Story

Chile

January 2015


Discovering this ridiculously long country in a little more than two weeks is almost impossible – so we tried our best with the northern half and followed the Humboldt Current from Santiago de Chile all the way up to the Peruvian border.

Valparaíso


The old town of Valparaíso is how you imagine South America – and therefore even a bit untypical for Chile. Ship colours were used to paint Valparaíso's facades back in the days, when the city was a major seaport for ships traveling between Europe and the American west coast. The glamorous rise ended abruptly, when the Panama Canal opened in the early 20th century.
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Street Art

Nowadays "Valpo" is one of the poorer places in Chile, but with a vibrant street art scene. Ship colours are replaced by spray cans and some of the best artists stop by frequently. Just those who don't like graffiti on their wall have to catch up with a Sisyphean task…
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Valle del Elqui


The area of La Serena and the Elqui valley gave us a little glimpse of what was still to come in the northern regions of Chile. Without the Elqui river, this place would be completely dry – with endless sun on more than 300 days a year, but no rain at all. The little river running down from the Andes is the lifeline of the valley, enabling the production of wine for its most famous export: Pisco.
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Buses


Buses are the public transport of choice for traveling through Chile, even though the whole country could also be connected with just a single railway track due to its odd shape. Going by bus in Chile is far away from what you might know from Asia, other parts of South America or even Europe. It's spacious, safe, reliable and comfortable – hours fly by like the vast landscape.
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Desierto de Atacama


The central town of the Atacama Desert, San Pedro de Atacama, is kind of a strange place. The settlement around the oasis – fed by only two little creeks – is home to roughly 2.000 residents and during peak times probably as many tourists. It is starting point for dozens of tours to the salt lake, volcanoes and even the Uyuni desert in Bolivia. But there is another, darker side of San Pedro. The proximity to Bolivia makes it an attractive base camp not just for tourists, but also for drug trafficking – a shady business, that gets visible to strangers only by the omnipresent missing person posters on lamp posts throughout the place.
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Sundown

The moon valley close to San Pedro reminds of a festival in the evening hours, when dozens of jeeps and buses drop tourists to watch the sunset above the desert. What looks like white sugar powder on the rocks is actually neither sugar nor snow, but salt. It's washed out of the ground by the few raindrops every year and dries on the surface.
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The Salt Lake

The salt lake is located in the middle of a massive basin in 2.300 meters altitude, enclosed by the main chain of the Andes with dozens of 6.000 meters high volcanoes around. It's unbelievable, that there is life in the salty water surface in first place – and even enough, to feed a whole colony of flamingos in this forbidding landscape.
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The Andes

After acclimatising in San Pedro on 2.400 meters altitude for a couple of days, we were ready for our first trip into the Andes mountain range. Flora and fauna gets pretty special in such an extreme climate. A very specialized, sensitive ecological system that needs decades to recover from just little damages. And if you wonder what the fluffy fellow in the next photo is: It's a vicuña – a wild and awfully shy relative of the llama.
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Parque Nacional Lauca


The very northern part of Chile is home to another natural gem, the Lauca national park. From Arica at the coast it's just a two hours ride into the middle of the Andes. The road climbs thousands of meters up through endless turns, passing the outstanding Parinacota volcano at the border to Bolivia. Hundreds of trucks connect Bolivia's economic center La Paz with the sea ports of Chile on Route 11 everyday.
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4.500 m

Lago Chungará and the little village of Parinacota at the foot of the volcano are located at more than 4.500 meters altitude – an elevation, that causes a rather strange headache when arriving directly from sea-level and probably worse, when staying longer than just a few hours. Altitude sickness is a serious thing, as we discovered a few weeks later in Bolivia. For a short day trip like here, water and a generous amount of coca leaves were doing just fine to fight "soroche". Nevertheless, every step was breathtaking in this altitude – unbelievable, how anyone could even think of playing on this probably highest football pitch of the world.
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Arica


Our last stop in Chile was Arica, were we enjoyed the tremendous hospitality of Ross in his Sunny Days hostel. Two days of regeneration, before we went for the next adventures in Peru.
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Bye Bye

After far too short 15 days in Chile, a collectivo taxi brought us across the Peruvian border to Tacna, where our trip around the world should go on from Lima. What a great country that was – luckily, there is still so much left to discover!
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