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Monday, April 25, 2011

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!

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