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Monday, April 25, 2011

AMAZING ANDES - PHOTOS

John & the boys at Antofagasta - they did try to fix GR2s problem

Another open cast mine

Miners cemetary in the Atacama
Makes GR2 look small

Another glorious sunset at our camp spot- hope there aren't too many trains

Inside the oldest church in Chile
Abdobe church - oldest in Chile

John & Lynda with Barry & Carol

Andean village

Those "massive" geysers
More geysers

I love those vicunas

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh

Another salar lake

Another border

Another gorge

AMAZING ANDES - AGAIN

We are not planning to rush back to Salta. We will continue our travels, albeit a bit slower. There is lots to see before we leave this area. So we stock up with food in Antofagasta and head back through the Atacama desert, up, up, up (very slowly) towards the Andes again, through some amazing lunar scenery and past many massive open cast mines. Some still operational and others that have become "ghost" mines. We stop at Chuquicamata to see the "newest ghost" town  and the second biggest open cast mine in Chile - absolutely mindbogglingly massive. No tours today as it is the weekend. We are continuing on to El Taito Geysers, and stop to explore some little Andean towns. Here we meet an Aussie couple (Barry & Carol) who have been travelling for over 2 years in their landrover with a foldout camper. So we stop, camp and chat.
Anyway we finally get to the geysers that are at 4300m, and we camp there for the night. Apparently they are at their best in the early morning light. 4300m is not very pleasant for sleeping. Firstly it is cold, very very cold, and secondly your head hurts and you get pretty pooped.
We found the best solution (used by all the locals) was to chew Coco leaves. You pop a handful of leaves in your mouth (trying not to gag) with some bicarb soda, chew them up and push them into the side of your mouth. They tend to numb your mouth a bit, but they do improve the headaches. John bought our leaves in Argentina before we reached Chile from a man at the traffic lights, and I was neurotic about crossing the border with them. But no problems.
Anyway back to the geysers. In the evening we had a lovely time wandering around and looking at lots of steam vents and a few tiny geysers, and then enjoyed soaking in the hot pool all on our own. The next morning (at 6am and in the predawn light - pitch black) we shared it all again with 100's of tourists in lots of buses. Probably not worth the freezing night and the terrible road back to San Pedro de Atacama. Not a patch on Rotorua (NZ). But the mountain scenery was magical and there was fresh snow.
After exploring the touristy town of San Pedro we head back to Argentina, this time via the Paso Sico. We have to "do" customs at San Pedro (more than 150km from the border). It is a glorious drive passing lots of volcanos and some gorgeous salar lakes...finally into Argentina - phew! How many border crossings is that now. And head on to San Antonio de los Corbes, and then another mountain pass following Tren a la Nubes (a famous train ride - one of the highest in the world). This section of the road has been tarsealed, until the last 20km into Salta, which leaves the entire gorge shrouded in dust.
Back to see Jorge to restore GR2 to full power again and we head back into the mountains to check if we can reset the system manually at altitude, but to no avail. We had toyed with heading into Bolivia before Altitude Ailments, but now just need to sort out this glitch. So again more mountains and up past the Salida Grande and north to Bolivia, returning south through the heritage listed Humahucca Valley (beats me how a valley can be heritage listed) which is pretty great, but maybe we have seen too many gorgeous gorges. Perhaps it is time to head home. But first a final stop to see Jorge!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

FOOTNOTES ON CHILE

1/ Amazing scenery. This is a land of contrasrs, from the dryest desert in the world to the wetest (in our opinion) Patagonian area, with gushing rivers, raging waterfalls and overflowing lakes.

2/ Cost effective travel. Across the board we found costs were about 20% cheaper than Australia

3/ Great wild camping (no cost at all)

4/ Borders were a bit of a trial - they were fussy about food. At one they took our honey, another our meat, another we had to boil our eggs, and finally when we had virtually no food left they didn't even bother to check!

5/ People are friendly, but very little English is spoken

6/ No problems finding free Wifi, usually at larger Copec petrol stations

7/ Vehicle of choice: Japanese dual cab 4x4 ute (nearly always red) driven recklessly

ALTITUDE AILMENTS - PHOTOS

An amzing drive - very glad we didn't meet any oncoming traffic

The viaduct

Purmarca - a lovely setting


Salada Grande - a massive salt lake

Watch out fellas - lots of llamas here

Cemetary at Susques

Fantastic high altitude road

Border time yet again

Back to the desert

ALTITUDE AILMENTS (GR2)

Camping at 3828m meant that our diesel hot water & heater wouldn't work, but fortunately our stove top did. We woke to a very cold morning (-1.5C outside) with ice on our roof vent.
Our next stop was Viaducto La Polvorilla - a massive viaduct 64m high x 324m long on what is called Tren a las Nubes (railway in the clouds) which is still used for tourists. We are still at high altitude (4000m) and get "pooped" just walking up to the viaduct. But it is not just us that is "pooped". So is GR2. She has been great going up over passes, but doesn't like staying at over 3500m for any length of time, but as we head towards the Salinas Grande (salt lake) lights start flashing. John stops to try to over ride the auto system to clear the build up of gases (as we had in Peru), but it doesn't work and after 50km we lose power and GR2 goes into "Limp Home" mode (50% power).
We had been planning to head over another very high border to Chile (no food in our fridge now for this event) but that seems crazy, so we change direction and head back to the cities of Jujuy and Salta to find a mechanic. We need to plug into a computer to clear the fault.
We didn't actually check on our maps, but the route was via another mountain pass of 4170m which we drove very, very slowly. Then down through more "gorgeous" gorges and stop overnight at Purmarmarca. A really cute town set beside Cerro de los Sieste Colores (hill of 7 colours). That night John tries llama steak - very nice once I stop thinking about cute llamas. Oh and they had great markets here (bought Sammy another jumper here)
Anyway I digress. On to Jujuy - cannot find any suitable workshops, so head to Salta (a much bigger city) via what I think is the most direct route. Sadly we go on the narrowest, windiest road ever. Absolutely gorgeous bush, rather like Mt Glorious at home, but a nightmare with a "Limp Home" GR2. Finally, and after much sweating, we reach Salta. After eight attempts to find someone, we strike gold. Jorge can fix it in a flash!! Feeling very relieved we set off back to Chile, with lots more power. No more dirt roads for us. We travel on lovely tarsealed roads all the way to the border. BUT...........the Paso de Jama is at 4170m, and after the border we continue to climb to 4800m and stay at altitude for over 100km. Incredibly scenic, but again....you guessed it. Lights flash and we go into "Limp Home" mode again.
So we limped to the first town in Chile - San Pedro de Atacama (we have come here to see the geysers), but now need a mechanic. We think we should be OK in Chile as they have Isuzu, whereas Argentina didn't. After another morning spent with a mechanic we have to head to Calama - a city 100km away in the Atacama desert. At the second attempt here they really try to help, but again no joy. We now have to go to Antofagasta - 200km away.
Johns Verdict: In Chile the Isuzu is marketed as Chevrolet, but unfortunately their pollution standards are much lower than Australia, so none of their computer software is compatible. I just love computers!!
So after an extra 700km and mechanics spending 7hrs (at no cost to us), we have to head back to Jorge in Salta, Argentina.

GORGEOUS GORGES - PHOTOS 2










Saturday, April 9, 2011

GORGEOUS GORGES - PHOTOS

Road of snails
Puerto Inca- amazing rock bridge
Another amazing road to the old pass between Chile & Argentina
Statue of Christos Redentor
Yet another dead shed
Nightime camp spot
New subdivision
At shrine to Difunta Correa
More at the shrine - get your car blessed
Roller coaster road
At Valle de la Luna
Rocks!!!
GR2 at Valle de las Luna