Week 15: Jujuy, San Pedro de Atacama, Uyuni. Chile, Argentina, Bolivia

Day 3  of Carnival and feeling  worse for wear myself and Mati shared a kg of grapes and a beer for breakie and went for mosie around the gorgeous markets selling fresh fruit/veg and local crafts.

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Cute little town of Huamwaca

Lunch back in the hostel was sopa de mani (peanut soup). It’s amazing and really traditional in Northern Argentina and more so in Bolivia. It’s blended peanuts that are boiled in water for 3 hours (apparently this is important otherwise you explode) , fried potatoes, boiled chicken and parsley. It’s absolutely delish and a perfect hangover cure. After lunch we packed up and headed to Purmamarca.  It is a tiny village based in a valley. It has a backdrop of the most amazing mountains and is home to the famous rainbow mountain. When we arrived the weather was pretty mouldy. We were freezing from the motor bike ride so cracked open a bottle of red and camped under a tree listening to the amazing local live music. We hit up some of the local bars afterwards for more live music.

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Fairly sleek setting for amazing live music, Purmamarca

I was telling Mati a story about Lourenso a guy I was travelling with and how his valuables bag got robbed on a bus in Guatemala with camera, money, laptop, passport the complete works as he was sleeping. As I finished telling the story I realized my bag containing all of the above was missing in action. I quickly retraced my steps and ran back to a bar we had been in before and amazingly the bag was just sitting there in the middle of a group of Argentinian men singing their hearts out.  A momentary manic.

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Brewing storms in Purmamarca

We decided to call it a night grab some dinner and one last bottle of Argentinian wine as I had to catch my bus to San Pedro in Chile at 3.40am! My last meal was Churri Pan (chorizo bread) and alfajores (chocolate and dulce the leche cake). This are yummy and absolutely everywhere in Argentina. We ended up pitching our tent at the ‘bus stop’. The bus woman told me just to stand on the side of the road outside a hotel (seemed a bit odd but Mati assured me it was completely normal). We even managed to get some shut-eye before the bus. Obviously I forget to set an alarm but luckily naturally woke up at about 3.15 am. There was no need to worry as there was no sign of the bus or people (expect a few drunks) for hours. So with it almost hitting 6 am I was loosing all hope of seeing a bus. It was a little bit like waiting for Godo (that horrific play I did for the LC which Una somehow loves). It’s basically two men just waiting for nothing.  We took it in turns to keep an eye out for the bus while the other slept. I left my humungous backpack on the road to give the bus man a heads up I was here.

After 3 long hours of waiting we saw the bus!!! I thought I was seeing things but I immediately ran onto the road waving my mattress in the air! And  just like that the bus flew past me. I actually started laughing because I couldn’t believe it had actually come, let alone left. I was so in shock and had to confirm that a bus actually passed. I thought I was loosing my mind. Obviously we copped on eventually and Mati quickly loaded me onto his bike and we sped after the bus it was actually v exciting (albeit baltic) speeding up the mountains in the middle of the night.  When we eventually caught up with the bus we drove beside it screaming, honking the horn and me waving my arms until it stopped. The bus man was actually cross with me!! I didn’t even get into it and just scrambled onto the bus and took the last seat beside a thundering snoring man! Just what the doctor ordered about 4 sleepless nights. For €120  a fairly shocking  service and without the luxury of a motorbike I would have missed it.

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Leaving the madness behind

So in total I spend 6 weeks in Argentina and absolutely loved it. It’s absolutely huge and I definitely underestimated the distances. Everywhere is basically at least a 1000 km away, a 20 hour bus ride or a lot longer if hitch hiking. I had the most amazing last week with Mati and the north of Argentina was definitely one of my highlights. Coach surfing has really opened my eyes and seeing these places through the eyes of the locals is the best (also helped along  by ridely around on a BMW motorbike). Argentina’s food was a step up from Chile that’s for sure. My highlight still remains the Cordero I tasted on new year’s day in Ushuaia, a taste I will never forget. The people have been absolutely amazing and have gotten me out of more than one sticky situations. I have also never met a nation more obsessed with crocs. Even the most glam are wearing them (O you’d be in your ellers!).

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Saying goodbye to beautiful North Argentina

I arrived in San Pedro de Atacama (Northern Chile) after a turbulent exit from Argentina.  San Pedro is the worlds driest desert and the town itself is v cute and is based around a dirt road. It mainly evolves around tourism with an abundance of tourist offices all selling the same thing which is a bit over the top. I successfully found a really nice camp site near the town. My tent has been successfully repaired (for now) thanks Mati. I had my first night’s proper sleep in the last 5 days absolute bliss.

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San Pedro de Atacama, Northern Chile

The next morning, I decided to rent a bike  to visit some of the nearby deserts. I set off early to avoid the insanely hot temperatures. My first stop was Valley de la Meurte.  I managed to lose my water bottle en route to the desert so really was in bits… the heat here is really next level. The view points were sensational (including my  pee stop).  I always prefer a nice view when peeing as opposed to a smelly urinal. It was incredible my pee dried up insanely from the heat! Not a trace of evidence left behind ideal.

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Obviously the illuminator was absolutely essential
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Views of Valley de La Meurte
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Pee view point

Afterwards I cycled to Valley de la Luna which is the most famous place in San Pedro  to watch the sun set. When I arrived the park warden said that the park was closed to all cyclists because the weather conditions were too severe (even know the sun was belting ?). The only people allowed in were tour buses or cars. I had already booked my trip to Bolivia the following day was v v disappointed.  I saw one lad standing on his own with a car and asked him if he minded if I tagged along. V reluctant he consulted with his girlfriend and amazingly they let me come. Sun set was one of the nicest I have every seen.  When returning to the bike shop I realised I had lost the bike lock somewhere between the valley and the shop. There was a hefty fine involved if I didn’t find it. I figured it might be in the Brazilians boot I vaguely remembered them saying what hotel they were staying in. I eventually found the jeep and miraculously was able to climb into the boot and lock and key were there. I had a few funny looks from passer bys who thought I was trying to rob the jeep.

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Golden hour in Valley de la Luna
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The start of a rainbow at sunset in Valley de la Luna
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View of Volcano at sunset, Valley de la Luna

I was up at 6am the next morning for the 3 day trip through the Bolivian wilderness. 6 of us were packed into a 4 x 4 jeep  and I was bundled into the back with the grumpiest Chinese guy, Will. There was 3 other Chilanos and a hilarious Japanese guy so I was happy out. I was essentially was sitting on Will for the entire 3 days as the jeep was packed to the brim. Shame he wasn’t a looker!

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Our ride for the next 3 days
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Amazing Bolvian wilderness

Scenery was spectacular and the jeep stopped regularly for photo opportunities. I was on the cusp of pucking for the entire bumpy journey but thankfully managed to hold it in. One of our stops was to a geyser  which is a hot spring with boiling water which sends columns of steam upwards. Pretty cool as I’d never seen one before but they smell of farts because of all the sulfur. This was a short and smelly visit.

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Day 1 on the trip from San Pedro to Uyuni
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Myself and Now suffocating at the smelly Geyser
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We survived!

Bolivian wine hasn’t a patch on Chile or Argentina but I’m not one to refuse wine so myself and Now (the Japanese chap) were the only takers on our first night. Happy days.  Our jeep all shared a dorm. Will, the grumpy Chinese guy snored the roof down all night (up there with the top 3 snorers I have ever encountered). One of the Chilano guys wasn’t far behind him and they eloquently synchronized their snoring for the entire night. In fairness to the Chilano is had some  useless contraption on his noise to try and help the situation. One of the Chilain women started screaming at Will in the middle of the night to shut him up but hilariously this made him snore even louder. I had my music playing so loud to try to drown him out which caused the most horrific migraine (could have been the vino +/- the altitude either or a combo).  Desperate for some sleep I sleep on the kitchen floor for the rest of the night in my sleeping bag as far away from Will as possible.

About an hour later I woke up violently ill.  I recognized it from Everest as altitude sickness. We were at 4,300 m  high without acclimatizing and it was really difficult to catch your breath. Now gave me some diamox (for altitude sickness), a few painkillers and a dioralyate and I was right as rain! At this stage my eyes were in a bad way from the infection from Carnival. The skin around them got really hard which made it painful to blink with the left eye severely infected. Once back in civilization they will need an NCT. Trying to make small talk with Will at breakie I asked him if he slept well and hilariously he said he didn’t sleep a wink! Would you be able for it…….

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Going for a stroll just before breakie and spotting a Lama catching a few rays

Day 2 and world war 2 erupted in the car. I was hating on Will at this stage and the close proximity to him was rough. The heat really was unbearable ( Lucie you were right). The angry Chilain woman was going ninty because she was ‘cold’ and wouldn’t let me or Will open our windows. As a very reasonable alternative I offered her my ‘questionably clean jacket’. She looked at me in disgust and refused. Anyway the minor issues in the car were all forgotten about with the amazing views of the day. On our second night I asked to pitch my tent in the back in an attempt to get away from Will but they found a room for me and angry Chilain woman to share so we both slept like babas.

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Day 2 on a rock
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Amazing Flamingoes
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Practicing my jump
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Day 2, Bolivia
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Day 2, Bolivia

Our final day of the trip was incredible and finished in Uyuni, famous for the Salt Flats (the largest in the world). It started off with a 4.30 am wake up call. We all crawled into the jeep in the freezing cold. At this time of the year its wet season so the entire salt flats are covered in water which creates amazing reflections. For most of the year it’s completely dry. The jeep ended up driving through the really deep water for sunrise. It was incredible albeit freezing at some points we were almost knee-deep in water. After taking some photos we drove to the salt hotel for a much-needed  breakie stop.

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Waiting for sunrise Salar de Uyuni
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Sunrise from Salar de Uyuni
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Myself and Now trying to master the jump
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About 1 hour later
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The gang, Salar de Uyuni
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Éire looking good front of house
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Beautiful  reflections in Salar de Uyuni
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Me and Will making ( he gave me a few seeds and chinease sweets as an apology so all was forgiven!)
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I randomly found a salt shaker in my pocket!

The day finished off nicely with me catching some much-needed shut eye on an abandoned train. A perfect finish to a fab few days. The trip was spectacular and scenery was stunning. I’ve even been offered accommodation in China so who knows maybe me and Will could hook up down the line despite our rough start. Excited for what Bolivia has in store.

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Getting a much-needed siesta!

 

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