Just to let those of you who are both forgetful of the fact that I am traveling in South America and at the same time sufficiently geographically challenged to be unable to distinguish Bolivia from Belgrade, I left the area of Bolivia currently being flooded a couple of weeks ago, and am safely esconced in sunny Argentina. I have heard that some difficulty has been experienced by those attempting to cross the Salar de Uyuni one of the most spectacular tours of the Bolivian altiplano (most of the time the road is above 4000 metres, rising to 5000 metres to cross a couple of passes) but if Phillipe, our driver has his way, tours will continue no matter how high the floods rise.
We took the option of the three day tour, and loved every minute; imagine walking across an ice covered stream to bathe in hot springs, flamingoes flying across red lakes, rocks sculpted by decades of absolute dry, magic, magic stuff, crossing the border into Chile and terminating in San Pedro de Atacama, a dry, dusty tourist trap reminiscent of Tennant Creek on a bad day. Indeed the bad attitude and lack of humour followed us for our two weeks in Chile. We got caught in the travel rush leading up to Xmas (one of the dangers of staying flexible and not planning too far ahead) so had to spend three days in Antafagasto a town the Chileans pinched from Bolivia in the 1850 ´s, where it has remained ever since.
My main recollection of Northern Chile is unabated destruction of the desert, it seems every square meter has been mined and left a pile of dirt, and pregnant teenagers. According to the guide books, the abortion and divorce laws mitigate against Chileanos getting married and cause major problems with secondary schooling.
We spent Xmas day on a 19 hour bus trip between Antofagasta and Santiago, followed by another 15 hours from Santiago to Peuto Montt, in the deep south – just like Victor Harbour but 10 degrees colder. In Santiago we had the Marilyn Monroe room in the world’s worst hotel – purple ceilings, no windows, rust?? (shit) stains all over the bathroom walls, the bed was so bad the bedbugs wouldn’t sleep there; lucky we only stayed there between buses for a shower. The general lassitude towards tourists followed us into southern Chile where we were constantly held up by crooked tour agents and transport that was always late. And we stayed in the Chilean equivalent of Fawlty Towers. The owner was a senora in her eighties that had been host to three Chilean presidents and couldn’t quite make her way into the 20th (sic) century. Had the waiter once said ¿Que? we would have fallen down laughing. If the food there had been unrepresentative of Chilean cuisine I would not now have an aversion to white bread rolls, unfortunately it was our experience that food is considered simply as a source of calories and not something to be savoured.
Not withstanding the onset of starvation, we visited some really magnificent lakes, glaciers and hot springs; especially beautiful was a 400,00 hectare park put together by the ex owner of Esprit clothing which is causing something of a stir in political circles in Santiago because he’s doing a much better job of showcasing the wonders of southern Chile than is the government department CONAF.
We plan to go to the famous Los Glaciaries and Torres del Paine, that is if the flights run to schedule, something for which the South American airlines are INFAMOUS. Our latest delay was sitting in a shelter from the rain at a wharf for 6 hours waiting for a ferry (scheduled to depart at 7 pm) which finally left at 10.30 pm, meaning we got to our accomodation at 2.30 am – our landlady was not happy. But because our Spanish isn’t brilliant we couldn’t understand the full force of her chagrin.
But the lack of good humour that was Chile has been replaced by enormous joie de vivre and Latin flair for life – this is South America as we had hoped – VIVA ARGENTINA !! Of course the fact that the grey skies have been replaced by beautiful blue and long sunny days has a good deal to do with the uplift in our spirits. More later “¦”¦.