Jul 242013
 

Norwegian days in Iquique
The view of Iquique was quite spectacular as we approached the city from the surrounding mountains and sand-dunes. In front of the mountain was a gigantic sand-dune, and behind the sand-dune we could see the skyline of buildings along the promenade . One of those buildings were to be our home for 3 days.

Luxury in Iquique

Luxury in Iquique

We had made contact with a nice Norwegian couple who had offered us to stay with them while we were in town. It was the first time in 8 months that we actually met Norwegians. There does not seem to be many of them around South America. After a lot of messing about we finally found the right building; a charmless block between a casino and a supermarket. Ole and Vibeke were very welcoming and let us in to their luxury apartment on the top floor. It was definitely the nicest place we had stayed in for a very long time! There was a huge corner balcony with city- and sand-dunes views on one side, and of the promenade on the other side. It was great to be able to chill on a sofa in the sun with stunning views. Ole served up a steak-meal and set new standards for all our future couchsurfing hosts. The city of Iquique reminded me a bit of Miami Beach; with its gigantic promenade and park area, outdoor fitness bikes and scantily clad people on roller skates. There were almost no other gringos there, so not a lot of tourists in this town. The town centre consisted of a quaint little plaza with trams made of tree and a small bell tower.

The promenade in Iquique

The promenade in Iquique

There was also a long and wide pedestrian street with Wild-West-inspired buildings. In the evening we had planned to go out with Ole and Vibeke to meet some other local couchsurfers. All of them were only Spanish-speaking, with little or no understanding of English. It went quite smooth as we at least managed to have simple conversations in the present tense-form (struggling a bit more with the past tense). We experienced some Chilean nightlife culture that night.

Orchestra music-party

Orchestra music-party

We paid to get in on a bit like "underground" club that some of the locals knew. When we got in we found out that it was a kind of primary school, and the party took place on the basketball court. They had stalls where they mostly only sold marijuana-related things. They had fertiliser, cannabis seeds, and at least 50 different magazines and books that only were concerning cannabis cultivation. It was at least no secret what this party was about! Something else that was very special, and that I like to think is a "typical" Chile thing was that the live music entertainment was a brass band. It was quite surreal and strange to see hundreds of people dancing like crazy to brass band-music in a gymnasium with disco lights!

Sea lion in Iquique

Sea lion in Iquique

It was actually quite catchy, and I could easily have imagined that we all would have jumped around like crazy on the dance floor if we had been there a little longer. We decided to stay in Iquique longer than planned, we just had a too good thing going on to leave! A fantastic apartment, a nice Norwegian couple and cheap, good wine every evening! We spent a few days relaxing and strolling around on the promenade. We visited the pier where all the fishing boats come in. There we found a pack of giant sea lions who just hung around begging for fish. They were quite funny when they optimistically stuck their nose up for fish every time we approached the edge of the pier. Unfortunately we had no fish to feed them, but when the fishermen came and threw some into the water for them they went completely crazy. As hungry as the giant mammals were I could have easily imagined that they had torn us to pieces and eaten us if we had been so unfortunate that we had fallen into the water.

 

Robbed on a bus in Chile

The following morning we continued our journey to an oasis town in the middle of the Atacama desert; San Pedro de Atacama. It was a pretty miserable day as the bus trip that was supposed to take 5 hours took over 8 hours, and ended up dropping us off in the wrong city. We found ourselves in a dirty little mining-town called Calama. It was 18.30, and the last bus to San Pedro had left at 18.15, so we had to have an involuntary night in Calama. We found the saddest hostel we had in all of South America at the highest price we had ever had to pay. For a freezing, dirty little broom closet with a thin door and a noisy reception outside, we had to pay 250 Norwegian kroner(14$) ". The town was not much to write home about, so we remained largely in our broom cupboard. The following morning we got up very early to catch the first bus to San Pedro. There were many bus companies that went that way, and all had offices in various locations in the city. We went to the first and best, which turned out to actually be the worst…. The bus seemed to be ready to leave, but there were no other passengers.

lots of valuables

lots of valuables

We entered the bus and sat down and waited. Several of the bus staff ran back and forth doing their thing . None of them had any kind of uniform or identification, which is quite common in South America. One of them came over and began to instruct us back and forth. He took our large backpacks and put them on the seat behind us and said they could stay there during the trip. He told us that we had to put our daypack up on the shelf above the seat. This annoyed us as we keep all our valuables in the small bags, and prefer to have them under control at all times. He mumbled something about police checks and drugs being the reason they had to be kept there. Torunn was very skeptical and so constantly kept watching the bags. Every time she looked up the man began shouting at her not to worry etc. 2 minutes later another bus man said we had to put the big backpacks in the trunk, which we thought was a bit strange after the first man had said that they could remain in the seats. After a few minutes, the first man came back and gave us a little piece of paper and told us to write down names, nationality and passport number. Torunn wrote the note while the man was messing about on the shelf above us. He had a black bag which he apparently was putting up on the shelf. After he had placed his bag on the shelf, he went out of the bus with his coat stretched to one side. Torunn got up at once and looked on the shelf above us. We got a huge surprise when we saw that my bag was gone! That bag had my passport, creditcard, all our money and the laptop with all our pictures from the last 6 months! Torunn ran out to find the bastard, and I ran after her. She found him behind the bus about to go into a parked car.
He threw the bag behind the car when he saw her, and began to babble things in Spanish to distract her, but Torunn went behind the car, grabbed the backpack, and swore loads in English to the asshole who stole our bag (our Spanish not being good enough to yell at people yet..)!
We were pretty angry that the people who actually worked on the bus had not reacted when the thief were telling us what to do. We took the bags and went straight to another bus company that went to San Pedro.

Caught in the act

Caught in the act

After we had checked in our bags I actually walked over to the first bus company and retrieved the bag which the crook had tried to replace with our daypack. It was a very nice, brand new Osprey daypack. It suited me fine because at the time I was going to buy a new daypack anyway. Inside the Osprey backpack was another backpack! They were definitely daypacks that the thief had stolen from other travelers who had not been as awake as we were. I was pretty happy that the thief that had tried to steal from us, had two backpacks stolen from him!

Bicycle puncture in the world's driest desert We arrived in San Pedro after 1 hour and went to find a place to stay. It was a real desert city with dusty roads, burning bright sunlight and ancient stone churches. There was an incredible number of tourists, an established stop on the South American "gringo-trail». The desert itself is the main attraction in this city.

Valley of the moon(the white is salt)

Valley of the moon(the white is salt)

We rented bikes and set out on a day trip to a wonderful valley called "Valle de Luna» – the moon valley. The big draw there is the beautiful rock formations, salt flats and sand dunes. It is also known as one of the best places to watch the sunset. We cycled along the road in the dry desert air. Every 5 minutes we had to rinse your mouth with water as the lack of humidity here makes all the mucous membranes dry out in no time. Our eyes were stinging like crazy! At one point we rode past a small salt flat, and in one of my spontaneous moments, I found out that I was going to cycle on it. That was not a good idea…..It turned out that there was a deep layer of mud just below the salt layer, so my front wheel sank into the mud and I flew on my face over the bike. The bike looked like it had been in the war when we finally dragged it out of the mud, but it was still functional, At least for a little while.. We continued through the desert until we came to the valley. At the beginning of the valley we had to pay an entrance fee.

Stig in beautiful desert mountain formation

Stig in beautiful desert mountain formation

It is always ridiculous when we have to pay admission to something that nature has made, something I am strongly opposed. We have previously laughed at newspaper-articles in Norway about stupid things that tourists ask, one of which was the question about when the fjords close. That question does not seem so silly anymore after 6 months in Southg America where both valleys, lakes, beaches and mountains(!) have entrance fees and opening hours. It seems to be about pressing the tourists for what they are worth. The first thing we did in the valley of the moon was to walk through a narrow cave in the mountains until we came out on top. There we had views for miles with of sharp peaks covered with salt looking like snow. A few million years ago the whole area was under water. When the water disappeared there was only salt remaining, billions of tons of salt. We rode further up the valley, past tourist-buses full of people who had chosen the easy (and expensive) way to see the valley. We were much more happy on bikes…until my bike inexplicably had a flat tire in the middle of nowhere.

Bicycle repair in the middle of a desert

Bicycle repair in the middle of a desert

Standing in the middle of the world's driest desert with a punctured bicycle, and without a drop of water left actually sucks just as much as it sounds like. We had brought a spare-hose, but had no chance to change the hose without tools. What a day… begins with the attempted robbery, and end with us dying of thirst in the desert! Luckily a valley-guard showed up, who had room for our bikes in the trunk of his car. He drove us back to the entrance of the park and fixed the bike in few minutes; this was probably not the first time stupid tourists on bikes had problems here.. It was getting dark and we were in danger of missing the one thing that had brought us to the valley to begin with: the amazing sunset. We paddled like crazy back to the valley and managed to get up the mountain in time for a beautiful sunset, and moonrise.

Månen i "the valley of the moon"

Moon in “the valley of the moon”

There were a lot of other tourists there, but the area was so large that we did not need to stand on top of each other like we had last time we saw the world's best sunset in Santorini. The guards in the valley were absolutely ridiculous. Every time someone put a foot outside the marked trail they began to shout and make a big deal out of it, like it was holy ground. The only thing around the trails was sand and stone, not exactly ground covered with diamonds or chocolate. On the way down from the top Torunn set foot in the sand off the beaten path for a moment, and the guard who saw it began to shout as if the world was about to go under…talk about pedantic! We rode back in total darkness, but it was actually quite nice. The full moon lit up the desert sand and created a little magical effect where we rode alone through the valley. The light glistened and reflected the salt crystals and made us feel like we were in the middle of a diamond field. We got back to San Pedro, the most expensive city in all of Chile, and bought an overpriced empanada for dinner. We spent a few days more there and the only activity we did was walk through the desert to various desert attractions. Early in the morning on day number 3 we were picked up by a minibus; now finally the journey went to one of the expected highlights of the trip; the salt flats of Bolivia.

 Posted by at 10:14 in the morning
Jul 182013
 

Arequipa and the meeting with a stockbroker and a girl with blue hair

The day after Macchu Picchu we hardly bothered leaving the hostel. It was a whole day of just relaxing, no sightseeing whatsoever. In the evening we jumped on a nightbus to Arequipa, a town that is located 10 hours south of Cusco.
In Arequipa we stayed in with nice couchsurfer named Percy. He has a very nice apartment in one of the nicest neighborhoods in town. We had perfect views of the city, and the snow-capped volcano that towers over the valley.
Percy is a stockbroker, so he works at home on his computers. He therefore took the time to show us around the town the same day that we arrived. He took us to a small local restaurant for Sunday breakfast.

arequipa katedralen

arequipa katedralen

The breakfast consisted of a soup with a giant, piece of meat, with a lot of bone and fat on it. For that and a coffee we had to pay more than 80 Norwegian kroner(14$) ", which seemed ridiculously expensive considering how local this place was. Percy showed us around some of the most beautiful houses in the city. They are made of a special type of white volcanic stone, which is special for Arequipa. We also visited a few pubs and tasted the local Arequipa-beer.
We actually went there to see an amazingly beautiful canyon located a few hours bus ride from town. Colca Canyon is 3600 meters deep, and is the world's deepest valley, 3 times as deep as the Grand Canyon in the USA. When we heard that the local authorities took more than 200 kroner ENTRANCE FEE!! in order to be allowed to see the valley, we decided to skip it. Entrance fee for a canyon….It is ridiculous, and nothing else but a way to squeeze the tourists for every last penny. I am totally and completely against charging an entrance fee to something that nature has made.
Percy also told us that this money was spent on nonsense. Most of the money goes to buy alcohol to people in the villages around the canyon.
Lama farrmen

Lama farrmen

All the 20 villages have a week in the year in which the local government arranges a party where all the alcohol is paid for. It is therefore almost always a party in at least one of the villages, on tourists' expense. Percy told us a lot about how hopeless the local authorities in Peru are. A city used 20 million dollars to build a football stadium that seats 70 000 people, which was far beyond idiotic considering that there were only 15 000 people in the city. And this when the schools, hospitals and roads are in a total state of decay, one can begin to wonder what is going on inside the brain of those who govern. Peru is actually a pretty rich country, but very few of those in government knows how to manage the money. The priorities are almost always totally ridiculous.

There was also a young French girl staying with Percy when we were there. She has blue hair, which is something special. One day we went along with her to a viewing point to see the city and the surrounding mountains.
Llama wool factory

Llama wool factory

It's amazing how much attention you get when you're with a girl with blue hair. It is bad enough that we are 'gringos', but when we also have such an oddity with us, there is bound to be many curious glances.

Arequipa is a nice little town, with a very beautiful colonial plaza. There is just too much traffic there for my taste. We were out with Percy and the bluehaired girl to eat sushi, and then go to the pub and drink Pisco Sour (which is Peru's national drink `). It was a fun night, especially when we started discussing how to fix the worlds problems.…

Arica, Chile – Finally a place with outdoor-beers


After 3 days in Arequipa we headed to Arica, Chile. There, we also had a couchsurfer to stay with. That suited us really well as we soon found out that Chile was the most expensive country we've been to so far in South America.
The best thing about Arica was the pedestrian street.

View from Town Mountain in Arica

View from Town Mountain in Arica

It was a pedestrian street where they had cafes with tables outside in the street where they served beer! This was something we had not seen anywhere else in South America! They even had beer on tap , Another thing we had not seen in South America before. Chile was suddenly very much more enjoyable. We bought a giraff-beer and sat in the sun and had a good afternoon. There was not much to see in the city center, but we climbed the city mountain and got a view of the entire city and surrounding desert.
Arica city mountain

Arica city mountain

The northern part of Chile consists of the Atacama Desert; the world's driest desert. It rains 4 mm per one thousand years, which is the same as an average half-hour in Bergen.
The next day we were on a little excursion
Us and the gang we met in Chile

Us and the gang we met in Chile

to Lauca National Park which was right up against the border with Bolivia.
Vicuna out grazing

Vicuna out grazing

There were many stops along the way where we got to see beautiful mountain landscapes, small villages and lots of local wildlife. On the day-trip we got to see all the 4 types of Camelid that exists in South America; guanaco, vicuna, lama and alpaca. They all look pretty similar, with some minor differences. We also saw dozens of small,cute furry animal that jumped around between the rocks.
Chinchilla on the mountain

Chinchilla on the mountain

I fed one of chinchillas with biscuits, which it liked. Our group consisted almost entirely of local Chileans. The only foreigner except us was an Israeli named Gil.

Gil was the youngest in our group, yet he was the only one who actually got altitude sickness on the trip.
Arica park mountains

Arica park mountains

In one day we drove from sea level to 4800 meters altitude, pretty crazy. Gil got a headache and had to stop the bus to throw up.

The last attraction we went to see in the park was the Chungai lake on 4800 meters . It is the world's highest sea. It was a pretty idyllic place with a snow-covered volcano in the background, and herds of llamas and flamingos in the foreground.
In the evening we went back to the couchsurfer Patricio and his family. We sat for hours and talked to them, in Spanish! None of them knew any English. Patricio is a policeman from Santiago who has moved to Arica due. to his job. He told us that he preferred working in Santiago, because he got to shoot people there from time to time. A bit more action is a good thing.
The room that Patricio gave us was really just like a hotelroom, the only thing that was missing was a little mint on the pillow.
In the morning we headed towards the coastal town of Iquique.

 Posted by at 11:38 in the morning