South America | Chile | Atacama Desert – A three day tour…
Well, let me start by saying how well things have gone this evening. Very well indeed…everything I needed to get done I have gotten complete plus some other things. I visited the Lan Chile office in Arica, Chile (very helpful!!) and booked my flight from Calama, Chile to Santiago next week, with a return flight in April, in time to get me back with some travel days to Peru to meet Amanda at the tail end of my trip. I also inquired on flights to Easter Island, and as it turns out found a fare lower than their published fare, so I grabbed it and booked my flight for later in March — four days on the Isle de Pacques (sp?) (in english that is Easter Island, Rapa Nui) I can hardly wait. Despite both of these successful plans in the making, I am realizing I cannot do everything, what a bummer that little piece of reality is!
My three day tour filled me with wonder! We departed two days ago in the afternoon. I spent my morning before leaving enjoying Arica, the market, internet access (chatting with family) and navigating the hordes of Chileans on vacation in a beach town. It truely reminds me of a South American Ft Lauderdale! I figured out very quickly after joining up with the other five tourists on the tour that I was not only going to have to learn Spanish fast (b-c the guide spoke only Spanish) but also brush up on my French! All five others were French — and funny, lively French at that!
The two French guys, Antoine and Ludo, were a riot. First, our tour stopped at a well site where Incas would store food in cold storage for transfer between the coast and the sea. Up on the hills above our guide pointed out huge petroglyphs of lamas and eagles all pointing towards the ocean. Back on the bus again, and we were speeding through some very baren landscapes, sand, sand and more sand.
Our first afternoon included stopping at a deep canyon where I heard the best echoes I have ever heard and seeing guanacos (similar to lamas but bigger and not domesticated). We spent the night in Putre, a small town in the mountains perfect for acclimatizing to the altitude for the rest of the tour (averaging around 3500 m or 14000 feet). After a delicious dinner in Restaurant Rosamel (highly recommended), we retired to our hostel to enjoy a game of Hearts. I lost, just for you people keeping count out there!
Our second day included an early start into Luaca National Park and a quick ascent to higher altitudes. I stopped counting the alpacas, lamas and vicunas I saw in the wide open plains after the first hour. We stopped for a nature walk early in the day, and walked through an area known for the long-eared mouse and the vazcacha, a chincilla relative that looks like a cross between a rabbit and squirrel (it has a tail like a squirrel). They were everywhere, and this was the first time I went on a nature walk and found more animals than people looking for animals. Truly an amazing wildlife experience. The walk included a small stream of warm water (heated by the volcanoes in the area).
We picniced for lunch on the shores of the highest lake in the world, Lago Chungara, underneath two looming (but inactive) volcanos. Buses zoomed by on their way to Bolivia or back to Arica and both Ludo and Antoine took off in separate buses. Ludo to return to his girlfriend in Paris (he had explained to me the Power of Love in detail, and included the fact that his rendition of this works and he may write a novel on his idea one day. Go Ludo!!) and Antoine to return to his new Chilean girlfriend in Arica. I stuck around for the next day of adventure with the other three French tourists.
Our third and final day, today, included a long drive past other volcanoes and on to the Monumento Natural Salar de Surire (a salt lake where they harvest Borax). The breathtaking scenery and trip included a lunch time stop at thermal pools of VERY hot water. I walked in, my flip flops stuck in the mucky bottom I fell over into the hot water and yelped until I stood back up.
I went with Latinorizons tour agency from Arica and could not say enough good things about this trip and the agency. Carlos our guide, took me himself to the bus station and arranged for my bus ticket tonight to San Pedro de Atacama. After going by to pick up my big pack at the agency´s office, the owner offered use of the shower (did I smell and look that bad?!?) at his hostel before I took my night bus.
But let me complete this little notion of wonder and fantastic life with one little detail…uh, for those of you who know me, I am explaining the obvious…I am afraid of falling down stairs. I generally do not even attempt to walk down stairs without a CLEAR view of each step ahead of me. Part of this is due to this little Sloane_ontheroad bit of history: I stupidly walked down some stairs two weeks before graduating from college while looking at the latest Victoria´s Secret catalogue to see which sexy new outfits I could get (even though I had no boyfriend at the time). I missed the last three stairs and landed with my ankle twisted to the side and badly sprained it. I almost didn´t get to walk in the graduation ceremony, but again, for those who know me, I am repeating the obvious but you know I wouldn´t have missed that event even for an amputated leg!!
Anyway, as I leave the hostel to take a taxi to the bus station in Arica, in a top of the world mood, I walk down the stairs fully loaded. What does that mean you may wonder? I had my big machilla (backpack in spanish) on my back, my little daypack on my front, and carrying a plastic bag of souvenir gifts I had bought on my three day tour. I reach the bottom of the stairs (or so I thought) and step out to the bottom. OUCH!! I missed the last stair (stupid me I didn´t even look) and landed on my ankle. Yes, I sprained it. BUT I had to get to the bus station, so I got some help carrying my bags, hobbled to a taxi, hobbled onto my bus, and looked at my swollen foot thanking God I didn´t break it. I am definitely bummed about this little misadventure and how it may or may not affect my travels. I will keep all posted via my diary.