After the Mototaxi Junket and leaving the guys in Puno I´ve been steadily moving south. First a 7 hour bus ride to Arequipa where I stayed for a day then took another 7 hour bus to Tacna, a border town in Peru. In Tacna I stayed long enough to grab my things and walk over to the international terminal where I could catch a collectivo taxi to the border of Chile. Imagine 6 adults stuffed in a sedan with no AC on a very hot day with all the windows down and spanish love songs blaring on the radio. I got the lucky spot of center front.
We officially left Peru and then we were dropped off in what was the madness of an employee strike at the border of Chile. I arrived at approximately 3:00pm. I officially passed into Chile at 9:52pm. All I can say is that I was glad to have a book and to have met someone close by that spoke a little English. After bombing into Arica on another collectivo, this time I got to ride in the backseat (with windows down and music blaring again), it was too late to catch a bus so I grabbed a cab into town and found a place to stay.
I had been trying the previous few days to buy a ticket with Sky Airlines down to Santiago on the internet with no success. The Chilean that spoke english at the border said he got the same errors trying to buy a similar ticket. Sky is a domestic airline in Chile that has really cheap tickets if you can actually buy them in advance. There was an office in Arica so I went there as soon as it opened and since I was trying to buy the ticket so soon to the travel date the price was quadruple what it was 5 days earlier when I began my futile attempts. So defeated in that department I picked up my things and got a ride to the bus station where I boarded the next bus to Santiago. It´s billed as a 27 hour bus ride, but mine turned out to be 34 due to various delays. The main delay came at a checkpoint a few hours out of town where employees were striking once again. While they watched movies on the computer in their offices we milled about for 3 hours then they came out, briefly perused the contents of our luggage, and we were on our way again. Far less intimidating than the armed pat down stops in Ecuador, but still mildly annoying given the delay.
Finally landing in Santiago was great! It´s a beautiful city with modern amenities and a great hub for travelling to nearby towns. Next stop was La Serena, a few hours north. After being disappointed by their condo clad beach front it was back on a bus to head to the sleepy fishing and beach town of Guanaquerous. Peaceful, empty, and a great beachfront - it was exactly what I was looking for. A few days of loafing on the beach served me well.
After Guanaqueros it was back up to La Serena for a day trip to the Humboldt National Reserve. The tour group arrived oceanside, hopped in a little wooden boat, and braved the swells and winds of the Pacific Ocean. Lurching stomachs and salt beaten faces were well worth the sights of the islands and wildlife. Among the cute little penguins we saw countless other bird species, sea lions both napping and playing, bottle-nose dolphins teaching their young how to feed, and little black lizards on Damas Islands. We scanned the edges of Choros for some good wildlife viewing first, even getting to see the climbing penguins in action, then headed off to Damas island where we were joined in route by the feeding dolphins. At Damas we got to get off the boat and cruise the island for an hour which gave us an opportuniy to climb to the lighthouse and to see the delicate yellow flowers that bloom once every 6-7 hours. The sea lions took to the water and saw us off as we returned to the port.
Next it was off to Valparaiso for some good small city time. I loved it there! It´s full of art and funkiness and the port side location reminded me of home. Valpo was full of city walks, taking in the outdoor mural museum, kayaking, and eating lots of good hearty salads. My time there came and went fast.
Now I´m in Punta Arenas, deep in the South of Chile. After Valpo I returned to Santiago for a 10 hour bus ride to Osorno. I landed in Osorno on a rainy Sunday and believe or not I quite enjoyed it. It felt like the northwest with it´s grey skies, rain clouds, and overall greenness. I stayed at a little hostal owned by a little old woman that kept the place smelling of fresh bread and warm fires. The break from the bus was good, but Osorno doesn´t have much to keep a visitor occupied. Punta Arenas was a 28 hour bus ride from Osorno, but I wouldn´t have guessed. The time passed quick with all the amazing views of needly peaks, snow capped mountains, green trees, and grazing wildlife. The route there actually goes through the eastern side of Argentina for most of the trip as that is where the main roads are. No strikes this time and all the crossings went smoothly.
After travelling all that way I´m ready for some Patagonia trekking!
More pictures are on my flickr photostream at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/14158549@N02