Thursday, 1 April 2010

The Big Push North

One of the major aspects of this trip is the deliberate lack of timetabling where possible. We like to decide on the hoof where and when to go to next and how long we spend there once we arrive. Obviously we're following the Pan-Am, but little impromptu diversions and excursions here and there are all part and parcel of what makes this trip, well, this road. A combination of these, unavoidable holdups and general tardiness meant that the one deadline we did have to meet was fast approaching. Tim had to catch a plane from La Paz in Bolivia on the 25th so he could make his brother's wedding in New York, before returning to La Paz. Quite a distance to cover in a short time. Not impossible but we certainly needed to get our skates on. First stop, Chile's capital city.

In contrast to Conception, Santiago appeared far less affected by the earthquake. By the time we arrived it was hard to determine what was recent damage and what was existing decay. All in all Santiago felt very western and first-world as far as western cities blessed with a warm climate feel first-world; sunshine (and smog) cover a multitude of sins. We spent a day in Santiago and then left town in the evening with the aim of knocking out a 24-hour drive in order to eat up a serious chunk of the mileage to La Paz. Fuel tanks full we pointed ourselves north once more and set off into the inhospitable Atacama Desert. Despite our lights conking out (faulty relay) in the dark, in the fog, in the middle of nowhere, we made good progress.

Tired and grubby we nosed our way through the narrow streets of the little tourist oasis of (another) San Pedro, bang in the heart of the second-driest place on earth. Even though it hasn't rained here since records began, the Gobi Desert, north of the Himalayan mountain range (every day's a school day!) holds the title of world's driest place. Apparently. Anyhoo, we pitched camp and the next day took time out to explore the desert. And what a desert it is. Millennia of erosion and land-shifts have sculpted the salt, gems and nitrate encrusted land into weird and wonderful mountains, valleys and flats. The Valle De La Luna does indeed look like a moonscape and much fun was had speeding around, getting our Buzz Lightyear on!

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