SA 20: Chacaltaya and el Valle de la Luna

Okay, first thing’s first – we’re going to Arica tomorrow!  Kanoo Tours came through with an earlier bus and I’ve booked a flight from Aria to Santiago for the next day.  Takes a HUGE chunk out of the budget, unfortunately, as the Salt Flats were kind of a triple threat in terms of transport, accomodation and sightseeing, but at the end of the day we’re closer to Easter Island, so all is well.

Today was pretty incredible.  We started off with a two hour bus ride in a WAY too crammed bus.  Technically, everybody had a seat but only if you consider what we were sitting on seats.  Such is Bolivia.

First stop was Chacaltaya, a mountain that was the former site of the world’s highest ski resort before global warming took that away.  The hike was only an hour an a half, but the highest elevation was 5400 metres and the wind was absolutely disgusting.  But you can’t beat the views.

We were able to see most of the major mountains of the Cordilleria as well as Huayna Potosi!  Don’t know what that is?  Have you ever seen a Paramount Pictures movie?  Well, the mountain that the stars go around is Huayna Potosi.  I can’t tell you why they picked it, but there it was, right in front of us.  As some multi-coloured lakes, awesome rock structures and a clear enough day and it was a great way to start off.

Then we went down the same road we came up.  Now, Bolivia is famous for the “Death Road”, a particular expanse of highway with steep drops and poor driver control.  Not a lot of drivers on this road but our guide, an awesome lady named Patty, said that this road was “like the death road”.  Well, if the bus driver wasn’t amazing, we would have gone off the edge pretty freaking quickly.  It’s insane the control some drivers have down here.  People always bitch about drivers from foreign countries being bad drivers, but the more you travel, the more you realize that it is all relative, because a GOOD driver amongst all these bad drivers can pull off things like you’ll never see anywhere else.

Next stop was el Valle de la Luna, also known as the Valley of the Moon.  Awesome sandstone rocks, eroded away by millions of years of water.  Basically like walking through a stalagmite cave without the roof.

Bolivia has definitely exceeded expectations.  In spite of the disappointment of not being able to hit the Salt Flats, we saw some ancient ruins, amazing mountains, a beautiful lake, one of the most distinct cities I’ve ever come across and some fantastic people.  There’s enough left in this country to warrant a second go sometime in the future and I’d definitely recommend it to those who are interested in a (slightly) less touristed South America.

Brain is a bit fried right now, mostly due to the rush of booking a flight after getting official word on our bus tickets.  Tomorrow is a transit day and might just check in for the sake of it, we’ll see what Arica can offer after eight hours on a bus.

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