Here are some fun photos taken on my phone from around San Pedro de Atacama.
The town is built mainly in adobe, which is effectively a mixture of clay-rich soil, straw, and sand. This is often mixed with stones, and walls are then rendered with a clay slip to finish and protect them. Adobe isn’t a material which lends itself to high rise building, so the majority of “SP de Atacama” (as abbreviated on road signs) are single storey.
The town itself is very atmospheric, feeling very much in harmony within its location in a desert oasis. The earthy ochre-coloured mud-built buildings feel like they have been extruded from the ground below, which in a way, they have. Shop signs are wooden, and modern roofs have been topped by reeds to remain in-keeping with the desert town feel. Most restaurants are heated by wood-fired chimineas, found here in their native territory, and totally in-keeping with their terracotta surroundings.
This first photo is a close-up of an adobe wall which has seen better days, to give you an idea of its composition.
(still travelling and posting from my iPhone, so no captions for now – sorryl!)
Today we landed back in the UK. Thanks to spotty wifi and utterly excusable holiday-induced laziness, I haven’t managed to blog about every place that we visited in Chile, so I will catch up with a few posts this week. Our visit to see flamingos on the great Atacama Salt Flats and the high altitude blue lagoons of Miscanti and Miñique are worth a post each in their own right.
We began travelling back from the Atacama desert on Monday 15th April, at 6.45am. We touched down at Heathrow at about 3pm on Tuesday 16th. Tomorrow, Wednesday 17th, we will make the 6 hour journey back to Penzance. That’s more travelling than I have ever done before, and whilst I loved visiting Chile, I think that a little break from any adventuring afar is in order!
We were collected by minibus from our hotel in San Pedro de Atacama, and driven to Calama airport (an hour and a quarter by road) for an internal flight to Santiago at 9.20am. During the journey we watched the sun rise over the Andes, which is always magical. At Santiago we collected our baggage and found our way to the international departures terminal where we checked in to our flight to São Paulo in Brazil at 2.50pm. However, due to some congestion in Argentinian airspace, we didn’t leave until 3.50pm for the four hour flight.
This wasn’t a problem for us, as we had until 11.55pm to wait for our 11 hour connecting flight to London. The air side of São Paulo airport was pretty dismal, with only very limited and expensive options to eat, so we held out by consuming the various packets of snacks which we had collected from other flights. The other annoyance was that security at São Paulo confiscated my water bottle, despite it being bought airside in Santiago, and my compliance with their request to drink some of it in front of them. Just 20 metres away after this little ordeal (which included x-raying my hand luggage 3 times and a full search of it) was the duty free shop, selling all manner of highly alcoholic beverages. I am not sure what their problem was given it was just water. Experiences like this can put people off travelling by air, which is a shame.
There – that’s off my chest! Tonight we are staying at our London basecamp (read: Tehmina’s parents house) and early in the morning it’s back home to our dear Penzance.
Chile is an amazing country in every way. So beautiful, such diversity, genuinely wonderful people, great architecture (Spanish colonial through to adobe churches, to modern glass and steel museums), all framed by the watchful presence of the Andes. Will I go back? Without a doubt. Will I learn a bit more Spanish next time? Absolutemente! I have Tehmina to thank for her talents in picking up a new language as she goes, and having the confidence to make mistakes and learn from them whilst I cower at the back smiling benevolently.
Right, time for some sleep to re-educate my body as to what time, or indeed what day, it is.
I’m typing this sitting in a pleasant 26C heat by a swimming pool. The UV meter outside the (rather excellent) archaeology museum here in San Pedro de Atacama is recommending people of pale complexions to stay out of the sun. Since I currently resemble something akin to a freckled ghost, I’m doing just that. Some quiet blogging time for me then.
A couple of days ago Tehmina and I visited the El Taito geysers, a geyser field located in the Andes at an altitude of about 4300m. Our day began at 5.30am, when we met our guide, Leo, who would make sure that we saw the best of the scenery on the way there and back, and were safe and well-informed during our visit to the geysers.
Here’s a few (unedited) photos to give you a feel for what the El Taito geysers look like. The reason for the visit to be so early is because it is cold (-5C), and the steam clouds are visible as the water vapour (at 85C) cools and condenses. Also, the view of the columns of steam as the sun rises is stunning.
The geysers only shoot water to a height of about 75cm on average, but the alien feel to the place, with its organic shaped mineral deposits, columns of steam, and the gulping, belching sound made by the water pressure make this a fascinating place to visit. The air is quite thin at this altitude, so we were recommended to walk slowly by our guide, especially as it is so cold. Visitors must also not cross the stone markers, as the ground is rather unstable. Putting your foot in a puddle is one thing, but quite another if said water is close to boiling point…
We breakfasted by the geysers, then headed back down the mountains to the village of Machupa, a tiny adobe and stone village which sadly seems geared up as a tourist photo attraction, but is still worth a visit if you are interested in traditional building construction of the area.
It was still too early in the morning for me to sample a llama kebab, so we waited in the van whilst our brave tour companions ate theirs. We then continued down to a river to have a look at some local birds, and caught our first glimpse of a couple of flamingos, and some coots, amongst others.
Then it was back to San Pedro de Atacama to have a rest and explore the town some more. And maybe seek out a Pisco sour or two.
Imagine a landscape that is so barren, so alien, yet beautiful in its many forms. Shiny rock salt crystals glint and shine as the sun lowers in the sky. Small cave systems, organically shaped by water millennia ago, meander through gorges. This is Valle de la Luna, or Moon Valley, situated in the north of the salt flats in the Atacama desert, Chile.
We were taken there by our guide, who helped to show us the best of the valley, and led us, often on hands and knees, through a cave unlike any other I have seen. We finished our day watching the sun set, and the terribly beautiful colour changes that happen, whilst drinking wine and eating cheese. I will never forget that evening.
Here are a few of the many photos I took. Please excuse the lack of captions for now – the mobile WordPress app doesn’t support them yet, and as I’m on holiday I’m not going to hard-code them!
Santiago is a wonderful city. I would love to go back, and the longer I stayed, the more I liked it. This is not always the case for every place that I have visited, especially huge cities.
So what do I like about it? Perhaps it's the slightly crumbly Colonial architecture, with its plant-ridden façades, ornate doors, and the palazzo-style buildings. The beautiful museums, including the most mentionable Museum of Memory and Human Rights which depicts the terrible train of events during the time of Pinochet. I have never been moved by a museum in such a way before now. The view of the Andes beyond the high-rise buildings of the city is a constant reminder of the amazing situation of the city in the landscape.
The Santiago Metro is fantastic. It's less than £1 for a journey, and many of the stations are more like modern art galleries, yet designed to cope with thousands of people efficiently and pleasantly. The cathedral is a wonder in its own right, founded in the first half of the 16th century.
The pedestrian areas around Plaza de Armas are fun to explore, as well as the entertainments and museums around the square itself. And did I mention the incredible views, wonderful gardens, and historic buildings of Santa Lucía Hill?
I've also eaten in the most eccentrically decorated restaurant that I have ever come across. Ocean Pacific is like a set from a wild imagining of Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. The food was a bit hit and miss but worth it for the theatrical setting.
It's not all good; there is a huge pollution problem, and those very same mountains help to keep the pollution hanging above the city in the form of smog. There are lots of stray dogs. The food, on the whole, wasn't amazing either (or maybe I was just unlucky). The earthquakes of 1985 and 2010 have made ruinous many fabulous old buildings which continue to decay, propped up with bits of wood, whilst nature tries her best to reclaim them.
But the people of Santiago have risen up above the challenges, and it seems that the city is undergoing much needed redevelopment. Artists are helping to brighten up the 19th century Downtown area. Debates are happening on national TV (TVN) as to the future of some of the larger damaged buildings, such as the huge Basilica del Salvadore. Things are moving on.
We packed a lot in to the week we spent in Santiago. Tehmina gave a paper and a conference and was interviewed for TV. I went to a day of the World of Welsh Copper conference and found it to be deeply interesting, considering the economics and logistics of this vast global trade in the 19th century. If I was phased by the long journey, considering how people from Swansea and London managed to trade, travel and run businesses put me in awe of what they achieved.
I'm writing this from the comfort of our next stop, in the middle of the Atacama desert in northern Chile, at an altitude of 2500m. The experiences here have also been positive, if not completely different. Some more photo posts about Santiago and Atacama are on their way, time and wifi permitting.
This first photo could well be accompanied by the Orb's “Little Fluffy Clouds” as a soundtrack. The skies here are simply incredible.
This is the view over Moon Valley. As the sun sets the colours of the landscape change dramatically, framed by equally stunning skies, as the clouds change from white to red, to finally an intense flaming orange.
Today we flew from Santiago to Calama in the north of Chile to continue our adventures. I haven’t had time to finish blogging about Santiago and Valparaiso yet, so expect a few out-of-sequence posts in the next few days.
Soon after arriving we went on a tour of Valle de la Luna – Moon Valley – and I am still picking up my jaw from the stunning desert landscape.
So this is just a quick post to keep you up to date.
Here’s a photo to give you a taste of the landscape. Expect many, many more!
Parts of Santiago de Chile are rather run-down, made worse by the earthquake in 2010. Crumbling buildings and broken walls are de rigeur as they wait their turn for reconstruction or demolition. Artists have helped to add some welcome splashes, and often, riots of colour to the downtown area.
Here are some photos to give you a taste of the Santiago graffiti talent.
On Saturday we took a coach from Santiago to the coastal city of Valparaíso in Chile. Our hotel advised us to take the metro from Los Heroes to Pajaritos, which is an outlying station close to the motorway. From there we could board a bus and go directly to Valparaíso, avoiding the busy traffic if the city centre.
This turned out to be excellent advice. On arrival at Pajaritos it was easy to spot where the buses were, and tourist guides were on duty telling people which choices were available for travel to their destinations. We chose TurBus and were able to buy our tickets from their booth on the concourse. It's a bit like buying advance tickets on the railway – we had to choose our outgoing and return journey times, and were given seat numbers.
The coach was very comfortable, even showing a film from the screens at intervals along the ceiling. But the scenery was far more compelling – vineyards framed by the Andes.
On arriving into Valparaíso we realised what a huge city this was. Lining the streets around the retail area of the city were fruit, vegetable and bric-a-brac markets; a very colourful welcome to the city.
We knew very little about the city before we arrived, beyond its historical significance in the 19th century regarding connections to the Swansea copper industry. So when the coach dropped us off at the bus station, we had to work things out as we went along.
Fortunately, I had cached Google Maps for the area, so we were able to get a GPS fix and find our way easily to the seafront (such as it is – sealed off by industry) and spotted that the city has a metro system. So we took the metro from Barón to Puerto, to save an hour long walk along filthy polluted roads to get nearer to the port. The metro uses the route of the old Valparaíso to Santiago railway, so Puerto is a very grand terminus station indeed for an urban metro system. The building has the clean concrete lines of Art Deco, with its walls adorned by historic photos.
Outside was the remains of the picket line from a recent strike by port workers.
By now we could see that Valparaíso is a colourful city in every way, from its position as a port of great importance in the global copper industry, through to the architecture, funicular railways, markets, and the heady smells of the sea mingled with pollution, sewers, and vegetables.
We have been in Santiago for four days now, and are getting to know the 'Centro' area a little. We have also taken an excursion to the city of Valparaíso and I have had my first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean. I have also got a head cold, which is rather annoying when the temperatures are around 25C.
Santiago is a great city. The mix of old Colonial architecture and shiny new offices seems to work. Many of the older buildings are crumbling, which adds a pleasing genuine feel to the city. Some grand old buildings are covered in peeling paint, with plants eking out the bare existence of life in the cracks, and they're rather pleasing to look at through a romantic western lens. I'm sure not everyone shares this view, not least the locals.
Our lack of Spanish is a little problematic, but through a phrase book and determination (mainly by Tehm, admittedly) we are able to get the basics that we need to survive. Very few people speak English here, and why should they?
There is a shop close to the hotel which sells basic groceries and water, which we are grateful for. Although we were told that the water is drinkable, it tastes horrible. One of the conference organisers recommended that we don't drink it “just in case”.
We also discovered that the large church that we thought to be the cathedral definitely isn't. Yesterday we navigated through the grid system to Plaza Armanas, the place where Santiago was founded in 1541. It is flanked by what is very definitely a cathedral!
We have also visited the Santa Lucía Hill which affords absolutely stunning views over Santiago and, if the smog allows, a glimpse of the Andes.
Our trip on Saturday to Valparaíso deserves a blog post all of its own. It is a place unlike any other, and colourful in every way. A heady mix of colonial architecture, ruins, docks, the stench of sewers, the heady smells from the fruit and vegetable markets, the butchers, and heavy traffic. We jumped in at the deep end by arriving by bus at the bus station. More later!