Day 2 San Pedro de Atacama 

We decided to explore the town this morning and also had to sort out our trip to Bolivia so off we set on our bikes to town.
The town of San Pedro is absolutely unlike any other town I have seen before. The buildings are all one story high and most seem to be made out of clay. The whole town center which was once all houses has been turned into a bustling town center. All the old houses have been turned into small supermarkets, tour agencies, hostels and restaurants.
Filling the streets are hundreds of tourists and most of the locals seem very young too. This gives the place a fantastic vibe and coupled with that the streets are the cleanest we have seen so far in South America.
We had a great time looking around the town and then bumped into Rick and Cathy who we had met the day before and enjoyed a couple of beers and lunch with them. 

 
  
  
The late afternoons here are spent going on a variety of tours of which there are loads on offer. Our tour was to take us to Valley de Lunar and then Coyote rock to watch the sunset, but before that it was all going to be a bit of a surprise as we had booked pretty blind!
First stop salt caves, where we went for a walk/crawl through a narrow canyon where the walls were full of salt crystals and the shapes and erosion were really very unique. When I said we went for a crawl some of the canyons was in complete darkness and the gaps we had to get through were pretty tight.

  
    
  
Stop number two involved us climbing up a huge sand dune to view Valley De Luna, named because it looks like the moon. It was very impressive and the views from the top were otherworldly.

  
  
   
  
Stop three was a short stop to look over Death Valley which again was an impressive view over more unique landscape. This was the place were NASA tested the Mars rover.

  
Final stop was to watch the sunset at Coyote Rock. Again more very impressive landscapes and absolutely beautiful watching the sun go down casting different lights upon the Andes!!

  
  
  
Some scary photos to be taken too I reckon this would be a prime area for those “death by selfie” stats! We were all allowed to wander along the cliff edge with no protection against the fall whatsoever. Although there were quite a number of people there we enjoyed watching the sun go down over this amazing scenery. T

San Pedro de Atacama day 1

We awoke to perfect sunshine in the desert. Go figure? This morning’s adventure was a hike with Leo our hostel owner/taxi driver. We drove for about 15 minutes and then walked into a valley.

From the start it was unreal. Giant cactuses, razor sharp shrubs and a river winding through the valley. It was a pretty intense hike that also included some rock climbing along ledges. Not high ones at all, more just trying to get around the edge of the river so if you fell you would get wet not hurt. We did say half way through that short people wouldn’t be able to do this as we were both stretched a few times. He laughed and said no he certainly wouldn’t take short people here. We had the place to ourselves and on certain occasions we had to backtrack as he had lost the trail and we couldn’t go any further. 
After about 2 hours we climbed up a ridge and had amazing panoramic views. I thought we must have been up pretty high as I was sucking in some big ones. We checked and we were 3100 metres above sea level. The town is 2500 metres above.
When we were up there Tim noticed someone had erected a little shelter out of rocks and we found several others as well, one with a little alcove for a kitchen as well and a place where they stored their animals. 
In the afternoon we went on a tour to some of the Salt Lakes. In Laguna Cedar we got to swim, the lake is 40% salt so you actually float. And when I mean float you can stand with your hands by your side not touching the bottom and you float. It was one one the most crazy experiences I have ever had. We could have stayed there all day if the water wasn’t so cold. When I got out and the water dried on my skin, I was covered in salt!
Our next stop was to a place that had fresh water sink holes in the middle of the desert. Which was interesting but not very picturesque. We then stopped at another lake and watched the sunset, drinking Pisco sours and enjoying the sunset. We met Rick and Cathy on the trip who are an awesome Canadian couple who made the transfer a lot more enjoyable.
The hostel we were staying at was a bit out of town, but Leo was more than happy to drive us around anywhere we wanted to go which was great. For the first day we had the place to ourselves, but when we got back this evening we had two Chilean couples and their kids staying.
They were fantastically friendly. The funniest thing for us was that we thought we were having a late dinner but they were just firing up the BBQ at 10pm.
They fed us Pisco sours and tasty bits of their BBQ too which was delicious. The best bit was entrana which was melt in your mouth meat, but what it actually was, was lost in translation. S

  

The view from the hostel kitchen. The peak on the left is actually a volcano

  
One of the spectacular views on the walk

  
  
Leo and myself navigating down the waterfall. Up ahead you can see one of the rock walls we had to scale to not get our feet wet.

  

The cactuses where huge!   

We were lucky enough to see some of them flower. Lots had buds on them but they hadn’t opened yet. According to Leo they can have white, red, violets and black flowers. Though the white and red are the most common and black very rare.

 
   
The little adobe Tim found at the top of the valley. 

 The view from the top with San Pedro De Atacama nestled in the oasis at the left of centre   
Tim floating in the lake!

 The view around was pretty spectacular too

   
One of the fresh water sink holes in the middle of the desert

 The last stop of the day. Such a beautiful salt lake

  
  
Unknown to us, Kathi took this photo of us at sunset.

Buses and Bag Snatchers

We had a bit of distance to travel over the next couple of days, traveling from Mendoza to Santiago to Calama to San Pedro de Atacama.
First stop Santiago, and while it didn’t look far on the map we had to cross the Andes which obviously took a bit of time. It was a shame we were traveling through the day as we had the best bus seats so far, almost lie flat. (Sarah managed to get in a few hours sleeping off an “illness” from our last night in Argentina!)
The whole bus, and in fact every bus, was thoroughly searched on the border and in the end we spent two hours standing in line and having dogs sniff everything and watching everything getting X rayed.
We stayed in an apartment for the night in Santiago which was really nice to sit on a sofa and relax for the evening. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to explore Santiago and just used the place as a stepping stone.  
From what we saw in our taxi and bus rides though it looks like a nice city with plenty of hustle and bustle and loads of markets!!
The next day we continued by bus from Santiago to San Pedro de Atacama. For the most part just sitting in our reclining seats reading, listening to music and watching the scenery. It was very pretty driving up the coast and into the desert through some absolutely stunning countryside.
We arrived at Calama where we had to catch another bus and get to another station. Simple enough, and after we had grabbed some lunch we went in to catch the bus. We noticed a lot of signs warning people to watch out for thieves so we were duly cautious.
It only takes one second! We were distracted for literally a second while someone asked us a question, and in the time we had turned to face him his accomplice had taken our day sack with passports, phones iPad etc in it.
I turned back after the distraction and straight away saw it was missing and shouting a few expletives ran off out of the bus station onto the street. I don’t know how but I spotted someone carrying what looked like the strap of my bag and bolted after him. Luckily a worker at the bus station had also seen what was going on and we grabbed him!
I can’t believe how lucky we were that he didn’t get away and literally as I was looking around wondering what to do next a policeman appeared walking down the street. At this stage I was a little worried that he might have some friends about so was more worried about Sarah back at the station with the rest of our stuff. 
But she was fine as another person had told her that we had caught him! So the rest of the time was spent filling out paperwork with the police, who seemed very pleased that we had caught the guy. In fact he filled out all the paperwork, and I trust the villainous scumbag will get treated fairly and squarely in the local jail!! T

   
One of the more picturesque border crossings between Mendoza and Santiago.

   
 
Just still counting our lucky stars

Day 3 @ Torres Del Paine

Day three of our hiking trip found us waking up once again with fairly sore legs, but at least it was dry and we set off on a short half day hike to try and get at least a glimpse of Glacier Grey before we had to catch our boat to begin our return journey to Puerto Natales.
We started off at a fairly slow pace up the valley towards the glacier and were enjoying the views so much that we suddenly realised that we had to get a bit of a wriggle on if we were going to make it up and back in time!
But we made it easily, and the views along the way again were amazing. This is certainly a truly wonderful national park and we have felt that each day has been full of adventure and superb views from start to finish.
Even the journey back on the catamaran and the bus had us glued to the windows looking out at the scenery. The only sad bit about it was that we didn’t allocate enough time to do the W! We did though get to see a fair bit of the area and were definitely very very impressed. T

   
Home sweet home.  Pitched as close to the hillside as possible to protect us from the wind

 
The valley at the start of our journey up to the glacier. 

   
A lake we skirted around, complete with icebergs and snow capped mountain backdrop!!  Just amazingly beautiful rugged scenery.

 
Done it, we got our quick glimpse of the Glacier Grey before we had to rush back for the boat.

   
A Guanaco posing for us, a type of Llama common to the area

 
The views from the boat back were just amazing the scenes just kept coming and coming.

Day 2 @ Torres Del Paine 

Day 2 of Torres Del Paine and I must admit we woke up broken. After the hike yesterday my knees had swollen up big time and I could hardly bend them. We actually entertained the idea of just catching the bus back out of the park back to the hostel where we were staying at instead of going further into the park and attempting some more of the W circuit. But we checked with the Rangers who told us that the weather was going to be fine and after some discussion we decided to man up and continue on. Now I must say that most people instead of catching the bus and ferry to the next campsite actually walk with all their gear on their backs and it takes them all day. But in our defense we only had 2 and a half days and hadn’t really prepared ourselves for that. Thank god we started doing some exercise about a month ago or else I really don’t think I would have made the hike yesterday. 
So off we went to the next site which consisted of a bus trip and a ferry ride. On the way we discussed our options. One was to do the middle leg of the W circuit which although was apparently easier than the hike yesterday was going to take an extra 2 hours and as we were arriving late we would not make the round trip in time. It must also be said that we would not have made it physically either!  So that was taken off the list. Instead we completed a hike around the lake to a panoramic view that although was not on the W circuit was absolutely breathtaking! Made even more so because the whole 3 hours we were out there we saw 2 other people. The landscape is jaw droopingly beautiful and so rugged and harsh. On the top of the view point the wind picked up a little and we got our first taste of the changeable Patagonian weather. But apparently that was nothing compared to what the wind can unleash out there. It can be so strong that it is difficult to stand at certain exposed points.
When we got back, as we had a few hours up our sleeve we sat back and enjoyed a bottle of Chilean red overlooking the lake back at the Refugio. You can tell we are new to this trekking business as most people had dehydrated food in their bags and we had 2 bottles of red wine 😀. S 

   

The view from short walk from the bus stop to the ferry

 Just one of the spectacular views from the ferry 

  All the backpacks stacked expertly on the ferry across.

   

On the walk around the lake. It is the same lake we crossed on the ferry.

 The combination of colours are so beautiful. 

   
 The view from the lookout. This is where the wind picked up quite substantially 

   

On the way home. Although we walked the same track, coming back looking at the mountains and bays made it seem like a different hike

 More dead trees. Somehow so beautiful and very fitting for the landscape

Climbing Torres

We were all set and ready to go and caught the bus from Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine early in the morning. We couldn’t help but notice that all the other hikers on the bus looked slightly better equipped and prepared and hardened than we did. We were a little nervous but ready for whatever happened.
We arrived and pitched our tiny but wind and waterproof tent which was designed more to cope with the weather than to provide comfort, still we worked out that we would more or less fit into it.
The scenery around the campsite was ruggedly beautiful. All the trees and bushes looked as though they had received an absolute battering by the wind and rain over the years, and up above us loomed the mountains. Proper mountains with pointed tops and ragged cliff faces covered in snow . It all looked really spectacular!
We could see the three distinct peaks of the Torres del Paine in the distance and the sun was shining and the wind wasn’t blowing hard so we set off on our hike full of excitement shortly after midday. We saw from the map that the hike was due to take 8hrs up and back, easy we thought.
The weather to be fair was perfect, and although it was cold we were wearing t-shirts and carrying all of our gear. It wasn’t just the sun which was warming us up, we found that we were actually hiking up some fairly steep terrain and were both grateful that we had been doing some fitness work during the trip.
We got to what we thought was the halfway point where we could fill our empty water bottles only to find out that we had only really climbed about a third of the way!
Still onwards and upwards and we carried on through some absolutely magical woods before we started the last leg which was really quite tough. At some stage years and years ago there must have been an avalanche and we were climbing up the face of it. It was fairly steep and covered in boulders and rocks so you had to actually be quite careful where you stepped! We were both knackered at this point and needed to keep each other going!
When we got the top of the hike we were both immediately taken away by the absolute beauty of what we saw!! It really was a spectacular view and we sat, recuperated and enjoyed the view for a good half hour, it was fantastic.
We could have stayed up there for longer but we had to be a little careful about getting back before it was too late and dinner was only served until 9.  
Going down was almost as hard as coming up. In fact the last climb took us 45 mins on the way up, and on the way down we thought we had gone a lot quicker only to find out that we had only beaten our time by 5 mins! This was also the point where we realised why people trained for this as our knees were hurting pretty badly at this point.
When we finally reached our camp we were both absolutely shattered. And I mean absolutely shattered, we were knackered and sore. We showered and went for dinner which we wolfed down and also cheekily rewarded ourselves with a bottle of wine we had bought with us and then both crashed out.
All in we had hiked just over 18kms and I am not kidding when I say that I would be surprised if 500m of it was flat! The only slight on the trip was that there were so many other hikers on the trail, you didn’t feel quite as though it was just us and the mountain.  
So glad to have done the hike, it actually gave us both a real sense of accomplishment although just as we finished I think we both felt as if we would have been happy to get off the mountain and back into a warm bed for the evening!

T

   
Looking fresh at the start of the day! Notice the slight wear and tear on the bridge, I didn’t lean too hard on the remaining bannister 

 
The view up the valley, with the refugio nestled in the bottom and the path up the left hand side

   
Still smiling about halfway up

 
The view back over Patagonia, just beautiful.  The red flowers really added to the wondrous scenery 

   
The river we criss crossed over 

 
The hike wasn’t all exposed landscaped we got to walk through what felt like enchanted forests too

   
Now when I said we had to climb up what looked like a landslide, this is what we climbed up for the last 45mins.

 
A glimpse of the end of the climb and also a look at what the path was like.  The red poles guided us up the route.

   
The reward at the end, just breathtaking 

 
The day in numbers

  
The sky that night as we walked back to our tent.

Puerto Natales

Puerto Natales was once a fishing port just a little way up the Chilean coast (up from the bottom that is) and still remains a port but also serves as the place to access the National Park of Torres del Paines.
The place itself is wonderful, sat right on a lake and with a backdrop of snow capped mountains all around. It was also v cold and windy.  
We were staying in a house which had been converted into a hostel but the best bit about the the place was that the owner, Eduado was also a guide for the national park. He was brilliant and along with the local tourist information we had our own itinerary sorted out fairly quickly and had managed to rent a tent (turned out to be a little short), some sleeping mats and some waterproof trousers.
We didn’t realize before we arrived that the Torres del Paine was such a Mecca for hikers, and people were here from all over the world to do the “W.”
This is a trek done over four nights and five days and is in the shape of a W. There are campsites all over the park and there are also hostels called refugios where bunk beds are available as well as cooked meals and a place to get warm and dry.
The refugios are located at strategic points on the W so that you can leave your bags and then hike up and down the last steeper bits to see the sights.
We decided to do a combination of camping but then taking advantage of being able to eat a meal in the warmth of the refugios. Also because we didn’t have the time we were only going to do a couple of the most popular routes and then catch a bus between the two ends of the W. T

   
The whole town looks very different in that all the houses are almost unique and look as though they are built to withstand some pretty harsh weather. 

 
The green house on the left was where we stayed.