Saturday, May 30, 2015

Wednesday, May 27, 2015: San Pedro de Atacama to the Mountain Lakes & Salt Lakes.

What a day!!  It was still dark when a 15 passenger van picked us up at 7:10 am and I would describe the temperature at that time of day, as very chilly. We picked up a total of 11 passengers and headed out of town, driving south along the Andes Mountain range.  The drive was on a good road, the sunrise was beautiful, but as we climbed the temperature was definitely falling!  We were about 80 km. out of town when all of a sudden there was a tire issue.  Oops, the left rear tire only had two of the 5 lugs holding it on!!!  No wonder there was suddenly a lot of vibration.  The driver immediately called the tour company to send out another van. In the meantime, several older gentleman (older than us) in the group suggested he take 1 lug from the other rear tire (not front tire) so this tire would 3 lugs and the other tire would have 4, giving us a chance to go on to the only next town on the road where we would be having breakfast.  This worked!  By the time we finished breakfast a replacement van had arrived.  In the transfer of our stuff, tire chains were also put into the new van.  Tire Chains!!  What is this all about?  Well, in another 40 km we were driving on roads covered with newly fallen snow. It honestly was only a half inch, but when we entered a National Park, all vehicles had to stop and put on chains.  Well, this was not an easy process, especially when the chains are not in the best of repair!  All ideas were applied to the process – even an old rag was used to hold them on!!!!!(see photo). By the time we reached our destination there was approximately 1 ½ inches of snow on the ground.  Most of the other tourists had never been in snow. They were feeling it and taking all sorts of photos, but by now it was COLD. 

Sun Rise

Tropic of Capricorn Marker on the Inca Trail

Old Inca Trail

Snow Covered Road

Vicuna along the road

Putting Chains on to get to the lakes
From the time we left San Pedro we kept climbing higher and higher until we were at 13,000 ft. in the Andes Mountains.  We are at this location viewing 2 lakes created at the base of two mountain peaks.  These lakes are known for their birdlife – one of the birds builds its nest on the water to stay away from predators.  They use sea weed growing in the lake and somehow stabilize their nest to the sea weed but their nest is actually floating in the lake. While at the lake enjoying the view, mountains and lakes, it began to snow!  The other tourists went crazy taking photos in the falling snow! 

Oh and one other thing – the last 4-5 kms of the climb this replace van had transmission issues, but thank goodness they were able to fix it.  What a day regarding transportation.  However throughout the whole day we had wonderful views of the snow covered Andes Mountain in this part of Chile. At the elevations below the snow covered peaks it is desert, but not as barren as we saw around Calama yesterday.  Today there was some sage brush and other desert plants – some even had little pink flowers. 

Lake (Laguna) Miscanti

Laguna Miniques

More Vicuna

After being at the top, we began our descent.  We are now enroute to the area of salt lakes.  There is a large area with salt deposits.  Due to there not being rain, the salt deposits are not flat like we think of then in Utah.  (see photo)  There are three species of flamingo who love this area, as well as other birdlife. It was an extremely interesting area – however not what we were expecting. 

Flamingos at Salt Lake 


Salt Crystals

Salt Crystals near the Slat Lake

On the return trip we saw several herds of Vicuma – wild llamas. 

What an interesting day.  Tomorrow we are beginning our day at 5:00 am.  Again we have to drive a distance and need to be there at daybreak to see geysers erupting. Warm clothes will definitely be needed again.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015: Santiago to San Pedro de Atacama

Monday night when our host arrived home from work (his family owns a private school that uses both English & Spanish in their classes – he is the CEO), he told us he had reservations at a Cultural Dance & Music dinner theater at 8:00.  It was a very interesting evening, music and dances from the different parts of Chile, as well as Easter Island and the Polynesian Islands.  We had another great meal.

We are finding the food to be mostly the same ingredients that we use, but prepared slightly different.  They use a lot of pork, beef & chicken, plus seafood.  We thought we would have lots of rice and beans, but so far we have not had them once, instead it has been potatoes (mashed) and corn, used in many ways. I’m sure we’ll get rice and beans in Brazil, if not before!
This morning was relaxing before we left for the airport.  On the way we stopped at our host’s school for a tour.  It is a school of 1300 students from nursery to 12th grade.  The school facilities are great, and there is up-to-date technology in each classroom.  We were impressed. 
At the airport we boarded a flight to Calama, a city in northern Chile.  This is an area of extreme desert where lots of mining takes place.  The mining of copper is the largest export of Chile. Mining! I think there were only 4 women on the flight – it is Tuesday and the miners were returning to work.
The sight from the airplane windows for the first half of the flight out of Santiago was of continuous mountains.  It was a beautiful sight as they were in a blue haze. The last half of the flight was desert and desert mountains!  Unreal! Then we began seeing wind turbine farms - somebody must be using this power source.  By the time we were landing in Calama I was beginning to wonder about coming to this “god forsaken” area - the driest zone in the planet’s driest desert, but Calama is an oasis city in this dry desert. There were green trees!  We had decided to come to this area because it is a unique area and off the beaten tourist path. Our destination, the town of San Pedro de Atacama is the most popular tourist spot in northern Chile.
Mystic Andes Mountains

Wind Field near Calama

The Calama Region
 A tour guide with whom we had made arrangements met us at the Calama airport.

We had an hour drive on good roads through this desert (no towns, villages or houses) to another oasis town of San Pedro de Atacama – we will be based in San Pedro for the next 3 days – each day taking tours out into the desert to see unique things. We went directly to our accommodations owed by our tour guide. We are in a new room attached to her home located out in the country.  After settling in for a few minutes we went with her back into town to get a bite to eat and check out the town of San Pedro.

Our San Pedro Host House

We had to drive through the river to get to the house
San Pedro is a unique place in itself, as it is trying to retain its authentic pre Incan charm.  The adobe houses are built out of red sand bricks/blocks and there are walls around all the homes and courtyards.  The streets are dirt (no pavements), and there are little store fronts up and down the dusty streets.  Half of the store fronts are restaurants, tourist guides, the other half are back packer hostels, and trinket hawkers.  There is a lovely tree lined plaza in the middle of the town.  We settled on a restaurant where we ordered a small pizza, as we had a full meal on our flight north. 

Main Street in San Pedro

Restaurants near the City Plaza

Town from City Plaza

San Pedro at night
The weather is interesting.  As soon as the sun sets it turns COLD, but in the sun it is hot.  Our Host in Santiago loaned us heavy coats to wear these few days – thank goodness!! Tonight we were wearing them to walk around town.  Tomorrow we will be leaving our accommodations at 7:00 am and it will be cold – we are wearing layers so we can shed as it gets warm.  This will be an interesting few days!      

Monday, May 25, 2015

Monday, May 25, 2015: Santiago, Chile

We both slept well last night!  Today they have arranged for an English guided tour of Santiago.  We first went to a lookout area on a mountainside where we could see a lot of the city of Santiago in the valley below.  To get there we drove by many up-upscale home!!  The next four hours we spent driving to sights around the city, from “uptown” to “downtown”, the government building, the National Cathedral, important plazas, sculptures of important people, learning about Chilean history along the way, ending at the old fish market.  There we went to a lovely restaurant for our midday meal. We tried foods that we had seen and did not sample yesterday.

Our Host and her Daughter overlooking Santiago

Aloe Vera Plant - Flowering

Presidential Palace

National Cathedral

Ceiling of Cathedral

High Alter in the Cathedral

The Fish Market

More Food at the Fish Market - Very tasty
We had a great day, with our co-host and her daughter.  The daughter also speaks great English, interpreting for her Mom.   Our tour guide had lived in Miami when she was in Jr Hi & High school. She is an asset to the Tourist industry here in Chile.

We returned to the apartment about 4:00 and took a short nap, as we do not know what the rest of the day holds!       

Sunday, May 24, 2015: Santiago, Chile

The 9 hour flight went well and in fact we arrived a few minutes early into Santiago.  Surprisingly both Cal & I slept more on the flight than we have ever slept on an overnight flight – don’t ask me why.  The temperature in Santiago when we landed was 40oF.  What a surprised, as we left the plane we felt a blast of very cool air. It’s winter time in Chile!
Our Rotarian friend was waiting for us when we left customs at the airport - it was good to see someone we knew.  We came back to his apartment for a brief rest, shower, coffee and a light snack.  On our way to a restaurant for our midday meal, we had a brief tour of the city.  Santiago is located in a valley between the high Andes Mountians on the east and a lower coastal range on the west. Today it was extremely hazy, we hope tomorrow is clear.  
By 2:00 we arrived at a wonderful restaurant where we dined and visited until after 5:00pm.  Yes they dine! We sampled a lot of different foods - from seafood to beef- everything was very good. We also saw other dishes we want to try sometime along the way.  We were joined at the restaurant by the son of our co-host and his fiancĂ©. They are both lawyers and will be having their wedding this summer – first a civil wedding in June and later a traditional church wedding.  We had a great visit - their English was GREAT! – they learned it in school.
The Restaurant where we had dinner

Our host, Son and Finance

Delicious Dinner
After dinner we went to the courtyard outside a church where there was a large number of artisans who are selling their creations.  Many of the shops were displaying and selling local and indigenous works.  It was very interesting to see the type of things that are made locally.  Because of our space confinements we resisted purchasing anything! If you are in the sun the temperature was great, but in the shade it was chilly and you wanted a jacket.
Folkloric Handcraft Fair - Los Dominicos

Rachel and our Host
Before returning to the apartment, we continued a short tour of Santiago.
By 8:00 we were tired and ready for bed!  We have a big day planned for tomorrow, touring Santiago.