Sunday, January 19, 2003

January 19, 2003 - San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

We're back in Chile after our Bolivia expedition.  In short, we were quite disappointed with Bolivia.  We found the people to be much less friendly and competent than Peru and Chile and even rude sometimes.  La Paz was quite an interesting city upon first arrival but once you got into the guts of it, we found it to be just another busy, filthy, noisy city, except with many more aggressive beggars and merchants.  Once good thing was the low price of things, there were a lot of bargains to be had.  I bought a stringed instrument called a charango, which is a beautiful sounding guitar-like beastie used in Bolivian music.  Ana picked up a lovely alpaca sweater.  We also found a great hotel where we did a bit of relaxing.

We booked ourselves on a four day tour to the Uyuni region in the south west part of Bolivia.  We had a bit of trouble getting there and saw some really seedy towns along the way.  But once the tour was underway, we really did have a great time, mostly due to the fantastic group we were with.  We had a Bolivian guide named Emilio and the other people were an Australian/New Zealander couple and a Swiss couple, all of whom were fantastic people with great senses of humour.  The Bolivian countryside we traveled through was nothing short of amazing.  The scenery changed from a gigantic salt lake, to dry desert cactuses, to huge snowy mountains, to lunar dust, to muddy lakes full of flamingos, to red lakes, to mountains of borax and, finally, to a final night's accommodation that was so putrid, so foul, and so disgusting that even Ana was looking for the sweet anesthesia of alcohol.  I don't want to write too much about it, I think there is a good story to come from that trip!

We arrived back in Chile yesterday to a town called San Pedro de Atacama which was described as a lovely frontier town by the guide books but is actually a dusty, overpriced, gringo hole.  The only redeeming features are the selection of nice restaurants with great food and groovy bars.  We had a splendid time last night with a bunch of the people from our tour.  We had dinner and drinks in a restaurant with an open roof in the centre allowing lunar rays to shine in and a crackling wood fire on the ground.  We sat around the fire playing cards and having a good laugh.  We are going to meet up with the Australian/New Zealander couple in a few weeks in Argentina and Brazil which is sure to be a great time.

We will spend the day here tomorrow then in the evening catch a night bus back to Arica where we will have a day then fly back to Santiago.  It seems like it has been ages since we arrived in Chile but it's only been a couple weeks!  Good sign, that means our trip isn't going too fast...


Friday, January 10, 2003

January 10, 2003 - Puno, Peru

What a year it's been already and it's only the 10th of January.  We needed a second wind for this last half of our adventure and we have certainly gotten it here in South America.  WHAT A PLACE!!!!  Where do I begin...We arrived in Santiago, Chile and spent a day adjusting to the 16 hour time difference.  We then called our friend Alvaro and went for dinner with him in his wife at a great little restaurant in one of the suburbs of the city.  Our first day out and already the place is full of character and amazing sites around every los latinos....they are a great bunch!!

We no sooner got to Santiago, when we found cheap flights to the northern border city of Arica.  So off we went to the desert.  This little town emerges out of no where like a mirage.  Not much there but a huge market, miles of sand, a museum with Inca mummies  and  plenty of transport options to Peru.  The border crossing was amazingly straight forward and our driver did everything from fill out forms to stand in line!  What service!  The first major town we arrived in was called Arequipa.  The centre of town is full of beautiful colonial style cathedrals and buildings which are lit up at night!  Although it seems to have much to offer tourists, there didn't seem to be many, and that was perhaps the best part of all.  We also went to a 15th century convent called Convento de Santo Catarina, which is the size of a small town.  

We next decided to go on a  fantastic over night tour to the second deepest canyon in the world called Canon de Colca.  Quite a sight, as were the condors which circled overhead.  One part of that tour that I WILL try and forget is the giant rodent (Guinea Pig) that Kris ate that evening...Ugh!!  They are apparently a local delicacy and Kris insists on trying all local foods.  We had a diverse group of people on the tour; four Peruvians, one American, one Brazilian, one German, one Nicaraguan, one Palestinian, one Irish, one French and us two Canadians.  Quite a group, but to top it all off, we ALL spoke Spanish!!!  

Our next stop was the famous Machu Picchu ruins near the colonial town of Cusco.  Cusco is one of the last inhabited civilizations of the Incas.  It is surrounded by ruins, and has a variety of churches,  and other monuments, later built by the Spaniards which arrived in Peru in the 16th century.  Machu Picchu is the largest  and most well preserved display of Inca ruins in the world, and it was magical.  It took 4 hours by train and another 1/2 hour by bus to get there, but it was worth every minute.  We had a  wonderful guide who described he place, like he had built it with his own two hands.  He was the most passionate and articulate tour guide we've ever had!!  So just when we thought that nothing could top what we'd seen in Peru, we come to Puno, a small unattractive little town on the highest navigable lake in the world called Lake Titicaca.  This afternoon, we went on a boat ride to the a group of  floating islands made entirely of reeds.  On these islands live a community of 800 descendants of a pre-Inca race called the Uros. They build the islands, their homes, boats, all out of these water reeds.  They survive by fishing and then bartering with other floating islands and the people from the mainland.  Such a simple life, but they all had the most magical smiles.....we have so much to learn.

So that has been our first 10 days of 2003.  I only hope the next 355 are as exciting. 


Wednesday, January 1, 2003

January 1, 2003 - Auckland, New Zealand

Happy New Year kiddies!!  We had a quite but very nice time last night sitting in a park drinking wine, smoking a cigar, and watching the fireworks shot off the top of Skytower in the centre of Auckland.  We've been exploring the city for the past few days doing plenty of walking and sightseeing.  Yesterday we wandered through the harbour which is the home of the America's Cup sailing race, quite interesting.

Today we are hanging around the hostel waiting for our taxi which is arriving at 2:00pm to take us to the airport.  We fly overnight to Chile, gaining a day in the process, and will arrive in Santiago at noon on New Years Day.  If my calculations are correct we should get another New Year's countdown somewhere over the Pacific!

More to come from Chile....