Saturday, September 23, 2017


Anna's entry:

Our 10-hour bus ride turned into 13-hour journey due to challenging mountainous roads and check points...  The views from 15,000 feet altitude were stunning - snow peaks, volcanoes, and valleys eventually were turning into desert sands and occasional olive orchards closer to the sea level.  Our bus pulled over for a short break to an edge of a tiny village surrounded by desert landscape - lots of sand in the air made it difficult to breathe, our throats started itching within minutes of descending off the bus.  Five hours of the bus ride were also spent crossing Lauca National Park - besides gorgeous scenery, we also could observe flamingos and deer by a lake side; as well as "corpses" of cars hanging down the mountains' slopes - another reminder of very curvy and steep roads around Andean Range...  The hours of riding in the midst of Lauca National Park, I kept having flashbacks - the scenery reminded me of Denali National Park in Alaska, which later transformed into images associated with Utah-Nevada-New Mexico region in the U.S., and then the dunes immediately brought memories of South Island in New Zealand...  I suppose in some ways, the ever-changing landscapes almost felt transcendent.  Eventually, delayed by several hours due to a challenging crossing, our bus pulled over into Arica - the starting official point of our adventure in Chile.

We settled at a hotel run by an American ex-pat.  The place was more like a large home or B&B type two blocks away from the ocean beach.  After 12,000 feet altitude, being at sea level (combined with high temperature and humid air), felt like a different world.  I remember Rob saying "Wow - I can actually breath normal again!". 

The second day after our arrival, after a large Western (not the traditional as we'd grown so accustomed to) breakfast catered by our sociable host and his local lady-friend, Rob and I ventured to explore the city.  We took a long walk along the coast; explored the fisherman's port area and fish market where lazy horribly obese sea lions got constantly fed (what a contrast it was to the sea lions in the Galapagos!); visited historical squares and cathedral; climbed to the city's highest point for 360° views over the city surrounded by the ocean, mountains, and desert valley; and visited the museum with the world-oldest Chinchorro mummies.  By now, being in South America for a couple of months, we had actually encountered several world records - highest capital in the world (La Paz, Bolivia), longest cable car network (also La Paz, Bolviia), largest valley of pyramids (Tucume, Peru), best preserve wild-life refuge (Galapagos Islands), and now here in Arica - world-oldest mummies...  About 32 mummies (adults, children, and infants) had been originally burred here according to special ritualistic traditions and preservation techniques.  They were coincidentally discovered by a local architect who began excavating the soil for his hotel project.  Imagine his surprise, when during this excavation, he stumbled upon the large burial place dating back to 4,500-5,000 years ago.  The area was converted into quite an unusual museum - you could actually walk right on top of the mummies - NO KIDDING!  The transparent glass floor was installed right above the burial of the mummies' bodies.  It was an unusual unique experience walking right above them, that's for sure! 

We finished our evening in Arica with picnic on the beach watching beautiful Chilean sunset over the ocean.  Three LARGE stray dogs kept us company cuddling (at a way-too-close distance) with us under a tree.  I don't know if they liked our company, our food, or likely both.  Our picnic consisted of several items picked up shortly before from a local supermarket - succulent grilled chicken, mashed potatoes (made from the instant potatoes with added real butter), 1 liter tube of Triple-Leche ice-cream, and GREAT Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon wine (1 liter bottle for about $2.30) - you can't beat that kind of picnic!  So, we repeated the experience a couple of nights in a row. 

As a finale to our stop-over in Arica, we attended a big street carnival - a special entry follows below. 

This happens to be our third large street festival on this trip.  The first BIG one was in Cuenca, Ecuador.  The second, even BIGGER one, was in Copacabana, Bolivia.  This one, in Arica seemed mellower (and a little duller, to be honest).  We certainly greatly enjoyed the traditional costumes, music, dancing, out-going attitude of the participants, but the novelty factor wore off a bit.  There was one new fun thing though in this festival - at some point the parade participants and the began spraying each other with some foam - Rob and I got blasted with it - even Rob's might umbrella was not a deterrent - have no idea what the foam was made off, but it was fun though!  It almost looked like a cloud of  numerous snow flakes would get dispersed, an unexpected contrast to the desert surroundings.  The colourful costumes and genuine enthusiasm of carnival participants were priceless, so over all, an excellent way to finish Arica before our night bus towards Atacama Desert.  

Our night bus left Arica at 10 p.m. for what it was supposed to be an 11-hour planned journey.  The ride started normal, we had two front seats on the top deck of the bus and a lovely Chilean companion sitting next to us who shared with us her insider views about the country and Chilean national psyche.  Then, at around 12:00 midnight our bus ABRUPTLY stopped in the middle of NOWHERE.  A thought passed in our mind "Are we BEING ROBBED?".  We were in the middle of desert, in complete darkness, stranded by the side of the highway...  It turned out, the bus's engine died, or so we were told.  All passengers unloaded off the bus to step into a desert field.  It was a full moon - we could see the desert dunes, rocks, and mountains of sand around us...  We were told it would take about 3 hours to "get help".  Some passengers, in a very subdued manner, began taking a walk around the rocky desert.  I was hoping we would not hear a sound of explosion - there are still mine fields left around Chilean desert - the courtesy of Pinochet era...  I sat down on a rock and had my Chilean wine that travelled with me from Arica, while Rob got out the binoculars to look at the night starry sky and the moon.  The whole situation felt almost surreal - stranded for hours in the middle of the night and in the middle of nowhere in a desert...  And, yet, it felt so peaceful and so beautiful!  The hours went on and on. I remember several local passengers were asking us for updates and what was going on - it tells you we have been "around" when we had to help locals with instructions.  The rocks we were sitting on were uncomfortable, so eventually we retrieved back inside of our broken-down bus - we must have fallen asleep because the next thing we heard was the sound of our bus engine, and we slowly took off.  I remembered a stack of everyone's luggage pilled up on the sand outside the bus where we had been waiting "for help" that never arrived...  We hoped for the best that the driver had remembered to load our backpacks back on the bus in the nearly-complete darkness; we had to accept - we had no choice or control over anything that was happening - the bus was on the move.  Several other delays followed along with several military check points, but eventually we met our first sunrise in the Atacama desert close to our destination.  And, to our relief, our backpacks were safe and sound on the bus!  We made it to San Pedro de Atacama four hours later than scheduled, after 15 hours of unusual bus riding.  And, somehow, it felt like a totally appropriate prelude to start the adventure.

We settled in a basic hospedaje that I had booked four months prior to arrival in Chile - the local owner and I had been keeping in touch for all these months.  Though the place was simple, it certainly had its charm and, most importantly, the owner had a wonderful attitude and made us feel very welcome.  In addition, the place came with fully equipped kitchen which was utilized by both the family and the guests.  I probably should mention that food is quite a bit more expensive in Chile, so it really helps to have an access to cooking facilities, plus it does create a feeling of home of sorts...  Several dining tables were located all over the court yard and a hammock area; and being surrounded by fresh air helped the food taste better.

We were fully prepared to accept the inevitable - hoards of Western tourists and "trash-packers"...  After all, Atacama desert is on top of the list for "natural wonders of the world".  Our initial impression was - the desert may be interesting, but it didn't seem very exceptional at all.  Of course, we would have to get "deeper into a desert" to evaluate more accurately.  And, I did have a plan to do that.  I made sure we would allocate enough time to explore (or at least to get a proper introduction to) that part of Chile, and so we did. 

Our second morning of arrival we paid a visit to ALMA observatory located about 50 kilometers away from San Pedro de Atacama (booked months in advance, and apparently world-famous because there was a wait-list of many people trying to get in there).  ALMA (The Atacama Large Millimeter Array) is an astronomical observatory of radio telescopes in the Atacama Desert - the most arid place on Earth (not sure how the "arid-ness" compares to the Antarctic desert).  The observatory, telescopes and location were quite interesting, and I loved the landscape of volcanoes on the background while being surrounded by desert from all sides.  This certainly was a nice introduction to start leaning about the Atacama Desert. 

Another unusual place we explored was the Meteorite Museum, located on the edge of town.  This was the only museum in the world where the meteorites can be handled, touched, and explored.  It was quite unique, really!  Touching the most ancient objects available from the history of Universe felt very special!  

My next part of the plan was to experience unique areas located in various parts of Atacama Desert, the stories follow below...

​At the 15,000 feet altitude, Tatio Geysers are considered to be the highest geo-seismic field in the world.  Our trip there stated in pitch-black hours of 4:30 a.m.  Our van took us through a desert, then weaved around steep mountainous roads - I could barely see the silhouettes of snow volcano peaks as first sun beams began penetrating the clouds.  We met our sunrise in the middle of the geysers field.  The geysers were quite active - they were smoking, spewing, bubbling, boiling, etc.  We had one of the most unique breakfasts that morning - it was set up right in the middle of geysers' filed, at sunrise, with beautiful golden rocks and snow-peaked volcanoes around us.  I will never forget this experience!  It was also SOOOOO COLD!  Very chilly in Chile!  The temperature (due to the very high altitude) was about -5°C (23 Fahrenheit) - we had to wrap ourselves in everything we had, we used fleece blankets as scarves, and those gloves made out of llama wool I had picked up in Bolivia sure came in handy!  I remember trying to hold on to my breakfast sandwich as my fingers kept freezing and feeling numb, and yet, it was so cozy and special - the nature around us was nearly mystical!  Our group was offered to warm up by swimming in natural geysers pool - and a few of us did just that.  It was quite a special bathing experience - swimming in geysers' reservoir!  Sometimes, very hot streams of spewing out geysers would flow under out feet and we had to quickly relocate to a more "nurturing" part of the pool.  Yes, it was definitely a unique experience to swim in sulfuric waters!  

After the geysers, we continued onto a tiny Altiplanic village consisting of only 8 residents.  They made their living by selling llama skewers to visiting tourists (at rip-off prices, of course), so that was not so interesting.  What was interesting though was the breath-taking scenery around us!  Mountains, desert, volcanoes - all at once coming at us in all directions!  Around water reservoirs, we also encountered flamingos and vicunas - the latter are actually related to llamas and camel family.  A total of eight hours were spent exploring geysers, mountains, volcanoes, desert, wetland, and wildlife.  That felt like a pretty good day to me.

Located at over 14,000 feet elevation, the Altiplanic Lakes (also referred to as lagoons) were another unique area in the Atacama Desert region.  We explored Laguna Miscati and Laguna Miniques.  Beautiful scenery and colours with volcanic cones surrounding us on the background, and flamingos and vicunas along the lagoon shores...  Very different landscaping of Atacama Desert.  Colours shortly after the sunrise looked almost surreal - when, later on, I was reviewing the photos taken there, they looked like paintings, almost like impressionism pieces...

We also visited Salar de Atacama (salt flats) and Laguna Chaxa - the home of numerous flamingos.  Again, the colours looked exceptional - the salt flats covered in clear blue-green tinted water merged visually with the sky above us.  It was almost impossible to say where the lagoon ended and where the sky began - another variation of the desert landscape, very whimsical and poetic!  Surrounding area, on the other hand, looked completely desolate - it makes you wonder why people had settled here in the first place?  The beauty of volcanoes and lagoons can only go so far...

We enjoyed another "impromptu" breakfast set up by our van driver among the desert rocks and volcanoes.  We had a great time enjoying the scenery and journey, but hated the fact we had to do this via the organized tour and schedule (the distances and locations to reach the natural phenomena are vast, so that was the most logical option).  We could not stand the tourists and limited time given to explore.  We are so used to our independent exploration, and prefer being on the "nature's terms", not the tour group's terms...  So, we decided (or, as Rob would correct me, "Anna decided") that the next day we should try hiking in the desert by ourselves - no tour groups! 

DESERT HIKES - Valley de la Luna and Valley de la Muerte
Motivated by freedom of exploration, I led us onto the Atacama Desert.  Specifically, to the Moon Valley and Valley of the Dead (or also known as Mars Valley).  It was a long challenging hike; to reach the desert valleys, we had to walk a long way via San Pedro de Atacama, and then along the highway.  We were not alone in our quest!  A stray dog decided to join us for the entire length of the journey - Rob and I were hoping that the dog would eventually loose all interest in "venturing" into a desolate place, but it did not not.  So be it!  Anyway, we finally reached the Moon and Mars Valleys!  The hike turned out to be FANTASTIC and, probably, the most special experience I cherish from the Atacama desert.  We ended up hiking about 15 kilometers in total - desert sand, excruciating heat, and hot temperatures did not stop us (I must say though, I seemed to have been a lot more motivated than Rob, and eventually, my enthusiasm to explore the unique landscape caught up with him as well).  We were rewarded with FANTASTIC Martian and Moon-like landscapes!  We also climbed (our first of this kind) a dune mountain with phenomenal views from the top.  Then, we made our way to the top of another mountain-plateau-type mirador with 360° panorama views - and the best part, we were the ONLY ONES!  Just the two of us surrounded by the vastness of the desert, and the sci-fi-like landscapes resembling the surface of the Moon and Mars.  How could you beat anything like that?!  It also felt so good to be back in the "adventure mode" v.s. being part of an organized group - there is simply no comparison!  We spent a total of 7 hours hiking - all on our schedule and our route.  By the end of the hike, when we eventually made it back to San Pedro de Atacama, we felt exhausted, but very exhilarated.  And, very appropriately so, we finished the journey in the Atacama Desert with the star gazing of the unpolluted night sky...

We finished up our desert adventure on a special and very appropriate note - a gorgeous sunset over the desert valley, watched from the windows of our long distance bus.  It was another crossing at night, however, this time it went smoothly - no broken engines and no being stranded for hours in the middle of the desert...  The 15-hour night bus ride was peaceful - we could see the Orion constellation above us and the Southern Cross constellation ahead of us.  Rob's excellent knowledge of astronomy has always been a special bonus while taking trips around the world and enjoying the unpolluted skies...  Deep into the night, a clearly visible moon would cast its light on the desert sands and rocks - an eerie beauty was all over around us.  The last part of the bus ride awarded nice coastal views; our high altitude journey finally took us back to the sea level.  We arrived in La Serena in the morning and ahead of schedule.

We stayed at a place occupied primarily by Chilean residents.  It was refreshing (after San Pedro de Atacama) to be "the minority" among the locals.  For the most part, everyone was courteous and respectful.  In the morning, we'd get together at the open courtyard terrace for the included breakfast - a strange combination of under-cooked scrambled eggs served with either cheese or ham, and always with a freshly baked bread from a local bakery.  At night we'd cater our own dinner - grilled/roasted chicken (from a local supermarket), mashed potatoes (from dehydrated packets, but tasty - four cheeses and chives flavour), a nice (and cheap) bottle of Chilean wine (the most recent was excellent - Syrah-Merlot blend at $2.80 a bottle), local Tres Leches ice-cream, tea, and a couple of nights - freshly picked from a local grape-vine - muscato grapes.  We had an access to the kitchen (belonging to the hotel owners), so it was very convenient to have REAL dishes and cutlery.  A wild Cormorant bird landed one afternoon on our property and spent (its last) day and night here - it passed peacefully away the next day near our bungalow... 

Besides exploring the town and its neighbourhoods (which were OK, but nothing special), I took us on a mini-adventure to the surrounding countryside.  We took a public bus to Vicuna located about an hour away - parts of the route were quite interesting, I remember seeing on one side mountains with a cacti forest, and on the other side a large picturesque lake dam.  After arriving in Vicuna, we proceeded walking for another 8 kilometers to a local "Pisco" winery.  Rob had gotten used by now by me "dragging" him (as he calls it) for hours to various isolated areas through the desert, rocks, hanging bridges, fields, villages, highways., etc. This was no exception.  On the way to the winery, we came across three horses who we fed with found near-by wild apples, the horses seemed to have really liked both the apples and us - one of the horses kept trying climbing the fence to follow us (I think), and two other (previously timid) horses began coming closer and closer to us.  Eventually, we reached the winery (we were THE ONLY guests who came by foot, everyone drove or had a taxi).  After touring the winery facilities, we were offered a LARGE (free) sample of Pisco Brandy (70% proof), then ANOTHER sample of mango-flavoured brandy, and ANOTHER sample of "lighter" Brandy (40% proof).  The alcohol had a slow, but VERY powerful effect!  Walking back 4 kilometers in really high heat, sun, through dusty desert roads (and feeling drunk) was a challenge.  While walking along the highway, we stumbled upon a small fruit market where we picked up a nice sweet locally grown melon.  Feeling drunk helped carrying this extra weight - it was demanding hiking anyway - so who cares about 2 extra kilograms (4.5 pounds) of weight on your back?!  Closer to Vicuna, we passed by another large grape-vine plantation, and we did something sneaky - Rob and I picked some muscato grapes from the vines growing "outside" the grape-vine wall.  Apparently, our "pickings" were being observed all along by a local gentleman - because when we reached the village, he asked us (with a smile) if the grapes tasted nice?  It was very embarrassing, but he seemed to have no issues with us, and seemed only happy we were happy.  Or, at least that was my interpretation... 

We were happy to be back in our place in La Serena at 8 p.m.  We used the kitchen and fixed ourselves a warm supper.  By now, the locals had gotten used to us - we started chatting and exchanging our contact info.  Being around the family kitchen felt a kinda cozy, we all washed our dishes together and put them away, just like a normal family would.  It almost felt like an "adopted" family - the meaning I began losing in the last two years after being rejected (and resented) by the remaining members of my "family of origin" -  the feeling that both Rob and I have experienced from our extended relatives (our parents had passed away a long time ago).  Anyway, to continue with La Serena...  Another noteworthy outing was planned - a visit to Pingüino de Humboldt National Reserve.  A special entry follows below.

The trip there took about four hours both ways in a rickety smelling of gasoline small bus.  The bus driver seemed also to serve as a postman - when we reached coastal villages, locals were waiting by the side of the road for the fresh newspaper and other mail.  At least for one hour during each leg of the bus journey we got blasted by sand - once we got off the highway, our route had to go through a basic sandy path crossing the desert. 

When we arrived to the coast, there were several boats waiting to take the "explorers" to the marine reserve.  It felt weird - we are so used to do everything independently, but we had to follow the rules and join a stream of visitors on a schedule.  I remember one of the boat captains looking like a giant pirate.  I kept taking photos of him, and he may have noticed my fascination with this appearance, because when I asked him some practical questions about the reserve, he kept smiling and going out of his way to be nice.  It seems to be the case - giant people usually exhibit very mellow personalities, and it certainly was the case with that pirate-looking captain.  We got assigned to a boat (not run by the "pirate") with a bunch of locals and started our "exploration" of the marine reserve.  The coastal scenery was quite nice, but the boat journey was very short - about one hour.  Though we did see multiple penguins' settlements, dolphins, sea lions, cormorants, and a sea otter, overall - the marine time spent was not worth the cost.  It felt rushed, (especially after our one-month independent adventure in the Galapagos) and the marine park for us personally felt underwhelming.  If we could do the same trip independently, we could have made it quite nice, but this was simply not an option.  After the boat trip, Rob and I had a picnic lunch on the beach, and hiked to the top of the hill with a lighthouse.  The coastal scenery would have been an excellent place for independent camping, but as a day trip it was barely worth it.  
On the way back from the marine reserve, in the desert near a mountain slope, our bus driver made a quick stop, and I knew immediately why.  I rushed off the bus to have a closer encounter with a family of wild desert foxes.  One of them allowed to come quite a bit closer for a decent photo shot.  So, that was a nice bonus to that trip.  To finish the wild-life encounter, later on we also saw five wild vicunas - the ones related to llamas and camels as mentioned prior in my Atacama Desert entry.  

Unusual city with gorgeous graffiti all over the buildings, columns, fences, stairs, garages, alleys...  Really good quality art - imaginative, creative, tasteful, humorous, free-spirited, whimsical!  LOVED walking along the narrow streets and alleys admiring the painted walls.

We stayed in the cute neighborhood on top of Cerro Concepcion hill.  Our hotel's facade had also a beautiful graffiti, though the colonial building itself was a mess inside - state of dilapidation was everywhere - the windows' frames, doors, walls, etc.  It definitely had a charm to it though - our room was huge and over-looked the harbour and as-far-as-you-could-see coastal line.  We had our private walk-out balcony, which we utilized every night for our self-catered private dinner.  Our room had old (original) wooden floors (likely dating back to the 19th century), and we even had several classical statues in our room - including a life-size female headless mannequin.  Sea-gulls were flying over our building, and we could see ships coming into the harbour.  Except two annoying spoiled barking dogs a couple of levels below, it was quite peaceful and quite romantic.  Our balcony door was so old, it had to stay opened - bringing sea air inside the room.

We walked up to several steep city hills - including Cerro Carcel - where a former prison had been converted into an art space.  We also visited three historical cemeteries with Gothic-type crypts and panoramic views over the city.  To avoid quite steep ascends from the sea level to the top of several hills, the city uses so called "ascensors" (escalators) dating back to 1883-1916!  Yes, they are original and are still in operation.

We spent several days enjoying fantastic wall art all over the city.  Gorgeous graffiti just make you feel like "Alice in Wonderland" walking around them.  It is no surprise that Valparaiso with its whimsical spirit had earned an appeal as a home to many artistic souls, one of which was a famous poet and politician Pablo Neruda.  In addition to walking, we took a public bus going around various hills - the driver was super polite, but he drove his bus like Mario Andretti (FAST!), and we coincidentally, ended up on a street with a name "Ferrari", I wonder if there was any connection...

We finished up our Valparaiso visit with a nice dinner prepared in our guest kitchen and enjoyed on our own balcony watching the ocean and sea-gulls.  When the sun went down, we took a stroll to have one more look at sweeping panoramic views over numerous city hills with blinking lights and eliminated coast.  Even today, writing this blog entry nearly six months after the trip, I still have this magical association when I think of the lovely Valparaiso...  

After walking two kilometers to the bus station in Valparaiso, we boarded our public bus for Santiago.  The route took us through an ever-changing terrain - it started with more vegetation, vineyards, and olive groves; and then it transitioned back to desert views.  We arrived in Santiago, switched to a subway (a sign of the bigger city), and settled in our local hostel in the city center.  Our small, but cute private room faced Cerro Santa Lucia hill and was a walking distance to all central landmarks. When doing my research about Santiago prior to the arrival, I kept running into negative comments suggesting to limit the time in the city to one day.  It really didn't make sense to me as activities and appeal of the city seemed plentiful, so I ignored the suggestions and dedicated not one, but FOUR days.  As it turned out, it was definitely a good decision, and we enjoyed every single day being in Santiago.  Here is a brief layout what kept us going every day:

DAY1 - explored Plaza de Armes, Museo de Bellas Artes, Parque Forestal.  It was fun walking around colonial streets and squares!  I kept getting a vibe of French architecture - one of my favourites - in buildings' style.  Sometimes I would see Paris, or Luvre, or Versailles, and sometimes even St. Petersburg (Russia) - which, of course, had a rich French influence in its buildings' architecture.  Vibrant street life was abundant - street performers, clowns, mime (one man covered his entire body (including garment) in gold and was transforming his figure into weird yoga positions.  Museum of Belle Artes (free) had some nice classical pieces and a grand exhibition of "Love Theme" with a lot of gay Exposé - it was actually referred to (by the exhibition curator himself) as a "soft porn".  Obviously, Santiago had a sense of humor and seemed to be opened to diversity and various views.

DAY2 - Visited museum dedicated to atrocities committed by Pinochet.  Took a walk around large Parque Quinta.  Stumbled upon and visited a (free) museum of Natural History.  Explored a REAL PERSON's neighbourhoods of Barrio Yungai, Brasil, and Concha y Toro.  It was an interesting contrast there - a mix of gorgeous, but dilapidated mansions co-existing side by side with graffiti sprayed walls and tasteful graffiti murals; narrow colonial cobble streets next to accumulated garbage (including a huge pile of sweet pop-corn which hadn't been sold out to theatre customers).  Explored local supermarkets in various neighbourhoods and picked up another bottle of GREAT Chilean red wine - this time "Grande Vidure" (also known as "Carmanere") variety - almost exclusively grown in Chile (prior had been grown in the French region of Bordeaux) - for $2.50.  Chilean wine is a fantastic value!  Rob (who can't stand wine himself and calls it a "complete waste of perfectly good grape juice") keeps encouraging me to try all the local varieties - they are seriously flavourful and tasty!

DAY3 - Visited Central Markets - least interesting markets we had ever encountered in South America.  I didn't even bother getting the camera out (not sure why guide books even bother mentioning this area).  Explored Barrio Bellavista - very enjoyable walk including good quality graffiti art with creative and out-of-the-box thinking, and really picturesque colonial mansions.  Hiked up to the top of Cerro San Cristobal hill - difficult long steep hike, but very rewarding!  Fantastic panoramic views - could clearly see the entire city layout, including the so-called "SanHattan" along with the tallest building in South America - Costanera.  On the way back to our place, picked up really nice cheese (from France) from a local supermarket (the cost was a fraction of what it would have been in North America) to go with my delicious Chilean Grande Vidure wine.

DAY4 - Explored Paris-Londres neighbourhood.  Visited another Pinochet's atrocity place - former detention and torture center.  This horrific place was housed in one of the colonial mansions, right in the middle of the exquisite neighborhood...  I remember reading that when the tortures started, the guards would raise up the sound of classical music recordings to drown the screams of pain - what a horrific symbolic juxtaposition!  I kept having associations with killing fields and torture chambers of Pol Pot in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.  Similarly, the atrocities kept happening on a daily basis and local residents just kept going on with their daily business.  What a scary reflection of the "humans" soul, isn't it?  Afterwards, we continued walking around the city and stopped at Iglesia San Francisco - supposedly, the city's oldest surviving colonial building dating back to 1586.  We also visited Centro Gabriela Mistral (who was the first Latin American woman to have won the Noble Prize in Literature).  We finished up this LOOONG day with a climb to the top of the cutest hill located in perfect view from our room window - Cerro Santa Lucia, where Santiago was originally (officially) founded in 1541!  What a great allegoric place to finish our journey in Chile!  The end is just another beginning...

We are so glad that we went against a popular opinion (and obviously a wrong one), and spent a longer time in Santiago - a memorable city that has so much to offer.

Well, here we are - at the end of our three-month South American journey...  Started on the Galapagos Islands, then mainland Ecuador, followed by Peru, Bolivia, and Chile.  I must admit, even though I had put my whole heart out in planning every detail of the trip, I did not expect I would enjoy it that much.  Our incredible encounters with diverse wild-life in the Galapagos, the intricate architectural beauty of Ecuador, evocative images of Peru, breath-taking scenery of Bolivia, fascinating natural desert phenomena of Chile, plethora of vibrant and engaging festivals, mystical traditional customs and rituals, and the best part - the wonderful warm-hearted gentle nature of local people.  We have been so fortunate and privileged to have experienced the genuine authentic spirit of that part of the world...  Of course, we barely touched the surface of the South American continent, but even a glimpse of it gifted us with memories and experiences that we would cherish in our hearts and minds.

And, to add to the above, below are a few pragmatic facts from the trip.
- highest capital in the world (La Paz, Bolivia),
- longest cable car network (also La Paz, Bolviia),
- largest valley of pyramids (Tucume, Peru),
- best preserved wild-life refuge (Galapagos Islands, Ecuador),
- world-oldest mummies (Arica, Chile),
- the only museum in the world where the meteorites can be handled and touched (San Pedro de Atacama, Chile),
- the highest geo-seismic field in the world (Tatio Geysers, Chile),

- driest non-polar desert on Earth (Atacama Dessert, Chile)