Saturday, 24 March 2012

High and Dry in Chile and Bolivia

Days 22-28   High and Dry in Chile and Bolivia (Countries 4 and 5) - part 1

This is the start of a new phase of my trip and a new group.  This is a smaller group - 9 of us.  We are heading up high in altitutde and into the Atacama Desert.
View over Salta

We started with a flight from Buenos Aires to Salta in northern Argentina,  Salta is a pleasant town with, it seemed, a diproportionate number of churches, including one with the tallest spire in South America.  It also has a cable car up a hill which gives spectacular views over Salta and the Lerma Valley. 

I also visited the archeological Museum as Salta has the mummies/ bodies of the three children found at an altitude of 6700m on the Llullailaco volcano.  They were from Inca times and had been sacrificed - all rather grusome but the climate kept the bodies, the textiles and the sacred objects buried with them almost perfectly preserved. The Museum only shows one at a time and they are still kept at low temperatures so it was pretty chilly!.
The next day we had a day trip to the wine growing area south of Salta, called Cafayate (1600m; 5,200ft).  The journey took us up through the Reserva Natural de Queserba de Conches (shells), lush green mountains and strange rock formations. (Spot me at the bottom of the picture - to give you some perspective!) 

When we got there we visited a vinyard and had a wine tasting.  They have to grow special grapes that can withstand the cool temperatures that they get at night.  The grapes were to be ready to be picked in about 3 weeks time.

Flooded Road

After lunch we set off for home - the weather had been cloudy, but nothing worse. About half way home we came across a raging torrent flowing across our road and a queue of cars that felt it was unsafe to cross. Clearly it had rained somewhere in the mountains.  We waited a while and then a big bus went through safely and following that, the cars and vans followed. I have to say it was quite tense in the van for the dew seconds it took to cross the water!!

San Pedro di Atacama - early morning
The next day we got the bus to San Pedro to Atacama, crossing the border into Chile and climbing to 2440m (about 7,900ft), though to get there we went over a pass at 4600m!  We arrived late in the afternoon. San Pedro is a pleasant little town with single story adobe walled houses.  Its income is almost entirely tourist derived and so it is well set up for tourists.

That night we had a great outing to an observatory where we learned about the stars and constellations and then looked at various heavenly bodies through telescopes.  It's so high and clear, you can see SO much! The best was seeing Saturn and all its rings. The milky way was just spectacular - so many stars and many of the constellations are different from what we can see in the northern hemisphere.
The following day was a day out in the desert. We went to the Valley of Death an area with real big sand dunes as well as rocky scrub land.

In the distance we were surrounded by snow capped volcanoes, most of which looked like Mount Fuji in Hokusai paintings!  The largest is Licancabul at 5940m!  I found I was aware of our altitude as I found myself getting quite breathless walking up even gentle slopes!

From there we went to another place called the Valley of the Moon that is largely white bacause of the salt that comes out of the rocks. We even saw salt crystal caves!

The desert landscape is really wierd and harsh, but at the same time stunning and impressive.

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