North trip, north trip... where do I start? It seems to be harder and harder to write a big long entry especially after a Rotary trip. I forget so many funny things or memorable moments, along with getting so tired of writing in english. Anyways here we go!
Met-up with everyone in Santiago bright and early. There were also some news faces as the new Kiwis and Australian were with us along with some exchangers from the South district. We drove up to La Serena, which I've done the long ride before, but before getting to La Serena we stopped out in the boonies. There we saw some petroglyphs and then stopped at a winery - finally after 6 months I made it to a Chilean vineyard! Getting to La Serena we had some free time to go swimming or shop around. Then, after dinner we were going to go to the casino, but as we were all walking in one of the guys in the group got stopped since he looked younger than 18... oh well! So from there we had a night walk back to our cabañas which included learning some German words - most that will help me to insult someone if needed!
Headed to Valle de Elqui where we had lunch in a restaurant that cooks their food with solar energy, aka boxes that get really hot and cook your food. On our way we also stopped at a really big man-made lake and ate some cactus fruit. After we went to one of many Pisco distilleries, but at this plant their pisco is only sold outside of Chile, and it's darn expensive out of Chile! In the night we had the opportunity to go sky gazing. In the valley the sky was SO bright along with the beautiful milky way, no light pollution at all, not even the moon! While my group was in our observatory dome we had asked if we could see a planet and out guide told us to come back after all the groups were done because Saturn was visible at the moment. So after waiting for everyone to finish up, hanging out at the campfire, messing with the guys cabaña and talking to a Russian star photographer we were able to see Saturn!!
We had the afternoon to relax a bit, hang by the pool because we were off on our 19 hour overnight bus ride to San Pedro de Atacama!
Woke-up after maybe sleeping 2 hours and jumped out of the bus in Antofagasta to see the mano de dios (Hand of God) - little sleep and hand standing in front of giant hand-sculptures early in the morning don't mix well. On our way to San Pedro we also stopped at the Tropic of Capricorn! Again my geography-nerd came out and I thought it was really cool! After driving through a lot, a lot, a lot of sand and desert we made it to little San Pedro de Atacama. There we were able to go horseback riding - I'm happy to say I've riding in Patagonia and now in the Atacama desert! It was quite a different experience as there was surprisingly quite a bit of vegetation in the area but then we were completely surrounded by volcanoes!
Went to Salar de Atacama which is a natural reserve completely formed out of salt with flamingos living there. The colours were so pretty and the reflections from the volcanoes and mountains in the distance were so pretty. The salt fields were just so interesting-looking, I loved it! This day involved some random food purchases such as a liter of ice cream (cheaper than a single, but still the three of us couldn't finish it) and a quarter of a watermelon. After lunch we went to Valle de Muerte (Valley of Death) and then to Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon). In Valle de la Luna we went through a cave and then came out of top of it. Travel further into the valley it really started to look as if you could be on the moon. After climbing a big sand dune and missing the sunset we had a spectacular view over the valley while a tiny slice of the moon was visible.
Waking-up at 4:30 am we traveled 2.5 hours on very bumpy road up to the Geysers El Tatio (4,320 meters above sea level). We had to arrive early because the geysers are most active when it's colder. It was really cool to see these natural wonders as the sky was brightening and you could see snow covered mountain-tops close by. On our way back we took a scenic twisty and tourny route and stopped in a little village. There we were able to buy some fresh rico pan and also sample some llama kabobs! Yep... I ate llama meat, after 6 years of vegetarianism, and guess what... it actually tasted really good! After packing up we were on our way again more north. Heading towards the coast we stopped in a little town (of maybe 40 people) to see a church (common theme of the trip). While there all of a sudden there was an impromptu parade with the townsfolk. So us curious exchangers went to check it out... then the people started to dance with us and perhaps mildly harasses us... the came the water balloon attacks! It was quite a strange experience this random parade with tradition costumes and such. Overnight on the bus again...
After a really horrible night on the bus with no A/C until about 7 of us had to ask we made it to Arica! Arica is the most Northern city in Chile, cuddling up right on the boarder of Peru. Initially the Rotarians had told us that those who where 18 could hop over the boarder to see Peru, which I was so excited for. But in the end it didn't work out, and as it wouldn't have been fair to everyone else who's younger. In Arica we went and saw the giant sculpture of Jesus that faces towards the rest of Chile then had a day at the beach! The water was so warm compared to the freezing Pacific waters of central Chile.
Traveled way high up to Volcano Parinacota and Lago Chungará which the lake is more than 4500 meters above sea level. On our way up to the lake we stopped to take a walk in a scenic area. As we were walking you could start to see everyone walk slower and slower... then eventually stopping. The air was so thin that it was so hard to breath, I defiantly felt the effects of it. Also in the morning we had heard about the earthquake that had just happened in Japan. We were also told that the coast of Chile was under a tsunami alert... great, we were staying on the coast of Chile! After getting back to the hotel, making some phone calls to parents to reassure them that we would be fine, we went to a newspaper and had a tour and got our picture taken. Sometimes I can worry to much but when you see everyone driving out of the city, and then being told that the police has evacuated the city due to the alert yet we had gone to get a picture taken was a little nerve racking. At least Rotary told us to pack a bag and have our shoes ready so we could run if needed... makes me feel so safe. After waiting around for a bit in the hotel a group of us went up on a hill at the time of the alert to see if we could see any waves comes in. The alert time had come and passed so we all headed back to the hotel, safe and sound.
Traveled in our second home (aka the bus) to Valle de Azapa. On our way out of Arica it was really creepy to see the sea. The water was so pulled back, it was really abnormal. We saw another old church, and mummies older than the mummies in Egypt! After practicing our song for an hour (oh you'll hear more about the song later in time) we finally had some free time as it was our last night of the trip. The town was still pretty dead after the tsunami alert but we were able to have some fun. We had a dinner out and then after went to a discotheque where we watched a performance of the traditional dance of Arica. Rotary had then rented out the VIP area of the disco so that we could have a night out... and not mix with the Chileans... like that worked!
On our last day of our trip they took us to ferias. Usually I love ferias but these one's were with ropa americana or in other words second hand north american clothes - I even saw things with Value Village tags on them! We also went to this giant ropa americana store where you could buy clothing by the kilo... but instead we just played on the huge pile of clothing! After our shopping adventures it was time to head back to a colder Santiago.
I really loved the North, it was so different and so spectacular. Even if I had to pick if I liked Patagonia or North more I'm not quite sure which I would choose. There's still more I want to see and do in the North like sand-boarding, and going to the salt flats and salt lakes. That just means I'll have to come back!
Today has been 8 months since I arrived in Chile!