Adventures in South America

Chapter 5 - Moving to Chile

Sent: Tuesday, 17 Feb 1998 18:22:02 +0200 (GMT+0200)

That disco was made on the shores of Laguna Colorada, 4,250 meters high, for spoiled tourists and thirsty local drivers...

In the morning we went to Laguna Verde, maybe the most famous in the Salar, with the famous Volcan Licancabur, 5,950 meters high, on the background. The Laguna, which is located on the border between Bolivia and Chile, is as it's name hints - completely green (again, because of algae and minerals (sulphur)) and the almost perfect volcano in the background made us really interested on climbing it. Despite it's height, it was only slightly covered with snow. The problem was scheduling - As we didn't think of it in advance, we didn't have food supply for the 1-2 days which are necessary to climb and get back. We felt that we miss a rare opportunity to climb an "almost 6,000 meters" peak by our own. Very few peaks of this height in the world can be climbed without technical equipment...

We passed to Chile.

Big differences: a nice black asphalt road welcome us... the border itself was just a hut, and passport check was made only in the nearby village, San Pedro de Atacama. While searching a place to sleep at, we rediscovered ourselves poor again. Prices in Chile are 3-4 times higher than in Bolivia... That village, San Pedro de Atacama, is a lousy "hole". Our "YERUCHAM" (ירוחם) is a metropolitan in comparison with it. San Pedro is small, very dusty (after all, the Atacama desert, is the driest in the world - not even a sign of vegetation) and quite ugly village. On every store you can see "Nestle" signs. Since some tourists pass from Bolivia through it, it has a decent selection of travel agencies. We booked an "organised" half day tour to "El Tatio" geyser (+ a deep in the hot water springs nearby) and in the afternoon - a visit to Valle de la luna (The valley of the moon) in order to see the sunset. Both where really impressive.

Tali sitting on one of the geysers.

Next morning we were on the bus to the big and new town of Calama. That town was constructed near the giant phosphate plants (like our dead sea works) and offered nothing to the interested tourist. For us, of course, it was almost like heaven: after a week of not eating any descent portion of meat (the maximum was 100 gr. of chicken (1/8th chicken)) we could buy as much as we liked (1 whole chicken for both of us, mainly eaten by hungry me). We paid a visit to the local market (these visits were never disappointing for us) and even saw a movie in the only cinema in town (Jurassic Park 2). Later on we took the night bus to Arica.

What a bus !!! I've never seen such a thing in my life - very high, very comfortable - they have WC on board, they have several videos + some personal ones to the persons who sit in the first row, they gave drinks and biscuits as a refreshment. It was more like an airplane than a bus...

Arica, Chile's response to our Eilat, is the most north town of Chile, which means very hot climate (don't forget, we're in the south hemisphere !) and as it lies on the shores of the pacific ocean, it feels like an "holiday resort". We were half "oxygen toxinated" being at sea level after 6 weeks in altitudes of 3,000 meters and over. We "scanned" the town (quite modern, but as it's the least developed area of Chile, don't imagine something much more modern than Greece, for instance) and found except the many electric equipment shops (Like Eilat, Arica is a free trade zone) good Chilean wines, good "Pollo a la brasa" (Grilled chicken made on real coals), good Internet services (second chapter about Peru was written there), good sweets and relaxation.

You should guess that we relaxed for a short time only. Actually we were "mountain-sick" (correlated to "home-sick). Last trek was in Bolivia, about 10 days ago. Our elevation (0 m') only aggravated our condition. Lucky us, 200 km away is the National Park Lauca, with nice cool weather at 4,000 m' average, and the 6,300 m' two peaks of twin vulcans Pallachatas. We have read about these two magnificent vulcans already in Israel, and if some people choose a girl-model to be the background "paper wall" on their computer, we chose these vulcans to be in ours...

The twin peaks of vulcans Pallachatas.

There is a bus to the vulcans area only twice a week, and due to Murphy's laws, it was the wrong days, so we took a bus to the province (and park) capital Putre. There we went to the province government headquarters in order to obtain a topographic map of the area and as there was none for sell, we photocopied their map. They also told us that in order to climb the vulcans, one needs to fill a form and so we did. Then, as there is no bus to continue, we tried our luck hitch-hiking.

We were prepared for a long wait. The road is the international highway between La Paz (Bolivia's capital) and Arica (the biggest export port in Chile for Bolivia), but despite its name, only 10-20 vehicles pass every hour, mostly trucks. We took our lunch out, and were prepared to eat when "our car" stopped. It was no more than 10 minutes wait !!! The car was a 4WD, and the driver was a social worker who works in the park. He went to a village on the way where he had to work for an hour (and where we ate in a restaurant) and then continued to our destination, the village of Parinacota.

We found in that tiny village a place to sleep on the floor (without electricity nor toilets nor heating) and even to eat (something like "bad and food"). We ate there the best Alpaca steak of our life. In the morning we climbed a "small" hill nearby, of 5,100 m' to have a splendid panoramic view of the park and caught a lift (a truck) to the village in the evening. Next day we left for a several days trek. The aim was to TRY as much as possible to climb the volcano. In the beginning we were tempted to follow a dirt road which went in a similar direction to what we needed. It discovered to be turning more and more to a wrong direction, but we still followed it (as we didn't want to go back all the way). That costed us a lot since we got into a swampy area (we used our rope in order to secure us from sinking) and then we arrived to the vulcans area from the wrong direction - instead of arriving to the "shoulder" between the two vulcans, climb it easily, and then climb the vulcan, we had to encircle half of the volcano before reaching the shoulder. It was difficult physically and psychologically - the mountain is not a perfect cone, it has lots of "arms" getting from the top to the bottom, and we had to cross a lot of it. Every "arm" took us between an hour to two of walking on broken volcanic ground, and we thought each time, that the current arm is the last one. We've spent two days already "crossing arms", and almost gave up. In the night, in our relatively "cosy" tent (outside, at ~5,000 m' it was well below freezing), we decided that in the third day we would leave our tent pitched, and would try to climb without our heavy bags as much as possible and return to the tent in the same day.

In the morning we woke up full of enthusiasm - maybe it will be very difficult, but at least it would be the last day. In the morning we left, forgetting our GPS (navigation apparatus) in the tent. Several hours later when we discovered that we forgot our GPS, we started to put signs (RUGUMIM) on the way so it would help us find the way down. We climbed and climbed, and after 2 more "arms" started to see the "shoulder". Reinforced with this sight and our light weight we continued and reached a huge snow/ice field. Because of the strong winds and big temperature differences, the snow which melted became needles of ice. We walked very slowly and carefully and finally reached the top of the shoulder, at 5,300 m'.

The view was amazing !!!!!! - the two giant cones of the vulcans right above us and, as a gift, surprisingly - we could see exactly between "our" two vulcans, a third one - Volcan Sajama - arguably Bolivia's highest mountain at 6,600 m'. Continuing up was out of the question (we needed technical equipment because of the snow) and we wanted to go down to our cosy tent. We started to go down, reached the last sign (RUGUM) but were a bit confused how to continue. It started to become night, and we still didn't find our cosy tent. The alternative of sleeping in -20 degrees outside didn't appeal to us...

Tali under the peak of one of the vulcans.

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Last modified: Mon Jun 10th 13:03:08 IST 1999