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Northern Argentina & Chile

Saturday, Aug 24th

- As we left Panama airport, we realized that we forgot to buy Abuela rum at the duty free, my favorite kind. Doh!

Sunday, Aug 25th

- Went for breakfast at Cafe Convento. I had a double burger (I was starving). Chris had a latte, fresh squeezed orange juice, sparkling water, yogurt, toast, and a fruit bowl ... all for less than the cost of a latte at home.

- Picked up our rental car and drove it to the Portal mall. We couldn't figure out how to lock the rear door. After trying everything we admitted defeat and called the rental car agency. Felt stupid when we were told we had to press in the handle to lock it.

- Walked through all the shops looking for a traje de bano (swimsuit) which Chris forgot at home. Without any luck we headed to the grocery store. Lo and behold there were some swimsuits in the clothing aisle. Unfortunately the women's sizes started at 42. But luckily Chris found a larger child's size swimsuit that fit, and actually looked pretty good!

- Tried to drive out of Salta and became stuck in some sort of detour around the city involving gravel roads, due to a Sunday market. Finally made it out of town and took the scenic route towards Jujuy / Purmacara.

- The scenic route turned out to be extremely windy, and maybe not so scenic. Stopped in Purmacara to check into our hotel, Colores of Purmamarca.

- Then we drove to Salinas Grande, through a very steep mountain pass with a lot of switchbacks. At the top we were at 4200m elevation.

- Saw some guanacos along the side of the road.

- We bought a tortilla and walked along the salt flats for a bit. Got in our car and drove back through the mountain pass to Purmacara. By now the sun was setting and the colors of the mountains were coming alive.

- Had some wine at our place and enjoyed the colorful mountain view. Went into Purmamarca for dinner. Couldn't get in to El Meson without a reservation so we went to Pedro Pan instead. My pizza seemed like it could have used a few more minutes in the oven, but not bad. Chris had lentil burgers.

- Back at the hotel, the 'hot tub', which was really more of a jacuzzi tub, was empty, and seemed to be missing a plug. We used a towel to plug the hole and filled up the jacuzzi.

Monday, Aug 26th

- Drove to Tilcara to trek with the llamas. We met our llama, which was named either hooka or puka, we never did figure it out. We ascended up the hill behind the llama farm with our 5 llamas and a dog. Saw some nice colorful mountains along the way. The llamas walked fairly slow, especially uphill. At the top we stopped for lunch which consisted of: vino, strawberries, tomatoes, our guide's mother's homemade goat cheese, spinach/quinoa empanadas, potato chips ('french fries'), meat, dried corn. The llamas also carried our chairs, a table, and water. Thanks llamas!

After a llllllong lunch, and many llama photos later, we trekked back down.

- Came back, enjoyed our colorful mountain view again (although pretty windy now), had a siesta, and played some cards.

- Went for dinner at El Manantial del Silencio. It was a more upscale restaurant (at least for Purmacara). At first we were the only ones in it. We had a good salad (sable torte) and a bottle of Torrontes. It took us a while to finish off the wine, since we had already drank one in our room. For our main course we had pumpkin canneloni. Too full for dessert.

Tuesday, Aug 27th

- Got up before sunrise and hiked Paseo Los Colorados. We were the first people there and had it all to ourselves. It was interesting to watch the colors change as the sun rose.

- Had breakfast back at the hotel. Took us a while to back out of the tight parking stall. Some guy (Charles) also asked for a ride to the main square.

- Went to Salta to try and pick up Chris's riding boots. First we stopped by Seal Cargas, who looked at our address, and told us we were at the wrong place. So we went to Crucera Express, who told us (using Google Translate) that our shipment tracking number was missing 3 digits. We managed to ask them if they could call the bootmaker in Buenos Aires to try and sort it out. They gladly obliged, and after a lot of back and forth discussion, and asking the bootmaker to take a photo of the shipping receipt, they finally figured out why they couldn't find our shipment. It was indeed at Seal Cargas, the first place we went.

Hurrying back to Seal Cargas, which was closing in 10 minutes for siesta time, they managed to find our shipment.

And then after all that, the boots were too big.

And then we drove, and drove, and drove to Cafayate. We went through the Quebradas de las Conchas, which was beautiful, although I think we'll appreciate it more on the way back when we have more time to visit.

- Checked into La Vaca Tranquila, which is also a cerveceria. Tried one of their beers and then drove back to Cafayate for dinner.

- First stop was Chato's wine beer and had a tasting flight with snacks (a lot of olives and queso!). Our favorite wine was the Torrentes.

Saw the French girls from our llama hike on the way out.

- Then we went to Casa de la Empanadas. Ordered empanadas to go. Listened to the local musicians while we waited (and waited) for our empandas.

While we waited we watched the local gato make the rounds looking for food. Saw the French girls again.

- Finally got our empanadas and went to the local town square to eat them.

Wednesday, Aug 28th

- Started at the Bodega San Pedro de Yacochuya, a smaller winery. Had a nice tasting with 3 wines and some cheese and crackers.

- Moved on to Domingo Mollina. Here we were given a private tour (in English) and then a tasting with 10 wines (5 midrange, 5 more expensive) in the garden. Also saw a zorro (fox). More queso. The favorites were once again the Torrontes (one regular, and one dessert). The wines were around 200 pesos each (5 dollars!).

- The final stop was Piatelli winery. By far the biggest winery we visited. Had a great lunch with a bottle of Torrontes. 2 appetizers, 2 main courses, a bottle of wine, and dessert, and cappucinos, at a beautiful winery for a grand total of about $50 CAD.

- Swung by Cabres de Cafayate to buy some goat cheese. Too late to see the goats.

- Went for some helado. Tried 'wine ice cream' and cactus flower (tuna) ice cream. Neither were really ice cream, more like sorbet, and were actually pretty good. Definitely unique.

- Picked up some bread from the bakery, and some strawberries from the small town of San Carlos. Had a beer back at La Vaca under the stars and met the local pero, who was very friendly and liked to jump up on you. He didn't seem to know the command for 'sit / sentar' in english or Espanol.

Thursday, Aug 29th

- Drove to the Quebrada de las Conchas area. The first stop was the Obelisk. Then we hiked El Paso. Out and back with some nice formations and a rewarding view at the end (best views of the Quebrada).

We got to the end point and had read that you could continue on to La Yesera. We wandered around for a bit trying to figure out where to go, but eventually decided we should go back the way we came, rather than risk getting lost in the desert.

- Continued on and checked out 'el sapo' the toad formation. And then Mirador Tres Cruces viewpoint. Had lunch at El Anfiteatro, and finished up at Quebrada del Diablo.

- Carried on to Salta. We arrived during a very busy rush hour. We had an issue filling up the gas tank...the gas cap wouldn't come off. Dropped off the car, and walked through the busy streets to our airbnb.

- Our airbnb ended up involving a 4 key system, one to get in from the street, a second door, and then the elevator to get up, and then the final key for our front entrance. We had to take a picture of our keys to keep track.

- Walked through the streets, tried to find a grocery store or a hat, or the purse store, but couldn't find any of the 3.

- Went for dinner at La Cirfina, a pasta restaurant. I had ravioli with a cream sauce. Chris had raviolettis with pesto. After paying, the restaurant owner called us back to inform us that one of the bills we had paid with was counterfeit.

Friday, Aug 30th

- Woke up early to catch the 7am bus to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile. Took a cab to the bus station with a very friendly driver that was intereted in where we were from and where we were travelling to.

- Found our seats on the bus - we had reserved our seats ahead of time to get the front row ones on the 2nd level of the bus so we could enjoy the views. Once we were on the road we were given a packet of snacks (crackers, a peanut butter cookie and a teabag). We wondered how they serve tea on the bus....it turns out, it maybe wasn't the best idea. We were then each passed a styrofoam cup and then they came around to fill it with scalding hot water. We spent the next 20 minutes attempting to not spill our tea on a very bumpy highway!

- We drove up past the Salinas Grandes again and then continued into Chile. Once at the border we sat and waited on the bus for quite awhile. We then were instructed to go in where we stood in line for a long time while the bus driver sorted out clearing the bus through customs. Once that was finally finished, each person then had to go a person who inspected your passport, a second person that processed the customs form. Then you had to retrieve your baggage and have each piece of luggage opened and inspected. All of this at 5000m above sea level, Chris said he noticed that it was more difficult to breathe.

- After about 10 hours since we left Salta, we finally made it to San Pedro. We grabbed a few things to make dinner and then met our Airbnb host, Max, in the square to get a ride to our place.

- Made some pasta and enjoyed our nice place in the middle of the Altiplano.

Saturday, Aug 31st

- Went to pick up our rental car and then headed to the Valley de le Muerte (Mars or Death Valley). It was our first enounter with the Chilean parks system. It involves parking your car at each attration. Filling our forms that could include, names, ages, sex, nationality and car info and pay a fee. Once that was done, another person then explained the attraction to you.

- Once that was done, we drove up through the valley (interesting red rock formations that looked like Mars) and then walked out onto the sand dunes. We then hiked up to a viewpoint. Nice views over the valley and of the Andes and the volcanoes around San Pedro,

- Next, we went to Valley de la Luna. After going through the same check in process again, we drove to the first stop. Another walk out to look at sand dunes. Nice views again. Chris thought it looked like Pakistan, I think it partly because I had lost my hat and had my scarf draped over my head to try to get some protection from the harsh sun. There was no shade anywhere. There were lots of people biking but it didn't look that enjoyable on the dusty roads and no where to get out of the sun,

- After the sand dunes we did another hike up to a viewpoint and took in some more nice view. We then continued on to a salt mine and the Tres Marias which weren't that impressive.

- Went back into town and had a bite to eat at Al Tiro, a falafel and chicken sandwich place. Chris broke her glass. :(

- Came back in a rush to get ready for our stargazing tour with Jorge. He picked us up at our place, and then made the rounds to pick up the rest of our group. Arriving at his place we sat in chairs in his backyard, with the night sky as a backdrop. He went through the history of astronomy and pointed out stars along the way.

Then we stopped for intermission and had a few snacks and hot chocolate. After that we stargazed through his telescopes, and saw stars, planets, binary star systems, double star systems, star clusters, one was shaped like a butterfly, Jupiter, Vega, one that looked like a scorpion, and a bunch of M-something objects. And for the grand finale, the rings of Saturn (surprise ruined in advance by one of the group!)

- Jorge dropped us off and then I fell into a ditch :0

Sunday, Sep 1st

- Went to meeting point for the ALMA tour with our waiting list tickets. Met a couple from Vancouver who were on the 'hopeful list'. In the end everyone was able to fit on the bus and we proceeded to our ALMA tour. Our guide was great and we learned a lot, and had a Q&A with real astronomers at the end.

- Went for empanadas for lunch at Kafe Kartarpe, very good. I tried to order the 'grande empanada' but the waitress kindly showed me an example of the 'personal' size which was more than large enough.

- Went to watch the sun set at Laguna Chaxa. As a bonus we also were able to check out the Salinas Atacama. We thought the park ranger was someone trying hire himself as a guide, but our suspicions were incorrect. He just wanted to tell us about the park, and gave us a magnifying glass to look at the sea monkeys / shrimp that give the flamingos their pink color.

- Walked out on to the salt flats and observed the flamingos in the distance. Walked around the lake while we waited for sunset, enjoying the occasional flamingo that flew in beside us. Ate chips and salsa, and went for a walk towards the end of the laguna. On the way back, the colors became very interesting in the salt pools.

- Went into town and picked up a pizza from Pizzeria El Charrua. We ordered a 'mitad y mitad' (half and half) of Hawaina and Caprese.

Monday, Sep 2nd

- Drove to Cerro Toco to climb up a mountain that's higher than the base camp of Everest. Passed some llamas on the way. The drive up wasn't as bad as we thought it might be. Our car struggled a bit towards the end.

- We parked at 5,200m elevation and prepared for a 2.5km hike up to 5,600. The temperature was -1C. I wouldn't say we were 100% prepared for a hike like this, as I was wearing my merino socks for mittens. We did have water though, and some coco candies.

- Started the hike, and it wasn't too bad to begin with. We had to take a break every 100 steps or so to catch our breath. It was windy, but at least the wind was at our backs as we climbed up the mountain.

About half way up we stopped for a rest and took a few photos. After this point, you could feel it start to hurt our lungs, but we didn't feel any symptoms of altitude sickness. The last quarter was the hardest. We also chose the steeper, shorter route up to the summit. By this point we could only walk about 30 steps without stopping to catch our breath.

We made it to the top, and the view was spectacular. 360 degree views, including right into Bolivia. We could see volcano Licancabur, the salt flats, Laguna blanca or verde, and the ALMA telescope array.

Took some photos and then huddled behind the rock to take shelter from the wind.

Came back and had lunch. Had a moment of panic when I couldn't find my phone and pictured it sitting at the top of Cerro Toco. It turned out to be under the front passenger seat of the car.

- Went to Laguna Cejar. The visitation procedure was different yet again. First we were stopped at the pre-visit checkpoint, and the park employee radioed ahead (maybe 50 metres) to let them know a vehicle with 2 tourists would be approaching. We tried to pay at this point, but were told that was at the next station. But here we had to fill out the standard form (sex, passport number, nationality, license plate, age, you name it). At the next checkpoint, we were given information about the 3 lagoons.

- We swam in one of the lagoons. It was as cold as you can imagine a lake being at 2000m above sea level, but you could definitely float without any effort. We did find some warmer parts of the lagoon, and a few little warm pools around the edge. After drying off, our skin was hard and crusty, and our bathing suits were crunchy.

- Made some pasta at our bnb (probably the nicest of our trip).

Tuesday, Sep 3rd

- Traveled from San Pedro to Calama. Luckily the rental car agency told us that the bumper falling off was 'normal'. They didn't like on the salt left on the seats though.

- Waited for a long time at the Calama airport after finding out that our flight had been rescheduled.

- Checked into the Holiday Inn which was located right at the Santiago Airport, very convenient. Went for a soak in the hot tub, the jets were weird, as they shot out violently from the seats.

- Had dinner at the hotel bar. Good pisco sours. DJ stream on the screen from Ibiza. Caesar salad without Caesar salad dressing.

Wednesday, Sep 4th

- Walked across the street to check in for our flight to Easter Island. Checked in, got our tickets and luggage tags. At which point they asked us 'Do you have your online form?". "What online form?" we replied. Apparently we were supposed to fill out an immigration form for Easter Island. At which point they told us we had about 5 minutes to submit the form or we wouldn't be allowed on the flight.

Took the laptop out and tried to remain calm as we filled out the immigration form, which was only available in Spanish. And then realized it had to be filled out again, once for each passenger.

Apparently we were the only people who had missed this form, as nobody else seemed to be frantically filling out an online form.

Once we arrived at the Easter Island immigration 'border', the agent informed us that one of our dates was incorrect. We thought it was asking us our outbound date, when in fact it was asking us our inbound date. But he begrudgingly allowed us on the flight anyways after fixing our mistake.

- Christophe picked us up at the airport. Gave us a fresh flower lei. Took us on a tour around Rapa Nui. Chris was a bit uncomfortable as we were all squished into the front seat of his pickup.

Dropped off our luggage and drove to Rano Kau. We walked along the rim of the volcanic crater, and visited the Orongo site, which was an old village showing how the Rapa Nui lived and performed ceremonies. It was the home of the Birdman competition.

- Continued on to Vinapu, the only female moai. Not much left of her, just a column. You also get close to the intricate stacking of giant rocks for the altar, which were all lined up precisely.

- Came back for a little bit and then went to Tahai for sunset. It was pretty cloudy. Tahai was a ceremonial complex. It had the only Moai that had eyes put into it's sockets.

- After sunset we went to Kai Sushi for dinner. Good maracuya pisco sours. Huge portions. Stray dogs laid around us.

Thursday, Sep 5th

- Started with Akahanga (waves and some fallen Moai. Saw a cave).

- After that was the quarry, Rano Raraku. Lots of larger Moai, and some still etched into the side of the mountain. This is where they were carved out of volcanic rock and then moved to other places on the island. Saw 'El Gigante', the largest Moai, still laying on his side.

- Stopped by Tongariki but only to see the traveling Moai. I avoided seeing the rest of the Moai here, because we would be coming back the next day to view them at sunrise.

- Viewed some petroglyphs at Papa Vaka. They were pretty faint, but you could make out a few things.

- Next stop was Te Pito Kura, which is where we saw the largest Moai ever moved to a platform but he had fallen down. There was also a magnetic stone, but we didn't realize it at the time.

- Went to Anakena beach, which was really nice. Soft sand. Palm trees imported from Tahiti. More Moai, this time with top-knots on their head. Had lunch.

- Went for really good ice cream (Mikafe) by the main harbor area. Saw a sea turtle. Body boarders and surfers.

- Sat on our porch and had some rum with fresh juice. Had dinner at Tu Vaku. A hungry cat showed up, and we gave it some of Chris's tuna.

Friday, Sep 6th

- Got up early for the sunrise at Tongariki, the largest ceremonial platform on the island, with 15 Moai. Again it was quite cloudy, so the light wasn't great, but the Moai at Tongariki are still amazing.

Had breakfast in front of the Moai.

- Went for a hike from Ahu Akivi (more Moai) towards Maunga Terevaka. We almost made it to the end, but every time we thought we were at the top, it turned out to be just a little bit further. Eventually we had to turn around so we would catch our flight in time. One volcano summit away. Maybe.

- Flew back to Santiago. Took a taxi to our apartment. Friday night, sounded like there was a marching band on the street below us.

Saturday, Sep 7th

- Went for breakfast at Holm. A lot of food, and it was very good. Very fresh.

- Tried to find the bus station. Had to navigate through crowds and many street markets. Did run across a liquor store that sold Panamanian Abuelo rum though.

- Walked around a bit and took the metro to Estacion Centrale to catch the bus to Undurraga Winery. We bought a few glasses of wines we had never tried before (carignan and carmenere) and walked around the grounds.

- Went for dinner at Chipe Libre. The lentils were really good.

Sunday, Sep 8th

- The time changed on us, unknowingly, which caused a little confusion. Went for breakfast at Metissage. Very busy and popular with the locals.

- Went and got ice cream at El Toldo Azul. Frambuesa was good, but not quite as good as on Easter Island.

- Chris had a massage at the the top of the Ritz. Her plan to use the pool did not work out as it was undergoing maintenance.

- Went for a hot chocolate at Xoco Por Ti.

- Waited in line to go up the funicular de Santiago in Cerro San Cristobal. Buying tickets seemed more complicated than it should be. Got to stand in the front. Funicular ride was fun. The top was a bit underwhelming. Too much smog for nice views of the Andes.

- Went for dinner at Bocnariz. Had lentils again. The quinoa was really good. We had white and fruity wine flights. Cheesecake came in a hard ball.

Monday, Sep 9th

- Had a pan au chocolat at some place that started with a G.

- Went to Plaza des Armes. Took a picture in front of STGO.

- Saw the Moned Palace. Looked at the photo exhibit in Centro Cultural La Moneda.

- Took the train over to the Nacional Bibliotecha.

- Ran out of things to do. Bought a sandwich at Fuente Alemana.