Saturday, December 04, 2004

Week 23 - Santiago, Chile to Uyuni, Bolivia

November 27 to December 3, 2004

Saturday to Monday - SANTIAGO, CHILE

While in Santiago, we spent awesome quality time with my brother, Kyle, relaxing, talking, making dinners together, meeting his friends and past Chilean host family, walking around Santiago, and just being together. So nice!

We met and spent all of Sunday with Kyle’s past host family. They live in a peaceful residential neighborhood in Santiago. It was great to meet the family that Kyle lived with for a year in 2002. Kyle’s host parents have three grown children. Two live at home and the third lives in Uruguay. In Latin America it is extremely common for people to live at home with their parents until they get married – often due to cost of living.

The day began having coffee, tea, and sandwiches at their home in Santiago. After chatting and eating, Flavio, Kyle’s host father, took us on an all day, 12 hour adventure to the valley, mountains, and natural hot springs. This trip required a 4x4 vehicle – and so we went in Flavio´s Toyota Hilux. It is so nice to be able to leave a huge noisy city with ease and arrive in the peaceful Andes in only an hour.

Flavio was a fantastic tour guide as he not only took us to the mountains, but also, taught us so much about the area. We drove, hiked, spent time in natural hot springs, and had a picnic before returning to the city. The setting was spectacular!

Part of the adventure even involved walking through the snow – with my sandals on...

Here is a photo of Kiko, Kyle, me, Flavio, and Flavio’s current exchange student from Japan...


Sadly said goodbye to Kyle Tuesday morning after an amazing six days with him and headed north towards Bolivia to Calama, Chile so that we could catch a train to Bolivia. On the bus, north of La Serena, we passed the La Silla Observatory located in one of the main astronomical centers of the world. Coincidently, this is where Flavio, Kyle’s host dad, works as a physicist.

The bus ride took 24 hours. The scenery was astounding. Much of the way there was the Pacific Ocean on one side and desert on the other with the Andes in the background. We crossed the Atacama Desert – the driest desert in the world. It was amazing, much like the lunar landscape we saw in Peru. Here are five links on the desert, click on each number for the, two, three, four, five...


The bus arrived to Calama late morning. We purchased train tickets and spent the day in Calama – waiting for the train to depart at 11pm.

Their city emblem reads, “Land of Sun and Copper...perhaps Calumet should have one that states, “Land of Snow and Copper..."

The train ride was out of this world. It reached an altitude of 3950m (12,992ft). There was one passenger car attached to 32 box cars, all pulled by two engines. Because this weekly service is mainly for cargo, not passengers, we were at the mercy of their schedule.

Shortly after leaving, the train stopped near the Chuquicamata Mine to pick up more box cars. This mine is the world’s largest open-pit copper mine. It employs over 8,000 people and operates 24 hours a day, year round – it never closes.

Once we got to the border, we had to wait for Bolivian engines to take over the rest of the trip. Our single passenger car was left alone for hours, in the middle of nowhere – Ollague, Chile. “This village, on the dry floor of the Salar de Ollague, is surrounded by a dozen volcanic peaks over 5,000m (16,404ft).” (pg. 640 Footprints South American Handbook 2004)

And here is one of the active volcanoes…if you look closely; you can see smoke drifting out the top...

The train went through salares (salt flats / dry salt lakes) in both Chile and Bolivia. These areas are very large and are covered with salt – white as snow. Peak closely and you will also notice the moon...

Once in Bolivia, the train picked up many Bolivians. The train went from nearly empty to full. It is easy to see how a passenger train service is necessary in such desolate and poor areas.

The border between Chile and Bolivia was crossed by train…the only border we crossed by locomotive...

The night was extremely cold, due to the altitude and desert. However, since the train on the Chilean side was pretty empty, we were able to spread out and get some sleep...

We finally arrived to Uyuni six hours late - a city we passed through by train on our previous visit to Bolivia before we went to Argentina and Chile to see my brother. The long 23 hour ride was well worth it. Uyuni is home to the largest salt flat in the world.

Thursday to Friday – UYUNI, BOLIVIA

After two full days of travel, including a night on the bus and one on the train, rest was needed. It was nice to be on solid ground. Uyuni feels like it is literally in the middle of nowhere - an oasis at 3,665m (12,04ft) with 11,000 people. It is a very tranquil dusty city in the desert. The only trees around for miles and miles could be found in the town’s center – a nice little park with about 13 trees. I loved this city. Here we visited The Railway Cemetery that had engines from 1907-1950`s. Picture a huge junk yard dedicated only to railroad equipment. It was so great that we visited it on three different occasions during our stay.

We also made arrangements to visit the Salar de Uyuni – the largest and highest salt lake in the world. This is considered one of the most amazing things in South America. I cannot wait to see it!

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