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Desert Days and Drinking Games

Two border crossings and too many shots!!

Following on from our exertions of climbing the conical volcano Licancabur and our final night of eating dry white rice with an over-fried egg plonked on top (I'm not a religious man but THANK GOD!), it was time to move on to our next destination...

The day brought about a few changes. Another country (#3), hotter weather, less clothing and a new Han!! It's safe to say that having made Hannah spend 2 more nights in Bolivia, she has never looked so pleased to leave a place (I don't which she was happier about - leaving Bolivia or getting further away from the slopes of Volcan Licancabur).

The Bolivian/Chile border is about 40km wide, is not patrolled by any Bolivian immigration security, probably due to their lacksidazical attitude to border security and the fact that you are leaving their country so they probably couldn't care less and are just happy you are going. Joking aside (although I'm not), I swear you could just walk in any direction and just vanish into Chile and nobody would be any the wiser...

Our border crossing brought us to San Pedro de Atacama, a small town on the edge of the 40km wide border on the Chilean side. It's over 2km lower in altitude than our last stop in Bolivia and lies on the edge of the Atacama Desert - the driest place on earth! It was immediately noticeable that despite being as remote as Uyuni in terms of surroundings, the town itself was much more developed and 'westernised'. Full of bars, restaurants, hostels and tour companies, it was a haven for travellers and backpackers alike - to relax and stretch those legs after long coach rides or, like us, 3 days crammed in a 4x4 on the salt flats.

Over excited by the sight of food other than rice and eggs, we decided to indulge ourselves with a nice meal at one of San Pedro's finest 'gastro pubs' - Adobe. In true style, I had the 'poor mans steak' and Han had the salmon filet. After the last few days, it was like heaven although with a price tag to match!

One of the main sights to see in the area is the Valle de la Luna or Moon Valley, aptly named because of the arid and jagged nature of the valley, shaped by the harsh weather the area is exposed to. Rather than take yet another tour, we decided to hire bikes and ride there with our new Aussie friends Luke and Hannah. We also decided to take a picnic, hoping we could stay for the sunset, which we had been told was worth the wait.

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It's not everyday you get to cycle through a desert and it was absolutely worth it as the views were incredible (although it was immediately apparent that our legs had not recovered from our climbing exertions a couple of days before!) We were very lucky because it had clouded over a little, giving us some shelter from the baking sun. We spent the afternoon exploring the area, climbing through natural caves and over sand dunes. At points, the nooks and crannies got so small, you literally had to crawl through with a head torch.

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We then enjoyed our picnic with stunning views over the valley (not before the compulsory running up and jumping off of massive sand dunes)

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although we unfortunately had to leave before the sun had fully set to return our bikes, on our ride back, we were treated to an incredible sunset across the desert instead.

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Our third day brought about a trip to Laguna Cejar, a lake with similar salinity to the Dead Sea. As it was a ridiculously hot day, the idea of floating around in a lake sounded perfect. Having never been to the Dead Sea, I didn't know what the sensation would feel like so found it very amusing when I tried to swim to the middle of the lake and found myself flapping around like a floundered fish on the shore! No matter what you did, everything just floated to the surface! And when you got out, you looked like someone had poured talcum powder all over you...literally! Any measure of a tan we thought we had was now bright white from all of the salt that had dried onto our skin! After a quick rinse, we then went to Salar de San Pedro, a mini version of the salt flats to take some more photos and to watch the sunset with a pisco sour (or four) in hand!

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The next day we had to say farewell to our Aussie friends and move on to Salta, Argentina.

Another country!! Número 4!! Argentina!

Salta - a bustling, sprawling city that lies in a basin surrounded by beautiful mountains and a temperature so constant it's a perpetual spring. According to Lonely Planet, "Salta is sophisticated and a favourite of many travellers"...not these ones! LP continues..."lighting romantic candles with its plaza-side cafés (erm, McDonalds) and the live música folklórica of its popular peñas (if their local folk music is Rick Astley and Whitesnake!)." You have probably got the gist of what we thought about Salta now, so the next paragraph on this 'sophisticated' place is very short!

Our first day in Salta was spent wandering around the city. We only spent one day in the city and we actually thought one day was enough. Given what we had read about Salta, we expected it to be very much Sucre, a picturesque colonial city, but sadly, we found it was very much like any other city although with a few pretty churches and an attractive main square.

Fortunately, desperate for some pure relaxation, we had also booked ourselves into a hostel about 40 mins out of the city where there is nothing to do but laze around a pool all day. It was also a way to recoup some of our inevitable overspend as the accommodation was free! We had 2 nights here and it was great! Our first bit of real relaxation so far. Not a cloud in the sky and completely surrounded by the Andes. We had an all you can eat Asado (BBQ) on the first night and, much to our drunken delight, it was also karaoke night! A few power ballads later and we'd pretty much drunk our days accommodation budget at the bar, so much for recouping that overspend! In the hope of saving some money, we had decided we wanted to cook the second night. However, we then found out the hostel didn't make their kitchen available to guests (the first one we had stayed in that didn't - typical!) as the accommodation was free, the only way they made their money was through the food and drink. Having spent money buying ingredients in Salta which we didn't want to go to waste, we asked to speak to the owner... Who funnily enough turned out to be a 30-something lad from Nottingham called Dre! Turning on the Mansfield charm and reminiscing about the good old nights out in Mansfield, the bromance was achieved and the kitchen became ours!! A few beers, blood-bombs (vodka, red bull and grenadine shots) and quesadillas later, we were sat around a bonfire, moaning about the youth of today before competing in a beer-pong competition. It was a truly international competition with my team-mate being an Israeli. We were gutted to lose in the final by one cup! The winners? The owner obviously...clearly played it one too many times, though great to see two Notts boys in the final...

With virtually no sleep (having had two boozy 4:30am finishes - well, me anyway) and a pretty bad hangover, the next day it was time to depart, not without Dre trying to persuade us to stay longer with the offer of jobs and free accommodation. ( I told you...sophisticated!) As tempting as it was with the AMAZING countryside, it was time to leave...and great timing too! Our last day in Salta brought rain...and a shed load of it!! Kind of summed up our thoughts on Salta city quicker than the first two paragraphs above!

Arriving back in town to catch our bus, after traversing flooded roads and fallen trees in our taxi from the hostel, we decided we had time to grab a few empanadas for lunch before jumping in a quick taxi to the bus station. Unfortunately, it soon became apparent that the rain meant that now every taxi was full. Being on the other side of the city, with only 30mins till we catch our bus and it throwing it down with rain, obviously we only had one clear option...to walk! With no time to stop to put rain gear on, we trudged in our flip flops through the flooded streets. Soaked to the bone, we arrived at the station with 5 minutes to spare, just enough time to print our tickets off first...if there was a printer!?! Having seen the man on the bus company counter looking somewhat grumpy and like he wouldn't help an old lady cross the street, our only option was to send in our best weapon...Hannah! She managed to sweet talk him into printing our tickets off just in time to make it to our bus with only seconds to spare. Literally as soon as we stepped on, the doors closed and we were off! Note to self - NEVER leave it that close again...

Our reward for making the bus? A 20hr journey to Mendoza!!?! But all was good! We had food, we had silence and most importantly we had 180 degree recliners!!

Sleeeeeeeeeeep...zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Posted by shaunandhan 18:22

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