Wednesday, May 9, 2012


We crossed the Bolivia/Chile border and made our way to San Pedro de Atacama - a little desert town surrounded by arid valleys that bloom into a carpet of bright flowers for a short while after the spring rain. We didn't get to see these flowers, however, as Tyrone was fighting off black-lung symptoms left over from the Potosi mines, which were then exacerbated by the near frostbite from our Salar tour. Also, we weren't there during the blooming season, so the valleys were dry and dusty.

We didn't care much, as we were only making a pit stop on our way down south to Santiago. You see, we had purchased some tickets to see a fast-approaching Paul McCartney concert. After a stop in uneventful Antofagasta (no pictures necessary) and a visit with Amelia at her observatory in the Atacama desert (post to come later), we made it to Santiago... and saw...

Paul McCartney!

He was an amazing and unbelievably energetic performer. He still has pipes... and pipes.

I can see why all the ladies love this Beatle - Sir Paul is also extremely charming. And his acoustic rendition of Blackbird had everyone singing along (which kind of ruined it because we couldn't hear him - but it was a different kind of experience)!

A view from where we stood - amongst 40,000 people or so!

There is so much to do and see in Santiago. This is part of the historic square where we spent a lot of time watching buskers and artists.

The city is full of beautiful statues and sculptures that were gifts from this old King, or that country... This statue/fountain was a gift from Germany. The City disabled the fountain aspect of it, however, because too many children (and drunk adults) were using it as a water park!

There is a little mountain in the middle of Santiago with some beautiful look-outs, and of all things, their zoo.

After walking around all day, we were lazy and took the gondola up to the zoo.

At the entrance, we found a little lemur checking out the city view.

We also found a family of maras...

...a pretty pacing tiger...

...and this jaguar that was surprisingly perky when a baby next to us started to cry. We were almost close enough to see the drool.

Here's a wise baboon showing off his colourful assets.

And here's another baboon posing in front of the late afternoon view. We always found our direction in Santiago based on the tower behind my head - it was modelled to look like a cell phone and sticks out like a dirty thumb (albeit a very architecturally pretty thumb) wherever you are in the city.

Tyrone waited patiently by these flamingos for what seemed like hours to me in order to get the perfect picture. I'm not sure if this was it - but I think it's fierce.

This little guy is doing the Mona Lisa - I don't know if he's smiling or what. But unlike Mona Lisa, he's adorable.

Once I finished contemplating my meerkat friend, I found Tyrone playing peek-a-boo with a polar bear.

One of the first things we noticed about Santiago, other than the smog, was that it has a vibrant arts culture. Everyone paints or makes crafts or dances or sings... And there are markets all over the city showcasing these talents.

We found some of the most beautiful graffiti on random walls all over the city.

And Santiago has some of the best wine in the world! We made it to this beautiful bodega nestled under the Andes (yes, those are mountains in the background, behind the smoggy haze).

We seriously considered eloping at this vineyard ; )

This little guy was a strange fondant dessert with a candle sticking out in a curious fashion... he was supposed to be angelic (what with the wings and halo).

We went on a free walking tour of the city and were joined by these two furry body guards. They introduced us to the concept of the Cafe con Piernas - "coffee with legs" - cafes that littered the downtown core. They are like Starbucks, but with Hooters waitresses, and they're on every corner with their mini-skirt clad ladies serving all the Santiagan businessmen.

There are also cafes con piernas with dark windows... which are the previous, mixed with strip clubs! Which brings me to explain the "Happy Minute"... This is when you are at one of these coffee shops and the doors are suddenly locked for one whole minute and all the waitresses remove what little lingerie they have on and dance for you! The only problem is that these "coffee shops" don't serve any booze. Just coffee. And if you're lucky, a Happy Minute.

After we discovered the cafes con piernas, we were introduced to the TERREMOTO! This translates to "earthquake" in spanish, as this drink will apparently move the ground out from under you... and it's true. A true terremoto is a pitcher filled with one litre of sweet white white, a few shots of fernet (a hard alcohol that's about 45 proof and nasty), and a few scoops of ice cream. We went for the drink by glasses, instead, and definitely felt the earth shake...

Some time later in Santiago, we made it to the Chilean Comicon. It highlighted a lot of local comic artists, which was pretty cool. There were a lot of really talented makeup artists... and this guy scared the bejesus out of me!

Tyrone decided to audition for a role on the new X-Men TV show... However, his power of "gun fingers" didn't impress the directors and he was cut.

Our little dino, Licky Skittles (if you don't recall, we adopted him in Peru), made friends with Amelia's stuffed animals when we were staying at her lovely apartment in Santiago!

Here's the view from Amelia's 14th floor condo. It had rained that day, so the smog was washed out of the air and onto the pavement below. Thus, we got a lovely view of the newly snow-capped Andes!

During our stay, we got to experience an earthquake that was about magnitude 5.9 - luckily the condo was build to code, so it only swayed from side to side for around 20 seconds. It was kinda scary all the way up on the 14th floor!

We went a couple of times to the Dominicos craft market where we picked up some beautiful hand carved masks and other souvenirs. The highlight of the market was not the handiwork, however, but the friendly shop cats that lived and played in the market square.

We thought it was strange that all the locals told us we had to visit Santiago's cemetery. So we made the trip one day and were amazed at how beautiful and intricate the graves and tombs were. Some were like small mansions, others were built in stacked apartment-like complexes. We were also shocked by the number of visitors wandering around the giant graveyard with fresh flowers and families in tow to visit their passed loved ones.

We were also extremely shocked to find some sort of santa muerte ritual in the centre of the cemetery. We're curious to know what a glass skull sitting atop of a pile of popcorn, surrounded by a pentagon of candles means.... we also realized that a few of the candles were still burning... so we had just missed whoever had put them there.

It was set in front of this cross with well-wishes, etc., posted all over its base.

There were about two hundred more photos we could have posted on Santiago - these are just a good sample! It was an amazing city - very modern and full of culture. The people were friendly (if you could understand them - I forgot to mention that Chile has nearly a different dialect of Spanish that took some getting used to), the sites were beautiful, the food was delicious, the wine was cheap and plentiful, and other than the smog, we would definitely consider living there!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Salar de Uyuni Pt. 2 - Ice and Steam

After our day on the salt flats and playing around the train graveyard, we made our way to a tiny, un-heated little compound where we spent the night. It was so cold that we could see our breath as we all huddled in our dusty little cots for a few hours sleep. The next morning, none of us could even shower, as this is what our water source looked like:

After a toasty breakfast, we made our way to a large valley with strange rock formations. Ty decided to take a nap in the sun on this cozy boulder.

I, on the other hand, was full of coffee and wide awake!!

Here Ty is hiding in the "eagle rock", which also looked like a nice place to take a nap.

Next, we made our way to an icy lake at a higher elevation. By this point, I believe we were around 5,000 meters above sea level - very cold and a little difficult to breathe.

After lunch, someone from our group started a strange new game: rock bowling with scrounged random animal legs as pins. Seriously. It seemed like fun at the time!

After a good hand sanitizing, we drove to another area with strange rock formations and beautiful mountain views.

Finally, we made our way to our camp for the night, which was set beside a "techni-colour" lake. Here Manuella and I are rock-hopping our way to the lake look-out to see what this colour-changing lake stuff was all about.

We weren't disappointed, as the lake glowed an eery red from our hilly perch.

And in the other direction, it faded to purple.

The icy cold lake was full of flamingos. I don't know how their little twig legs didn't freeze in place!

On our way down the hill, eagle-eyed Tyrone spotted this strange looking rabbit squirrel! He gave us a good stare-down for around 5 or so minutes before hop/climbing away.

Upon waking up from another chilly sleep, we proceeded to not shower for a second day (it was really that cold), and ventured to some geysers. Here Ty and I attempt to warm ourselves to no avail.

Ty captured some beautiful sunrise photos through the steam

And then came bath time! We spent the rest of the morning at very steamy hot springs.

Tyrone striking a steamy model pose... it was still so cold when he got out that by the time he finished changing, his swim shorts were frozen flat as a board!

Next, we made our way to the Chilean border. We do one final pose at yet another beautiful and frozen lake with our group before leaving them for our border-crossing.

At the border, I almost lost Ty to this cute little fox that he chased after until he got a good snap shot of him.

After goodbyes and hugs, we boarded a little truck at a tiny shack, and continued our journey into Chile - first stop, San Pedro de Atacama!