet, a rip-roaring 29hrs up to the Argentinian Lake District - Bariloche. We enjoyed the stunning scenary by bike, riding a 24km circuit up and down lots of hills broken up with spectacular views and a small local brewery. With our Irish companion, Susie, we made our way further north to the wine region surrounding Mendoza. The bus journey was one of the best so far, not only did Martin get to drive the bus, but Susie won the bus bingo and we enjoyed a free bottle of wine, along with champagne whilst reclining in our massive leather seats. We enjoyed the winearies by bike and bus - seeing the spectrum of qualities of wines produced - we are now malbec "experts"!!

Leaving Mendoza also signalled the end of our time in Argentina, as we headed over the nearby-ish border in to Chile (which was an incredibly scenic bus trip through the Andes mountains). We stopped off briefly in Santiago to change buses to get to our first destination, which was a small town further south called Pucon. We climbed Villaricca - one of Chileīs most active volcanoes. At 2,800m it was a stiff climb, with the top 1/2 being ice, so with cramp-ons strapped on we made it to the summit. The view was spectacular, ruined only by the lung-searing sulphuric fumes. The best part had to be sliding back down the ice on small sledges, using an ice-pick to help slow our speed (though it had little effect).

After a 2 day stop over in Santiago, we embarked on one of our most exciting adventures so far. We flew more that 2,000 miles west of Chile to the small land mass, Easter Island. With a population of less than 6,000 and area of just over 60 sqmiles, this isolated Island is completely unique. Itīs thousands of miles from the next area of land, and can only be accessed from Santiago, Chile, or Tahiti. We had 5 days learning about the history of the island and itīs famous Moai (the large stone heads). There are close to 900 Moai doted around the island. Some are errected on plinths, some still lie, face-down, in the ground. Almost half of them are still located in the quarry where the majority of them were made.

The big mysteries of the island are; where did the original inhabitants  come from, why were the Moai constructed and how were they moved to the various sites around the island. There are many theories regarding all of these questions but the most widely believed (or atleast, what we were told), was that the inhabitants were from polynesia. Itīs hypothesised that the king, Hotu Matuīa, ordered the construction of the Moai to occupy the population and based the image on a wooden statue that he had carried with him. The Moai watched over the people and protected the innocent and kept an eye on the criminals. Old songs tell of how they walked across the island - leading experts to believe they were moved standing up and walked forward on sledgesī. The entire population died-out as they did not prepare for the future and slashed and burned all of the trees and destroyed the local populations of birds. Tribes were formed and the cult of the Moai ceased to exist, instead the cult of the birdman (tangata manu) became important to restore order on the island. This too however died-out.

Easter Island was where we were when the 8.2 earthquake hit northern Chile. Although there was an air-raid siren on the island that went off, we were completely unaware on the Tsunami warning that had been issued - we even spent much of the evening sat at the coastline enjoying the stars! Luckily there was no tsunami, but there were a few more earthquakes - including one which we felt in Valparaiso measuring 5.6. Valparaiso was our next stop, a beautiful, brightly coloured city perched on several hills. It has nearly 30 funicular railways accessing these hills, although unfortunately a lot of them are no longer in use. It used to be a major port for those accessing the West coast of America during the gold rush. Unfortunately it lost all of itīs importance once the panama canal was constructed.

We seemingly were not satisfied with the small earthquake we had experienced and we headed to the epicentre of the 8.2 in the town of Iquique. Declared a disaster zone only 4 days earlier, it was a ghost town when we arrived. Although some of the roads out of the town were craked, less than 1% of the population had been displaced by the earthquake - amazing really considering the size of it. Our reason for visiting this area was the Humberstone and Santa Laura saltpeter works. These are 2 former saltpeter (potassium nitrate) refineries which were abandoned in 1960. What remains are deserted factories and a town with a theatre, school, houses, hospital etc... It was named a Unesco world heritage site in 2005 and due to itīs high level of disrepair it remain an site highly in danger of being lost.

Our last stop in Chile was San Pedro De Atacama. A small town in the dryest desert on earth. Although filled with tourists, the town has a lovely atmosphere. We had a fun-packed few days of sandboarding, star-gazing, visiting geysers and floating in salt lakes.

We then headed across the border to Bolivia and the amazing Salar De Uyuni.
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