Ok. So where did I leave off? So we took off from Santiago and headed up the coast to La Serena. We quickly saw the ocean for the first time and revelled in its azure appeal. We stopped off for lunch at a small seaside town and visited a church that has trees growing inside of it, perched on a clifftop and then feasted on the delicioso Chilean sandwich called Ava Polta- grilled chicken, avocado, cheese, and tomato on toasted buns. Over lunch I met one of our group who is a native South African Engineer who had just come to Chile after spending 15 months in Antarctica with 9 other men. I quickly realized that I was in the kind of company where relating my life experiences thus far would fail to impress!
La Serena is a beautiful city on the coast and is famous for its Pisco producing grapes. We stopped at the beach to watch the sunset whilst sipping on Pisco sours (delicioso also) and then headed into town to check in to our hostel. A large group of us then ventured into town for dinner and walked right into a summer festival that was going on, complete with fully costumed 5-10 year olds dancing the traditional Chilean dance, the La Cueca. They were so cute, I almost wanted to munch on them for dinner. After a delicious local fare supper, we all headed out to the local bar to see how Chileans party. I should mention that our guide, Jorge, is a force of nature. I have never seen anyone more comfortable singing at the top of his lungs, standing on the bar, and trying his best to rouse every person to their feet in a jubilant celebration of life and its relationship to alcohol. He is one entertaining guy.
By about 1am – things were just getting started, and I was ready for bed. Apparently, Chileans do not even begin their nights until midnight, and frequently party until 6am – it is nothing unusual. Well, this has been the case so far this trip, and today (in Antofagasta) we are all feeling the combined effects of our punished livers and sleep deprived brains. Hopefully, it won´t affect my writing too much!
Anyway, Jorge convinced me to stay by asking me to sing a couple of karaoke songs for the local crowd. As most of you know, that will pretty much guarantee that I´ll keep my tired ass out longer. So, I got up and sang "Killing me softly" The crowd went nuts. I felt like Ricky Martin in his leather wearing hay day. The crowd kept screaming so loud I couldn´t hear the music, and at the end of the song, started chanting "ANITA ANITA ANITA, OTRA OTRA OTRA" which basically is asking for one more song. So I gave in and sang No Doubt´s "Don´t Speak". It was very strange to receive such adoration with hair that looked like ass.
The next day we drove north to Bahia Inglesa – which is translated English Beach. On the way we stopped at the National Park "Reserva Pinguinos" and took a 3 hour boat tour out to some islands that are home to Humboldt penguins. This is the only place on earth where cactus and penguins live side by side. The penguins were adorable, and remarkable climbers, waddling competently up the steep cliffs. We were also lucky enough to view a pod of dolphins who swam quite close to the boat and showed off their impressive acrobatic skills. There were hundreds of sea lions also basking in the strong sun- all in all, we were very blessed with the wildlife we saw.
We stopped at the third island for a picnic lunch and hiked over to a small secluded white sandy beach. I have to say I didn´t expect to see breathtaking beaches whilst in Chile, but this had to be in my top 5 beaches of my life. Absolutely beautiful, with crystal clear emerald, though freezing, water. Tui and I braved the cold and ran into the waves, feeling the air rush out of us when the 15 degree Celsius water hit us.
After lunch we stopped at the supermarket to stock up on booze and provisiones for our 2 night stay in lovely little A frame cabins on the beach in Bahia Inglesa. On arrival, we had a quick supper and planned on a relatively early night….but that didn´t happen. We descended on the "frat" cabin and laughed and drank into the wee hours of the morning……oh to be on holiday!
Waking up very late the next day, I woke up, put on my sarong and made breakfast for the girls. We ate on our balcony looking at the giant waves crashing to shore. The rest of the day was very relaxed- we headed into town to use the internet (where I wrote my first letter to you all) and then spent a couple of hours on the beach reading, chatting and drinking Pisco sours. Tui and I had yet another very long philosophical debate about developing countries and the role of government. And about men. I already miss you Tui!!
That evening, Jorge impressed us with his culinary skills and grilled us a giant meat asado of beef, chicken, vegetables, pico de gallo and baked potatoes. It was utterly delicious- best meal thus far. Of course, as was becoming true Pachamama style, we then followed the culinary delights with drinking ones, and Tui and I became quite hammered by the end of the evening…both giggling uncontrollably for hours. Fun evening indeed. I was so sad that Tui would be leaving us the next day…
Which brings me, finally!, to this morning. We woke early and packed up, and said our goodbyes to Tui. She hopes to come and find me at our hostel in Santiago on Sunday morning for a few hours though- I arrive at around 0530 on my overnight bus in order to catch the southern bound Pachamama bus at 0900. Hope to see you there Tui!
We had a very long drive today which took us into the driest place on earth- the Atacama desert. I made a complete fool of myself at the gas station…as we filled the bus with diesel, a few of us decided to do some stretches. Well, I wanted to stretch my hamstrings and lifted my leg up to rest on this ledge in the wall – only to discover that it was actually a handle on a door. The door swung open with a vengeance revealing a room full of quiet diners munching on their breakfast, only to be startled by this girl Bruce Lee wannabe who apparently likes to make an high kicking grand entrance. We all nearly fell down laughing.
We had a couple of rather strange stops – one to a graveyard of people who had lived and worked in a nitrate mine until 1927 when the industry began to fail due to the invention of artificial nitrates in Europe. And one to the "Hand of the Desert"- a giant sculpture set against the backdrop of middle of nowhere parched desert. We had fun taking a group photo against the hand.
Our group also contains a very colorful character known to us all as Bob. Bob is close friend of Martin´s – the South African-Antarctica working engineer (I´ve nicknamed him Ice Bru). Martin speaks very fondly of Bob, who has travelled with Martin on all of his more adventuresome and extreme work locations. They seem to have a very special bond that is now spreading to the rest of the group. Today, our driver had Bob sit up front with him, and even conversed with him in Spanish, and had him say a few words to friends who called his cell phone. Then Jorge had Bob sit with him, carefully giving him some hip Ipod tunes to groove to as we drove.
Did I mention that Bob is a hamster stuffed toy?
Maybe you have to be here…… but it is seriously hysterical.
Anywhooooo…..we arrived in Antofagasta this evening around 6pm, visiting a beautiful naturally eroded sea Arch before checking into our hotel. Us four girls went out in search of a cheap dinner only to get ripped off with specially concocted "gringo" prices that some restaurants seem to inflict on foreigners. After a quick stop to the supermarket, I came here to hopefully write to you all and get you up to speed on my journey thus far.
I can´t believe that I´ve only been here six days. It already feels like a lifetime and I am having the time of my life….apart from feeling quite exhausted and being heavily sunburned. I have never experienced sun this strong before – even in Australia. I am wearing spf 45 and still got pretty roasted on my back.
It is now midnight, and a quick shower and a clean bed is beckoning…. I will write again soon!