The bus to San Gil was pretty terrible; seats were uncomfortable and didn’t lean back very far, it was a bit too cold (air conditioning!!), the seat belts didn’t work and the road was insane. For eight hours, overnight. I looked out the window at one point a few hours in and found myself looking down a steep mountainside and endless switch back roads going down. We were just getting tossed around all night, but I did manage to get a little sleep somehow. We got into San Gill pretty early and found a place to stay at Hostel El Dorado after turning down the first two. Favio, the twenty-something owner, told us about what there is to do in the area (anything you can think of, pretty much) and got us settled in.
The second Colombia game (against the Ivory Coast) was on that day so we went out to a store down the street near the main square to buy some Colombia jerseys, and joined the hundred and something other people from the area to watch the game on the big screen in the main square. It was very fun, and loud!
After our amazing (and cold) Patagonia adventure we were ready to head north to warmer weather. Mendoza was our next stop and where we would drink so much wine. So so much.
We arrived after two days of buses; Puerto Montt to Santiago which was overnight and expectedly boring, and then Santiago to Mendoza the next morning, which was an incredible drive up and over the steep Andes Mountains, passing by the famous Aconcaga Volcano National Park and through several tunnel sections of the mountain.
Have you ever really looked at a map of Chile? Really looked at it? The country is long and skinny, bounded by the Pacific Ocean on the west and the Andes mountains (the world’s longest mountain range) on the east with not too much between them. It stretches 4600 km north to south from the driest place in the world to the most southern city in the world, and is only 150 km wide on average (about twice the length of the Panama canal). This crazy geometry makes it impossible to look at a map of Chile on a single page, a bit frustrating when trying to plan our travels using our Lonely Planet.
We entered Chile from Bolivia after our salt flats tour and found ourselves in the tourisy town of San Pedro de Atacama, the driest place in the world (it rained for the first time in 5 years just last week). Immediately we noticed a difference in the culture - the streets were clean, people were very friendly and happy looking, things were much more expensive, there were plenty of good food options available, drivers stopped at red lights and stop signs, and as tourists we didn't stand out quite as much as we did in Bolivia where streets were littered with garbage, people were friendly enough but also maybe, understandably, a little resentful toward travellers, everything was overly affordable, food lacked flavor of any kind and consisted mainly of stale bread and eggs, and driving or walking on any road was a significant risk to your life. Don’t get me wrong; I loved Bolivia for many reasons, but it was not a place that I would recommend travelling to with young children or if you have any kind of personal standards for cleanliness or health.
After checking out San Pedro for an afternoon we decided to spend the next day exploring the famous national park Valle de la Luna. Although there were many tours offered in town, since it was so close by we decided to rent bicycles and check it out at our own pace. We grabbed some groceries for a picnic lunch and rode out of town and into an incredibly unique landscape that’s perfectly described by its name “Valley of the Moon”. We stopped at a number of recommended locations along the park road and did a few short hikes. I found the area to be very geologically interesting! Layers of weathered gypsum and caves formed by water and wind erosion. The surrounding hills looked like they had been painted: sandstones and siltstones, reds and yellows, boulders and sand dunes. The air was so dry that both of us had bleeding noses by the end of the day (that as of a month later still haven’t fully healed) but it was worth it to explore the alien landscape. Our legs were very sore the next day but we got some rest on the bus while we made our way south.
Turns out, you can even be chili on the moon,
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La Paz sucks.
Keep in mind here that neither Chelsea nor I are big fans of cities - they're usually too busy, too noisy, too smelly... we'd both really rather be in a smaller town or out lost in the wilderness. La Paz, Bolivia's bustling administrative capital, is the epitome of all that sucks about cities: streets packed with breaking-down cars and trucks, all constantly weaving around one another, doing their best to decorate their hoods with pedestrian guts while spewing plumes of acrid, black exhaust; sidewalks and plazas crammed with crowds of pushy, loud strangers all pushing their way past the rancid cesspools of garbage and human waste that scatter the streets. I'm sure there are some worthwhile spots hidden within the nightmarish cityscape, though we were so appalled we did our best to stay hidden in our hostel. One of the few times we did venture out in search of a decent meal, we discovered a maggot at the bottom of our (otherwise delicious) compost soup.
Okay, fine, the central market was a great place to stock up on alpaca-wool sweaters in preparation for the coming cold of Patagonia, and the Witches' Market was a perfect spot to shop around for stuffed piranhas and llama fetuses. Alright, I'll admit that there were a couple okay watering holes, some even offering different options (options!) of beer: our aptly-named hostel Adventure Brew even had a decent micro-brewed IPA, the likes of which my lips hadn't touched since leaving Canada.
On the whole, however, La Paz sucks. Unfortunately, however, traveling around Bolivia by bus will almost inevitably leave you stuck there for a night. For us, the only redeeming feature of La Paz was its proximity to "Death Road", the site of numerous fatal vehicle accidents (including a single event in the 80's which took the lives of over one hundred people) and a popular spot for downhill mountain biking.