The International Writers Magazine: A Chile Diary:
7 Photos © D Sullivan
DOES SAN PEDRO
Dermot Sullivan in Bolivia
is in the air here in Chile. It veers from a summer-like heat to
heavy downpours of rain. Chileans have started smiling again and
have started to add a bit more colour again to their Calvinistic
dress. Blossom rains down from the trees and one has the pleasure
in knowing that the weather is only going to get better.
The Great Salt Lakes of Bolivia
missed the Spring back home my body has been crying out for it for six
months. Finally it is here and life is moving up a gear. I am a busy
I was recently in the north of Chile: the Atacama Desert to be precise.
When I was there I popped over the border into Boliva. The Atacama is
the driest place on earth. This is a brief outline how it went:
Saturday the 21st of August:
The Morning: Fly early up to Calama via Antofagasta. Cross over into
the Tropic of Capricorn. When landing in Calama I fly over Chuquicamata,
the largest open mine in the world. It's full of copper. Chile produces
90% of the world's copper.
The Afternoon: Arrive in San Pedro de Atacama. Stay in an adobe-like
bulidng for only 6000 pesos a night (about four pounds). See a funeral
of an indigenous person: very Latin American, very Catholic yet pagan.
Watch as they process with the coffin to the graveyard and the women
sing. Return to the 21st Century as I swan around San Pedro.
(It should be pointed out that San Pedro is extremely modern despite
being in the middle of the desert. It is full of gringo travellers who
have settled and the place is probably more cosmopolitan that Santiago).
The Evening: Book trip to Boliva! Go to bed early as I have to get up
early. Hooray for me!
Sunday the 22nd of August:
The Morning: Meet fellow travellers. Leave Chile. Rapidly ascend from
an altitude of 2500 metres to 4600 metres above sea-level. Discover
that I cannot breathe. Cross into Boliva. The border is a small shed
on a dirt-track. Eat a hearty breakfast of bread and tea.
Salt Lake after unseasonable rain
Realise that roads don't seem to exist in Bolivia and realise why
I'm being driven in a 4x4 jeep. See lagunas that are different colours
because of the minerals in them. See lumps of salt blow off them
in the wind like tumbleweed in Westerns. Ascend to 5000 metres to
see some geysers. Altitude becoming a problem.
The Evening: Stay
in a very, very basic hostel by a laguna. No appetite. The temperature
drops considerably once the sun goes down. Altitude around 4200 metres.
Slip into a dreamworld
where headache and coma merge. Get in the jeep, am driven around and see
flamingoes. Whack my head of the doorframe of the jeep as I get in. No
appetite. It starts snowing. I am cold.
Morning in Bolivia
the 23rd of August:
The Morning: Face dry, nose blocked. Sun cream has opened up in
bag over night but evaporated. Fortunately the sky is overcast.
Can hardly walk. Stagger to the loo. Walk back to the bedroom and
whack my head of the doorframe as it's so low. Bolivians are even
smaller than Chileans.
The Afternoon: Lower
altiude so I perk up somewhat. See lots of interesting landscape.
a small village and talk to a small kid who asks me for some chocolate
(this make a change from Chileans in Santiago asking me for money).
Try to take a photo of some llamas but they run away from me. There
isn't enough oxygen for me to give chase so I let them go. I am
aware of how ridiculous I would look to the locals if I actually
pursued the animals. Arrive at a hotel made out of salt (apart from
the bathroooms and the mattresses).
Pink Flamingos somewhere out there
The Evening: Have
a wash! Feel much better. Still not eating. Speak to Bolivians. They
seem to be rather nice people. Indigenous children come and play their
musical instruments for our tour but it's for the tourists, really.
Give the kids some Bolivianos (the local currency and completely Mickey
Mouse) and go to bed feeling rather good but tired. Altitude around
Tuesday the 24th of August:
The Morning: Feel terrible. I wake up, stagger to the toilet and vomit.
Fortunately it's only water I throw up as I have no food in my stomach.
See my fellow travellers and resent their existence as they seem rather
perky. There are two jeeps: One with four Italians, a Dutchman and a
Swiss girl and mine which has me, two French guys (rather cool) and
two Belgian girls (grostesquely immature and retarded, demonstrating
to me yet again that Belgium is probably the worst place on Earth).
The Afternoon: Get stuck in the mud for five hours due to the idiot
driving us showing off his driving 'prowess'. Eventually reach dry salt
lakes and visit an island of people who live in amongst miles and miles
The Evening: Reach the town of Uyuni. Still not eating. Go to sleep.
Watch the townspeople prepare for a big fiesta which I will sadly miss.
Geysers at 5000 metres
the 25th of August:
The Morning: Get up early. Weather beautiful. Drive across salt
lakes again. The sky is blue and all around is white. See many mountains.
Everything looks like the 'Lonely Planet Guide' including the people
who dress in their traditional costumes.
The Afternoon: Cross the border (though further north than San Pedro
and at a lower altitude. The border I crossed originally is covered
with snow) and return to Chile. The thief of a border guard charges
us 15 Bolivianos as an 'exit fee'. Pathetic.
Chile I feel that I have returned to normailty. Eat something (though
The Evening: Arrive back in San Pedro ... in the midst of a sandstorm!
Thursday the 26th of August:
The Morning: After a very deep sleep, I scrub myself clean. I explore
San Pedro. The Afternoon: I take a trip to various valleys though the
wind is strong. One can see the sand come at you in waves before it
hits you, as if one were in the sea. The place bears a stong resemblance
to 'Star Wars' when R2-D2 is captured by the Jawas.
The Evening: See the sunset in Lunar Valley. Return to San Pedro. Eat
a big meal with other gringos. Yummy! Friday the
27th of August:
The Morning: Get up at 04:00 hrs to travel to geysers and see them kick
off at 06:00 hrs. The sky is beautiful and blue. I wash my boots in
the geysers as they are still muddy from Bolivia.
The Afternoon: Go to a small village and see llamas ... only to be presented
with llama kebabs. They are delicious! Sorry Mr. Llama ...
The Evening: Sleep!
Saturday the 28th of August:
Travel to Calama. Have a look around. Calama is a mining town and doesn't
have much to offer. It's supposed to be the prostitution capital of
Chile but all I see are children playing football and having fun! Apparently
the place has changed since the miners' families moved to the place.
I see some parades as well which are quite colourful. The Evening: Fly
home to Santiago. Go out drinking with my chums. Look ridiculously dishevelled.
Sunday the 29th of August:
The Morning: Wash! Shave! Weigh myself. I have lost five kilos.
Well there you go, that was basically my time. Bolivia was very good
but very hard. I would have liked more time to see San Pedro but I was
exhausted after not eating for four days. Perhaps I shall go there again
This month is reasonably eventful. I hope to go camping this weekend
if the weather holds out. It's also the 11th of September and that can
be a rather tense day here. For those of you who don't know, that's
when the mass-murdering kleptomaniac General Pinochet took over in a
coup in 1973. I think though we can save my thoughts on him for another
e-mail. There tend to be demonstrations and that sort of thing and seeing
my office is on '11 de Septiembre Street' (two minutes from my flat)
it can be a bit of a flashpoint. I think that this year though it will
be quiet ... famous last words! We shall see.
On the 18th of September it is Chile's national day. They basically
get drunk and eat certain foods and dance the cueca. I may head out
of town again, this time up north. Then the weekend following I will
be going to Mendoza (in Argentina)!
I will of course write to you after my little jollies and tell you all
© Dermot Sullivan September 14th 2004
Year in Santiago
Dermot Sullivan's Chile Diary
Gringo - Diary Entry 2
From Santiago No 3
Diary No 4
Diary No 5
The Naruda House
Dermot Sullivan No 6
Week in Bolvia:
Dermot Sullivan's Diary No.7
No 8: Mendoza
Diary No 9
Visit Bolivia see where Butch and Sundance ended their days...
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