Before my trip, whenever anyone asked me where I was going/who I was traveling with, I almost felt embarrassed to say I would be traveling alone (save for two weeks with my sister in Peru). It´s just not that common for some reason. But I already knew that I like the flexibility/independence of solo travel, having traveled alone through Europe after college. And so I came to South America (mostly) on my own.
And then I made friends. After we bonded over Buenos Aires nightlife, I ended up traveling to Mendoza, Santiago, and the Atacama desert with an Australian girl (Catherine) and two British guys (Dinesh and Amar). We were a great travel group: equally capable of having drunken shenanigans and conversations about politics.
We left Buenos Aires on a Monday evening, heading on an overnight bus to Mendoza. Immediately after arriving we signed up for a wine tour, since Mendoza is Argentina´s premier wine region. Drinking malbec, one of my favorite varietals, from the source was pretty amazing.
The next day, Catherine and Amar went horse riding while Dinesh and I went up into the high Andes to catch a glimpse of Aconcagua, the highest peak outside of Asia. The mountains were stunning, but I have never been so cold in my life. A Brazilian girl on our tour took pity on me and gave me one of her boyfriend´s fleece jackets. On the way back we stopped for lunch at a mountain lodge hostel, and I thawed my frozen feet on a space heater.
On Thursday, craving some heat after the icy day before, Catherine, Dinesh, and I visited some hot springs outside of Mendoza. Upon arrival the lifeguard informed Catherine that she was not allowed to wear her board shorts in the pools--but she had neglected to bring a proper bathing suit. So she went in her lacy underwear, and Dinesh and I unintentionally and repeatedly embarrassed her by switching pools over and over. The locals´judgmental stares were hilarious.
Next we headed back to the Andes to cross the border into Chile, arriving in Santiago on Friday afternoon. We went out Friday and Saturday nights, and spent the days exploring the city. The rest of my friends preferred Santiago to Buenos Aires, but I´m still enamored with BA.
One of the highlights of Santiago was an impromptu street party we came across in Plaza Italia after a local soccer team, Universidad de Chile, won a big match. We sang and jumped in the street and soaked up the amazing energy.
Monday brought a painful 24-hour bus ride from Santiago to San Pedro de Atacama, in Northern Chile. We stretched our legs after the journey by going sandboarding the afternoon we arrived. Although I had sandboarded in New Zealand before, this time was different--more like snowboarding than sledding. It was lots of fun, although the difficulty of climbing a sand dune at altitude limited the number of ´runs´ I attempted. Afterward we visited La Valle de la Luna, so named for the rock formations that give the valley a moon-like appearance.
Woke up at 4:30 AM the following morning, when Dinesh and I embarked on another freezing excursion to the Geysers del Tatio, the highest geyser field in the world. We arrived before sunrise and it was -12 degrees Celcius. I don´t know what that is in Fahrenheit but I thought I was going to get frostbite and have all my toes fall off. The cold was slightly more bearable once the sun came up, but I didn´t fully thaw until we visited yet another hot spring. This time it was 100% natural, nestled between two hills in the middle of the desert.
My friends and I finally parted ways this morning (why I suddenly have time to update my blog). They are headed to the Bolivian salt flats, and I am en route to meet my sister in Lima on Sunday. Plenty more South American adventures await...hopefully I will do a better job sharing them.