Salty tales from the desert

Trip Start Sep 16, 2002
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Trip End May 31, 2004


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Flag of Argentina  ,
Wednesday, July 2, 2003

.. to quote the famous South African philosopher LR Grove: "Chile is a slightly misleading name as it isn't (in the North) and there is none" ...

So after the southern delights of Chile in Torres del Paine, it was time for the sequel and to finish off what I started in this ribbon shaped land. Once again I left Argentina and crossed the border into the middle of Chile and headed towards Pucon.

It was in this little town sitting on the lake Villarrica and in the distance the active Volcano of the same name would summon me to climb her because it was there and I was bored.
So I joined an international team including Dutch, Norwegian and French to head up the snowy cone. Unfortunately our guide was a little subdued and I later learned this was because the tour company he worked for had one client injured during a recent climb. The volcano is covered with hard snow and so it is important not to slip otherwise you slide very quickly and uncontrollably downhill. Which is what happened to one individual. Fortunately the person was not badly injured. However this meant that our ascent was a little on the slow side. After walking for only 10 minutes we were told to take a 5 minute break. Maybe he was tired, but I had the feeling he was maybe being a little overcautious and hoping we would not make it to the top. Which is exactly what happened.
As we got closer the wind picked up and clouds could be seen swirling around the summit. Not a good sign. And along with another group we had to abandon the hike. We were only about 200 metres off the summit. Instead we just admired the hazy view of the surrounding Andes and the silver lake Villarrica below. Although on the way down we were allowed (reluctantly) to slide down on our backsides which made up for the disappointment

The days of lazing in Pucon finally ended and we headed for the capital Santiago. The city in a bowl of dust. Imprisoned by a wall of mountains and lying in a sort of bowl-like depression, the city has a bit of a pollution problem. If you go up one of the small hills overlooking the city you see this suspended veil of dust covering the city. And poking through the top are the white tips of the Andean peaks. While staying in Santiago I did the wine tour thing, and treated my taste buds to one of the best reds I think I have ever tasted. For all you winos out there it was (Concha y Torro) Trio - Cabernet Sauvignon. It has a kind of full body, woody flavour with a hint of orange .....

Next stop was Valparaiso on the Chilean coast. The famous Naval city. Picture streets with sailors walking around, winding alleyways and stairways and funiculars leading up the 45 hills scattered throughout the city. It was from here that the Chilean Navy (assisted by the British Navy) defeated the Spanish Armada over the war of Independence. And later on in the war of the Pacific when Chile went to war and defeated Bolivia and Peru over the mineral-rich territory of the Atacama.
In fact it seems Chile seems to have been at odds with all its neighbours. Not only has it upset Peru and Bolivia, but Argentina arenīt to happy with them either for supporting the British in the Falklands war.

Passing through Viņa del Mar (Vineyard of the Sea) and then heading northwards where the climate and terrain start to become drier and more desolate.....the Atacama desert, the world's driest. Plonked in the middle is the small town San Pedro de Atacama. Getting nearer Bolivia and the people are changing (more indigenous). Ignoring the town this place feels like you have just landed on Mars. Funny that because NASA do testing here because of that very reason. Just north you have the steaming geysers of El Tatio. And south are the salts flats which also spread out into Bolivia ( where the biggest ones can be found ). I cycle through this moonscape land of red furnace valleys, sand dunes and earth scarred with strange rock formations. As the end of the day draws near, the sun paints on the desert canvas using its colour palette of red, yellow, orange, green and violet.... and with the sun slowly sinking, the temperature starts to bite and the brightest stars sparkle and pierce the dry desert air.

Then Chile gave way to one more jaunt into Argentina, Salta to be exact. Already been here far too long, but one day I met an intrepid ( mad? ) cyclist called Alistair who is currently cycling around the world ( website below ). Having done Africa he is now doing the Americas. Now I dont quite know how this happened, but after talking to him for a few hours I went out and bought myself a bike. And I am not the first person he inspired to adopt this new mode of transport. Obviously there is something quite appealing about cycling through villages, valleys and stunning landscapes. Besides it was time for a change from the norm. There is only so much sightseeing and bussing you can do before it wears thin. I would always wander what I was missing out on when passing through by bus. Wouldn't it be nice to stop off and take a look around?
So its off to Bolivia and Peru.....by bike.


Click here to jump to more info on Alistairs world trip by bike
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