Sunday, May 12, 2013

Hey! I´m not average height anymore!

        After all the unexpected hurdles trying to leave Peru, the universe seemed to start being on our side as we crossed the border into Chile. So many things could have gone wrong as we crossed the border that night in a collectivo (shared taxi) with 3 other Chilenos. Thankfully, we were in really good hands and everything went smoothly. From Arequipa we bussed south to the border town of Tacna. We got our delicious fruit taken away at a checkpoint midway (the town once had a devastating fruit fly infestation and now is taking strict precautions). So much for planning ahead and trying to avoid munching on crackers and cookies all day on the bus. Once in Tacna, we asked a taxi driver where the international bus terminal was. He gave us a funny look and pointed across the street. Duh. This is when our luck turned. We walked to the employee at the Control at the terminal internacional and asked her about crossing the border into Chile. It was about 6 pm at this point. She informed us that the border closed at 10 pm and Americans do not have to pay to enter Chile. YAY! Then she called a security guard on her walky talky to escort us and find us a collectivo to get us across the border. The security guard was so nice and did everything for us. He literally escorted us. The only freak-out moment we had was when the collectivo driver took our passports (along with the other passengers´ ID cards) to make border-crossing documents. We got our passports back and could breathe again. At the border our driver escorted us through every step. Exit Peru. Enter Chile. Done. Then he drove us into the Chilean border town of Arica. We arrived at their bus terminal and did not know where to go. It was about 8pm. We got into a local taxi and the driver asked us where we wanted to go. We said, we don´t know. Do you know of any safe hostels near the center?

        He took us to a wonderful hostel. A little more expensive than we wanted, but it was safe. The hostel was run by a very nice family. It was so nice to feel like we finally arrived safe and sound in Chile. We walked to el centro that night to find some food. That´s when the culture shock hit us. El centro was an outdoor shopping strip, like they have in the states. It reminded me of Santa Monica, California, especially because Arica is also a beach town. I didn´t expect Chile to be so developed compared to Peru. It blew my mind. We walked back towards our hostel, and although it was a straightforward walk, we managed to get turned around. Luckily, the owners of the hostel happened to be standing outside smoking their cigarettes, apparently on the lookout for us, and one of them shouted out Mallory´s name and ran half a block to steer us back on the right direction. How embarrassing, haha. The Chilenos made a very good first impression on us. They´re so nice! They´re a lot harder to understand, but they are so nice.


         Next stop: Iquique. Our real first stop. We spent 2 days taking a break from bus traveling. The beach was 1 block away from our hostel. Shortly after arriving, we had dinner at a small restaurant & the waiter surprised us with complimentary dessert, an amazing chocolate cheesecake, on the house! It´s official: the universe is on our side after all. In the morning I ran at sea level for the first time in 6 months along the beach. My lungs felt amazing. I felt like I could run forever... on sand even! Iquique is a really nice beach town. Still culture-shocked by the high-rise condo buildings, paved streets, professional taxis & buses, and drivers actually following lanes and giving way to pedestrians. Looming over the town and the beachfront is a giant sand dune, called Cerro Dragon. Iquique is known for body boarding, surfing, paragliding, and sandboarding off of Cerro Dragon. I have never seen the desert and the ocean so close together. There were palm trees and cacti growing side by side along the beach. The historical center of the town was really quaint with a boardwalk lined with colonial, saloon-style buildings leading to Plaza Prat, the main square. We got tan and sunburned.

Plaza Prat

Exercise park along the beach

We work out!

      Time to explore the Atacama desert! We traveled on to San Pedro de Atacama, the driest desert in the world, located in northern Chile, bordering Bolivia and Peru. Our first day we rented bicycles and rode 18 km to Laguna Cejar, which consists of 3 salt pools. The Atacama landscape looked like a pastel portrait of a mountain range with volcanoes in the background, and the sandy/salty desert flatland in the foreground, against a clear blue sky. So many shades of purple, blue, and pink! At Laguna Cejar, we got to swim in one of the pools. The salt to water concentration is so high that you are forced to float! It was the weirdest, but coolest sensation to be buoyant against my will. Floating around in that salty water was really fun. When we got out, the water evaporated and left our skin and hair super salty. We rode back to town during the sunset and watched the spectacular landscape change colors from light pastel colors to deeper shades. It was the most colorful sunset I have ever seen.The next day we rented bicycles again and rode out to la Valle de la Luna. We explored a salt-covered cavern and a sandy canyon, and biked to the giant geological rock formation, called el Amphitheatro. The area used to be a thriving salt mining community until the 1970s. Only a couple of the miners are still alive to tell their tale. The economy of San Pedro switched to tourism after the salt mining industry ceased because the country switched to mining sal de mar (sea salt) instead of sal de gema (rock salt) which was mined here.

Laguna Cejar salt pool 1

Floating in Laguna Cejar salt pool 2. Look, mom! No hands!

So buoyant I can walk on water! ;-P

Picturesque landscape. Volcanoes in the background.

Valle de la Luna: el Amphitheatro

        The Atacama desert has 360 days of clear skies per year. That makes it an ideal place for stargazing and astronomy. That night we went on an astronomy tour with SPACE Agency. We drove 15 minutes out of town to their observatory. It was a perfect, clear and moonless night. I could see the cloudy wisp of the Milky Way across the sky. We looked at the stars, constellations, Saturn, star clusters and nebulas through the observatory´s 9 telescopes. The telescopes were not that big. I mean, they did not take up an entire building. Especially compared to the ALMA Project being built here. ALMA = Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array telescope. It is the second largest science project in the world. It is an international partnership to build the biggest telescope ever, consisting of a circle of 66 telescopes with a diameter of 16 km!

San Pedro

La caverna in Valle de la Luna: salt everywhere!

Bicycling in Valle de la Luna

        Although we have only been in Chile for a week, San Pedro de Atacama is my favorite so far. It is so enchanting. I could stay a week to see all the sights it has to offer, such as the geysers, thermal baths, and other geological formations further out of town. Alas, we don´t have the luxury of time. We are trying to get to the Patagonia before it gets too cold. Winter is coming ;-)

P.S. Peru has the shortest average height in the world. Now that I´m in Chile, I am not average height anymore.

1 comment:

  1. I love your P.S. I learn something about demographics AND get a giggle, hehe.

    My favorite thing/most jealous of you thing is the salty water floating! I've always wanted to go the Great Salt Lake in Utah to try that! But your volcano background and cool desert and fun bike ride and foreign land version of salty floating makes me tingle with envy of and excitement for you! hehe. You sexy ladies with your dark salty skin isn't a bad image in my mind either!

    Thanks for posting all the pictures! You both look radiant and happy!

    Namaste Sweet One.