Mars, Moon or Earth?

Trip Start Feb 04, 2007
Trip End May 26, 2007

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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Monday, April 23, 2007

I updated my blog last when I was in Santiago, Chile.  Since then we´ve trekked quite the distance in order to maintain our schedule of reaching Cuzco, Peru by April 27th.  I have seen so much it´s hard to know where to start from.  Our trip has taken us from one of the richest cities in South America (Santiago) to Bolivia, one of the poorest countries.

From Santiago, we flew to Iquique, the northernmost city in Chile.  Upon getting off the plane, I was totally taken back, as I truly felt I had just landed on Mars.  Iquique is surrounded by thousand kilometer tall, red mountains looming over a city coming right up to bright blue waters.  The most bizarre part was the lack of vegetation.  Zero, as part of the world´s driest desert, the land is barren, raining almost never. 

It was here we went paragliding for the first time.  With very little guidance and even less preparation, Miguel(my guide) and I literally jumped off a cliff, for a 25 minute float down to the sand dunes (see the pictures). 

From Iquique, we went south to San Pedro de Atacama, the Chilean boarder town we stopped in before beginning a two night, three day journey through the most unbelievable landscape I´ve ever seen.  As we gathered in the early hours of the morning, it was me, Joe and three Frenchies, along with a guide.  After piling into the LandCruiser, we proceeded through the desert, seeing unbelievable rock formations, Mars-like landscapes, the Valle de la Luna, a lake with 45,000 flamingo´s balancing on it and at the end, the best for last, the largest salt flat in the world.  12000 sq km, Solar de Uyuni. 

The nature we saw in these three days was truly breathtaking both at it´s vastness as well as it´s unmatched beauty of anything I´ve seen.  After the tour, we went to Potosi, which has been a mining town for over three hundred years.  The purpose of this out of the way journey was to do a day tour of the mines.  We had been told by others along our trip that this was not to be missed.  We arrived, and with minimal sleep, we suited up for a day I will never forget.  At 4070 (about 14000 feet) meters, Potosi is one of the highest altitudes I´ve ever experienced.  This, combined with 4 foot ceilings, arsenic in the air, minimal salaries and temperatures that range from freezing to 114 degrees Fahrenheit, the workers die at the average age of 40-45, with pensions only kicking in at 45 years old.  The mind yields silver, lead, zinc and other minerals.  It was an eye opening experience that made me appreciate my life, including 8 hour days.  This in comparison to the miner´s 12, 15, 20 and 24 hours shifts.

We are now in La Paz, Bolivia and tomorrow we will go mountain biking down ¨The world´s most dangerous road¨.  But not to worry, we are going with the only company in town that can claim no deaths in the last year! 
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