Chile, Bolivia and Peru
June 1st to June 17th
The central point of my year off would be taking care of myself after an extremely difficult past two years and taking care of my Mom’s affairs back home in Bangladesh. Having worked on the paperwork for the past two years and taken care of some issues, I knew the remaining tasks would require several months. I was waiting for some paperwork to be ready by November, so my plan was to be in Bangladesh for about four months from November through February. This would also allow for some closure. I wouldn’t be able to handle last minute scrambling and paperwork snafus requiring additional “fees” and time. My body and mind had taken enough beatings. I would be in Dhaka for about 4 months, stay in my Mom’s apartment and would make some side trips to Asia. I also was toying with the idea of a Tea Garden Yoga Retreat in the hills of Sylhet.
So in June the journey began. This was my regular summer holiday, my official time off would not begin until Fall. It was an amazing Summer. Knowing that I had a year ahead to take care of things was pivotal. I devised a crazy 15 day tour of Chile, Bolivia and Peru on the way to Colombia. I’d been to all these countries before, so the idea was to see some new things (no Machu Pichu, sorry) and revisit old ones (The Death Road in Bolivia, for example).
My first stop was Santiago, Chile. There I enjoyed some great food and wine and then took a day trip out to Viña Del Mar and Valparaíso. I had been to Viña here after my climb of Aconcagua in 2002 so it was cool being back to this coastal area.
With new friends Jessica from Paraguay and Jane from Australia
But the real Chilean adventure awaited. I took a flight out to San Pedro de Atacama. This is in the Atacama desert. You actually fly into a mining town called Calama and take a shuttle to San Pedro. The first thing that struck me was how cold it was. I shared a shuttle bus with some Brazilians without proper gear. They were comically dying of cold. Not in Rio anymore baby! We were at high altitude and the mountains were all around us. Volcán Lascar was looming over us on our drive in.
San Pedro was a rustic town. I loved it the moment I arrived. This was raw South America. It was touristy, sure, but that is part of the deal. People need to make a living. I was able to take a trip to see the Valley of the Moon, an amazing desert vista, unearthly really.
The Tatio Geysers at sunrise was one of the most mystical experiences.
And on another trip I visited Lagunas Miscanti and Miniques, unbelievably beautiful high altitude lakes. We are talking about 14,000 ft – close to the the highest point in the continental US, Mount Whitney summit.
My best friends in Chile Cristian and Natalia
I took an astronomy course out in the desert and for the first time in my life REALLY felt and understood how little I am, in the grand scheme of the universe and time. By the way, the cheese and wine offered as I contemplated these heavy thoughts, were delectable ☺️.
And I rented a mountain bike and decided to bike down a dry river bed (quebrada) into the mountains. I was doing great until the park checkpoint. After that I overshot the turn off into “La Garganta del Diablo” (The Devil’s Throat) and ended up farther than I wanted. It was hot as hell and I was getting concerned. At that point I was face to face with the whitest of chapels in the reddest of backdrops. This was sheer beauty. No gimmicks, no tourists. Just me, my mountain bike and this stark contrasting object connecting the heavens with mankind, deeply rooted in mother earth.
Afterwards I made my way back to the actual turn off I had missed and found myself in a canyon with walls as high as you could see, reaching to the heavens.
I wish I had my Specialized Epic now, but I was to do with a very mediocre mountain bike (read shitty) with wheels barely true. I still had fun!
From the plains of the Atacama I took a three day jeep ride to Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia, one of the largest salt flats in the world. But the highlight was the actual journey. Surrounded by volcanos and casually driving through mountain passes over 16,000 ft and passing turquoise colored lakes, I was in heaven. I will say this over and over again – Bolivia has natural beauty like no other. If you want raw, natural and sometimes stark and savage beauty – Bolivia is the place. It’s my favorite for natural beauty.
One of the highlights was my experience trying to get a Bolivian visa at the Chilean/Bolivian border. We had breakfast by the road amidst trucks and buses because the Chilean patrol were still sleeping. And once at the Bolivian post, I was scrutinized to no end, and my 100 dollar bill returned to me because there was a micrometer tear. Luckily I had another one that passed their incredible microscopic eyes. I also noticed they didn’t read a single line from my application. Bureaucracy at its finest. I think they just enjoy toying with us Yanks 😂.
From Uyuni I was able to fly to La Paz. One of the shortest flights I ever took. La Paz was a changed city. I had been there in 2004 when there was barely anything here. Now it reminded me of Dhaka, not an inch to spare! Commercialization and tourism were in full swing. I just had two nights here and the next day I had arranged to ride “El Camino de la Muerte” (the Death Road). I had done it in 2004 after getting extremely sick on a climbing trip in the Bolivian Andes. I literally forced myself on the bike so I could descend 12,000 ft to the jungles of Coroico so I could feel better with the abundance of oxygen. This time the bike I got was a lot better and the road was more like a gravely fire road because they had built another better highway connecting La Paz and Coroico. The Death Road was used sparsely and by bike outfits and picnickers mainly.
As far as I was concerned it was heaven. Before you had to negotiate cars and buses. And it’s one lane in many places so there is a real danger of a car falling into the abyss. (It was named the Death Road for a reason and was once ranked the World’s Most Dangerous Road)
I descended the 12,000 feet in about 4 hours but with an actual ride time of about 2 hours – the thrill of a lifetime! No cars – hurrah! Falling off a cliff – not an option 😉.
From La Paz I took a bus to Arequipa. I decided to check out the beautiful White City, home of the mummy Juanita who was discovered on Mount Ampato in the Andes mountains of Peru. This garnered a lot of fame because unlike other mummies Juanita was almost perfectly preserved. As gruesome as it may seem, it’s worth a visit to the Museo Santuarios Andinos to see her. One learns a lot about the Inca civilization and their customs.
The other reason for my trip to Arequipa was to hike Colca Canyon. This would be a backpacking trip like no other. I would be descending into a canyon deeper than the Grand Canyon. And spend two nights as I hike through it and on the third day I’d have to climb out. That was daunting. But it was incredible.
With Clever, our Peruvian guide
And I taught an amazing yoga class in the floor of the canyon one day to my teammates and guide Clever.
We were a group of Peruvians, Canadians, a Spaniard, a Dutch and myself. We really bonded and after our hike Jorge and Fionella, the Peruvian couple took us to the Museum of Pisco Sour in Arequipa. Ahemm. It was not a museum at all. Let your imagination go wild. It was that kind of a celebratory night! 😀
From Arequipa I flew to Medellin, Colombia. My whirlwind adventure tour was over. I consider Colombia my second home in Latin America, after Argentina. So adventures awaited, but at a different pace …
See what happens next as the journey continues …