XXXXXX – Road trip starring “le Chef, la Baronne, le Portugais, la Fille de la danseuse et la Belge”!

Waiting for the Inca Rail train… Estelle, Bruno, Mathilde and Me!

In Taquile (the last island I visited), I met Jean-Pierre (aka “Le Chef”), Mathilde (aka “La fille de la danseuse”), Bruno (aka “Le Portugais”) and Estelle (aka “La Baronne”). They were traveling by car around Peru, and they invited me to tag along. The plan was to return to Puno (city next to the lake Titicaca), and from there, go to Cusco (to visit the famous Machu Picchu), Nazca, and finally Lima.

Flat tire… our road trip didn’t started well….

When we came back from the islands of Lake Titicaca, we had a little surprise: we found the car with a flat tire… The guys changed the tire in a matter of seconds! Then, there were no gas stations for miles and miles! Talk about a stressful situation! And, of course, it had never happened to them until I stepped foot in their car. My legendary luck was striking again! LOL 😉

Along the way, we encountered A LOT of obstacles in the middle of the road: big rocks, barriers blocking the street (with no prior warnings), dogs that want to eat your wheels (crazy Peruvian dogs literally throw themselves on the car !), locals with suicidal intents (crossing in the middle of nowhere), two donkeys attached one another standing in the middle of the road, etc… I think we all gain a couple of grey hairs, and lost a couple of years of our life during this trip… at least, I did! But, WE SURVIVED!!! WE MADE IT ALIVE!!!

VICTORYYYYYYYYYYY !!!! WE MADE IT !!!!
Le Portugais, La Fille de la danseuse, La Baronne, Le Chef and La Belge!!!

In my opinion, road trips are one of the best ways to travel. And, I couldn’t have chosen better travelling friends than the ones I had! I had a blast during this road trip! A great car, amazing company, good music, laughers and jokes all the way! The Belgian girl was (of course) the center of many French jokes on Belgian people… I defended my country as well as I could. LOL

This road trip is definitely on the top of the list of best moments spent in South America! Can’t wait for them to come and visit me in Brussels!!

Posted in Lake Titicaca | 1 Comment

XXXXXIX- Lake Titicaca, the name alone is funny!!

Lake Titicaca, the name alone is funny!! At least for french-speaking people, it is. The exact origins of the naming “Titicaca” are still a mystery, but locals translated it as “Rock Puma”. They interpreted the shape of the lake, and thought it looked like a puma hunting a rabbit!?! So, it should be called Rock Puma!?! In my opinion, locals have a great deal of imagination.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

But, I wasn’t here to debate on the naming. I was on a 2-days trip to discover the culture & customs of locals living on different islands: Uros, Amantani and Taquile. Our first stop was the famous floating Uros Islands, about 44 small artificial islands made of Tortora reeds (local reeds from the coastal areas). You might wonder how does one make a floating island? At least, I did. It was the first question that popped up in my mind and I got the answer about 5 minutes after stepping foot on the floating island named “Wiñay Khantani”. The president of the Uros islands, himself welcomed us, and then explained how they built floating islands and how his community worked together.

So, here is what I learned about building a floating island… (might be useful in the future… who knows…) Floating island is made of egg whites served floating on a milky custard sauce. Some variations in the recipe use… Just kidding 😉

The islands are created by first cutting with a big saw, massive blocks from the coast; blocks of matted roots of the Tortora reeds. These big pieces of roots are then dragged to where the new island will be and anchored in place.

Once they have the basis of soil in place, the inhabitants topped it with many layers of fresh-cut reeds. The matted base is 1 meter thick, and they pile up to 3 meters of cut reeds on top. The layers need to be constantly taken care of and renewed, as the reeds dry and break in sunny weather, and rot in rain! Once the island is properly built, they can start building their houses, their kitchens, etc… All structures are built from Tortora reeds. Depending on the size of the island, there will be from 1 up to 7 families living on it!! Very impressive!!

For cooking, they didn’t want to burn down their floating island in the process, so they build their fire on matted roots and rocks. And the cooking area is isolated from the rest of the structures of the island.

After our morning visit to the floating Uros Islands on Lake Titicaca, our motorized boat headed to Isla Amantani populated by Quechua speakers. From the boat, you can see the 2 mountain peaks with ancient ruins on the top: Pachatata (Father Earth) and Pachamama (Mother Earth). There are no cars, no tractors, no electricity (families use candles or flashlights powered by batteries), no paved roads, no bikes, and no hotels on the island!

When we arrived at Amantani, we were greeted by locals. I was in awe at how women were dressed: beautiful wool, pleated skirts, bright flowered blouses, and simple black shawls! Their shawls are very detailed and with giant colourful pom-poms!! I learned afterwards that married women have small, less colourful pom-poms attached to their shawls, while single ladies have giant, bright, colourful ones!!

Our boat group was divided among several families. Along with Marianna and Miguel (a couple from Argentina and Uruguay), we met our host for the night, Pedro. He is a widow, father of 5 children. We started the walk up to the house… slowly… very slowly… My lungs were burning and pumping really hard to find some oxygen at over 12,500 ft. Altitude sickness, ugh!

The rooms in their home were arranged around a courtyard where they kept their tools and their animals (I had a nice encounter with a pig in the middle of the night on my way to the outside bathroom… but that’s another story). Once settled in the rooms, Pedro served us a hearty, delicious warm Quinoa and vegetable soup with local cheese and bread. Delicious!!

And, then Pedro took us to the little town plaza surrounded by the church and a few town buildings. It was the first night of a several-days festival “Pentecoste” for the local folk. Thus, our host was wearing a beautiful, colorful costume, ready to dance (and drink) all night long! FYI, we didn’t see him anymore. He went partying (drinking) and never made it back home!

The dances, the music, the costumes, the traditions,… it was just incredible to watch. I kept thinking how lucky we were to arrive on the annual “Pentecoste” festival. I stayed and watched the event for hours. But, as night settled in, we were really hungry (but there were no grocery stores) and cold. We found our way back to the house, which was empty! The whole family was still partying. But, Bernardo, the oldest son came back home around 9pm. And, he served us the dinner with another delicious Quinoa soup, baked potatoes, veggies, and herbal tea.

The next morning, it was hard to emerge from my warm nest into the cold room. After a tasty breakfast, we were ready to explore the third and final island, called Taquile (not to be confused with the Mexican drink Tequila). The inhabitants, known as Taquileños, are also Quechua speakers. They run their society based on the Inca moral code “ama sua, ama llulla, ama qhilla” (Translation: “do not steal, do not lie, do not be lazy”).

Our boat docked on the shore from where started a steep trail to the top of the island. Along the trail, we saw the national flower of Peru, a reddish trumpet flower. There were also arches with three terra-cotta heads of men, wearing broad-brimmed hats. The view from the trail was amazing!! Definitely worth being breathless (Altitude is killing me)!

Fortunately, we made a stop at a restaurant. Our guide then explained the symbolism of hats and belts on the island. The young, single man wears a red/white knit hat; the married man has a red hat. If the pom-pom falls to the right side of the head, then it indicates the young man is looking for a steady relationship; to the left side, for an “adventure” 😉

Not only men wear the hats, but they also knit them! If they aren’t a good knitter, they are unlikely to get married because knitting is a major source of income (besides Tourism, of course). You can actually see men of all ages knitting all over the island!! It’s quite funny!!  Women also knit very colourful belts that their husbands will wear. The belts describe in pictures the agricultural calendar (when is best to fish, to plant, etc…) or the family’s history. Just beautiful!!

In the end, my time on the famous (funny) lake Titicaca was just incredible. Being welcomed in their home, living as they do, and sharing life-stories are always privileged moments. Lake Titicaca is another unforgettable memory! Lake Titicaca… still a funny name though…

Posted in Lake Titicaca | 2 Comments

XXXXXVIII – A completely unexpected, eventful and educational bus ride from Arequipa to Puno.

Local buses… It can be challenging, confusing and sometimes scary. Bus schedule and fares information seem to be some kind of top national secret information, which makes it tricky for us, little foreigners, to figure it out. Most drivers strongly believe they are the next Schumacher (a famous F1 driver). And, they like to prove it to you on the road, of course! Locals sometimes bring half a farm with them. Normal, right? I mean it’s well-known that “chickens luv to travel”. And, the “Let’s Pick-Pocket the Gringos in the Bus” is a top 5 favorite game of all time, played by some locals. I still haven’t figured out all the rules of that game though…

But, buses are the easiest and CHEAPEST way to travel through South America. Everyone nows that. Thus, here I was standing at Arequipa’s little bus station, waiting for my local bus to arrive. It was late! Being on time is definitely not a Peruvian attitude (I see some similarities with Italians here…).

When the bus finally showed up, we all went in the bus while both drivers went inside the bus station’s office. We waited again for 40 minutes… Then, the strangest thing happened. All of a sudden, locals put their hands out of the windows and started tapping loudly on the bus while shouting in Spanish: “Driver, it’s not the time to take a nap, it’s time to leave”, “Stop talking to the ladies, they’ll still be here when you come back”, “Does your mother know you are lazy”, “Move the bus or we will move it”, “Stop eating, you already have enough reserves to keep you moving”, “It’s time to leave or reimburse us”,etc… I just couldn’t believe what was going on, and I just kept thinking “This is going to be an interesting ride”… And, Yes. It was indeed.

The moment I stepped inside the bus, I realized I was the only foreigner. It also didn’t go unnoticed by three elder women, who immediately took me under their “mama” wings! They made sure that my bus ride would be a smooth one. They gave me bottles of water (to keep myself hydrated in this sunny country) and chocolate cereal bars (to have some energy)! Again, I couldn’t believe it.

When our bus drivers finally granted us the honor of their presence, we hit the road. Thankfully, they were more into turtle racing then F1 (Phew! Ouf!). I was even more relieved they were safe drivers when we passed 2 bad road accidents: a fuel tank truck lying upside down at the edge of the road, and a vegetable and fruit truck with all its content lying in the middle of the road. We had to wait almost an hour before all veggies & fruits were removed from the road. I thought of taking pictures of these incidents, but my conscience was telling me it was the “perfect idea” if I wanted to show off my camera and then, get robbed. So, I just watched the road show when all of a sudden, I realized all locals had their cellphones in hand and taking pictures!?! What!?! They have Samsung, iPhones, and other high-tech brands with cameras incorporated!?! My stupid prejudices about local people… never again!!

Along the way, we also had sellers of anything and everything, who jumped in the bus to promote their products. Repeatedly, I listened to their speeches on miracle products that can treat everything (and nothing). The worst part is that every time it worked and the seller walked away with a few soles in hand. I still don’t understand how Peruvians can believe in these miracle products healing all kinds of pains!?! ugh!?!

But, the highlight of the ride was when a man jumped in, and started giving religion & history lessons about Peru, medical advises on living a healthier life (drinking less soft drinks, exercising more) and anemia (symptoms, causes, treatment), and sexual counselling (different types of protection and erectile dysfunction)! He gave facts, people raised their hands to ask questions and then, he quizzed them to see if they remembered what he had just told them. It was like being back in school. I guess who needs school benches when you have local buses, right?!?

This bus ride from Arequipa to Puno (city near lake Titicaca) was completely unexpected, eventful and educational. Local buses… who would have thought?!? Local buses…

Posted in Arequipa | 1 Comment

XXXXXVII – Visiting the nun sisters and Petting Alpacas in Arequipa.

After Iquique, I went up North to Arica and from there, took a cab with a French couple to cross the Chilean-Peruvian border. After hours of traveling we finally arrived in Arequipa, the second most populous city in Peru!

I kept confusing the name of the city with Arica (Chile) until I heard the story (legend?!?) about how was named the city: The Inca Mayta Cápac was the fourth Inca ruler of the kingdom of Cuzco, and apparently a great warrior who liked to conquer new territories! One day, as he was traveling and exploring new unknown regions with some of his subjects, he stumbled across the amazing scenery of volcanoes and mountains. His men asked him permission to stay in the region, because they were so amazed by the landscape and they enjoyed the mild climate so much. The Inca responded “Ari qhipay”, which in Quechua language means “Yes, stay”. And, that’s how the city of Arequipa was born… according to the legend…

Beautiful Plaza de Armas in Arequipa.

Nowadays, Arequipa is nicknamed “La Ciudad Blanca” (“The White City”) due to the white volcanic rock used in almost all constructions in the city!

It is famous for Alpaca textiles considered as one of the world’s finest wool (and in my opinion, as one of world’s most freaking expensive $$$), for all kind of outdoor activities (rafting, trekking, horseback riding, climbing,…), for the three volcanoes that surround itEl Misti (the Gentleman, 5821 m/19,097 ft.) located between two small volcanoes, Chachani (the Beloved, 6075 m/19,931 ft) and Picchu Picchu (the Top Top, 5425 m/17.799 ft.)-, for being located close to 2 of the world’s most spectacular and deepest canyons -the Cotahuasi Cañon and the Colca Cañon.

But since the last time I woke up at 3am and went on an excursion, I ended fainting in the middle of a geysers field, I wasn’t really in the mood for it! I was more interested in visiting the Monasterio de Santa Catalina and petting Alpacas!

Living the Alpaca experience!!

Thus, along with 2 Californian girls, we went to “Mundo Alpaca”, the first eco-tourist center located in Arequipa downtown. They explain everything about the different phases of production, from the beginning  (traditional Alpaca sorting process and natural dying work) till the end (selling beautiful Alpaca clothes).

The first phase is called ‘ESCOJO’ (SORTING).

……….The “Escojo” (“Sorting”) is the first phase where they manually separate the fibre by origin, quality, colour and length of the fibre. This task is undertaken by expert women! Not everyone can do it! These specific classing techniques are banded down from one generation to the next since the pre-Hispanic era! Thus, the “Escojo” can’t be mechanized; it can be assessed only by experienced human hands and eyes.

Manual separation of the fibre by origin, quality, colour, and length of the fibre.

Then, the second phase, the “Dying”process begins, meaning they apply a permanent color to the fibre. On one of the explanatory board sign, it was written: “We mastered the use of all kinds of pigments and every textile technique, and with each one of them we were able to reach levels of expertise and beauty never surpassed by any culture“. They are really proud of their work!!!

Traditional way to create clothes.

After this colorful phase, they put their creative minds in use. Peruvians believe that through textile art, they can express themselves in a way no other culture would ever equal. They create unique and innovative patterns for clothes.

They showed how clothes were hand-made.

I, of course, had to look around the shop… just to verify that these clothes were indeed unique 😉 They had really nice and soft sweaters, scarves, mittens, hats, and thick, warm socks. But unfortunately the price also matched with the grandeur (or uniqueness) of the product.

But the highlight of the visit is to feed and pet several Alpacas!! It feels so soft and silky when you touch them, and they are definitely not afraid of humans. As for baby Alpacas, they are the cutest thing you want to hug and cuddle. There was one black baby Alpaca who I really wanted to sneak in my bag (but I didn’t do it)! He would have been the perfect companion in my travels. He was way too cute!!

…………………………..After the Alpaca visit, I went to see the Monasterio de Santa Catalina, founded in 1579 by the Domenican Order. The two Californian girls were only 19 years old, and their concept of fun & interesting didn’t involve visiting a historic religious site! I do understand them. When I was 19, I was definitely more interested in going to the beach, partying and hanging out with my friends…

Anyway, I did this visit alone, and I was glad I did it. The Monasterio de Santa Catalina is “the only convent in the world composed of a city within a city”. Located on more than 5 acres, the convent includes 3 cloisters, several streets, a square, a church, an art gallery, 80 houses where nuns lived, a fountain, a cemetery, etc.

Entrance to “El Monasterio de Santa Catalina”.

Once inside the convent…

SILENCIO… SILENCE…

Nowadays, there are still 30 sisters, of ages ranging between 18 and 90. Their day starts at 5 am (ugh, just because of that I will never be a sister!), and consist of long hours of silence listening to God, praying, studying, and doing manual work in order to win their daily bread. Since I was alone, I did a 2-hour tour of the site in complete silence! Can you imagine being completely isolated from the world and spending most of your day in total silence? I can’t. I read in an article that the average person doesn’t spend even 30 minutes a month in total silence and tranquility! But for these sisters, silence indeed is golden! Very impressive!

The parlour – From here the nuns communicated with the outside world.

The parlour – Communication was made from behind double wooden bars. The revolving windows served to exchange diverse products.

The work room – In this area the nuns received important visitors, with previous authorization from the archbishop.

The Novice Cloister – Here the novices made contact with religious life before professing their vows.

The Novice Cloister – Here the novices made contact with religious life before professing their vows.

……………………………..At the founding of the convent, it was written that a prospective nun “should be Spanish”, should provide a dowry and bring a trousseau. They had several ‘strict’ rules to follow, such as they were allowed to bring with them up to 2 servants or cut their hair only 7 times a year!?! Traditionally, the oldest daughter was sent to the convent to become a nun. I am so glad I wasn’t born in the XVI century!!

However, the distinguished Bishop, Pedro José Chaves de la Rosa visited the convent and thought that a series of reforms was called for with regard to religious life, the administration of income and some of the convent’s buildings. He thought these nuns had a too luxurious life! To show his discontent, he refused on several occasions to acknowledge the election of the convent’s authorities. These interventions weren’t accepted by the nuns, who insisted on exercising their electoral rights! He encountered thus a fierce resistance among the nuns. In the end, the Bishop was unable to achieve his objective of reform and was obliged to resign in 1804. (Way to go, sisters!!).

In the end, I visited a nun sisters’ convent and pet several Alpacas on the same day! I don’t think there are many places in this world where you can do both spiritual and fun activities! Lucky me 😉

Posted in Arequipa | Leave a comment

XXXXXVI – Putting my “judgment” about Chile on hold…

Honestly, I don’t think I can really give any fair assessment of the country. I have only been in the North, and didn’t spend enough time to be able to set my mind about Chile. Moreover, I met only a few Chileans while on the road… so I don’t think I have grasped the culture, what Chile is really all about.

The only think I can say is that I loved my time in San Pedro de Atacama. It’s one of the few place in the world where stargazing takes its full meaning. I enjoyed every single sight-seeing activity I’ve done. I definitely challenged myself a couple of times, to try out new things I never did before. And, I loved the food! Going to our 2 favorite spots “Todo Natural” and “La Casona” with Camille, was definitely great gastronomy moments! Gosh, I miss those places!

Maybe the story would be different if I had gone in the South of Chile, if I had spent more time in Valparaiso, if I had gone to Eastern Islands, if … But, I will never know. Besides, didn’t I say that there shouldn’t be room in my life for what ifs, could bes, one days, if onlys…

So, I need to go back there to see what everyone else sees in the place. Until then, I put my “judgment” about Chile on hold 😉

Posted in Iquique | Leave a comment

XXXXXV – Going to sleep and waking up to the sound of the waves in Iquique.

If one pay carefully attention, one will hear far away sounds late at night or just before dawn. All kinds of sounds: cabs honking in the streets, water dropping in the shower, police sirens, neighbour snoring (loudly), trains going by, wood stairs cracking, dogs barking, receptionist chatting on internet, men rolling the trash cans up and down the drive way, neighborhood cats fighting, pages of a book being read, planes passing by, the clock ticking, drunk students singing in the streets, car break squeaking, …

All these whistling, howling, clicking, bipping, screeching, buzzing, and many other “spooky” sounds in the night have kept me wide-eyed and sleepless. I have never been at my best in the dark of night (even more so when I am in the country, in the middle of nowhere). If I can’t see it, I don’t like it. For my defense, I happen to have a BIG imagination, which really doesn’t help!! I have a zillion of unhappy ending scripts going through my head (big bad beasts, thieves, fires,… you just name it, I have the scenario 😉 LOL).

But, there’s 1 sound that always put me at ease: the sound of water (stream, ocean, rain, waves,…). And, I believe anyone who loves the ocean, will fancy falling to sleep or waking up to the sound of the ocean’s waves -waves rolling up the beach or crashing in on the rocks all night. In my opinion, it’s the best sound ever on this planet! It’s such a soothing sound that helps me go off to dreamland 🙂

View from my bed!!

Spot for the long boards surfing competition.

And, me and my Aquarius nature were more than happy when I arrived in Iquique, Chile. It’s not only a small port city on the Pacific coast (West of San Pedro de Atacama’s desert), but also a famous surfing spot. The weekend I was there, there was a big surfing competition going on. Thus, I had the chance to see some real pro in action. Pretty impressive!!

Of course, I didn’t just went sun bathing on the beach. A year from now, I would have been the happiest girl on earth, just laying on the beach and “flipping side like a pancake” in order to get the perfect tan. But now, I feel guilty whenever I am not “doing anything”. I know I can’t be on the move every day… but I can’t seem to get myself to just relax for a whole day. So, instead of going to the beach the whole day, I just went in the mornings and walked around the city’s historical center in the afternoons.

Main sights are the 1877 Torre Reloj (clock tower), the 1890 neoclassical Teatro Municipal, the Moorish 1904 Casino Espanol (with Don Quixote paintings inside, of course!!), the 1871 Edificio de la Aduana (previous customs house turned nowadays into a small Museo Naval), the Palacio Astoreca, many lovely Georgian-style buildings, the monument built-in honor of Christophe Colomb by the Italian community of Iquique, old-style restored tram and a replica of THE famous “Esmeralda”.

Another pic of the 1877 Torre Reloj (clock tower).

The 1877 Torre Reloj (clock tower).

The 1890 neoclassical Teatro Municipal.

The Moorish 1904 Casino Espanol (with Don Quixote paintings inside, of course!!).

The 1871 Edificio de la Aduana.

Door knocker of the Moorish 1904 Casino Espanol.

Cute old red train.

The monument built-in honor of Christophe Colomb by the Italian community of Iquique.

An old-style restored tram.

The Palacio Astoreca.

Inside the Palacio Astoreca.

Beautiful glass ceiling inside the Palacio Astoreca.

…..The “Esmeralda”, a Chilean wooden corvette (boat), and its patriotic captain, Arturo Prat: the story says that a long long time ago (when Iquique was still a Peruvian port), there was a big war over the control of the Pacific ocean, between Chile and Peru.

The replica of THE famous “Esmeralda”.

The sea was a strategic access that both sides badly wanted; thus, both sides had the same idea to send in secret 2 boats to “destroy the enemy’s navy floats”. On the Chilean side, we had two old wooden ships: “Esmeralda” (Captain Prat) & “Covadonga” (Captain Condell). And, on the Peruvian side, we had two ironclad boats: “Huascar” & “Independencia” (commanded by Admiral Miguel Grau).

Statue of Capt. Arturo Prat on the main plaza.

What was bound to happen happened, and after hours of battling, the Peruvian ironclad “Huascar” sank the “Esmeralda”!

Another pic of the “Esmeralda”.

The “Esmeralda” and Capt. Prat are national prides.

Even though his ship was sinking and they were outnumbered, Captain Prat raised his sword and cried his final order: “Let’s board, boys!” The Chileans never gave up, fought till the end and screams of “Long Live Chile! Glory and Victory!” were heard till the end! Chileans may have lost this battle of Iquique, but not the war! Captain Prat’s sudden death inspired thousands of Chileans to join the army and the navy. It was a major factor that led Chile to the final victory!

Georgian-style buildings along the Baquedano street.

I loved learning about the history of Iquique’s battle, and I loved walking along the Baquedano Street,passing by these historical wooden built houses from the late 19th and 20th century! The wooden walkway, the palm trees and fountains that line the street, definitely contributed to the beauty of this street. And, my favorite building was the Astoreca Palace, a Georgian-style building built around 1904 and made out of Oregon Pine!

Baquedano street.

I imagined what life must have been back then…imagined it in my dreams… with the background sound of the ocean’s waves…

Posted in Iquique

XXXXXIV – San Pedro de Atacama, my first steps in one of the driest places on earth: a desert…

A desert…. when people talk about deserts, they always talk about an unbroken immensity, a desolate, flatness horizon, or a beautiful landscape of giant sand dunes… but they never talk about having teary eyes because of the winds of sands blowing in your face, about the taste of sands in your mouth all day long, about your clean clothes being dirty in less than 5 minutes after you put them on, or about the piles of sands you’ll find in your booths at the end of the day (every day, no matter what)!

San Pedro de Atacama.

Kind of gross, I know. But here’s the thing about deserts: It’s not gross. At all. Actually, I enjoyed every single minute I was in the desert of San Pedro de Atacama, Chile! And, I still can’t believe I was there. I stepped foot in one of the driest places on earth, as some areas haven’t received a single drop of rain in hundreds of years!!

Along with my travel buddy Camille, we booked several excursions for the next days: Combo tour “Laguna Cejar, Los Ojos del Salar, Laguna Tebinquiche”, Combo tour “Moon and Death Valleys”, Sand boarding in the Death Valley, and excursion to El Tatio. It was a bit pricey, but, in the end, so worth it!

On our first day, we had a busy schedule: swimming in the “Laguna Cejar”, jumping in “Los Ojos del Salar” and watching the sunset at “Laguna Tebinquiche”.

About 20 km south of San Pedro de Atacama, is the Laguna Cejar, a small lake containing a high proportion of salt crystals. The salted water gives this deep emerald-green color to the lake and allows you to literally float on water. Camille and myself had to try it. And, Yes! We had our legs in the air. We floated. Such a great sensation! When we got out of the salted water, the desert air dried almost instantly my skin, only leaving a thin, white film of salt. (pics will soon be posted as Camille took some. My camera is not waterproof).

Camille and myself posing in front of 1 eye!!

Afterwards, we went further south, further into the Salar de Atacama. En route, we passed between the eyes of the desert, Los Ojos del Salar. There were 2 naturally round basins with a diameter of 20 feet each, very deep, containing fresh, cold, freezing water. We were misinformed about the real temperature of the water, and highly encouraged by our tour guide, Edgardo, to jump in! Huh, cold, Cold, COLD!! But now, I can say I swam in the eyes, that are said to be visible from space!!!

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………;

Jump! Jump! JUMP!

Laguna Tebinquiche.

We then continued the tour to see the sunset from the beautiful Laguna Tebinquiche, a kind of small lake whose depth doesn’t exceed 5 cm.

The location was perfect to take beautiful pictures of sunset. And, there were quite a few clouds in the sky, so the colours were incredible!

And, as the sun was low on the horizon, the aperitif was served: Pisco Sour. A kind of rum with lemon. A delight!

Barely 5 cm of water!

Edgardo, our guide.

Our group!

Ready for the sunset.

Pink sunset!! Love it!!

No comment. Just beautiful!!

Incredible colors!!

The Moon Valley, white rock formations!!

…………………………………………………………On our second day, we headed to Valle de la Luna (“Valley of the Moon”), a moon-like landscape with ruins of old Chilean salt mines. It was fascinating, and I just imagine walking on the Moon would be the same…

Cam in the Moon Valley!!

Next to the Valle de la Luna is Valle de la Muerte (“Death Valley”), previously known as Valle de Marte (“Mars Valley”) because the gigantic stunning red colored dunes and rock formations that looked like what could be the terrain of Mars. In fact, NASA tested, in the past, some of its equipment here as it so closely resembled the landscape on Mars.

Drinking Pisco Sour in the Death Valley.

The legend says the name changed because of a Belgian guy, Jesuit missionary Father Gustavo Le Paige. Yes. Belgian!?! Father Le Paige apparently did some important archaeological researches in the region. But, unfortunately, his Spanish was not top-notch, and his very strong French accent didn’t help! So Marte was pronounced Mwaorrrrtttte, and locals understood Muerte… ugh… due to an error in pronunciation, the name changed and “Muerte” stuck through the years. All because of 1 Belgian guy!

The Death Valley.

But, either name works just fine for the valley as there is nothing growing in its earth (no plant life). It is said that this place is completely sterile, meaning that nothing will decompose here including bodies and garbage! Small piece of advice: one should not kill in San Pedro de Atacama, and then drop the body in the Death Valley… I am just saying… 😉

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Me and my board!

On our third day, we went back to the famous “Death Valley” to have some GOOD OLD FUN! We tried sand boarding!FYI, sand boarding is like snow boarding except the activity takes place on sand dunes rather than snow-covered mountains.

Me and Cam, looking good 😉

Walking on sand dunes is hard!!

Walking up the sand dunes was quite exhausting, and the way down didn’t last enough compared to the way up!! Moreover, I believe I looked cooler next to the board rather than ON the board!! Clearly, I wasn’t a natural at sand boarding, but I tried and I did have fun 🙂

El Tatio

On our fourth day, I went to “El Tatio”, a geyser field with over 80 active geysers! Since it is located at 4,200 meters above sea level, I had followed to the letter, every single recommendation in order to not suffer from altitude sickness. Thus, no meat, no milk, no dairy products, no alcohol the previous days! And, once there, “act as a turtle”, meaning taking it slowly! I did everything I was told. But I got sick AND fainted!! ugh!! Why did I bother going on the diet? Seriously!?!

Looking pale? This shot was taken 3 minutes before I fainted!! Good times!! LOL

Me and a geyser field.

Small eruptions…

Even tough I lost conscience for a couple of minutes, and afterwards, felt like my head was about to explode, I still saw these incredible geysers. Apparently, they can erupt up to 6 meters high!! I didn’t approach them too closely, didn’t want to get burn on top of feeling sick! That would have been BAD!!

Close-up view of one geyser.

To sum up my stay in the famous desert of San Pedro de Atacama, I loved every single minute, and could have stayed there for weeks! I ate the most delicious dishes, went on extraordinary tours and spent nights gazing at the stars!! All good things must come to an end! I need to move on, continue my journey… But I still can’t believe I stepped foot in a desert 🙂 

Ready to hit the road again 🙂

Posted in Atacama | 6 Comments