Loving Colombia so far! We arrived in Bogotá after a 16 hour journey, flying from Buenos Aires through Lima (and staying overnight in the airport). We landed fairly early in the day and were settled into Hostel Sue Candeleria in the La Candelaria district (the more touristy and unfortunately more sketchy area). It was federal election day and the day after Colombia's first World Cup win (and subsequent celebratory rioting) so Bogotá was a bit rowdy. We asked a couple of military guys at the airport if it was safe to hang out in Bogotá during the election and how things were going, and they just said “todo tranquilo, hay muchas policías en las calles, esta muy seguro” (everything is good, there are many police in the streets, it is very safe) – that sounded pretty good so we decided to go for a little walk around.
We intended to try and get to Plaza Bolívar (the main square) but never made it that far because the police had put up barricades, likely to stop people from gathering in crowds. We just wandered around La Museo de Oro (the Gold Museum) listening to the street music, watching the vendors selling all kinds of delicious fried or sugar-coated snacks and, of course, giving trying some of them a try. I had a version of the delicious Alfajor from Argentina (Argentina's version is a bazillion times better) – this one was just some plain crispy wafers with a bunch of dulce de leche (thick caramel sauce) in between, mmmmm. I had eaten most of it but had maybe three or four bites left when a happy looking (possibly homeless) guy asked me for some money. Instead, I gave him the rest and he happily thanked me and wandered away, dancing and singing. Things seemed OK in the streets; there were several police and military people just hanging around and patrolling everywhere, with their massive guns at their sides. While some people may find that comforting, I found it unnerving.
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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