Friday July 5: Andes
The High Point of the Trip
I would say that for me, this was the best day of the trip other than the day of the eclipse of course. We went up to the high elevations.
We didn't want to get to breakfast and find that all of the eggs were gone, so we set the alarm for 7, got up promptly, went to breakfast, and found...that they opened at 7:30. So we went back to our room, seeing as it was pretty cold outside.
As an aside, I am not used to conditions where you need a down jacket in the early morning and after dinner, and then during the day you are wearing a tee shirt and baking in the sun.
So at 7:30 we went back to the dining room, and it looked deserted, so we waited outside. After a short while a woman came in to tend to the food, and she invited us in. I guess it was open and we didn't to wait outside longer.
She asked us something that we didn't understand, and then she tried again. She was asking us if we wanted eggs (huevos). We said "si". When we went to get our food, we found that all of the trays were occupied except for the tray with the eggs, which was empty. So the previous day we were too late for eggs, and today we were too early.
We got other food, and while we were eating that, she came out and put some eggs in, so we finally got our huevos. I rather like how they are done here. They are scrambled, but they aren't as dry as when I make them at home. I don't know if they are adding milk or something, or whether they are adding cheese, or just not cooking it as much. Amy thought that perhaps they were cooking it at a lower temperature. In any event, I rather like the scrambled eggs that I've had down here.
We went back to the room, got organized, and put on sunscreen. While I was doing so, I found my first and so far only mosquito on the trip. The insect did not survive the experience.
Then we went to the reception area to wait for the SUV. Amy had replaced the alkaline batteries that we had gotten for the eclipse with the rechargeable ones, and she realized while we were waiting that she hadn't recharged the batteries and that they were low. She had no spare batteries.
I went to the local store to see if I could buy some, but it wasn't yet open. She thought she had some in her camera bag, so I went back to the room, found the camera bag, but there were no batteries. Then I saw the mostly used alkaline batteries, so I grabbed those. In the end, it ended up being barely enough. She used the rechargeable ones until they gave out, swapped for the alkaline, and then those ran out on the way back to the hotel. When we go out to dinner we'll have to get some backup batteries for her.
I should mention the logistics. Our driver is the same guy who picked us up at the airport. He is driving a medium to large SUV. I think it is a Toyota 4runner. He is obvious driving. The guide sits in the passenger seat and turns around to narrate to us. The three of us are it the back. It is somewhat tight, but bearable.
We first drove to the Lagoona Chaxa, which is the in the salt flats. This is where one can find flamingos. There was a flock in the middle distance, so we got our "toys" (tripod, big lens) and walked over to the viewing area. It was sort of strange walking on dry or semi-wet salt.
We got a bunch of pictures, hopefully some will come out OK.
On the way there and back, we passed through a road under construction--literally. It was reduced to one lane while they rebuilt the other lane. Apparently they take dirt and clay from the local area, mix it with water, and pack it down. After it dries, it is pretty hard and smooth, at least until the next time it rains.
It was interesting to look at the workers. They were dressed in work clothes, but their hard hats had cloth hanging down on the back and the sides. They had some sort of cloth over their lower faces, and sunglasses. The net effect was that there was essentially none of their skin exposed to the sun.
After that, we headed up into the Andes. We stopped in a small village (Solcare), where we placed our lunch orders, hit the toilets, and then visited a small shop where there were hand crafted things to buy, and where each item identified the indigenous person who made it. We bought some stuff for gifts, and since it was only 11:45, we continued on our way, planning to eat lunch on the way back.
We continued higher into the mountains, essentially onto the edge of the altiplano, and went up by two volcanos. These had snow on them, although they were not covered. As we drove in, there were patches of snow here and there. I think the ability to pick up and handle snow would be interesting to someone who comes from a place where it doesn't snow, but it wasn't a big deal for us (although Sam and I did snowball each other).
We drove over a small ridge, and to my amazement, there was a small lake or a large pond down there. It was half frozen and half open. Amy saw bunch of coots, but they were too far away and too small for decent pictures.
On the other hand, I loved being up in the mountains and seeing snowy peaks around me. It reminded a lot of Kilimanjaro. We were up around 14,750 feet in elevation. You could feel it if you exerted yourself, but it wasn't too much if you were just strolling around.
We then drove a bit further to another pond, where Amy saw some more coots, a silver grebe, and some crested ducks. I took some pictures, but I think they were mostly little dots.
After this (not quite the high point of the trip, we will go higher when we go to the geysers), we started our return journey.
Almost. When we got to the main road, we saw some cars parked a bit further up, so we went up there and parked. Across the street was a small herd of vicuña, so I got out my big lens and got a bunch of pictures. Then we started back for real.
When we got to Solcar, we stopped again, and this time we had lunch. They as usual had bread and the kind of "salsa" (pebre) that is common here. Different areas have different variations, and this one was more Peruvian, i.e. more spicy.
We had a first course of a traditional soup, with most of the ingredients grown locally. The main feature was that they took corn, processed it to remove the outer layer, and then cooked it, so that it swelled up to be about a 1/2 inch in size. Then we had chicken with quinoa and a small salad (tomato and lettuce). For dessert we had a custard/flan. To wash it down we had some orange juice that was thankfully fresh and unsweetened. It was fairly simple but very tasty, and the proceeds helped the indigenous community.
We then visited a historic old church in that town.
We continued down to the salt flats. We visited another small town (actually one of the bigger ones in the area, Tolomelo or something vaguely like that). We against stopped at a small shop and got some gifts (as well as post cards).
As we continued down, Amy asked where we might see burrowing owls. This was good timing, because the guide said that there was a spot just ahead where they could usually be found. They were in fact there, so we stopped and I got out my big lens. Unfortunately, as she was getting out, Amy had another incident where her legs buckled or something, similar to what happened earlier. Like that incident, I didn't see it, but Amy once again fell on her hands. This time, however, she did less damage to her palms.
They also had a llama there (the first that we've seen in Chile), although by the time I got my big lens out, it was slowly walking away, so most of my llama pictures were of the rear end.
I got a bunch of pictures of the owls, but they were too small and far away for great pictures.
This was a local watering hole, so there was a small herd of goats there as well.
Then we returned to San Pedro, unloaded our stuff, Sam took a shower, and I'm writing this up.
We went out to eat, and our first stop was to pick up some junk food for Sam. I ran that back to the room, and then I caught up with Amy and Sam at the church. They were doing a Mass again, but this time, if I joined them, it would hold up dinner, so we continued looking for food.
We checked out one place that was a strong contender from last night, but despite the fact that it was just after 7, they were closed to new customers. We thought that this was rather strange, as we thought most Chileans started eating around 7pm, particularly on a Friday night.
Amy found a place, and we went in to eat. Like the previous night's place, there was an open courtyard with a fire burning inside. This ended up being a very uninspiring meal.
We ended up going cheap on the menu. Sam got a pizza, whereas Amy and I thought we were ordering empanadas. I got back something with grilled potatoes, sausages that closely resembled sliced hot dogs, and some chicken. Amy ended up ordering something other than what she had intended, and she got a plate with a pile of cheese bits, a pile of ham cubes, and a pile of olives. At least the juices were good.
During dinner a singer came in, passed around envelopes for tips to each table, set up a boom box to play music, and then sang to it. It was sort of like karaoke. I wasn't that thrilled with her, and she only sang about three songs, so we didn't tip her.
On the way home afterwards, we found a store that carried batteries, so we got a set for Amy. We also, unfortunately, found two or three places that looked like better places to have eaten. Oh well...