It's the desert. The temperatures are extreme. It's freezing at night (literally) and boiling during the day. But bizarrely enough our room was really warm all throughout the night. I can't figure it out as it has no heating! I sleep well and wake early, much down some Quaker Oat cereal and go out into town with Sean & Monika. We book ourselves some tours on a buy 2 get 1 free basis, starting tomorrow for 30,000 pesos (£30). I change my £100 worth of Argentinean pesos into Chilean pesos. I was hoping to pop back into Argentina so see a few other places but my sudden bolt North put paid to that idea. I'm not really bothered, it's all been good.
Having the afternoon free we hire some mountain bikes off the hostel and venture out to find some Inca ruins. The bike feels light and flimsy and I'm convinced there's something wrong with it until I remember that the last bike I rode had a 750cc race engine attached to it! Sean used to be a serious mountain biker and can't help popping wheelies and bunny hops every 2 minutes. I would call him a show off, but I'd be doing the same if only I could!
Our first find were some caves! They were very cool, Sean and I venture in with a torch, find they keep going and going and go back to grab Monika - it's a must see! Together we reach the end, a large bore hole to the outside world. Monika was initially scared about the caving but admitted at the end that it was cool! The cave was spacious enough for us all to clamber through but had a couple of steep accents. A torch was required, it was dark. Very dark.
We carried on down the road until a river ran through it (!) We walk along looking for a shallow place to cross (Sean & Monika were wearing socks and trainers). We don't find any but there is a jumpable spot. I carry the bikes over in my cool Tevas (I'm not bothered about getting wet) whilst they jump across. There is so much salt around it clings and hangs off the grass and vegetation.
A bit further down we ditch the bikes, ascend up a hill and view the Inca ruins / archaeological site. A few tattered stone walls. We all agree it's not impressive in the slightest. Some guys in Dune Buggies turn up, now they're impressive!
Cycling back this girl tears out of a side dirt track / drive way screaming, "Help meeee....!" with 3 large black street dogs barking and snapping at her heels. So Sean & I do and divert the interest of the dogs. No big deal. The girl was also on her way back from the ruins and took a wrong turn. She had a real nasty, bite mark on her calf where she'd been bitten under similar circumstances the day before. So for the journey back, inbetween fooling around and pulling bike stunts, Sean and I accompany the girl and shoo away any other passing street dogs. It was our good deed for the day.
The veggies stay in and cook whilst I venture out to find steak. I find a cosy place with an open fire in the middle and piano jazz in the background. I feel a bit of a chill and wish they'd close the main front doors. I look up and realise why they don't. It wouldn't make any difference if they did, they have no roof! I figure it was designed by a woman, they don't need a reason! The medium rare steak was nice but like everywhere in this tourist town, very expensive. 6,900 pesos for the steak and 1,800 for a beer.
I wake up at 02:00 sweating my nads off. It's damn hot! Sean gets up for a pee, followed by Monika, followed by me. Only I hang about in the freezing cold outside for 10 minutes to cool off. None of us can go back to sleep for sometime. I'm pleased I do because I start dreaming of a scientist on a naval ship who creates 3 life forms by sucking the life force out from a room of passengers. These life forms then start sucking the life force out of the crew, turning them into piles of sludge. The ship crashes on an island and is responsible for creating plagues of zombies. I later crash land on the jungle island in a spaceship and the rest of the dream is about me and my crew trying to repair our ship whilst cracking zombie heads open trying not to get bit! But then I wake up and have to do the dull and dreary, like wash and get dressed. Boring!
Today, Monika, Sean & I go on a Salt Lake and lagoon tour for the day. Our ride turned up at the hostel at 08:35, some half hour late, by which time Sean & Monika were getting very concerned. First up was the Chaxas Lagoon in the Los Flamencos National Reserve which took a 2,000 pesos entrance fee and a good hour's drive down a dirt track to get to. Our park guide, who didn't speak any English, led us (a group of 6) down a wide path around the salt lake. We were walking on the salt flat itself and the mini walls that lined the path were made from lumps of salt deposits that coated the floor. In Espanol the guide tried to explain the difference between Chilean, Andean and James Flamingos as they lined the lake and flew over our heads. Their bright red fringes really stood out, making them look very striking. The guide scooped up some lake water in a large plastic spoon to show us what the flamingos eat - freaky giant swimming insects! The lake must contain billions & billions of them for there were hundreds in just the spoon scoop! Back at the visitor centre we were sat down to watch a video, which probably repeated everything the guide said but it had English subtitles so it was all news to us!
Back in the van, down more bumpy dirt tracks to a couple of Salt Lagoons. As pretty as they were no-one thought they were anything more than scenic viewpoints and not worth the 2,000 pesos National Park entrance fee.
To while away the hours in the van we chatted extensively to an American girl who'd recently come out of hospital after contracting a facial bacterial infection on the side of her face and on her ear. Some scabby peeling skin was still left. Ewww!
We arrived at a little local cafe for lunch, Sean & Monika strode ahead to pickup their pre-ordered veggie meals only to be told, "Solo Carne!" or "Only Meat!" They weren't happy but after discussion they made some omelets. For me it was a salad starter, meat & potato soup and tinned peach dessert. Next we got dropped off at Toconao with a population of 550. The only attraction was a quaint church tower in the town plaza.
In all it seems we didn't book a tour (with a guide) but rather a driver & van to haul us to the sights. All the other "tours" in town were the same.
Again, I leave Sean & Monika to cook their dinner whilst I head out for mine, I get some Internet in at the same time. I crave pizza, for it has to be cheaper than last night's steak. In my chosen venue the waiter assures me I want a medium pizza rather than an individual as they're only thin crust etc... So a medium Americano and a beer it is then. I score on my choice of beer, it's a bottled Pale Ale! Then the pizza arrives - a gigantic family sized flying saucer of a sausage pizza! I feel stupid for ordering such a monolithic slab and feel the need to eat 1 slice over half to justify myself. It was a little too much greasy sausage and I felt a little ill. Still, I justified myself and rolled home for 23:00 to find Sean & Monika passed out in bed.
I began to get restless again in the early hours, not that it mattered as we all got up at 03:30 to be picked up at 04:00. Whilst talking about whether or not we'd have the same driver (who unfortunately has bucked teeth) and if we'd spot him in the dark, Sean remarks, "Well that smile would be hard to miss!" Indeed, we had the same van, same driver but different passengers; an older German couple and their student daughter, Elaina. It was a 2½ hour, extremely bumpy, drive up through the hills to get to the El Tatio Geyser Field (another 2,000 pesos entrance fee) at an altitude of some 4,200 meters!!! Phew! And at 06:30 it was cold, -8°C cold! Brr...
The landscape was impressive, plumes of hot gas and evaporating steam rising into the air after being spewed out from the copious holes scattered all around the crater we were standing in. The white gas illuminated by the murky dawn light gave an impression of standing on another planet, or even a Hollywood set! As the sun rose we were able to make out multi-coloured mineral formations on the ground. Everywhere you stepped and walked the ground the bubbled and boiled under your feet. The water exits the ground at some 85°C. Our driver made coffee and hot chocolate from a steaming pool next to the parked van.
I chatted to the Elaina, the German girl, for a bit. She felt queasy and unwell due to the altitude. I've always found girls with German accents very sexy. I put it down to watching too much foreign porn when I was younger! "Ooo, yah!" I consider getting a job in Germany on my return.
Next up was a hot mineral bath in a mud pool - good job I brought my swimming shorts! The water was warm, not hot as you might expect. But as you moved around you would find trapped bubbles of scalding air and jets of super heated water. It felt like you kept sitting under the hot water tap in a bath! Getting out of the pool was difficult, the air temp was still below freezing and the mild breeze didn't help either! Brr...
Having seen enough natural foaming mountains of scalding water we moved on and stopped at a small village called Machuca, population 30! After a quick wander around, the cafe opened with a stack of BBQ Llama kebabs, only ½1 each! Mmm...
Moving on it was another 2 hours along the dusty and bumpy dirt track back to San Pedro. The dust was so much that Sean & Monika spent most of the journey breathing through their T-Shirts, using it as a filter. I didn't bother as I figured us Welsh, bred from good mining stock, are used to harsh conditions and made from sterner stuff.
To save money in the evening I was going to buy some eggs & bananas and eat at the hostel but I ended up scranning a cheese, ham & tomato omelet for £2.50 instead!
In the morning we all booked a 3 day tour to take us out of Chile and into Bolivia and I farted about on the Internet until 15:00 when we got picked up for the Moon Valley Sunset Tour. We have the same van and the same goofy driver again. But first we visit Valle de la Muerte (Death Valley). Cool! The driver drops us off and we walk down from the view point to the bottom. Only we had to wait for a bus load of geriatrics to clear off before we could take some un-spoilt photos. Most of the path was soft sand, necessitating bare foot walking - nice!
After being picked up at the bottom we get driven into the Valle de al Luna National Park (another 2,000 pesos entrance fee). They have this fantastic luxury looking toilet with a clean tiled floor and the urinal and the toilet bolted onto the wall of the mud hut. It looks so posh, clean and sanitary but yet so rustic at the same time!
We stop off to view The Three Maries, an un-interesting rock formation from a million years ago.
At the Valle de la Luna itself we're told that the best sunset views are from the top of a cliff, necessitating a ridge walk along this mighty sand dune. Sean sprints off in an effort not to miss sundown leaving Monika and I walking up with a retarded Brazilian guy. (Or maybe just all Brazilians sound retarded?) After we ditch him, it was barefoot time up the sand dune. We perched ourselves on the top of the cliff with Sean up and watched the sun set. It was good. And so was the sprint back down the sand dune afterwards!
In town we all went out for dinner at Todos Natural for Sean & Monika had heard they do good veggie food. I was just pleased we caught them at happy hour so I could order myself 2 Picso Sours for the price of 1 (= 1,000 pesos each) and a beer! The food was great and came out with amazing presentation. My chicken & noodles looked like a giant alien insect eating a rotting brain. So cool! The other meals followed suit and my pancake dessert with ice-cream & chocolate sauce was also amazingly yummy!
Sean & Monika went home, I did some Internet and on the way back I bumped into the 3 students I'd met in Ushuaia. They had just arrived, I'm leaving tomorrow. We only have a quick chat in the street, they're tired and wish to go to bed. Bloody typical, I was quite up for another beer myself! We swap email addresses in case we're able to meet up at later date.