Monday, 27 January 2014

Days 303 to 309: Other Stuff On Easter Island

There's more to Easter Island than just a whole bunch of stone heads. We stayed there for six days and beforehand there was a smidgeon of concern that perhaps six days might be a little too much. Six days on a tiny island with just a bunch of stone heads for company: our reservoir of all five series of Breaking Bad might be exhausted. In the end, we could happily have managed another week: Easter Island was a pleasure; if you find yourself in the area (the closest inhabited island, Pitcairn Island, population 50, is just 2075 kilometres away), I heartily recommend stopping by.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Days 296 to 301: San Pedro and La Serena

San Pedro did not get off to a good start. Our bus from Iquique arrived prompt and early in the nearby city of Calama at 5am; unfortunately, the bus station wasn't so prompt and early in opening. For three hours, we sat on benches outside the station, taking comfort only in the fact that we were surrounded by Chileans who had made the same error of judgement. When the station did finally open, Danielle went to enquire about tickets. She came back, fuming that somebody had been sick over her: her bag and jacket were covered. But closer examination revealed it was some kind of milky paste, and her bag had been unzipped. It had been an attempted pickpocketing. Throwing the paste on her unawares, two shady men had then approached her, it would seem, offering to help clean it off, while at the same time trying to steal her stuff. Fortunately, Danielle is no shrinking violet. Immediately upon thinking her bag was covered in sick, and with two strange men trying to wipe it off with tissue, she had entered into a series of furious and loud expletives and marched off. Nothing was stolen, and we will be extra vigilante at bus stations from now on.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Day 295: Humberstone

Even if you're not intimately acquainted with the Spanish language, you might be aware that the town of Humberstone, around 47 kilometres, or 29 miles, from Iquique in northern Chile, isn't exactly a Spanish-sounding name. That's because it's named after James Thomas Humberstone, an English chemical engineer. Why name it after an English chemical engineer? Well, because he was the founder, and also the inventor of something called the Shanks System, an elaborate system of tubes, steam and cauldrons, which was great at extracting nitrate, also called saltpeter, a fertiliser. Originally called the much more Spanish-sounding La Palma, it began life in 1872 as a small Peruvian industrial town dedicated to extracting nitrate. The Pacific War of 1879 to 1883 saw the area fall into Chilean hands. It peaked in the 1930s with a population of 3700. By 1961, the population was zero.

Days 292 to 295: Arica and Iquique

Chile, it would seem, was in no hurry to greet us. Departing by bus from La Paz shortly after six in the morning, we were at the Bolivian-Chilean border within about four hours. Set in a national park, it is one of the prettier borders I've seen in my lifetime, although the astonishing queue of lorries didn't do much for the area's natural beauty. Days later, I expect some of these lorries are still patiently waiting, but fortunately our bus seemed allowed to overtake them all and in no-time we'd reached the checkpoint. The Bolivian side took less than 20 minutes to stamp our passports.

The Chilean side took around four hours.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Days 288 to 291: Wonderful La Paz

We'd heard only bad things about La Paz. Over the last month, meeting other travellers and discussing with them past journeys and future plans, every time the name of La Paz had come up, it was accompanied with something like "it was a bit of a dump". The best we'd heard was in Arequipa from an English girl, who seemingly despised all of Bolivia. La Paz, she said, wasn't quite as bad as the rest of it. La Paz was not coming with ringing endorsements.

So why did we decide to go there? Probably, it was more Danielle's decision than mine - I'd have happily gone direct into Chile. But it was only a minor detour, and the Lonely Planet said that the bus station was designed by Gustave Eiffel. After seeing Eiffel's staircase in Arequipa, this was enough to convince me.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Day 287: Puno

The overnight bus from Arequipa to Puno was not a good idea. Departing at 11pm, arriving at 5am, getting anything like an adequate sleep was always an ambitious task. Making that task harder, we were sat right at the front of the top deck, and gaps between the lower deck allowed a freezing breeze to torment us all night. I perhaps got an hour's rest. Fortunately, our hotel - the wonderfully named Casona Colon Inn (I only booked it because I thought the name was funny) - allowed us to check in at just after 5am, and we got a decent few hours rest before our single day of Puno exploration.

Thursday, 2 January 2014