On Saturday the 6th of November, 2010 we caught a LAN Chile flight from Mount Pleasant Airport to Punta Arenas at the Southern tip of Chile in Patagonia. Unfortunately the flight was delayed by several hours which was a pain as there is nothing to do at MPA airport. The flight itself was very comfortable and it took about one and a quarter hours to get to our first destination. Once there we circled around the security loop, had the novel experience of using an ATM for the first time in a year to get our Pesos, before climbing back on board the same aircraft to Santiago which is located about half way up Chile. This flight took about three hours but the kids and I were very happy as we got to watch Despicable Me. Due to all the delays it was very late once we arrived at the airport but thankfully our hotel was literally just across the road. We dropped exhausted into bed around 11:30pm, setting our alarms for 4:30am the next morning to make check in at 5am!! It was such a shame as the beds were soooooooooo comfortable and I could have slept for a week in that room.
Due to Hotels never having a family room that accomodates 5, we had two rooms, one with two doubles and one with a double. The girls and I lucked in or rather I should say I did as I got a bed to myself :) This is the girls the following morning when I had to sadly wake them.
The Hotel itself seemed rather fancy, well at least what we saw of it for the whole six hours we were there.
You literally come out the front of the hotel to face the airport terminal, a really convenient hotel for onward travel. Thankfully well sound proofed as well, we didn't hear a thing inside the rooms.
All checked in after some rather annoying automated systems which didn't seem to accept UK passports and we headed in search of breakfast. Not much was open at this time in the morning so the kids were in for a treat as there was a ................
pair of tired girls needing a sugar kick from ...............
Dunkin Donuts. I must admit they tasted fab as we had only had the inflight food of dry crackers and chocolate biscuits since lunchtime the day before.
We had a quick look around the airport and pondered how they had managed to get the suitcases stacked that high without any visible sign of stabilization, then headed through airport security to our gate.
As the sun slowly started to creep up on the horizon we could just start to see the Andes appearing in the distance. The flight up to Calama was completely packed and we got to enjoy yet more dry crackers and chocolate biscuits!!
Flying out it went very quickly from lush green fields to mountains and desert.
The flight itself took just about an hour and I had so much fun taking pictures of the cloud formations which changed every 10 minutes or so.
from big fluffy ones to....
ones that looked like a fast flowing waterfall to........
wispy ones with mountains peaking through.
I think these mountains are all part of the Andean Mountain range but there was very little sign of foliage or life for absolutely miles.
We finally landed in Calama to a warm and sunny day.
Our guide Pablo picked us up at the airport for the hours drive to San Pedro de Atacama. He spoke very little English so the journey was rather quiet but pleasant as we took in the scenery flowing past our windows. One thing that did make us smile was the unique parking signs found at the airport, not something we would see back home!
The girls missed quite a bit of the journey as they caught forty winks in the back.
Pablo pointed out the oasis of San Pedro in the distance as we headed back down hill to our lodge.
These oases are really bizarre, they are surrounded by miles and miles of barren looking ground and yet they seem to just pop up out of the ground.
We drove through San Pedro to get to our eco lodge on the other side of town and I think John and I were slightly dumb struck. San Pedro itself is not the most affluent of areas and the main street reminded me of something out of a wild west set.I think we were both starting to worry what quality the lodge would be, but we had nothing to worry about as our lodge was very well equipped and comfortable. Marketa showed us around her establishment, showed us our itinerary for the week and left us to relax until lunch. The lodge itself can only entertain 11 people at a time so we all eat at the same round table which is really lovely. The food is basic but fresh and tasty. Fresh juices were devoured by all of us as if we hadn't seen them before.
We took the opportunity to relax out on the deck and the kids braved the cold hot tub, there were lots of squeals of delight as they splashed about in the pool.
so much so it brought Leo the owners 1 year old labrador to investigate the noise. He had lots of fun with the kids who through sticks for him and generally ran around chasing him. The girls managed to get a bit burnt and had some good swimsuit markings later that night.
Dad did his usual and hid in the shade and slept. Mum sunbathed for a bit but very quickly started to go slightly red on her pale Falklands colouring.
Euan found the hammocks and spent a good twenty minutes just rocking back and forth before we were called for lunch. We had a lovely salad to start and chicken and rice to follow. The kids loved the icecream we had for dessert.
After lunch we headed to our rooms to have a siesta, the kids moaned like mad when we told them they had to sleep but it wasn't long before all of us were snoring the afternoon away. We got up at 4:30 pm and waited to meet our guide in our own little private seating area.
Our trip was to the Valle De La Luna or Moon Valley in English. The valley is famous for its resemblance to the surface of the moon, owing to its different stratifications and the salt formations that are caused by environmental factors. Pablo dropped us and our guide Juan Pablo off at the start of our 7.5km walk. We had to take our shoes but not socks off at the top of the first dunes and run down to the bottom.
It looks easier than it is and the sand was burning hot. Euan of course was first quickly followed by the girls and then Mum.
I think the knack is to keep moving quickly and to try and bounce your way down. Thankfully I didn't embarass myself by going A over T!
Not that you can see it but we are headed through a gap in the middle of those rocks.
The high walls quickly gave way to long sloping banks of sand and rock.
with lots of odd shaped protrusions coming out of the ground. Some of these are massive and the picture below is to show you just how massive the scale of this place is.
We soon arrived at the opposite side of the Great Dune Path. For thousands of years strong winds have affected these relifs, creating huge fields of sand dunes. The Great Sand Dune was probably formed by the accumulation of sand, prompted by natural barriers which constitute the base of the dunes.
I loved the patterns that covered the sand in this area. It felt very Lawrence of Arabia like!!
A quick stop for water and we were on our way again after being told we hadn't even walked a quarter of the way yet! Poor Maddie was struggling slightly with her little legs.
Now we were descending down the hills towards a huge dried up lake that is two miles across.
As we stopped again to take in the view we looked around the corner and caught sight of Licancabur the impressive volcano we could see from our accomodation.
As we climbed down the tricky rock face Juan Pablo stopped us to test a large salt formation. Euan was absolutely fascinated with the crystals and rocks in this area.
We got to the bottom and started our hike across the dried up lake bed. It was hot out in the evening sun with no cover from its rays. You can understand how dangerous this place can be if you don't come properly prepared with water and sun protection. You could make out footprints in the dried up mud of when people had walked through here in the rainy season.
Nearly there, you can see where we have come from in the very far distance.
As we neared the end of our walk the sun was just starting to climb down out of the sky, I became a happy camper as I could take some of my silhouette shots and bask in the golden light.
Maddie had done so well and was getting really tired by now but she perked up when she saw a large salt crystal which you could almost see through.
Pablo our driver met us with a high five for each of the weary walkers and drove us to an isolated view point away from the coach loads of tourists who were waiting for the sunset.
He stopped right next to the Amphi Theatre which was bathed in an orange light. The Cordillera de la Sal or Salt Mountain Chain was formed by the horizontal accumulation of thin layers of materials (sand, clay and salt), which were subsequently destroyed by the movements in the earth's crust. The actions of wind and water upon this geographical formation have created a sequence of peaks, similar to the outline of the bellows of an accordian.
John and I took almost identical photos but I have to admit I prefer his below as it gives a lovely view of Licancabur.
We climbed up onto one of the nearby peaks but the wind was wiping the sand into our eyes making it difficult to enjoy the display unfolding before us. We hopped back into the car to move a little bit further down the valley but by then the sun had almost completely done down.