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Northern Argentina and into Chile

Tilcara, Purmamarca, San Pedro de Atacama & Pisco Elqui

sunny 32 °C

We have covered a fair bit of distance since our last entry, travelling up further north in Argentina before heading west into Chile and making our way south from there. We´ll pick things up in Tilcara where we ventured to from Salta early in the morning.

We only had one day in Tilcara, being a very small town, but we had a pleasant day exploring the markets. Scott tried some proper street food while Georgie stocked up on the local fruit produce which were both very good. There were some really nice Peruvian style ponchos and traditional items which we were tempted to puchase but decided to wait unitil later in the trip as they will be cheaper in Peru and Bolivia. The main attraction in Tilcara is the ´Pucara de Tilcara´ ruins and its contents found in the archeological museum. We wandered out to the outskirts of town where there were inca ruins, heaps of cactii, a pyramid temple and a 360 degree fantastic view! In these northern towns, the locals are much more native and more like what we were expecting in South America.

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The next morning Georgie woke up with bed bugs and a foul mood. She looked a bit like a 15 year old school kid covered in acne. We think she must be alergic as Scott never seems to get them. We took a quick half hour bus in the morning to the neighbouring town Purmamarca. This town was even smaller Tilcara and didn´t have much going on apart from its attraction, Cerro de Siete Colores (Hill of 7 Colours), which really does have 7 colours! The highlight of Purmamarca was going for a stroll and getting adopted by this little street dog, a foxy/jackrussell, who took us on an exciting 1 hour guided tour around town and through the hills. We named him ´Perro´(dog in Spanish) and we were quite sad to leave him when we got back to the hostel. We have been quite surprised at the amount of dogs in Argentina. Not only are there swarms of street dogs roaming the streets, but every Argentinian seems to own a dog as well. It´s good to see that the street dogs are treated quite well here.

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We had a bus booked to San Pedro de Atacama, in Chile, leaving at 9:45am from Purmamarca. This turned out to be a bit of a torrid day. We waited nearly 3 hours for the bus to arrive, it then broke down for around 1.5 hours before being stuck at the border for 2 hours. Just when we thought we were clear we had another hour wait at customs. Our bus, due to arrive at 5:30pm, got in around midnight. We didn´t have anywhere booked but had a few places written down. We decided to give the cheapest place a go which luckily turned out to be a winner. Andreas, the laid back Chilean owner welcomed us as family into his little establishment. We stayed at Sol Atacama Hostel with a great bunch of travellers including a few English couples, a Swiss couple, 2 German girls and a Croatian girl.

The Atacama desert is the dryest desert in the world with extreme temperatures between night and day. The town itself is quite touristy and full of backpackers which we actually found nice for a change as our English was more understood and shops were actually open in the afternoon siesta time. Every second store in town is a tour office making it hard to choose which company to go with. We were very impressed with the quality and choice of food in San Pedro given the location we were in and much preferred the food here to Argentina. The most common comfort food over here is empanadas which is like a rolled over savoury pastry usually filled with a combination of meat, cheese and ham but can have anything in it. Some are extremely tasty while others are terrible. Its always pot luck whether you get a good one.

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While in San Pedro, we decided to do 3 tours: Valle de la Luna, Laguna Cejar and the Geysers del Tatio. We did the Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley) on our second afternoon. This tour took us to a few different look out points including death valley and some nice walks through the mountains and down steep sand dunes. The tour finshed with a sunset over the mountains. We enjoyed the tour, especially the guide who was quite hungover, but the next two tours would prove to exceed it!

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Next up was the Laguna Cejar, another afternoon tour. This one first took us to swimming hole abundant in salt. As you´ll see in the pictures, it was very cool! An incredible experience being able to float in water with absolutely no effort, much like the dead sea. We were then taken to another swimming hole which was far less exciting as we had to swim in this one to stay afloat. The last stop was at a large salt flat with shallow water covering glistening salt crystals. It was like a mix of the salt flats we will see in Bolivia and glaciars in the Arctic. Probably the most unique landscape we have ever seen. The evening finished up by watching a beautiful sunset over the salty horizon with a Pisco Sour (the national drink) in hand.

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Our last tour was an early one - pick up at 4am. We were quite grumpy that the prevoius morning our bus never showed up so after getting our money back we were a bit reluctant to book in again for another 4am alarm but in the end we were very glad we did. We arrived at the Tatio Geysers just before dawn. It was an incredible sight looking across the landscape steaming out of the ground with different intensities. We were freezing and our guide told us it was -7 degrees but they have the tour so early as the geysers cannot be seen once the sun comes up and the temperature rises. After taking a ton a photos we were treated with a natural thermal bath which was somewhat enjoyable but the inconsistant temperature of the water made it challenging. Once side of the bath was quite cold while one side was scolding hot so about 30 people all grouped in together to try and get the best spot.

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We had one fun night out while in the San Pedro. An Aussie girl, Jessie we met in town told us of a desert rave that was happening one night. We told the guys at our hostel and most people were keen so Andreas took us all out as it was a 30 minute walk away. We were expecting it to actually be out in the desert but it was at an unfinished small house with one small room and a bit outdoor area with a campfire. The party was full of Chileans which was great and they all kept coming up to us to have a chat. They were all super friendly and we found out later that Chileans love to practice their English and gave us a good chance to practice our Spanish with the help of some liquid courage. At the end of the night all we wanted was some water but the guy at the bar said they don´t sell any. We then asked for some coke or sprite but were told we could only have some with alcohol. Wouldn´t happen back home!

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After 5 nights in the desert, we booked an overnight 17 hour bus south to La Serena, then jumping on a bus 3 hours inland through the Elqui Valley to the chilled out town of Pisco Elqui. On arrival, we were pretty knackered but we ran straight into Jessie who was just on her way out to the oldest and most recommended pisco distillery, Los Nichos, so we dumped our bags and off we went on the 3km walk. We were happy we went with Jessie as the tour was in full Spanish and she could translate about half of it to us. We found the pisco way too harsh as the tasting were straight. Pisco is better enjoyed mixed as found our later that night where everyone from the hostel made and drank pisco sours in the backyard. After midnight, Gonzo the hostel worker, took us up a very steep sandy hill to see the stars. Pisco Elqui is renowned as one of the best places in the world for star gazing.

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Most of our 3 days in Pisco Elqui was spend relaxing in the awesome hostel, which had a pool, garden and outdoor kitchen all overlooking the valley. The hostel was really like a little oasis. The fertile valley around Pisco Elqui is stunning in contrast to the surrounding dry mountains. We hitchhiked a ride to Horcon, the next village down the valley which had a small market and nice river before hitching a ride straight back. Hitchhiking is common practice in Chile and we have found evry second or third car will stop for you. It´s quite funny to see a little old lady stop in her hatchback to pick you up on the side of the road. On our last evening we went down to the local ranch and did a one hour trail ride up a mountain. It was good fun and was a good easy initiation to horse riding for Scott as Georgie is keen for some more riding later in the trip. On one of the nights, everyone at the hostel was keen to cook up an asado (bbq). We found things were a little different to the traditional aussie bbq. A huge 1.2kg hunk of juicy meat was purchased, smeared with salt and thrown on the grill for an hour. The cooked steak is then cut up into small slithers and everyone stands around picking at it. Muy rico - Delicious!

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This morning we hopped back on a bus back through the valley and we´ve checked into a hostel in La Serena where we´ll stay for Christmas. Tomorrow (Christmas Eve) is when Chileans celebrate Christmas and the hostel is putting on a big dinner and organising some cookie decorating thing in the arvo so we´re happy something is going on.

Hope everyone has a great Christmas and New Year. Feliz Navidad!! xxx

Posted by Scott-Georgie 24.12.2012 08:48 Archived in Chile

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