b) Music / Dancing
(d) Drugs if thinking of exports
So having not done any of those so far you would think for Fat Tuesday I would at least be able to tick off Carnival...well I failed!! (To be fair this weekend I have seen a few late street processions but poor quality)
I did try to see carnival but to be fair I have seen some of the best scenery out there this past week in the Atacama desert (Chile) and Salar de Uyuni (Bolivia).
Apart from the photos below to show you the scenery they have moved the Dakar rally here...see some stunning footage from stage 8 to give a flavour of what my eyes have marvelled on.
Few factoids on the desert...driest hot desert and oldest desert on Earth! Essentially the driest place on Earth...and covers 41k sq miles.
So after arriving at our hostel run by table tennis loving potheads we set about planning our time here in Chile and for getting to Bolivia and Salar De Uyuni.
Atacama is known for geysers (the spitting kind not council estate yobo's!), salt plains, thermal springs and stunning scenery. Due to all this it is a fairly active area for seismic activity.
Saw sunrise over the geysers; swam in thermal baths; swam in Dead Sea equivalent (although told not as salty); 4x4 over mountain passes around 5,000m. The scenery is that of Mars and the moon and in fact NASA has used it to test vehicles. It is also known for the star gazing qualities and has the clearest skies in the world...would love to tell you more and get geeky but didn't manage to do the tour.
Highlight for me was Ignacio and I hiring a 4x4 for 2 days to explore ourselves the beautiful landscapes this place has to offer...essentially an awesome road trip listening to tunes, racing up dunes, improving my truckers tan and nearly hitting a duck!! My driving bravado nearly got us stuck in the sand but fortunately Ignacio didn't have to push and get a mouthful of sand! Sitting out in the desert eating a sandwich overlooking some stunning lakes and salt flats was a good alternative to Carnival!
About this town for anyone that goes...there are 25 operators of tours to Salar De Uyuni...price differences of $20 for a 3 day trip...all have mixed reviews...all put you in alright accommodation...all follow the same route. Makes decision making confusing and the topic of conversation with all travellers. My business hat says guarantee top accommodation, food and 4x4 then people will gladly pay more...nobody has entered the middle ground of backpackers with cash who want a top experience. Unfortunately my Chilean Dragons Den application did not come back!!
Thankfully Ignacio speaks Spanish as his parents are Cuban so has come to the rescue many times...most memorable was me asking the Cambio to change 4 days into Boliviano's the required currency. The laughter from all in the shop made me realise "quatro-dias" is not 40!
Few factoids of Salar De Uyuni...worlds largest salt flat at 4k sq miles.
Anyway the scenery is fantastic and don't think my photos do it justice!! We saw many lakes of greens, whites, blues and reds. Numerous flamingos...well too many to be honest!! But the highlight of the tour being the salt flats themselves for sunrise. This was the last day so a great build up to get there. Had a great laugh in the car watching the mountain and volcanic scenery fly by...sharing travelling stories and listening to music. The accommodation was basic and the 2nd night our hotel was made of salt...although rather annoyingly the floor was loose salt which meant salt got everywhere!! In terms of remoteness there is no phone reception and the hot water (and the water) lasted about 30 mins...luckily I made it before the 30 mins was up!! Martin in our group was mid hair wash so was not a happy camper!!
Most important thing to note about this trip is the altitude...now as a seasoned pro at altitude thanks to Kilimanjaro I was not worried but sleeping at 4,400m was the same as my highest sleep at Kili...therefore really had to watch out when walking around the lakes/hostel. Means it gets cold at night to below freezing in summer. Just shows you what a barren and harsh landscape it is...all the more impressive when you see llama and flamingo surviving at this altitude.
The main draw obviously is the salt flat which at this time of year is impressive. Still a little water so has great reflective properties of the mountains but means get to drive across the salt plains at speed to find our spot to do the famous perspective photos...google image Salar de Uyuni and you will see what I mean. Meant many hours on the salt plains having fun and playing around.
As I said at the start these 2 places are stunningly beautiful. Patagonia in the South is mountainous and meant more physical exertion...these are amazing in their own way due to the expansive vistas, coloured lakes and scenery like you don't get anywhere else on Earth.
Now I am firmly in Bolivia planning the next few weeks of the trip. Jaguars, death roads, ancient ruins and jungle are all on the list!! Bolivia is a great country so far and the people friendly...probably due to all the coca they eat/drink! Also very cheap...decided to check myself into a B&B single room with en-suite to catch up on sleep (dude in hostel last night was a snorer), do some admin, some washing plus the breakfasts here are bacon and eggs!! So splashing out in Bolivia terms here is $17 a night...yup the travelling playboy of luxury i have become!