Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Water contamination, desert adventures and Independence celebrations

Contamination

So news that the local water supply was contaminated with a virus came too late for me, and I had the pleasant experience of gastroenteritis for at least a week. The solution was a GIANT vaccination in the backside, a diet of gatorade, jelly and probiotic drinks and a few days off school. Fortunately I did not miss too many lessons as the problem wiped out half the town, so much so that the Ministry of Education shut down the schools for the remainder of the week. It was like something out of one of those end of the world movies, people were stockpiling water and for a day or so it was impossible to buy. Needless to say no matter who tells me the problem is resolved I am sticking to bottled water from now on, and have no intention of experiencing the norovirus again any time in the future.

A trip to the Dentist

Now the bad luck continued and I was told to make a trip to the dentist. My Spanish is pretty dismal but amongst all the words I could not mistake the word EXTRACTOR. 5 anaesthetics and some stitches later I had my tooth pulled out and spent the rest of the day looking like I was chewing wasps. For the next few days due to the swelling I had a bit of a lisp much to my familys amusement. My sickness improved somewhat after receiving a lovely letter from Chris.



Desert Adventure

It was the week of Independence celebrations, which in Chile means a week off school- Fantastic!  Despite not feeling entirely at my best we embarked on the 16 hour bus journey from Ovalle to Calama. I was sitting in seat 13 on Friday 13th- as if my luck could not get any worse. Arrived in Calama and met Vivs host grandparents who were incredibly hospitable plying us with palta and bread so much so that we nearly missed our 90 minute bus deep into the desert to San Pedro de Atacama. We arrived and caught up with Lydia and Claudia which was lovely, and treated ourselves to an evening meal of Llama. Suprisingly tasty!



The next morning me and Emily hired bikes and went on an adventure just outside of the town, it was a lot of fun despite the stray dogs which followed us the entire way. It was definitely the best 1.25 GBP spent on the trip so far.

 

In the afternoon we headed to Valle de la Luna and Valle de la Muerte which truly felt like we were on another planet. The wind was intense but we got to visit some really cool caves much like the film 127 hours and saw the sunset over the landscapes. The caves definitely confirmed that I am too tall for Chile and I clambered through the caves with great difficulty.



Bolivia here we come

On Monday we set off on our adventure to Bolivia, we were driven to the border at altitudes above 5500m, and prepared for the altitude with several tablets and coca toffee. OMG it was cold, but we enjoyed hot milo and bread before getting the necessary stamps and boarding our individual Jeep for the next 3 days, with our 24 year old driver Jonny. Not sure he was a fan of us girls as we needed toilet stops at least every hour, spent about 30 seconds at every destination due to the blistering winds and subjected him to 3 days of car singing/ rapping.



I spent most of the trip resembling Phone Jacker, style definitely went out of the window on this adventure.




On Day 1 we saw some incredible lagoons but it was soooo chilly. To warm up we had a trip to the natural hot springs. In theory this sounds like a great idea but the logistics were somewhat problematic and we had to sprint from our Jeep in our swimming costumes in the cold. After the springs it was even more difficult with 5 girls trying to change into about 40 layers in the back of a cramped jeep in full view of a few Bolivian Jeep Drivers.



We reached our accommodation for the evening which was a building in the middle of nowhere. Showers were not on the agenda because you would definitely catch hypothermia in the process. We visited Laguna Colorado which had lots of Flamingoes and had warm soup and tea before putting on even more layers and sleeping bags for the evening. It was ridiculously cold and the altitude definitely resulted in a few sore heads.

The Journey Continues 

Day 2 involved lots more lagoons some rocks in the middle of the desert and a multicoloured volcano. We visited another lagoon which had a lot more flamingoes. Lunch was prepared in the back of the Jeeps in the desert. We visited an abandoned railway line, and had more comical toilet stops outdoors in gail force winds. We were taken to a random building which turned out to be a bar, that sold local beers. We sampled a honey beer, the prices were definitely gringo prices but the taste was good.




Accommodation for the evening was a Hotel made of salt. All the floors and the walls were salt which was definitely a nice novelty. Everyone rushed for the showers which were luke warm- a luxury on a tour of this nature. Dinner was soup, steak and chips- far from the basic meals we had expected. We had a few run ins with a French tour guide who was staying at the same accommodation, and there was lots of politics about what table we were allowed to sit at and which biscuits we could eat. It only added to the banter of the tour though.  



Salar de Uyuni

Day 3, was the day we had all been waiting for. The Salt Flats. We set off early after some random breakfast combinations of manjar and avocado, and tomato and nutella and cake. I think we were all in a desperate attempt to deplete our vast quantities of snacks. After some driving we reached the entrance to the salt flats and started to drive across the vast expanse of whiteness to Cactus Island. So random! Just an island with thousands of cacti in the middle of a salt dessert. A jeep broke down so in the meantime me and Emily had a bit of salt desert Zumba with the music blasting. Definitely got too carried away and forgot about the altitude as we only lasted one song.



We made our way to the centre of the salt flat which was literally AMAZE BALLS! Of course we started right away on a whole range of optical illusion photos- some more succesful than others.



Lunch was  the middle of the desert. Very cool. The tour was almost over and after a brief stop where we bought overpriced Toblerone and a few souvenirs we reached the train cemetry. I made sure to take lots of photos as I knew Chris would enjoy the transport haha but it was so strange, loads of abandoned trains in the middle of the desert.



We were dropped off for the end of our tour in Uyuni which from the distance looked abandoned. We were shocked/relieved to see that the hostel actually existed and after booking our bus tickets back to Chile we enjoyed a nice fairwell meal, and a cheeky Strawberry Daiquiri for me. We said goodbye to the girls and had an early night in preparation for our 3am start.

Uyuni-Calama 

Alarms went off at 3am and we headed for our bus back to Calama, Chile. The bus was absolutely baltic and me and Viv had the misfortune of feeling sick after some dodgy banana chips. When we finally reached the border I said goodbye to Bolivia with a cheeky chunder. We had to change buses at the border but the Chilean bus was 2 hours late leaving us sitting in the middle of the desert looking like a hippy. After more bag searches and tedious paper work we continued on to Calama not arriving until 5 in the afternoon.



Vivs gran was there to great us and we had a steak dinner before preparing to continue celebrating Independence day. I had my first teramoto in Chile which was ice cream, grenadine, white wine and something else... it was actually nice. We headed to a ramada which was a giant tent with a live country band and lots of dancing as well as visiting a fayre with music, food and games. Chileans definitely know how to celebrate things. Shame I was still unwell and returned home, receiving a random foot massage from the grandma. I definitely told her it was my stomach that was the problem but she continued to massage away. I felt quite sorry for the women after 4 days in the desert it cant have been a pleasant experience.  



Goodbye Calama

Next day the family kindly took us to some local mines, the oldest Church in Chile and some ancient ruins. Lunch was another asado but our appetites were pretty pathetic compared to the Chileans, Man vs Food would have had a field day at the sheer amount of meat. We said our goodbyes to the family and the gran gave us lots of gifts. I received a new scarf, a keyrring and some sunscreen, Very random but incredibly kind. We laughed that she saved the factor 30 for me with Emily receiving 15, she definitely spotted Caspar. We had only known her for 2 days and she cried when we left, bless her! 16 more hours on the bus and back to home sweet home Ovalle!

Highlights

  • Spending the week with a great group of girls and laughing our way across the desert to old school 90s music. 
  • Sitting in a hot spring overlooking the most amazing landscapes in sub zero temperatures. 
  • Visiting the Salar de Uyuni Salt flats- mind blowing! 
  • Celebrating Independence day with a cheeky frozen strawberry daiquiri (my absolute fav cocktail)

Words of Warning: Do not do this trip if:
  • you are offended at the thought of weeing in high speed winds in the middle of the desert in full view of passing Jeeps. 
  • you get cold easily, the nights are significantly below zero and the accommodation is far from palacial.
  • you are style concious- on many occasions the deadly socks and sandals combination surfaced purely due to the cold! 
  • you do not have a great group of friends to keep you company! 
The most amazing week! Until Next time! 

Laura xxxx

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