Saturday, August 29, 2009

Salar De Uyuni: Bolivian Salt Flats

The Salar de Uyuni is what remains of an ancient sea that once covered the Altiplano region of the Andes some 40,000 years ago. Now it's one huge plain of salt, the largest of its kind on the planet. Before 1969 it was virtually unknown as a tourist destination until Neil Armstrong noticed it from space. He made a note and after returning to Earth he visited the flats as the first tourist. Since then Uyuni has been attracting people from all over the world.

The above photo was taken from Isla del Pescado (Fish Island), a small "island" in the middle of the 4000 sq km salt flats. Once completely submerged beneath the ocean, it's now covered in giant cacti, some over 1000 years old, and coral fossils.

Uyuni is a magical place that's not easy to reach. From La Paz it's a 12 hour bus ride over rough roads and then another half day journey just to see a portion of the flats. We booked a 3 night tour, including one night in a beautiful salt hotel.

We also toured the Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa (Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve) and enjoyed an outdoor onsen (hot spring)...

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Valparaíso: Bohemian Paradise

It's easy to understand why poet Pablo Neruda had a home here - La Sebastiana - the city is an urban masterpiece. In a cruel twist of fate it was also the birthplace of former President Salvador Allende and the general who would eventually become his murderer in the 1973 coup, Augusto Pinochet.

Valparaíso is about 100 kms west of Santiago, Chile and it's one of the finest artistic enclaves I've ever encountered. Every free space is splashed with colour and musings on the past, present and future story of this country. We had one of the tastiest seafood meals at an a rundown restaurant near the 150 year old central market along the waterfront.

It was a beautiful day at the end of July when we arrived in Valpo, or "Paradise Valley". The city is built on a series of hills with numerous funiculars scattered throughout designed to make it easier to get around.

The closest I could compare it to would be Monterey, California - think Steinbeck's Cannery Row or Tortilla Flat - or maybe a few neighbourhoods in San Fran.

We wandered all over the hills snapping photos and watching the movements of the Chilean navy in the harbour. Some say it's become increasingly dangerous but we never felt at risk and took the same precautions we would anywhere else in the world.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

La Paz to Isla Del Sol: Inca Origins

Here we are on our way from La Paz to Copacabana on Lake Titicaca, mythic birthplace for the Incas. We'd just spent a few days in La Paz at 3500 meters and were looking forward to visiting the Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun).

It was a gorgeous day and the ferry took about 2 hours each way...

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Rapa Nui: In The Grey Presence Of The Moai

We were dining with the Moais on the Pacific Island of Rapa Nui (Isla de Pascua/ Easter Island) a few weeks ago. It was by far one of the highlights of our trip to South America and a genuinely exhilerating experience.

Rapa Nui is approximately 180 km2 and is the most distant point in the world from any mainland. Some 4000 people currently live on the island and it´s supported almost entirely by tourism. Seventy per cent of the island is a National Park designated as a World Heritage Site in 1996. There's also a movement underway to achieve some semblance of autonomy from Chile. The local community negotiated and passed its own constitution, but it was rejected by the Chilean parliament. The struggle continues...