Atacama desert!

In a week, we have covered 1550km (33 bus hours!!), going from Valparaiso to San Pedro de Atacama through Caldera and from San pedro de Atacama to Salta, back in the north of Argentina. The best way to travel to cover such distances is by night coach. Coaches are really comfortable and at this time of the year there are not so many travellers (still a few) and we can spread out over four seats. We also save a hostel night.

Caldera is a beach resort with pristine beaches. During low season, the place is deserted… Only other attraction: the church designed by Gustave Eiffel (see photo album).

On the way to San Pedro, we stopped to visit national park  ”Pan de Azucar”. We did not see any animal (penguins, foxes) but we had a very nice walk through sandy hills and cactus, our first walk (20 km) in the atacama desert!

Around San Pedro de Atacama, the land was beautiful and impressive. By far the best sceneries we have seen up till now! The village is surrounded by snowy volcanos and there are geysers, salars, lagunas and valleys to visit. The four main attractions are Valle de la luna, Geysers del Tatio, Salar de Atacama with Laguna Chaxa (flamingos reserve) and the altiplano.

We could visit Valle de la Luna by bike but for all the other sites we had to take a tour through an agency as there was no other way to visit (half a day tour). A mini van picked us up early in the morning; as early as 4 am for the geysers to see them before the sunrise (their activity is less visible when the temperature increases).

Little explanations:

The salar (salt desert) is formed from volcano sediment dissolved with water precipitation and trapped in a depression. Water evaporates leaving layers of salt forming the salar.

The geysers are hot water sources (110-120 degrees C) projecting water and steam out of the surface. As the water precipitation goes into the pores of volcanic rocks, it gets heated by the magma under the earth surface. The water boils and with the pressure, water and steam are ejected through the cavity, reaching several meters height.

After visiting the geysers, we had a bath at 8.30 am in an outside and natural thermal pool! Outside temperature was -7 degrees C, freezing cold to undress! But water temperature was 30 degrees C!

We will soon create a ”Bons plans” page to give you some tips about hostels and restaurants we liked the most.

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Valparaiso

We left Santiago (still by bus) for the coast and the Pacific on Saturday. We spent 5 hours at the National History Museum and we are becoming unbeatable!

We begin to get used to our traveler condition: no more advanced booking, neither for bus nor hotel, we decide one day at a time.

In Santiago we liked so much the house of Pablo Neruda that we visited the other two (there are 3) in Valparaiso and Isla Negra. He was a brillant man, politician , diplomat, but first and foremost a poet, Nobel Prize of Literature, awarded the Legion of Honour, … His houses are made of many rooms all as original as each other and all full of objects collected from his many travels.

Valparaiso charmed us by the colors and quirky shapes of its houses. The hills are full of artist’s galleries and narrow stairs which run between the houses.

Next to Valparaiso, Vina del Mar is ‘pretty and chic’ with its beaches and a large pedestrian and busy street . This is the holiday destination for people from the capital. The city seemed to us of little interest and apartment blocks disfigure the coast and the sand dunes.

On the culinary side the meat like in Argentina is good and cheap but it is the mariscos (seafood) that characterize the country. We also tried the Completo: hotdog with guacamole, tomato and mayo. It’s better than it looks!

And for a drink the local drink is the Pisco Sour: pisco ( liquor), egg white, lemon juice and lemonade.

Tomorrow we go up Chile to head to the Atacama Desert. We have to decide the next stop tonight (it’s 11:30 p.m. … ).

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Crossing the Andes and arrived in Chile

Hola!

We have gone a long way since Buenos Aires and we are now in Santiago since two days. We spent two days in Mendoza, the wine region, and two days in the Andes in Los Penitentes, near the Aconcagua, the highest peak of the Andes reaching 6962 m.

The city of Mendoza is the mandatory transition to go bike riding in the vineyards , visit the wineries and taste Argentine wine.

We then arrived in the Andes at 2600 m, in the middle of nowhere and without reservation ; it’s the off-season and many hotels were closed, we wondered if we could find somewhere to sleep.

Finally one hotel was still open (with the yellow roof), we were the only clients!

Norma, the manager, welcomed us warmly. She did not see anyone for two days. Her latest client, a guy from Alaska, landed here in shorts and sandals in the evening when the temperature had dropped to -2 degrees C!

Like hotels, buses are rare to go sightseeing, therefore we decided to hitchhike and it worked pretty well! We were picked up by a truck driver who was bringing back a freight of Argentinian corn for the Chilean chickens! We wandered 3 hours in the park of the Aconcagua and climbed up to 4200 m on the old road which connected Argentina to Chile.

We had our first headache in altitude that we tried to get rid of by drinking mate, a drink made of herbs and sugar that Argentinians drink all day. The mate is drunk in a small calbasse wood (the quality of the wood has a big importance for the taste of Mate ) with a metal straw to hold the grass (we will try to get a picture).

We arrived in Santiago two days ago and we stay in a former school converted into an inn with a kitchen of 50 square meters where we cook to save money.

With 7 million inhabitants, Santiago includes almost half of the country’s inhabitants. The city is nice and lively but it is constantly under a layer of haze that obscures the Andes.

We meet very nice people: Quebecois in Buenos Aires, Germans in Mendoza, a Canadian in Los Penitentes, an English in Santiago, all on vacation for a period between one and five months.

The internet connection in the hostel is very bad and we will upload our photos once we have a better connection …

Hasta luego!

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Goodbye Buenos Aires, Hello Mendoza

After more than a week in BA, it is now time to move on. Tonight we are taking the bus to Mendoza (14 hours journey to cross Argentine Est to West). We had a really good time in BA.

In the last few days, we walked through Palermo, a rich area with its trendy shops and chic bars , where we took our first tango class! With everybody well dressed and girls with high heels, we stood out with our backpaker look and walking shoes. But you can’t judge a book by its cover! We learned a few steps and we have to say that we are pretty good!

For Mathieu’s Birthday, we crossed the Rio de la Plata to spend a day in Colonia in Uruguay. It took 1 hour only by boat to cross the 60km wide river. Colonia is a very charming place with colonial houses and cobbled streets.

On the 25th of May, we celebrated the Argentina’s Independance Day with the portenos on the Plaza de Mayo. It is like our French 14th of July. The place was crowded and there was a big stage in front of the Government House, where different Argentinian bands played until late in the night (Cumbia, La Mosca, Los Pericos). Families came with their gourd of Mate which they usually drink with a metal straw.

During our stay we felt very safe and we had no issue coming back walking late at night. But we saw poverty: children selling all sort of stuff in the subway and gathering cardboards from the bins in the street at night. Several times when we had left our backpack on our back somebody reminded us to put it at the front because of ”ladrones”. We also started counting the change when we realised that the cashiers regularly got it ”wrong”!

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We are adapting to the rhythm of Buenos Aires

Hi everyone! Difficult to find the time to write, there are so many things to see in this city. We walk all day and at night the Argentinians go to bed very late, it is hard for us to keep up! In the weekend the party doesn’t begin before 2am.

Tango is omnipresent everywhere we go: in the streets and in bars. Like perfect tourists we went to a tango show (dinner and spectacle) in a Tangueria. It was a mix of dance, song and music with an orchestra composed of a piano , a cello , a violin and an accordion. Great but too short, at the end we asked for more! Thanks again to the Pompey family  for this gift!

We also went yesterday to a milonga (dance hall for tango enthusiasts). We went there at 23h and we were the first to arrive with the elderly! Young people began to arrive around midnight. We got impressed by a 80 years old couple unable to remain seated on their chairs. They danced all night with pirouettes and everything, we almost saw them doing a split! There is however a big difference between amateurs and professionals. For some amateurs it really looks like Carioca!

In the mean time we visit: La Boca – Maradonna district with colourful houses made of corrugated metal sheets, it’s a bit too touristy; Puerto Madero – we walked along the Rio de la Plata, it was as if we were at the seaside, impossible to distinguish Uruguay on the other side; San Telmo – with its bars, antique dealers and tango shows, this old part of BA is still well alive; Plaza de Mayo – the oldest square in BA, cradle of the revolution for the independence of Argentina.

Argentinians are very friendly and always willing to help. Our first bus ride was a bit of an adventure: there are no stop signs in the streets nor in the bus. Often the only way to guess a stop is to spot the queue on the sidewalk. By late afternoon the sidewalks are crowded with Argentinians queuing quietly for the bus.

Our Spanish is improving day after day. We speak Spanish all the time and almost never English.

Hugs and do not forget to take a look at the photo album!

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Buenos Aires

We arrived in Buenos Aires on Tuesday morning. Buenos Aires is a big city with wide avenues in american style.

But the San Telmo neighbourhood where we have our hostel looks more like a spanish quarter full of steak houses and nice bars.

Buenos Aires is divided into distinct districts. Yesterday we had a stroll in the Recoleta neighbourhood known for its cemetery where several generations of the Argentine elite are buried.

In the evening we went up to the docks full of restaurants and trendy clubs.

We then enjoyed our first ”Bife de Chorizo” (at least 600g of Sirloin steak) for me and ”Bife de Lomo” (at least 600g of Tenderloin steak) for Mathieu, along with Chimichuri sauce (spicy herb sauce): it is not a myth, the meat is so delicious that it melts in your mouth!

We booked a Tango Show for tonight: www.querandi.com.ar in the San Telmo area! Thanks to the Pompey Family for this nice gift!!!!

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Departure

We are at the Toulouse airport waiting at the gate for the flight to Buenos Aires via Madrid. Looking forward to being there!

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Here we go!

Our first post! We left Portsmouth for Toulouse on the 28th of April. As you can see on the picture below, we managed to fit all our stuff in 16 square feet!  Next step is Buenos Aires on Monday 16th of May.

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