14.01.2008 - 21.01.2008
Check out www.haydencarlyonphotography.com for more photos from the trip.
We spent the morning getting fried and avoiding the jellyfish infested waters at the local beach in Arica, at the very top of Chilean Pacific Coast. Then started the long drive south through the Atacama, the driest desert in the world, to Santiago.
Yes Alex we actually paid $25us for this room.
First stop along the way was San Pedro. A small, green but dusty oasis town, set in a mountain plateau, at the northern tip of the Atacama Desert. The landscape in and around San Pedro de Atacama is very dramatic and looks like something you would find on another planet. There were loads of day trips to do and things to see around the town, so we decided to give ourselves a few days to check it out.
Valley of the moon
We hiked another sand dune, went sand boarding in the Valley of Death ( where it almost never rains, except of course when we were there), did a tour through the Valley of the Moon, checked out a few other tourist spots and took some much needed time to just relax.
San Pedro is a popular stop over for people coming to and from Argentina, so it’s a bit of a tourist trap but still a nice place to chill for a few days. It is also one of the best places in the world for star gazing, with over 330 clear nights a year.
Although we planned on continuing the drive 1500km south through the desert, we decided to skip Santiago and take a short cut through the Andes, into the north or Argentina. The drive through Chile to Santiago then onto Buenos Aries would have taken twice as long and cost twice as much, so after our brief stop in the Atacama Desert we headed back into the Andes for the 3rd time.
Volcanoes in the Andes. Chile
The first two times we crossed the Andes the weather wasn’t exactly great and there was a lot of low cloud, so we didn’t get to see a lot but this time we really lucked out, what an amazing drive. The weather was fantastic and the drive was absolutely beautiful. The scenery changed continuously throughout the day and the colors at high altitude were incredible.
Drive over the Andes; the Chilean side where I took the photos of the flamingos.
Flamingo lagoons, salt lakes, salt flats, multicolored mountains and valleys, grassy plateaus that stretch for hundreds of miles and thousands of what have to be the biggest cactus in the world. The best drive of the trip by far. We topped the day off with a massive steak dinner at a very chilled out, road side camping ground, at the bottom of the Argentinean side of the Andes.
Argentina Salt flats
Biggest cactus in the world
A hummingbird that was hanging around in the campinground we stayed at.
Apart from the Andes, the north of Argentina is completely flat, so unfortunately the scenery is pretty repetitive, especially when you compare it to the drive through the mountains; some grass fields a few trees, grass and more grass. But luckily enough the 130kmph express ways, the crazy Argentinean drivers and the extremely, and I mean extremely, corrupt Police officers kept us entertained.
There were a few decent cities to check out along the way, so we stopped for a night or two at some of them and took our time getting to the capital. The people in Argentina are far more Italian than Spanish, they dress, act and eat like the Italians. Pasta, pizzas, ice cream and every kind of meat imaginable, especially steak, which they consume by the pound.
When we arrived in Buenos Aires we took a few days to check out the capital and its bars, clubs and restaurants. Definitely a cool place and very civilized, my favorite big city of the trip so far. It’s hard to believe there are over 13 million living there. There are lots of things to do, plenty of parks and wide streets and a real eclectic mix of people. I’m still not sure what a typical Argentinean person looks like, or even if there is such a thing.
Local street performer in Buenos Aires
Tourist and local prices
Recoleta Cemetery Beunos Aires
With the Brazilian Carnival starting early this year (2nd of Feb), we also decided to make another slight adjustment to the trip and not make the drive to Patagonia and down Tierra del Fuego. I have heard that the drive is incredible and it was a big part of the trip but it was either that or carnival and im afraid carnival wins out this time. We may still be able to squeeze it in at the end of the trip but I doubt it. Besides Alex is starting to get home sick and wants to get to Brazil as soon as possible. So we will drive to Uruguay in the next few days or so and then onto Florianopolis for the 5 day carnival. Then continue the drive up the coast to Salvador and the Amazon.
On a slightly more comical note check this out….Just outside Buenos Aires we were pulled over by the local police at a checkpoint. The following is the actual word for word conversation that took place yesterday.
Conversation with one of the many Corrupt Argentinean Police officers:
Dodgy Police officer: Drivers license and temporary import papers please.
We showed him our papers.
Dodgy Police officer: Do you have the original title.
We handed him a copy of the title.
DodgyPolice officer: Ok, do you have insurance?
We gave him a copy of the insurance as well.
Dodgy Police officer: Hmmm (he scratched his head as his dodgy, ant sized, scheming brain started to tick over and spluttered into life )… Ok… do you have a tow rope?
Alex: A what? A tow rope? What for?
Dodgy Police officer: Well in Argentina by law you must carry a tow rope, in case you break down.
Alex: Ah, sorry, no we don’t…
Dodgy Police officer: Ok, come with me, I have to write you a ticket.
Hayden: Ah hang on a minute; I forgot, yes we do have a tow rope, it’s in the trunk under all our luggage. Do you want me to get it?
Dodgy Police officer: Ah ..No.
Dodgy Police officer: Do you have a road triangle?
Dodgy Police officer: You know, a reflective triangle, to put on the road in the case of an accident or break down.
Alex: Ah yes somewhere. I think it’s also in the trunk with the tow rope, under the luggage.
Dodgy Police officer: (Pauses and thinks for a while…). Ok then. Do you have a large white blanket?
Alex/Hayden: WTF? (In English of course…)
Dodgy Police officer: A white blanket, to cover the dead bodies?
Alex: The dead bodies??? Oh I get it “in case of an accident”.. No we don’t.
Hayden: I have a beach towel and I’m pretty sure it’s big enough to cover a dead body if we need it to.
…At this point we are both trying our hardest not to laugh as we follow him across the road to his portable office/bribe room…
Dodgy Police officer: No a towel won’t do, it has to be sheet that is used specifically to cover dead bodies.
-we didnt bother to ask where one would purchase one of the aforementioned dead body blankets.
Alex: Well in that case no we don’t. And Im sure we can’t be fined for that. Maybe we should call our embassies.
Dodgy Police officer: Call whoever you want, we are the police, we are in charge of the roads and we can do whatever we want.
This went on for another 5 minutes or so and in the end he gave up trying to fine us and just asked directly for money. He asked for $30US so he could buy him and his friends some coffee. We gave up fighting, paid him $3; he called us “cheap” and were on our way.
I really hate paying bribes, especially for no reason, but police corruption seems to be a way of life here, besides it was worth the $3 purely for the entertainment.
I would like to say it was the only time it happened but it wasn’t. It happened 2 more times that day. Less than an hour later we were pulled over again, by yet another corrupt Argentinean police officer and we went through the same crap again, we paid $3 “gas money” this time and were on our way again.