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San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

September 12, 2015

Balneario Carlos Xamena Camping. Salta 8.9.15

A week ago, the vineyards in the Mendoza area had not a skerrick of new growth. The trees in the city were devoid of greenery. As we headed north the cherry trees began to  blossom as did other fruit trees and here, in the Salta area there is signs of new leaves sprouting from many of the vines.

Salta seems a very pleasant city. It appears to have escaped any devastating earthquake that has destroyed many of the old buildings in other places meaning there are many places in the city still standing from the 1700s and the likes. Many of the churches are in the Baroque style. It was a surprise when entering the main church in the 9th of July Square  to find the massive place half full with worshippers silently holding what I assume were prayer books while a file of them queued at the alter for a final genufluction before leaving. There was no priest in residence. Other churches we have visited almost always seem to be lacking in followers, this one was very different.

We did the tourist thing today. Changed money at the dollar blue rate, visited the archealogical museum, loooked at a few churches and old buildings, sat in the square and watched the world go by then caught the cable car up to Cerro san Bernado to take a panoramic view of the city What was not mentioned in the guff about the ride to Cerro San Bernado was the amazing water feature at the upper terminus. What seems like twenty to thirty waterfalls gushing from a variety of different levels to another level cooling the hot dry air. It was an unexpected delight.

The archeological museum was very interesting. In the 50s three mummies were found at the top of a nearby mountain. They were three children the youngest 7 who had been drugged with coca leaves then buried alive to satisfy the gods. The story is quite involved but it seems they were privileged to have been chosen

There is a swimming pool at this camp site. But nothing like you have seen before. It would stretch 300 metres by 100 metres wide. Empty at the moment, in fact I believe it is only filled for a couple of months of the year I suppose that wouuld be during the Dec-Feb holidays.

Tomorrow we head west to follow the Tren a las Nubes or train to the clouds It is on the way to the Chilean border where we will cross in a couple of days.

San Antonio de Los Cobres. 9.9.15

San Antonio sits some 3800 metres above sea level. A mining town that has that frontier feel about it: dust blown streets, shuttered adobe houses, a few people huddled against the cold outside a cafe. We left Salta about 12 noon and from there it was a steady climb through the majestic scenery of the Quebrada del Toro following the narrow gauge rail line for most of the way. The climb was steady but unrelenting. The bakkie was suffering from the altitude as much as ourselves. The pass was at 4,080 metres. I slowed down to take a photo of the sign but the bakkie was showing signs that if it stopped, it wouldn’t get going again. I have been told diesel motors don’t take kindly to high altitudes.

There is no camp site in town and free camping may not be a good idea, We therefore have grabbed a room at the Hostel La Esperenza. Neither of us have been at this altitude and are trying to acclimatize to it. Altitude sickness affects people differently so we are trying to keep our exercise to a minimum, have taken nurofen and drinking plenty of water. Staying in a hostel isn’t be a bad thing if one of us started to feel off.

Near Laguna Chraxi, Chile. 10.9.15

It was a bad night last night. Joan read up the symptoms of altitude sickness this morning at breakfast and both of us seemed to fit the picture perfectly: head aches, shallow breathing, not being able to sleep. pins & needles in our legs, and in the morning a feeling of nausea. Lucky for us, after a light breakfast things seemed to improve and since then have had little follow on effects even though most of the travel today was over 4,000 metres including two passes one at 4600 metres and the other a little below. Then the exertion of changing a burst tyre at 4200 metres didn’t seem to be too much of a problem.

Quite an amazing day actually. We took this route to enter Chile because of the viaduct a short distance west of San Antonio. It was a cold morning with ice covering many of the streams and the bakkie coughing and gaspng for breath before finally stuttering into life. The viaduct was very impressive; at an altitude of 4200 metres it is built some 68 metres aboove the valley floor and has a length of 220 metres. It also curved a considerable amount. Quite an engineering feat.

The landscape was one of bare barren views with little vegetation apart from a type of tussock. Streaks of old snow lingered on the upper peaks of the mountains and herds of llamas and vicunas grazed on the sparse vegetation. There were a few adobe huts housing the herders but most of the buildings along the road were in ruins. Solar panels seem to be the in thing here, these isolated people will at least have lighting.

It was a good road, gravel but well maintained.  The scenery especially on the Chilean side of the pass was memorable. The bakkie seemed to get a new lease of life as it took on the high passes as if it wanted to prove a point to its doubters.

The wind was incessant, strong and cold. Changing the tyre at the high altitude was an experience but went well and we were back on the road in twenty minutes. Traffic was minmal on this route, I think we met a couple of trucks, a few cars, and a couple of mad cyclists the whole day

So here we sit tonight having a sundowner. Altitude 2500 metres, warm, litttle breeze, quiet. Surrounded by volcanoes. I counted twentysix from where we sat. Tomorrow we head to San Pedro de Atacama to spend a few nights and take in the many sights in the area. Also to get a couple of new tyres if possible. I like to travel with two spares.

  1. Good reading Gary 💞💞Joan

    Sent from my iPhone


    • Ross Smith permalink

      Love the write ups and pictures Gary and Joan. Keep them coming. Just wondering if you have seen anything green yet. Any birdlife sightings?

      You continue to amaze us.

      Ross & Cathy

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