Since we had so many pictures and loved Chile so much, we decided to split it into two entries to make it more managable and more interesting for you all!
After my parents left Chile, we continued north up the coast, stopping first at La Serena. This was a very sleepy town (at least on Sundays, we were not prepared for the masses of people that poured into the streets on Monday morning!), but we did have one of the highlights of our trip here. In Northern Chile, the skies are so clear that it is one of the few parts of the world that is perfect for observatories (the Australian desert being another). We visited one of the less touristy observatories at the top of a hill about an hour away from La Serena, where we were greeted by an amazing blanket of stars like nothing we have ever seen before.
Seeing Saturn (including its rings and moons) in incredible clarity through the telescope was very cool and our photo unfortunately does not do justice to it...
After a couple of days in La Serena we boarded another bus to what turned out to be our FAVORITE city so far on our trip...San Pedro De Atacama. We spent 5 wonderful days here and as well as squeezing in a ton of interesting things, we always made time for a siesta in our hostel's hammocks each afternoonl!
Perhaps making up for a childhood deprived of a sandpit, we had a lot of fun rolling down the sand dunes...did I say rolling...ah, I mean surfing. Well, either way it was still great - although very tiring getting up there (someone needs to invest in some chair-lifts) because it was like walking through quick sand, once we reached the top it was much easier (and faster) all the way down...we only made one trip and had to make the most of it!
Again, we forgot to hold the camera horizontally, so you will have to view it sideways! Very funny. Two dogs followed us on our bikes from town to the sand dunes for more than10 km, and this dog all the way up to the top. He got very excited when Andrew got going!
Another highlight of our time in San Pedro was a visit to the highland geysers even though it required a 4:30am start when the temperatures are well below zero - at this time, steam is spewing from holes covering an entire plateau with a quite dramatic effect. We couldn't feel our toes or fingers so it was a good thing there was time to thaw out in the nearby hot prings once the sun came up.
One of our main modes of transport, the humble mountain bike, was also well-used here as we embarked on a trip to the Lagunas Cejar, essentially an oasis in the middle of nowhere (which should have served as a warning to us). Taking the correct route would have been a 60km round trip - unfortunately with our hand drawn, out of scale map and a total lack of any signs meant that we took several wrong turns and ended up cycling almost 90km...which totally threw our plans of leaving early and travelling outside of the hottest part of the day out the window. There was actually one sign - though it was the last turn and was pretty much obselete when one marking the turn-off from the main road would have seemed more useful to us. Anyway, we made it eventually and cooled off in the very cold, highly saline lakes similar to the Dead Sea. It was an incredibly unique experience to simply float and all Andrew needed was a beer in one hand and paper in the other!
Our final trip was to see the must see Salar De Tara...I mean, what wouldn't be wonderful with that name?!!!!! Given we would be reaching an altitude of 5,300m, we were advised to save this trip for our final day...Again, it is hard to keep thinking of new adjectives to describe what were seeing each day, however, on the way to the Salar de Tara, we visited some massive rocks that were blown out into the middle of the desert by volcanic explosions, flamingos roaming various salt flats only with other wildlife (including a strange animal looking part rabbit and part cat).
On our way to Argentina!!