Valle de la Muerte and Valle de la Luna (again!) Atacama

Our final bit of exploring was one of Ben´s favourites.

The first place we visited was the Valle de la Muerte (Valley of the Dead). We were on foot and only explored the first part of the valley because Ben spent so long disappearing from sight up and down all the small canyons he could find.

Tunnels and arches in the salt and clay formations - one of Ben´s favourite places - Valle de la Muerte.

Tunnels and arches in the salt and clay formations – one of Ben´s favourite places – Valle de la Muerte.

The rock felt quite brittle and we could see down through gaps into hidden gulleys below. In some places there were hidden canyons which unfortunately we could´t climb up to safely.

Another tunnel for Ben to explore in - Valle de la Muerte.

Another tunnel for Ben to explore in – Valle de la Muerte.

The colours of the rocks and canyons were amazing although the bright desert sun bleached out a lot of the colour.

We think the main valley was an old riverbed with small gulleys coming off it.

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The patterns and shapes of the rock that had been carved/shaped by the water and wind of the Atacama (it is really windy here!) were fabulous.

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Cool columns like organ pipes made of clay and salt in the  Valle de la Muerte.

Cool columns like organ pipes made of clay and salt in the Valle de la Muerte.

Ben and Finn both loved the exploring and we spent a great afternoon up and down and in and out of gulleys, small canyons, caves and through arches.

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It would have been easy to lose Ben here and perhaps he shouldn´t have gone exploring in his new Argentian football top (it is not quite the same dazzling white anymore)! There was always one more gulley to find and explore and difficult to keep up with such a mountain goat.

This was the one place Ben really wanted to return to but we ran out of time, because firstly we rescued two stranded Brazilians with a broken chain on their mountain bike at the end of the Valle de la Luna and then our car broke down (battery connections shaken off on the bad roads and corroded with all the sand and dust).

What an amazing place to have found, a perfect playground.

Hiking up the gullies in (Death Valley) - Valle de la Muerte..

Hiking up the gullies in (Death Valley) – Valle de la Muerte..

Secondly we took the time to return to the Valle de la Luna as we had wanted to explore the caves there and had not had time before. Going in the middle of the day meant that we were the only people there and again it was a fabulous place to explore.

The caves and tunnels started with quite easy places to walk through. These tunnels were old water channels carved out  a long time ago as an underground stream.

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As we went further the tunnels became smaller and lower and we really needed the torches we had brought.

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Inside the tunnels there were amazing salt crystals and more amazingly carved rocks on the steep sides around us.

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Finn and Ben loved the exploring especially when the tunnels were getting too small for us to follow. In many of the tunnels it was completely dark as we followed the meandering dry streambed under the ground (it was a good thing my camera has a powerful flash as I couldn´t even see what pictures I was taking).

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Finally at the end of all the tunnels when there was nowhere left to crawl we came back out into the sun and hiked back down.

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What fun!

 

 

 

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Meteorite Museum and Astronomy night

We went to look at one of the largest collections of meteorites in the world which was in San Pedro de Atacama in one of the smallest museums and most interesting we have ever visited. The owner who had a collection of over 3000 metoerites was away on holiday but we were lucky enough to meet Steve, his very enthusiastic deputy from Belgium, on our first visit.

The collection of metoerites on display (we didn`t look at all 3000!) was set out in a space dome tent which had amazing state of the art technology to protect the meteorite collection (some of which were priceless rocks from outer space – one had diamonds in it).

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The museum had many beautiful and amazing meteorites. Each display explained the different types of meteorites (where they were from, where they were found, what type they were and why they were of special interest or importance). The whole idea of the museum was also to help our understanding of the geology of our planet and how our (and every other) solar system was created! Simon loved the geology.

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This display shows how when one large metoerite entered the earth´s atmosphere it was broken down into smaller fragments which scattered over several km on the ground. So if you can find one piece there might be lots more scattered around.

What Finn and Ben  enjoyed the most was being able to pick up the really large chunks of meteorite and feel how unbelievalbly heavy they were compared to normal rocks (because the meteorites were full of iron) and they also spent a lot of time sticking magnets to all the rocks too.

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Finn and Ben checking out how heavy the meteorites were.

 

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A slice of Imilac pallasite found by the owner  or the museum

This was one of the most beautiful meteorites, just a normal looking rock until you take a slice and look inside.

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Widmanstätten patterns are only found on meteorites. They are amazingly intricate patterns of lines of long nickel iron crystals and look incredible (too small to see in this picture sorry!)

Steve was just beginning to think that he should run meteorite hunting tours up in the desert which we would have loved to do. Instead we could only follow his wonderful advice and set off out the next day armed with our magnets to go meteorite hunting ourselves. It was great fun looking for any odd-coloured and mis-shapen rocks although as you can guess we only found what Steve called ´meteor-wrongs` (he did say he would have picked them up and checked them himself so we felt quite proud of our efforts). The Atacama is one of the best places to look for meteorites in the world as it has been a desert for so long and has had no rain so the metoerites that fall just lie there!

P1050063 Our meteor-wrongs

Having met Steve we decided to come back the next evening at 10pm and visit him and his museum again on one of his astronomy workshops. We started in the museum again but this time with the resident expert able to explain everything. We learnt so much we just wish we could remember even half of it.

Later we used telescopes with Steve. He had his large telescope for us to look through but also many small beginner scopes that we could share to learn how to use a telescope ourselves. Finn and Ben were amazingly quick to learn and really enjoyed looking for different types of stars (including blue giants), nebulae (where stars are born), stars clustered round a black hole and lots more.

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His enthusiasm was infectious and we loved spending an evening with him and were still looking at stars at 1 am in the morning!

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We finished the night by looking at the craters on the full moon which was amazing (craters caused by meteroite impact).

P1050134 The full moon through Steve´s telescope

It was a fabulous evening and one of our very special memories of the trip.

Tatio Geysers – Geysers del Tatio, San Pedro de Atacama

Another adventure, we are off to the third largest geyser field in the world up in the high plains of northern Chile.

We woke up early at 6am (if we had been on an organised tour we would have been picked up at 4.30 am!!) giving the boys porridge to keep them going. They finished it off in the car on the way there!

The road to the geysers was good to start with, it even had a few signs!

Unfortunately the last two were to Tatio and in different directions! One on a new smooth road made of grit and salt, and the other (the one we took) an older, windy and more rutted road which detoured all over the place through the hills!

As we got closer to Tatio and higher in altitude (over 4000m on the altiplano)  the temperature really dropped. It was -11°C at one point and by 8am when we arrived it was still -5°C.

We saw the steam from the the main geysers of the basin as we arrived. Finn and Ben were so excited, they could not wait to get out of the car!

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It was so cold that ice covered the hot water of a small river, whilst  P1040992 P1040993

fumaroles bubbled and steam and hot jets of water erupted from the geysers.

The best time to visit is early in the morning as the steam from even the smallest fumarole condenses to form beautiful mist in the morning sun (most of this disappears as the temperature rises above freezing).

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This is the main geyser field near to where we first parked (and where all the people were, even though it looks so empty).

 

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At 8 when we arrived, lots of people were taking a dip in the thermal pool, which was OK when they were in the warm water in the pool, but when they got out it was very, very cold still only -5°C. We decided to wait until the crowds from the tour buses had gone and it was slightly warmer!

So we visited the far side of the thermal basin (where very few people went) as there were many more geysers and fumaroles over on this part of the valley and some really active and gushing geysers too, erupting every few minutes.

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Some of the fumaroles had amazing colours around the edges from the minerals, and the micro organisms living there.P1050014 P1050013

The mud pots and fumaroles were also amazing shapes and we wandered around looking at all the different ones we could find.

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It was quite amazing that you could walk anywhere you wanted with steam hissing out of the ground all around us. Finn and Ben even managed to find a huge sheet of ice to slide on between the geysers where the small streams had frozen overnight.

We met a lovely chilean scientist from Santiago University who was studying the geyser field and had her instruments buried in several of the best geysers measuring the temeprature and pressure. She was really interesting to talk to and very enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the area.

Finally we took Finn and Ben to swim in the thermal pools at lunch time when only a few chilean families and one or two other tourists remained.

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Although we made the drive there very difficult (by going on the old road) it was brilliant to have a car and it gave us the time to really explore the area and spend time to see it all at our leisure.

There was lots of wildlife around the geysers. We saw a zorro (small fox) and guanaco (like a skinny llama).

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On the way back we took the right road which was much quicker and just a little easier to drive. There were beautiful lakes and gorges and again lots of wildlife: flamingoes, nandu (small ostrich type bird), and llama.

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And one domesticated llama hitching a ride in a pick up which overtook us.

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And great cactus too!

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What an amazing day.

 

 

The Atacama Altiplano Lakes

Over the course of two days we drove for miles and miles onto the high altiplano (the high plains) above the Salar de Atacama and up amongst the volcanoes.

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An interesting road sign near Socaire on the road to Sico Pass.

An interesting road sign near Socaire on the road to Sico Pass.

The lakes are stunning themselves but the drive up on the dirt roads into the quiet and remote areas of the Atacama were just as amazing.

One of the small villages on the edge of the Salt pan.

One of the small villages on the edge of the Salt pan.

The first two lakes we drove to were far from San Pedro de Atacama where we were staying. We drove alongside the salt plain and then up towards one of the passes into Argentina.

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Very rough track up to Laguna Miscanti & Miniques.

Very rough track up to Laguna Miscanti & Miniques.

The two lakes, Laguna Miscanti and Miniques, were over 4000m above sea level. We arrived late in the afternoon with no one else around. The wind was howling around us and we were surrounded by the peaks of volcanoes.

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Laguna Miniques

Laguna Miniques

Laguna Miscante

Laguna Miscante

Laguna Miscanti with dormant volcano Miscanti.

Laguna Miscanti with dormant volcano Miscanti.

The following day we drove again high onto the Altiplano and saw only three vehicles all day (one of which was a burnt out shell). We did take a few wrong turnings but finally did manage to find our way back to civilisation by the end of the day (which was quite a relief). We have now learnt not to just follow small tracks on the map! (as they are not always passable by car).

Driving into nowehere

Driving into nowhere

One of our adventures ended up at the foot of a Volcano Luscar

One of our adventures ended up at the foot of a Volcano Luscar

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We finally found Laguna Leija, one of the remotest lakes we could go to by ourselves (some parts of the Altiplano are off limits without a guide due to old minefields! on the borders between Chile and Bolivia and Argentina)

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Again surrounded by barren landscapes and volcanoes:

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On the return we passed ruins of Talibre Viejo (old)

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and beautiful desert plants, guanaco (a member of the llama family) and desert gorges.

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P1040970 Another beautiful sunset on our return.

The Atacama Lakes on the Salar de Atacama

We set off driving out over the salt plains today. It is so flat and so far to the other side and you can see for miles and miles.

By chance we turned down a dirt track and found a beautiful salt lake, Laguna Cejar. We arrived in the morning to find a couple of chilean families already enjoying the lake. It is a salt lake in the middle of the salt plains, On one side a steep rocky shelf led into the freezing cold water (even though we were in the middle of a baking hot desert).

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Ben was far braver than any of us or he just didn’t realise quite how cold it would feel as he launched himself into the very salty water.

Ben about to dive into Laguna Cejar (he was first to take the plunge- the water was very cold).

Ben about to dive into Laguna Cejar (he was first to take the plunge- the water was very cold).

Floating in the water was fantastic and Finn and Ben were just amazed by how the incredibly salty water held them up (although Ben wasn’t so happy with the mouthful of water he swallowed).

Floating in the very salty water in Laguna Cejar.

Floating in the very salty water in Laguna Cejar.

All I need is a book or the paper to read!!

All I need is a book or the paper to read!!

We dried so quickly in the hot sun and the desert wind and it left Ben covered in a fine layer of salt.

Salt dried onto Ben´s back after his dip into Laguna Cejar.

Salt dried onto Ben´s back after his dip into Laguna Cejar.

We went looking for the elusive flamingoes on Laguna Tebenquiche but only found a remote, isolated and deserted salt lake.

Salt precipitated to form islands at Laguna Tebiqunche.

Salt precipitated to form islands at Laguna Tebenquiche.

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Sometimes it is the places you only find by chance that lead to some of the best moments of a trip. Floating in a salt lake in the middle of one of the largest salt plains in the world surrounded by volcanoes under a brilliant blue sky was one of these special moments.

Atacama Valle de la Luna

We have hired a car for a week so we can see as much of the Atacama Desert as we can in 7 days in Chile.

The first place we visited was the Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon). An amazing desert and rocky landscape where we spent hours exploring. Going in the middle of the day was like having the place to yourself as the tour buses only arrive much later on. The first place we stopped were the canyons where you are surounded by walls of salt and rock carved into wonderful shapes.

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Finn and Ben found a small sand dune to play on and some amazing rocks. When we realised how much of the rocks around us were made of salt with salt crystals peaking out of the sand and dust, it was quite awe inspiring.

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Further into the valley are the sand dunes and the rocky ridge above them where you can watch the sunset and see the whole of the Salar de Atacama below. We walked along the ridge and sat and watched the amazing views.

Ben walking bare foot up to look out.

Ben walking bare foot up to the look out.

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The Salar de Atacama

The Salar de Atacama 

You are not allowed to walk on this dune so it is pristine and untouched apart from by the wind which whistles here (and blew all the Atacama sand into my camera!)

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Amazing dunes - Valle de la Luna.

Amazing dunes – Valle de la Luna.

The sunset was amazing and as most of the other nights we were in the Atacama were cloudy we were really lucky to have such a beautiful evening and stayed up on the ridge until the park rangers shooed us out as the park was closing for the night.

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We took so many amazing photographs and only have uploaded a few!

Here is our amazing sunset:

Sun set over the Atacama desert.

Sun set over the Atacama desert.

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Sun set over the Atacama desert.

Sun set over the Atacama desert.

Boys checking out sun set Valle de la Luna

Boys checking out sun set Valle de la Luna

It was a wonderful start to a fabulous week exploring this part of northern Chile.

The Santa Cruz Trek

Our final trek and final week in Peru. This time we hired an arreiro and burro (mule driver and mule for the big backpacks).

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We had learnt the hard way trying to trek over 4000m with heavy packs. This was a 4 day hike of over 40km through the mountains of the Cordillera Blanca over our highest pass at 4750m (over 15000 feet) and would be a massive achievement for all of us.

We set out from Cashapampa up a beautiful gorge and hiked all day gently climbing up the valley.

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It was a long and tiring hike in the sunshine, climbing nearly 1000m and walking for 10km (we didn´t get too much more sun after this until the end of the trek!). As we reached the end of the gorge we had the final hot climb up to the campsite for the first night at Llamacorral.

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Finn really enjoyed the map reading on the trail.

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And Ben enjoyed scrambling everywhere he could.

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The second day was a mainly flat valley walk passed beautiful mountain lakes. The plants, waterfalls, and scenery were wonderful if somewhat hidden in the mist and clouds. In the 12km we walked we could occasionally see the snowy peaks above us and glaciers.

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We camped at Taullipampa underneath a mass of peaks covered in glaciers at the head of the valley. We hid in our tent just in time as again it poured with rain all night. We were so pleased we had such  a good tent.

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Even our mule drivers were tired after such a long walk.

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The third day was up to the Punta Union Pass, a climb of 500m to a narrow cutting through the rocks and very steeply down 1000m the other side on wet and precarious slabs of granite.

It was hard work to get to the pass but a real sense of achievement standing up above the clouds. We were very proud of Finn and Ben and they were very proud of themselves. Again we had rain and sleet as we climbed but the views of the glacial lakes and mountains peaking through the clouds were fantastic.

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At the pass we could look back down the valleys and gorges we had hiked up, and over into the valleys below where we still had the remainder of 16km to hike down.

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Punta Union Pass 4750m

  Punta Union Pass 4750m

We walked for hours down into the valley. We passed hikers trekking the other way and were just glad we were on our way down and not going up!

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Despite the clouds and mist the views were still stunning when it occasionally cleared.

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Our final campsite was only a small hike from the end of the trail at Cashinapampa. We met a whole group of children on a day out from the local village school who were very keen to take pictures of themselves with Finn and Ben on their mobiles (quite surreal in rural Peru after days of hiking in the     middle of nowhere).

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Simon cooking porridge for breakfast (again) for us and our mule driver.

In the morning of the final day we again had a beautiful sunrise over the mountains.

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We met some wonderful Quechua women knitting! So Simon bought himself a peruvian hat made from alpaca wool and the boys bought mini hats as souvenirs.

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It was a wonderful walk through rural Peru on the last day through small villages where everyone was welcoming and friendly especially to the boys who they were very impressed by as they didn´t see children hiking.

Next onto adventures in Chile.