Lots and lots of apartments/condos
Lots and lots of apartments/condos

Paso Jama

Argentina, Chile Comments Off
May 162011

Before heading north to Bolivia we wanted to make one last stop in Argentina to explore the northwest.  Buses from San Pedro de Atacama to Salta, Argentina go via the Jama pass.  The road is relatively new (constructed in the 1990′s) and climbs east from San Pedro to a maximum altitude of 4,400m (14,432ft).  The total trip takes about 12 hours but the scenery along the way is absolutely incredible so it is hard to be bored.

Vicuñas
Vicuñas

After clearing the Chilean border formalities in San Pedro, the bus started its slow crawl out of the San Pedro basin.  Being an Argentine bus, we were able to enjoy a delightful selection of films including direct-to-DVD favorites such as “Blood and Bone” on the climb out of San Pedro.

We reached border about three hours into the ride and then got to unload (people and bags) for the usual border antics.  An exceptionally lazy working dog made a humerous attempt at sniffing all of our bags before he went back to sleeping along the road.  All in all, we were stopped at the border for about an hour.

Once we were on the Argentine side of the border drove for a few hours more across desolate terrain and salt flats.  We passed through Salinas Grandes (Argentina’s baby version of Bolivia’s Salar) and then down through dozens of switchbacks into the Quebrada de Humahuaca.  We pulled into Salta about 9PM and made our way to the hostel.

Paso Jama
Volcán Licáncabur
Volcán Licáncabur
Vicuñas
Vicuñas
Altitude!
Altitude!
Argentine customs facility just after the pass.  The Chilean equivalent is located in San Pedro.
Argentine customs facility just after the pass. The Chilean equivalent is located in San Pedro.
Pulling in to Salinas Grandes
Pulling in to Salinas Grandes
Starting the descent into the Quebrada de Humahuaca
Starting the descent into the Quebrada de Humahuaca

May 082011
Just after takeoff from Santiago.  Sunrise over the Andes
Just after takeoff from Santiago. Sunrise over the Andes

On April 23 we finally squeezed the last segment out of our LAN award ticket that carried us all over Chile.  The final flight was from Santiago to Antofagasta in the north.  It was a pleasant early morning flight on a cute little Airbus A318 (first time on that aircraft for me).  Service was the usual drink and snackbox affair and arrival into Antofagasta was a little ahead of schedule.

Desolation
Desolation

We bought tickets for a shared taxivan to the center and were dropped off at Antofagasta’s bus terminal a short while later.  We had tickets to take us from Antofagasta to San Pedro de Atacama high in the Chilean Altiplano.  The drive took us across some spectacularly desolate landscape.

The last stretch of road into San Pedro de Atacama.
The last stretch of road into San Pedro de Atacama.

San Pedro de Atacama is a nice little desert town that thrives off tourism.  We stayed at Hostal Sonchek, run by a Slovenia/Chilean couple.  Like most of the buildings in San Pedro, our hostal was built of adobe and had a great open air courtyard in the middle.  We stayed a total of five nights and saw some amazing things out in the desert.  Stay tuned!

Santiago to San Pedro de Atacama
Just after takeoff from Santiago.  Sunrise over the Andes
Just after takeoff from Santiago. Sunrise over the Andes
Sandy cliffs on final into Antofagasta
Sandy cliffs on final into Antofagasta
The humorously short A320 variant...the A318
The humorously short A320 variant…the A318
Predeparture snack.  Pancho con ketchup, mustaza y palta (avocado)
Predeparture snack. Pancho con ketchup, mustaza y palta (avocado)
Quite a nice bus terminal in Antofagasta
Quite a nice bus terminal in Antofagasta
Those are some big tires!  Mining is big in this area.
Those are some big tires! Mining is big in this area.
Desolation
Desolation
The ruins of some town.
The ruins of some town.
The last stretch of road into San Pedro de Atacama.
The last stretch of road into San Pedro de Atacama.
Courtyard at Hostal Sonchek
Courtyard at Hostal Sonchek
Courtyard at Hostal Sonchek
Courtyard at Hostal Sonchek
Documenting San Pedro de Atacama
Documenting San Pedro de Atacama
Enjoying a delicious mote in San Pedro
Enjoying a delicious mote in San Pedro

Valparaíso

Chile Comments Off
May 042011
The view from the top of Ascensor Polanco
The view from the top of Ascensor Polanco

After the trip to Easter Island we had a five day stopover in Santiago worked into our award ticket.  We had hoped to spend about half that time in Santiago and the other half in Valparaíso.  Unfortunately, the Easter holiday spoiled those plans.  The man at our guesthouse in Santiago warned us of the difficulties associated with getting there and back again.  He said it wasn’t uncommon for the bus ride to take upwards of 5 hours when it is normally under two.  We took his advice and made a day trip out there on the Tuesday before Easter.  Getting from Santiago to Valpo was a quick and easy process.  A short trip on the Santiago metro followed by a 1 hour and 45 minute ride.  Weather was cloudy and gloomy when we arrived around 10AM but that slowly burned off during the day.

Valparaíso is a stunning city.  The surrounding hills drop steeply to the water’s edge where there is a busy shipping port and a naval base.  The hillsides are covered in houses of all colors that are seemingly stacked one on top of another.  Many of the slopes are steep enough that funiculars, many of which date from the 1900′s, are needed to hoist tourists and locals up and down the hills.

Ascensor Artillería
Ascensor Artillería

We passed most of the day by wandering around the city, riding the funiculars, and enjoying the spectacular views of the harbour.  The neighborhood of Cerro Concepción, which is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was particularly beautiful.  We also found a huge variety of street art in Valpo.  Even more than we found back in Buenos Aires.  A few people responded positively to my Buenos Aires graffiti post so we made it a point to snap lots of photos to capture Valpo’s street art scene.  Hope you enjoy!  Next up, Santiago.

Valparaíso, Chile
Exploring a market in Valparaíso
Exploring a market in Valparaíso
He needs to find a bigger box to sleep in.
He needs to find a bigger box to sleep in.
The view from the top of Ascensor Polanco
The view from the top of Ascensor Polanco
Ascensor Artillería
Ascensor Artillería

One of the biggest attractions in southern Chile is Torres del Paine National Park.  Most visitors to the park complete multi-day treks such as “the W” and “the circuit” but, being short on time and perhaps toughness, we opted for a simple day tour ($40 per person) of the park’s highlights.  After a hearty breakfast at the Yaganhouse hostel in Puerto Natales a bus picked us up at the dark hour of 7:30am.  We were the first ones to board and, consequently, were able to snag the two front seats.

The huge mouth of the cavern.  Amy pictured at center.
The huge mouth of the cavern. Amy pictured at center.

On the drive north to the park, we made a very short stop at Milodón Cave.  The milodón is an extinct giant ground sloth and apparently the remains of quite a few of them were found in this cave.  We believe it is Puerto Natales’ claim to fame as its silhouette is depicted on all the town’s street signs.  Oh, and there is also a giant metal statue along the road into town.  The cave was nice enough (it is impressively large) but perhaps not worth the 6 USD entry fee since we were only there for 30 minutes.

Laguna Amarga (Bitter Lagoon) has extremely high mineral and salt content.
Laguna Amarga (Bitter Lagoon) has extremely high mineral and salt content.

Before we reached the park we started to see large herds of guanaco, a few ñandu and we managed to catch our first glimpses of the spectacular mountains.  Before reaching the guardhouse we stopped at Laguna Amarga (Bitter Lagoon) a stunning turquoise-colored lake tinted by the heavy mineral content.  Unlike most of the other lakes in the park, this one is “closed” meaning it has no outflows of water.  The continuous evaporation makes the water six times saltier than sea water and the banks are crusted with white salt.

We paid our entrance fee (30 USD for non-residents) and drove onward to Lago Nordenskjold.  Before unloading at the mirador, our guide warned us numerous times about the strong winds.  Sure enough, we jumped off the bus and before I knew it Amy was chasing her glasses which had been ripped from her face.  The winds that day were in excess of 100kph and we heard later that some climbers had been blown off one of the peaks.

Hosteria Pehoé
Hosteria Pehoé

A couple of stops later we checked out the very scenic location for Hosteria Pehoé in the middle of Lago Pehoé.  We took a lunch break at a small tourist village outside the park.  Some of the people on the tour had their meals included, however, we budget-sensitive travelers had packed our own food.  They still let us eat in the restaurant and enjoy the spectacular views.

Lago Grey
Lago Grey

Our final scheduled stop was at Lago Grey on the western end of the park.  Lago Grey has a wide stony beach and, on a clear day, a view of the Gray Glacier some 10+ km away.  Unfortunately, the high winds that day were kicking up so much mist from the water that we could scarcely make out the glacier.  We were able to spot some electric blue icebergs.  One upside to the mist was that it produced a very nice rainbow over the beach.

A rainbow over Lago Grey.  Made possible by the mist being kicked up by the ferocious winds.
A rainbow over Lago Grey. Made possible by the mist being kicked up by the ferocious winds.

On the way home, as a final treat, we managed to spot an Andean Condor.  These birds have the largest wingspan of any land bird at 10.5 ft.  They aren’t all that rare, however, it is pretty uncommon to see one up close and I was very happy that we had those front bus seats so that I could hop out and snap a photo.

Andean Condor
Andean Condor
Torres del Paine National Park
The sloth (milodón) cavern
The sloth (milodón) cavern
The huge mouth of the cavern.  Amy pictured at center.
The huge mouth of the cavern. Amy pictured at center.
A to-scale milodón
A to-scale milodón
Many farms surround Torres del Paine
Many farms surround Torres del Paine
We had the best seats on the bus.
We had the best seats on the bus.
The torres (towers) from afar.
The torres (towers) from afar.
Guanacos
Guanacos
Laguna Amarga (Bitter Lagoon) has extremely high mineral and salt content.
Laguna Amarga (Bitter Lagoon) has extremely high mineral and salt content.
Amy enjoying the wind-free comfort of the inside of our bus.
Amy enjoying the wind-free comfort of the inside of our bus.
Amy trying not to be blown away by the 100+ kph gusts
Amy trying not to be blown away by the 100+ kph gusts
Salto Grande
Salto Grande
Hosteria Pehoé
Hosteria Pehoé
Short gnarly trees are everwhere in the park
Short gnarly trees are everwhere in the park
A rainbow over Lago Grey.  Made possible by the mist being kicked up by the ferocious winds.
A rainbow over Lago Grey. Made possible by the mist being kicked up by the ferocious winds.
Lago Grey
Lago Grey
Andean Condor
Andean Condor
Andean Condor
Andean Condor
Andean Condor
Andean Condor
Andean Condor
Andean Condor

Apr 162011

Chile is a big country.  It is certainly possible to travel by bus but distances are absolutely vast.  Before I left on my RTW trip I researched mileage redemption options within Chile in hopes of finding a cheaper and more comfortable way around.  As it turns out, British Airways has a very generous mileage award for travel within Chile.Chile award routing courtesy of gcmap.com

Easter Island has long been on my list of places to see and, being part of Chile, is accessible using this British Airways award on their partner, LAN Chile.  At the suggestion of some friends I decided to see just how far I could stretch one of these tickets.  Surprisingly, the agents at BA allowed me to piece together a very elongated routing (over 7,500 miles!) that would not only allow me to visit Easter Island but also the far south of Chile.  20,000 miles and $59 in taxes later it was ticketed.

The first flight on this ticket was from Puerto Montt to Punta Arenas in Region XII of Chile.  It is a relatively short two-hour flight and, provided it is clear, you are treated to spectacular views of fjords, mountains and glaciers.  Upon arrival in Punta Arenas we immediately made our way to the bus terminal to catch a bus north to Puerto Natales which is the jumping off point for Torres del Paine National Park.

Chiloé to Puerto Natales

 

4-lane highways.  Welcome to Chile!
4-lane highways. Welcome to Chile!

The day after our trip to El Bolsón it was time for us to cross the Andes to a new country for the both of us – Chile! One of the classic ways to cross is the famous “cruce de lagos” which is a full day of switching between buses and boats as you trace your way across the mountain range.  Unfortunately, this trip is quite expensive and from what we read the quality of the experience is highly weather dependent.  To save some precious pesos we bought a Bariloche to Puerto Montt bus ticket for about 30USD each from the ever-present Via Bariloche.

A foggy morning at the top of Cardenal Antonio Samoré Pass.
A foggy morning at the top of Cardenal Antonio Samoré Pass.

I had visions in my mind of a harrowing 14,000ft mountain pass on a gravel road but in reality the Cardenal Antonio Samoré Pass is pretty tame: below 1300 meters and beautiful tarmac the whole way.  About an hour of the journey is spent on border formalities and most of that was on the Chilean side.  Chile is very protective of their agriculture and import bans on fruits, vegetables and animal products are strictly-enforced.  At the border they completely unloaded the bus and ran all the bags through the xray.  Meanwhile they have a working dog sniffing the ins and outs of the bus.  It was impressively thorough, I have to say.

Our bus on our boat.
Our bus on our boat.

Within thirty minutes of our arrival in Puerto Montt we were already on another bus headed south to Ancud on Chiloé Island.  The total journey (8 USD) takes about three hours and maybe 30 minutes of this are spent on a drive-on, drive-off ferry.  Cruz del Sur, the bus company, also operates the ferries so the timing is nicely orcestrated and wait times are minimal.  The water crossing was smooth and we even managed to spot a few penguins.  We pulled into Ancud around 5PM and made our way to an excellent hostel (Hostal Mundo Nuevo) on the waterfront that was to be our home for the next three nights.

Dinner at the hostel.
Dinner at the hostel.


Bariloche to Chiloé Island
A foggy morning at the top of Cardenal Antonio Samoré Pass.
A foggy morning at the top of Cardenal Antonio Samoré Pass.
Amy crashed out on the bus to Puerto Montt.
Amy crashed out on the bus to Puerto Montt.
4-lane highways.  Welcome to Chile!
4-lane highways. Welcome to Chile!
Our bus on our boat.
Our bus on our boat.
Penguins!
Penguins!
Pulling in to port on Chiloé
Pulling in to port on Chiloé
Hostal Mundo Nuevo - a wonderful waterfront hostel in Ancud
Hostal Mundo Nuevo – a wonderful waterfront hostel in Ancud
Dinner at the hostel.
Dinner at the hostel.


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