Sunday, 20 March 2016

Sweet Sucre

Catching the bus in Potosi to who-knows-where.
The white city of Sucre.
Monuments and beauty everywhere.
The bus from Potosi to Sucre was uneventful, but the way to the terminal was quite interesting. The taxi I got to the bus was one of the oldest and run-down cars I've ever seen. Cairo has many old Peugeots for taxis, some of which shouldn't be on the road, and here is no different, apart from the fact that you can just buy a ‘taxi’ sticker and start your own business – no meters or licence, just cash for rides. The locks didn't work in this 70s Corolla, nor did the windows wind up or down, they were stuck in a perpetual half-open half-closed state (depending on how you see things), and it also didn't go very fast. This didn't stop the ‘taxi driver’ from picking up 3 other passengers along the way and really getting his money's worth. I feel that when I catch a taxi here in countries like this, I need to get the worst looking car there is – I think the driver needs all the business he can get, and I hope he is saving up for a new ride. I bought my bus ticket from a booth, and there are no computers like in Chile or Argentina, just a small book where you write your name (or nationality sometimes) and you have a bus ticket! No queues, and never a problem with no tickets here in Bolivia! The terminal is full of Bolivian women calling out, trying to sell bus tickets to various destinations, so while waiting for my bus to pull up, I was treated to a symphony of high-pitched female voices calling out destinations I've never heard of, over and over again. I finally get on my bus and head on my way, but not before paying the 1 Boliviano for the bathroom (no toilet on the bus) and the 2 Bolivianos for the ‘exit tax’ from the terminal.

Dried out baby llamas in the markets - they burn these for 'Pachimama' at Carnival.
Arriving in Sucre, I was impressed already – the hills surrounding the city and the greenness of them! So far, Bolivia had really enchanted me, but coming into Sucre and spending a few days here made me believe that I could move here and be happy. A few places have done that to me, Bariloche being one, and now this city in Bolivia had as well. I hiked up from the bus office, and although I was weighed down by 20kg on the back and about 15 on the front (yes I get around with all this shit… it’s great for the legs though!) I wasn't thinking about how heavy it all was but more looking around at the beautiful city and getting excited. I dumped my stuff at the hostel, a lovely one called The Beehive, and met up with an American friend who I hadn't seen since Puerto Natales back in December. It’s always a good thing to meet new people, but even better to catch up with the people that you got on so well with before. The first night in town and it was out to the local Irish bar for a quiet drink (or six) with the people from the hostel. Free shots of tequila from the owner went down well, and ended up having a few more than planned but I had a nice bed to crash in and a col town to explore at my leisure tomorrow. Welcome to Sucre!

The cheeky smile from the local butcher - I asked and she posed happily!
The dog knows where it's at.
Butchers at the Sucre market.
Markets have become my favourite place in Bolivian cities, and now in South America in general - Peru and Ecuador continue the tradition of great local markets. The first level is the fresh fruit and meat - walking into these places are just an assault on your senses, in a good way. The colours and the strange shapes of the tropical fruits, the ladies calling out their wares, waving their menus at you to entice you to their stall, which is the same as the next person's. I loved just wandering around taking photos of the locals buying and selling meat and cheese and flowers, and then there is the hundred varieties of potatoes! One woman had a cow nose on her bench - yes, just a nose. I saw cow's tongues, balls and everything in between. Although I didn't buy my meat here, I did get a chorizo burger for 13 Sol ($5), which wasn't the cheapest thing around but very, very tasty. I came back whenever I was hungry and the following day had lunch with my friend and we shared a 'mondongo' and 'saice ranga,' which are both some sort of meat dish that I can't quite remember apart from being really tasty and only 12 sol ($4.50) and 15 sol ($6) respectively. Feeling very satisifed after lunch, I explored the city a little futher than my stomache and walked up the viewpoint to get a look at the whole city.

Preparing corn and babysitting at the same time.
One of the beautiful doorways in Sucre.
And another doorway.
Sucre, which is also known historically as Charcas, is the constitutional capital of Bolivia with more than 250,000 people. The centre is all white - in fact the law states that if you live within a certain radius of the centre you have to paint your house white, which is  a start contrast to the unpainted and unfinished buildings that are normally found in this country. The city was founded in 1538 by the Spanish and retains that Spanish feel, the churches, architecture and grid layout. The city was favoured by wealthy people who made a living from the silver mines in Potosi, the city enjoys temperate weather that is just perfect. The altitude here is still a little high at 2,800m and I still had to be careful walking up too many hills and stairs. It is full of tourists, but you don't get hassled on the streets, which I later found in Cusco, but there are shops selling the usual knitted wear, gloves, scarfs and hats that seem way too hot for this weather here. The streets are filled with old cars that are barely running, and going with my rule of the worst car, a grabbed a taxi and was immediately confused. It took me a while to realise that the steering wheel had been changed to the left side, giving me a clear view of the speedo (which didn't work) and the odometer (which was up to 740,000kms!), and also straight down to the road - I did my bit and gave the guy an extra bit of money and hoped he was saving for a new car. In contrast to this, the city boats a huge number of Volkswagen Beatles, most in wonderful condition. I even saw one that was a 'copisteria' (photocopy centre) and there was acutally a copy machine in the van. There were also a few ute-style VWs as well - a rare sight in most countries.

Bolivia, I'm in love with you already!
The lively market of Sucre.
Sucre was a time to relax for me, meet up with a friend and just generally have a good time without doing any tours or anything on the tourist trail. I could have stayed much longer. In fact, I felt that I could just stay! But I needed to move on, as time was money, and money I have very little of. Time and money means an overnight bus, and my next stop was La Paz - the highest capital city in the world. I'd heard a few things about this city - be careful one of them. I rarely hang out late at night in strange cities alone, and I am always careful in South America, so I knew I'd be fine. I was worried about the hostel situation - I booked the day before, and could only really find party hostels. Here goes nothing!

The Beatles of Sucre.

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Uyuni Salt Flats

A typical salt house and the typical charge for the loo.
The only 2 sober people in the village.
Look out for llamas!
There are numerous 'Salt Hotels' out here for two reasons - one, it's popular with the tourists, and 2, it's the most abundant building material they have. The salt bricks re carved straight out of the salt flat itself, and then the 'mortar; is of salt and water mixed together and left to set. Easy! Our whole hotel was made out of salt, and although it was cool to look at, not really comfortable to sit no salt benches or sleep on salt beds. I woke up during the night short of breath - I sat up, sucked in a few big breaths, then went straight back to sleep. Catch up oxygen. Before dinner on the 2nd night, we interrupted a Carnival party in the small village we were staying in. We first heard whistles and people just generally making a lot of noise, and so came out to investigate. Every person who lived here was out to party, and they were all drunk too - grandmas and young men alike! We were invited to join in, and did the best we could, playing local instruments like the drum and some kind of flute, as well as drinking everything that was forced upon us (which happened to be served in buckets, tea pots as well as convention cans), and trying to speak to everyone over the noise and alcohol in Spanish. The party was for Pachamama, or Mother Nature, praying that she would bring the rains for their crop of Quinoa. Fast becoming very popular in Western countries such as The US, this local plant is becoming too expensive for the locals to buy or keep, forcing them to sell it all off to expensive health food stores for hipsters to pay top dollar, causing the locals to not be able to eat any at all. Good news on the rain front though - Mama delivered, and it came pouring in! The only problem with this was tomorrow we were due out on the salt plain, and too much rain means no 4x4 will go out there. Fingers crossed.

Hello Llama!
Attack of the 50ft woman!
The rain from 'Pachamama.'
Good news! There was rain, a big storm actually, but the tour shall go on! Juan has put some plastic out under the car to protect it somewhat, and we headed out into the big, flat plain that now looked like an ocean - and ocean the same pale colour as the sky, a complete reflection. I was worried for out driver - he said he wasn't out partying with the locals at Carnival, but I didn't believe him. He turned up 30 minutes late to pick us up, smelt like booze and was napping at the wheel while driving out on the flat. Lucky it's so damn huge and we couldn't hit anything, but the last thing you want is your driver hang over (or still drunk) and driving you out in the middle of nowhere. Juan got it together by chewing on loads of coca leaves. We were here to do the photos that everyone does - the jumping ones and the perspectives ones too, but they aren't as easy as you would think! Firstly there is water everywhere, salty water, so laying on the ground to get that right angle is a no no. We finally managed to get some in, and by this time our driver has perked up and so he took some of all 6 of us. Apart from the funny photos, there isn't much to do here - it's stark but beautiful, but there's only so long you can stand in a puddle of salty water and say "it's wonderful isn't it." We drove on out of there, headed to a short stop at the Dakar monument. The famous desert race will be passing through here in June, and it was ready for them - flags and statues (made out of salt of course) and a hotel ready to go too. It was like an island in the middle of a calmest sea you've ever seen.

The Shot that everyone wants.
Dakar monument.
The train cemetery.
Our last stop before arriving in the actual town of Uyuni was the train cemetery. These train date back to the early 20th Century and are all steel locomotives. Uyuni at the time was an important transport hub, connection Bolivia with Peru and Argentina. It's incredible how they were just left here, abandoned as it became too difficult to built more infrastructure on these salt plains - they has since rusted up badly. Nowadays people climb them and take selfies, and what was usable in the engines has long been taken and replaced by graffiti. Even with the people there, it was quiet and quick spooky - a real grave yard. The town of Uyuni, a 2 minute drive from here, was another story. Not the prettiest town in the world, but my first view of a Bolivia city. Everyone was either drunk or trying pretty hard to get there - Februaury is Carnival time, and it pretty much goes the whole month. Deliveries of beer were turning up to shops, people staggering down the street, booze in hand, and of course a few lads werent able to hold all that liquid in either. I wanted to get out, and get out now - there was nothing in this town for me. I was covered in salt, tired, and just wanted a hot shower and a bed - something that hadn't fit the description lately in Bolivia so far. I bought the first bus out of town, leaving in an hour, to the city Potosi. I'd never heard of it before, but I was going there. The bus was also ready for Carnival, but I was hoping the driver had behaved himself, also as he was driving his whole family in the front. We left, and the bus was full - I was next to a Bolivian woman, dressed in her colourful wrap and her little bowler hat - a real authentic bus trip. Postosi it was - let's see what you have!

Leaving Uyuni.
Potosi cathedral.
Brick houses of Potosi.
The city of Potosi is one of the highest cities in the World, sitting at just over 4000m, and also used to be one of the wealthiest cities in South America for one reason - silver. The World's largest silver mine is here, and it has been continuously mined since the 16th Century with the arrival of the Spanish. For centuries is was also the location of the Spanush mint. Back in the day the silver was transported by llama to the Pacific coast, then shipped to Panama and then onto Spain. Nowadays, the city isn't as affluent as it used to be - the new part of the city has sprawled over the hills, the houses made out of red brick and mostly unfinished, reminded me of Kathmandu. The reason for the unfinished houses, with their steel reinforcement sticking up in the air and the unpainted bricks, is that you have to pay a tax when you finish your house - and who wants to pay taxes right? I could count on my fingers the painted houses in town. The old part of town, up on the hill, is still quite pretty and worth a wander around. It has the beauty of past Colonial days, yet the hustle and bustle of modern Bolivia. I walked around the city, and down into the new part, which was much busier and crazier than the old centre, and really got a feel of the city. Up until now, as much as I loved Chile and Argentina, I hadn't felt that I was seeing he real South America. Bolivia, which the women wearing traditional colourful clothes and bowler hats, felt like the real deal - busy, colourful and more of what I thought I would see when I landed on the continent last year. My next stop in this beautiful country is Sucre - the "White City."

A woman and her dog sitting on the steps of the cathedral, Potosi.

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Bolivia Baby!

Bolivia Baby!
Leaving Chile.
The queue at the Bolivian border.
An early start on the bus to the border of Chile and Bolivia, but I was excited! I was moving onto a new and exciting country, ready for 3 days on the Uyuni Salt Flats. There were 3 of us, myself and two Danish girls who I'd met in San Pedro - the other 3 of our group were out there somewhere, ready to spend the next few days in a 4x4 with us. The border crossing, as per usual, took god damn ages. The Chileans are never in a rush in this regard it seems - it's like they don't want anyone to leave! Having crossed from Argentina and Chile and back so many times, I started using my Chilean ID Card to save stamp space in my passport, and up until now this hadn't caused a problem - the Argentines are laid back and relaxed with just about anything. The same cannot be said about the Bolivians however. I didn't get a stamp for Bolivia, and I was quite upset as I love my stamps - I had to enter the country as a Chilean National. There will be problems leaving Bolivia I just knew it, but for now, I was in and that was all that mattered. I'm in Bolivia baby!

Just beautiful - desert, mountains, salt and wildlife are abundant here in Uyuni.
The sweeping beauty of Uyuni.
The daily feed for the little guy.
I had been warned about the altitude up here, and leaving San Pedro for the border of Bolivia you could feel it already. Up and up we drove, and when we got out to have breakfast and get in our Landcruiser, I could feel short of breath already. I was a little worried, but laughed it off light-headedly - maybe due to the lack of oxygen. Breakfast was cake and coffee, but I also decided to have some coca tea - that and always chew my leaves that I had with me. Already I could feel the effects of the 4000-odd metres - slight headache, short of breath and a tightness in my legs not dissimilar to the feeling you get after sitting on a long-haul flight in cattle class. Nothing you can do really, other than take all the precautions you can, and just keep drinking water - even though the toilets here in the National Park cost 5 Bolivianos ($1), and I have a real problem with paying to pee - it's against my humans rights to be honest. The desert was happy to receive my life-giving gift. Time and again. The entry into the park cost 150 Bolivianos ($30), which is fair as long as the money goes to conversing it (and maybe a little to the terribly smelly toilets with no flushing water), and our driver drove us in heading to the first stop along the way. Juan, or Juanito as I called him to his back, was a short and quiet Bolivian bloke who has been doing these tours for 17 years. He didn't say much, and everything bit of information I could glean from him was a victory. The cars they take in here are owned by the drivers, and most of them are Toyotas - they are tough cars, but even so, they only last 4 years on average, due to salt erosion. Uyuni is the biggest salt flat in the world, measuring up at 10,000 km2. You need a guide here - you could just drive for a day and still feel in the same spot and unsure of where to go next. Juanito knows what he's doing!

Beauty in the middle of nowhere.
I have complete confidence in the drivers!
Sunset over Uyuni.
The first day was basically lagoons. I like lagoons as much as the next person, but there was 'Laguna Blanco' and 'Laguna Verde' which I didn't see that much difference to be honest. Between the two lagoons we stopped in the road, as the jeep in front of us had spotted a little fox on the road. We stopped too, got some photos in from the window, and Juanito fed him too. I later found out that the little guy waits there everyday, ready to be fed and photographed - set up photo shoot, but still fun! We did a quick drive-by of the 'Piedras del Dali,' the Dali Rocks, but we didn't get that close. Behind us a storm seemed to be moving in, and I was a little worried - sand storm, rain, thunder and we're out in the open with no roads. Juan wasn't worried, so neither was I. The clouds set a lovely background for photos though, just had to be careful of the sand being blown about.

Danes of Arabia.
That storm in moving in.
Enjoying the thermal baths.
We stopped for about 30 minutes at our next destination, the thermal baths. Let me get something out in the open - natural baths are great - they're hot and natural - but I have had my fair share of them, and personally I prefer a hot bath at home, bit of music, bubbles, a drop of red and not sharing it with 20 other dirty backpackers with GoPros and selfies sticks. I wandered around and took pics, but didn't get in this time. Also, Juan refused to get my back off the roof-rack, so no swimmers for me. Damn you Juan. We moved off before the rest of the groups and got to the Geysers before the crowd. These ones were much larger than in San Pedro, and also far smellier! The most rotten egg smell in the world... doubled. The steam was hot too, and the colours were cool. More selfies then we moved on. This trip was great so far, loads to see that you couldn't see anywhere else - I mean the pure beauty of it was mind-blowing - but we were on a tour and Juan wanted his dinner. We didn't stop at the last lagoon, "la Laguna Colorada," or the "Coloured Lagoon," as the clouds had moved in and the view would be better in the morning we were assured. We got to the hotel early, and didn't have much to do. I walked around the town a bit before dinner and not much else. I must explain that I use the words 'hotel' and 'town' very loosely in this instance - the 'town' was deserted apart from 3 shops, the 'hotel' didnt have electricity until 7pm at night when they turned on the generators, and there was also no showers (at all) and no toilet paper. This isn't a great situation if you have just arrived in Bolivia - the food tends to make toilets with flushing water and paper a necessity. Luckily for me my iron belly takes 3 - 4 days to be affected in a new country, but after this grace period I could be in trouble. We had dinner and bunked down in our beds - stiff mattresses and tiny pillows on a stone base, in a windowless room. Good night indeed.
My first (and definitely not last) Andean Flamingo in Uyuni.
A sleeping flamingo.
A llama having breakfast.
The next day was actually as perfect as you get weather-wise! Unfortunately for some people they had got sick yesterday evening and were feeling even worse this morning. Our stop for the night was at 4900m, and the altitude has made people nauseas, dizzy and weak, and a few were even vomiting. Luckily for me I was fine, and so were my two Danish girls - the 3 Chileans in our truck however were feeling it. We continued on early anyway, heading straight over to the lagoon and were instantly impressed. There were huge flocks of flamingoes on the water that were just walking around and feeding, as well as some llama wandering around on the banks of the lagoon. Neither animal liked you getting too close, but it was very beautiful, with the volcano in the background and the rising sun. We didn;t have long to appreciate it however as it was time to move on to the next place. I had got my flamingoes though! We drove on, staring out the window at the view we were being offered - desert and lagoons of all colours, with the snow-capped Andes in the background. We stopped for a while at the Arbol de Pieda (Stone Tree), which is a bizarre outcropping of rock that does really resemble a tree. We climbed over the bigger stones in the area, people getting their 'meditating' shots in, or doing funny things like holding the 'tree' up like it was the Torre de Pisa. I ducked off for some peace and quiet and some shots with no silly poses - and a sneaky free bathroom break.

The "Stone Tree," minus the tourists.
After, we drove past plenty of lakes, but one worth mentioning in particular was the Hedionda lagoon where the flamingoes weren't scared of people at all - it must be like the fox we saw on Day 1, so used to people taken here they kind of expect it. I was able to walk right down to the shore and get really close snaps of these strange birds. I noticed the way they feed, and later confirmed it with our guide - they don't eat as such, more suck in the water in their upside-down beaks, filtering the water for microscopic organisms. Lunch was served on the lagoon (it wasn't flamingo), and we stopped off at an active volcano that was smoking away before getting to our last stop for the day - our Salt Hotel. This was only the end of Day 2, still one more day to go - the very much looked forward to and famous Salt Flats.

Flamingoes in (near) flight.

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Into the desert

The road to San Pedro.
Houses in San Pedro.
Houses in San Pedro.
Moving from one place to another in South America is easy - you get on a bus and off you go. I've said it before, but I will say it again - buses are king here. The bus terminals are city onto themselves, always busy with people getting on and off, saying goodbye to loved ones, maybe moving to a new city, or like me, loading their over-sized backpacks onto yet another bus to another destination. This time I was catching a 10 am bus from Santiago to Calama, from where I would get yet another bus to San Pedro de Atacama in the north of the country. The bus trip would be 23 hours and 1,500 km - another long haul. I bought some water and biscuits for the trip, my bus staples, but was counting on stopping off for lunch or dinner somewhere along the way. Silly me. We passed through the big coastal towns of La Serena and Antofogasta, stopping to pick up more people and offload some, but we didn't stop for lunch. At about 7pm I was getting worried and asked the driver - he replied witha  curt 'no.' I rushed into the terminal to buy an empanada and a drink at least - the empanada had to be microwaved and the drink wasn't cold, but I made it back to the bus in time. After my crappy dinner, I tried to sleep, knowing that if I got hungry during the night, there would be nothing that could be done. Yet another great bus ride.

San Pedro with the volcanoes in the background.
Inside San Pedro church.
Typical building in town.
The cities and town up north in Chile don't really appeal to me. I guess they are beach towns for the most part, offering warmer weather that the rest of the Chilean coast. At this time of year these places are nearly bursting at the seams too. Heading North, the landscape just gets drier and drier, and hotter and hotter. I sometimes wonder why people live up here - is the minerals and mining industry? Cost? Maybe they were born here in the first place - that explains why so many people live in Canberra. Sorry Canberrans, but why would anyone choose to live with all of the politicians? San Pedro is one of these places where you think, "why?" The answer here is simple though - tourism. The town itself isn't much to write home about, dusty, squat homes, quiet streets with a few dogs seeking what shade they can and not much else - it's like stepping off the bus, being hit in the face with the heat, and finding yourself on Tatooine. The centre though is a different story all together. The houses are what you see on Google images - white-washed houses and cute little streets, plazas with palm trees and cute little streets. In reality it is just like this, but with hundreds, if not thousands, of people wandering around the same streets, shops selling the same tack, travel agents touting tours and trips at every corner. Sounds great right? Well, if you can avoid this as much as possible, and get out there and see things, it can be great. Challenge accepted! I'd booked a small hostel away from the centre, which I was very glad of, as it allowed me to be away from all the chaos of the town, enjoy cheaper food and also have a good night's sleep.

The church in San Pedro.
The Tatio Geyers (and the toilet line).
All dressed up and nowhere to go.
I found myself a good deal for some tours around the area, booked through my hostel. Unfortunately guided tours are the way you have to see the sights around here, unless you have your own car. Some people choose to rent a bicycle and get around that way - not something I'd choose going alone, as I saw one guy with a flat on the side of the road, miles away from civilization. The first tour was the geyser - a 5am start and a 1.5 hr drive. I asked why so early, and the reason for this is that it's the best time to see the geysers due to the cold night and the sun warming up the ground, causing the best 'eruptions.' I was up and ready for the bus to pick me up, but when it arrived they said it wasn't my bus - I was worried. I had got up early for this and now possible for nothing. I sat up and had a mate and chatted to the hostel girl - it was her first day (and didn't speak any Spanish) so she didn't know what she could do for me except say sorry. 15 mins later, another bus turned up - again, I wasn't on the list, but I asked really nicely and they took me.

Just like soup in a pot.
Waiting for the geyser to go off.
A family of vincuñas.
Although we were rushed around by our guide, it was exciting to see loads of these 'little volcanoes' going off all over the valley, but sometimes it was hard to see through all the people taking selfies in front of them. In 1994 the Chilean government tried to build a geothermal power plant (good intentions) and actually damaged them, causing them to lose some of their steam, and now they are much less potent. Breakfast was served, coffee and biscuits, before moving onto the next part of the tour, which was a small village famous for serving llama kebabs. Yes, I did try it, and it was OK - but since then I've had better. The altitude first came into play at this point, at 4400m you have to be careful how quickly you walk, and also walking and talking is not a good idea or you'll find yourself breathing like you've just done an audition for "so you think you can dance." Before we were all herded back on the bus for the return trip, we got to have a quick soak in the local hot springs, courtesy of the geysers - the pool varied in temperature a lot, and finding the hottest spot was easy, but getting a spot was not - I felt like I was in a big pot of soup.

Selfie time (again).

The 2 1/2 Marias.
Valle de La Luna.
Back to town for lunch before heading off on another tour, this time to the "Valle de la Luna," or the Valley of the Moon. On another bus full of different tourist, I was already tired of feeling like a retiree being dragged around in big groups, lead around like slow-moving sheep. The first stop on this tour was the "3 Marias." Nearby, there used to be salt mines and the workers would seek shelter here with the Marias, a strange rock formation that actually looks like 3 women. The valley was visited in the 60s by a Belgian preist, and he decided that it should be called "Valle de la Luna" as it looked like the moon, so the name was changed from it's original name of "Saltineras." Standing in front of these rocks, I only saw 2 figures, and asked the tour guide. They now call it the 2 1/2 Marias, as a few years back some tourist got it in his head to climb one, and broke it off. Real clever and way to ruin in for everyone. We did some hiking around the hills in the area, walking through the hot sand to the top to enjoy the views. There are strange rock formations and zero life, apart from all the tourists with their hats and sunscreen. Most people enjoyed the peace of the valley, but there are always some who spoilt the moment. Regretfully for Chile, these tend to be Chileans - one group of women that was with us made a whole load of noise, selfies abundant, screaming and yelling, even making 'sand angels' and one even got her top off and screamed into the desert like a crazy animal. Holidays in Chile are basically February for most people, and that's it for the year and they don't tend to travel far, and so they try and make the most of them I guess - it felt like Spring Break for Chilean parents here in San Pedro; leave the kids with anyone who will take them, then head north to 'party' and enjoy the freedom before going back to reality. Fine, enjoy it, but don't be anyone near me when you do please.

Our guide getting some quiet time away from the group.
Diving into the "eye" of the desert.
Salute to the sun!

I had the next morning off, which was a good as I came home from the full day of tours and decided to have a liquid dinner to save time. It turned into a late 'dinner' that went into the quiet hours of the morning too. The only thing on the list to do today was the Laguna Cejar. A long drive out, but worth it, as this lagoon is like the Dead Sea - it's salt content is so hight that you just float on top of the water, no effort required. In fact, it's so salty that swimming is difficult and you can't really do much but float. Be warned though, getting this salt into your eyes will burn your eyes completely out like a can of Mace. Ok, maybe not, but I wouldn't recommend it. The GoPros and selfie sticks were out to capture the moment, meanwhile I floated with no camera and enjoyed the sensation - keeping one eye on my camera on the shore. It was cool, but time was short and we needed to be back on that darn bus again, so I hit the showers and tried unsuccessfully to wash the salt off which had got everywhere, before jumping back on the bus. We stopped briefly at two more lagoons which sat directly opposite each other. These ones were 'sweet' water though, and again, people were jumping in and splashing around - not so sweet now. If seen from a plane, they are exactly the same size and look like two giant eyes in the desert. As the sun was setting, we headed off to the high point in the area to watch the sun set. The area was a cliff which looked out over San Pedro and the desert, and being such a touristy spot, there were bus loads of people, and a queue for 'the shot' on the ledge. I did wait for the mandatory shot, although I wasn't happy about it.
Sunset at hanging rock.
A long few days, but I had seen and done plenty - all in the sun and warm weather of Northern Chile. This was my last stop in Chile - I'm not sure when I will return. It has been great - travelling this long country has been fun, and the people I've met along the way have only helped it be even more. The next adventure was just around the corner - the 3 day, 4x4 tour of Uyuni inBolivia. I'd be crossing the border early in the morning, swapping from a mini-bus to a Landcrusier and setting off into the biggest salt flat in the world. This is one trip that everyone talks about, and the photos that you see from here are of people jumping and doing perspective shots out on the salt flats - but there is much more than salt and jumping out there.

Sunset over the Atacama desert.

Birthday Weekend

The always impressive Pedraforca. Just beautiful! Hiking with a touch of snow. Winter was setting in by November, and although ...