07.02.2011 - 17.02.2011 40 °C
Hello from Chile!!!! I´m currently in the San Pedro de Atacama desert, after several days of extreme tiredness I finally had a good night sleep last night and feel so much better for it. It´s extremely hot here and i´m a black woman, the desert is totally beautiful and surrounded by snow covered volcanoes together with blue and green lagoons. This morning Sivan and I went sandboarding in the dunes of the death valley, IT WAS SOOOOO MUCH FUN. We had the funniest instructor with a mass of dreads who kept taking the mick out of the British accent (cup of tea!). I´ve never done sandboarding before and it was brilliant, once you get the hang of how to balance, brake and speed up it is actually quite easy. This afternoon we are going to the moon valley to watch the sunset, it´s a full moon so i´m hoping for some spectacular views.
Anyway, my update since my last blog...so much has happened so I don´t know where to start! I´ve spent just over a month travelling Argentina and what a country!! It hasn´t felt like it´s gone that quickly either but then every day has been quite significant in one way or another. Ive done a big loop of the country from Iguazu down to Buenos Aires, right to the South of the country in El Calafate and then worked my way up to Salta in the North. I´ve seen waterfalls, glaciers, snow covered mountains, lagoons, huge lakes and multi-coloured mountains, and spent a crazy amount of time on buses...over 110 hours at least. The cities have been full of life, music and laughter and the Argentinians have been incredible hosts...i´m going to miss Argentina a lot. The local people have been so welcoming, friendly and gone out of their way to help me. The only thing i´ve found a bit frustrating is my inability to communicate with them on a wider level. I can ask for directions, order food, book accommodation and say what I like, do for a job and where I plan to travel etc. But many people here don´t speak much English so with my limited vocabulary I can´t find out more about them which I´d love to do. But anyway im doing my best to speak Spanish here and ive still had some very funny moments with the locals, in particular the hitchhiking...but more on that later! What I do want to remember is the warmth of the people ive met in shops, restaurants, on the street and how this had such a positive impact on my experiences in the places I visited, it has made me reflect on how I treat people in my everyday life back at home.
On a slightly sad note, the group of girls I was travelling with had to split at the end of last week because of the different directions we were going in. We ended up travelling for over two weeks together since meeting in El Calfate, spending all our time together as we experienced Pategonia, Bariloche and Mendoza. Lidwien (from Holland), Sivan and Hagar (from Israel) are wonderful girls, spending so much time together has been really easy and the laughter has been constant (too many private jokes to write about on here!) Lidwien left for Buenos Aires last Friday and there were tears Yesterday we left Hagar in Mendoza and now Sivan and I are travelling together until we have done the salt flats in Bolivia and then she will head back to Argentina and I will go onto La Paz. Its been very funny because Sivan wasnt planning to come to Chile or Bolivia but she has been sucked into the Reeves spreadsheet itinerary, haha. So we will keep living the "muy international" dream for another week at least...
OK so when I last blogged I had just arrived in Mendoza. Mendoza is an amazing amazing place. I love it. After falling in love with Buenos Aires I didn´t think another city here would capture my attention in the same way but Mendoza really wowed me. I´m not sure if I can really put my finger on what makes this place so great but the general atmosphere and feel of the city was awesome. It felt more Argentinian than Buenos Aires, was set in a beautiful setting surrounded by mountains and vine yards and had a funky nightlife and really lovely, happy people. And on top of that I stayed in a really cool hostel and had some really funny times with the girls and other travellers we met. Although for a couple of nights we had a very strange old man in our room from Portugal who kept feeling the need to walk in and out of the dorm take his clothes on and off repeatedly. Why, I dont know. The staff at the hostel on the other hand were really funny and this made up for the fact it wasnt the cleanest place Ive stayed in.
The girls and I did fewer activities and tours in Mendoza and instead just soaked up the atmosphere, laughed at the amount of el mullets on show, saw a Chilean rapper and danced to a lot of reggaeton! I had planned to stay for 3 days but ended up staying for nearly a week. On one of the days we did a tour of the vineyards, people here hire bikes and cycle around the vineyards doing tours of different wineries and of course testing the wine. We saw only two wineries because the tours were quite long, but it was interesting and I enjoyed the wine a lot. We saw a large company (Norton) and a smaller winery which produces more expensive wine for an exclusive market. We also spent another day visiting the hot springs in the mountains and this is where we had our second hilarious hitchhiking experience. Im aware that hitchhiking wont ever be promoted in the Lonely Planet as a particularly safe thing to do but we agreed we would only try to hitch a ride back to Mendoza with a family/old couple. So we wrote "Mendoza" on an old piece of paper and stood at the side of the road, thumbs out. We must have looked pretty funny because a member of staff at the springs directing cars into the car park started to laugh at us and told us he would help us find someone. A few moments later a very funny and very old bright red car started to leave the car park with two men inside who looked like gangsters. We pulled our thumbs in and agreed we would let this one pass but the guy helping us had already flagged the car down and convinced the two men to take us back to Mendoza. So we got into the car (which was a challenge as only one door worked) and headed back to town. We discovered that the car was a Ford Falcon and made the same year I was born! The two guys worked in a bakery and one of the men had a very funny relationship with his wife who he only saw once a day when they met at work to change shifts. There was a loud clunking sound coming from the boot, the guys joked that it was a body but we didnt feel at all unsafe. Even though they lived out of town they insisted on driving us right to the centre, another act of kindness from people we had just met. On our final day Sivan and I were so tired we went to a public pool and just sunbathed the whole day. It was at this point that I turned a completely different colour and people stopped believing I was English.
On Saturday night we took another very long bus up to Salta, no drug busts on this one but Hagar started speaking to someone on the bus from Pategonia who owned a radio station and asked us to say hello to all his listeners on the phone the next morning..random! My first impressions of Salta were really good, another place full of life and people willing to help us. The town becomes really alive in the early evening where everyone hits the streets, eats ice cream and shops. We were only in Salta for two full days, on the first day we explored the centre, booked our bus to Chile and took a cable car up to the top of the mountain overlooking the town. On the way back down we decided to walk and this is where hitchhiking experience number 3 took place. Well actually we were offered a lift by two guys Sivan had got speaking to at the top of the mountain, they seemed harmless so we agreed and they offered to show us nearby San Lorenzo which is a pretty town full of large mansions and amazing ice-cream. We stopped at a water park where we took some hilarious photos and then got dropped off in town a couple of hours later. The two guys were hilarious, one was a complete joker and reminded me a lot of my dad. On our second day we took a tour north via Jujuy and saw spectacular views of the seven coloured mountain which literally is a mix of purples, green, orange, reds etc. Apparently it is formed by different minerals, I wish I was better at science to fully understand it!
So now I´m back on form but over the last few days the tiredness of travelling, lack of sleep and the heat really hit me and Ive done some really stupid things. Like paying for a large bottle filled with tap water I´d taken into a shop when on the hunt for dulce leche cookies because I assumed id picked it out of the drinks cabinet. Before arriving in Chile Sivan and I tried to book a hostel for the Atacama Desert and starting getting stressed because everywhere was fully booked. When we finally found somewhere available the internet broke and we had to go to a friends hostel to sort it out. I finally made a reservation and joked about being so tired that it wouldnt surprise me if id booked it for the wrong year or something. Last night when we arrived in Chile after a very long and tiring bus journey from Salta through the Andean mountains I had no sense of where anything was, had no Chilean currency and wasnt even sure how many Chilean pesos there were to the pound. As I started to ask local people where the hostel address was I thought I was getting some strange reactions, I didnt think it was my Spanish because im finding the Chileans much easier to understand and speak to than the Argentinians. Sivan and I finally got to an internet cafe and asked some guys to help us find the hostel, we soon realised that the hostel id booked was 1,000 km outside of San Pedro Atacama!!!...no wonder people were looking at me strangely when I was asking if it was far! The guys thought the whole thing was pretty hilarious but could see that Sivan and I were about to cry so sorted out contacting the hostel, cancelling our booking and helping us find another hostel. Weve got things arranged now for the next few days we are here but I really need to sort out my head before we enter Bolivia because thats going to be a much more challenging country to travel in.
Anyway ive written an essay here, will try and update again before I leave Chile xx