Arica, Arica

Trip Start Jul 02, 2003
Trip End Jan 17, 2004

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Sunday, December 21, 2003

Now I'm in Arica, at the very northern end of Chile and I've found an Internet place where I can upload some photos so here's some more on San Pedro and Bolivia.

First of all, a last photo of Easter Island, taken at sunset on my last night there.

Then here's a shot of a nice colonial building in Santiago, the Palacio de la Moneda - I'm sure this was painted a dark red colour last time I was in Santiago!

And now San Pedro - this is the main street in San Pedro - nice isn't it? Well behind the shabby facades some of the insides of the buildings are quite nice. Some of the restaurants have an open courtyard around a fire - it never rains here so they don't really have to bother with a roof although they tend to have some kind of roof to protect from the sun's rays during the day.

And here's a shot of the Valley of the Moon towards sunset.

And now the main story, the 4 day trip to Bolivia. One thing I forgot to mention last time was the music - now it seems that Chileans and Bolivians, and in fact all Latin Americans love their 80's music. If I never hear another Boney M song again it will not be a day too soon. Not only Boney M but delights such as 'the Lion Sleeps tonight' by Tight Fit and 'Tarzan Boy' by whoever that was. Not just played but mixed together into one great big 80's megamix! Nice! This was infinitely preferable to a 15 minute live mix of 'Christo Vive' by some random latin band which wouldn't have been so bad if they'd had any other lyrics besides 'Christo Vive'. Anyway, enough of that, we did persuade our guide to play some English music for a little while until he decided it was all too depressing and he needed another 80's fix.

First thing we did after crossing the border is to stop at the Laguna Blanca for a spot of breakfast and to get into groups of 6 as we transferred from the trusty old Toyota bus to a fleet of Land Cruisers. I got in the 'Brit' truck with 5 of us brits and an Irish girl with our driver Pauli. Then we headed off to the Laguna Verde, just round the corner ....

The Laguna Verde and Vulcan Lincancabur as seen from the Bolian Side - Chile is just the other side of the Volcano.

Then we climbed up to the highest Geyser field in the world for steaming jets of water, bubbling mud and all round noise and smells.

Then came the Laguna Colorado or coloured lake which is an amazing red colour. The colour apparently derives from Borax and is intensified by the micro-organisms that live in the lake. It's these micro-organisms that make up the diet of the thousands of flamingoes who live here.

Laguna Colorado

Flamingoes feeding on Laguna Colorado

On the second day we saw some more lakes and in the distance a smoking volcano - the second day was all about getting to the Salar de Uyuni though really, the massive salt pan.

This is us checking out the salt crystals on the Salar de Uyuni

More salt crystals! White as far as the eye can see.

And then in the middle of the salt pan is an 'island' - well it would have been an island when the lake was full of salt water. The island, Isla de Pescados is home to hundreds of ancient Cactus plants - the oldest of which are around 1200 years old. Apparently they only grow by about 1cm each year.

Then finally we got to Uyuni in Boliva and here's a couple of shots of the market before we headed back to Chile.

And so I was back in San Pedro when I last wrote to you stuck there with only a few pounds to my name and no means of getting any more money until I left the town. There was no bus the night I wanted to leave as it was full so I had to stay an extra night only to find that virtually all the hostels and hotels were full - well their single rooms were anyway. There was room in the dormitories but in a town where one of the main tours is a trip to a geyser field that involves leaving at 4am it's not a good idea to be sharing a dorm unless you're doing the trip! Eventually I settled for a double room to myself and made myself at home in a restaurant with Internet where I could pay on my credit card and spent the day catching up with you lot.

Then last night I finally got on the bus which is a Semi-cama (semi-sleeper). I'd been led to believe that this means you get similar leg room to a business class seat on a plane. Anyone who tells you this clearly hasn't flown in business class but overall it wasn't too bad apart from this is holiday season. The bus was full of Chileans - which normally would be a good thing if it wasn't for the fact that whole families are moving around to visit other family members for Christmas and so the bus is full of kids. Now most were well-behaved - apart from the one sat opposite me who was doing his best to keep the whole coach awake all night with his screaming - good thing I'm a heavy sleeper -I knew I didn't live next to a railway line for 4 years for nothing!

Having got to Arica I tried to find a cash-point - no luck of course, who would think of putting one near the bus station. Then I tried to find a taxi-collectivo - a shared taxi to take me to my hotel. Well I asked in the information desk in my best Spanish which isn't very good I admit - I asked which taxi collectivo to take to get to the railway station. The woman behind the desk just said that was the train station. I said that I knew that but there was a residential near there that I'd like to stay at - she just said that it was a train station and started making choo choo train noises. Again I tried to explain that I wanted to stay at a residential nearby - again more impressions of a steam train. At which point she directed me to the information desk 3 doors down where there was apparently someone who spoke English. So I went and asked if the woman there spoke English - "No" she said. Just "No" - not even a polite smile to suggest she might try to help me if I attempted some more pigeon Spanish. Undeterred I set off for the Taxi Collectivo rank outside and asked the first one where he went - I wanted to know what route he followed (they operate a bit like a bus service following a fixed route but in a car instead of a bus). He just said that he went all over and when I pointed at my map of the town and asked where he just looked blankly wondering why I was showing him a map. In the end I just got him to take me to the place I wanted to stay but going via the bank so I could get some money - of course it cost me twice the price to go via the bank and of course, when I got to 'La Maison de France' where I'm staying I found out that the bus station is literally round the corner and I could have walked it. So I felt a bit ripped off - but since the total taxi fare was only 2 pounds, I sometimes wonder why I bother! Hardly worth worrying about! So now I'm in Arica at La Maison de France which as it's name suggests is run by a French guy and is wife who are very friendly and it's good to be able to actually make myself understood again even if it's a bit bizarre speaking French in Latin America.

So Arica doesn't have a great deal going for it - it's got some nice beaches and that's it - in fact it's the only place in Chile where the water gets warm enough to actually go in the sea - most of it is freezing water brought up from the Antarctic by the Humboult current. The town is nothing spectacular so it will be good to get out tomorrow and head to Buenos Aires. As for this afternoon, I guess I'll just have to go and lie on the beach for a bit. Ho hum .....
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