Northern Chile, Bolivia and Peru

Post our Raleigh adventures in Patagonia  many of us descended beer hungry on Santiago de Chile. After five days refuelling Al, Jake, Lucy and I left with a vague notion of heading north and going horse riding. Via Valparasio and Vina Del Mar we arrived in the Atacama Desert in Northern Chile where Al sadly had to go home (to the Bahamas mind you!). And so the three remaining amigos travelled over the border and up onto the Altiplano in Bolivia.

cycling in the Atacama desert Laguna Verde, Bolivia Salar de Uyuni, BoliviaBeginning in Santiago we first headed west to the coast of Chile and Valparaiso and Vina del Mar. Then an incredibly long bus ride took us up into the north of Chile and the Atacama desert, the Valley of the moon and the Valley of Death where rather appropriately we went sand boarding!

From San Pedro de Atacama a three day jeep trip took over the border into Bolivia, up to heights of 4900m (worst headache in the world), past Laguna Verde, Laguna Blanca, Laguna Colorada and hundreds of flamingos. Past geysers, llamas and thermal pools we drove across the Salar de Uyuni before arriving in Uyuni itself. From here we travelled north to Potosi, the world’s highest city and once one of the richest in the world due to the minerals mined from the Cerro Richo.

From here it was on to La Paz and, after much shopping and food poisoning, up to Copocabana on Lake Titcaca. We visited the beautiful inca islands, Isla del Sol and Isla de la Luna before travelling to the Peruvian side of the lake. Here from the town of Puno we visited the floating islands of totora reeds, Isla Floatantes, and the Chullpas (funerary towers) at Sillustani.

Jake and Lucy in Lapaz, Bolivia floating islands on Lake Titicaca Machu Pichu Colca Caynon, PeruAfter Puno a big mean purple bus took us to Cuzco the ancient Inca city and Spanish stronghold in Peru. We rode horses around the inca ruins above the town then embarked on the four day Camino Inca (Inca trail). From Km82 winding up to Dead Woman’s Pass at 4200m down to the Inca city of Machu Picchu.

After Cuzco we travelled south to the white city of Arequipa. Jake and Lucy left to return to Santiago and I departed up the coast to visit Pisco, Isla Ballestas and the Paracas Peninsula. I returned to Arequipa to go white water rafting and travel down into Colca Canyon north of the city. After this it was a very long and tiring bus ride via Tacna and Arica back to Santiago.

Alpha dos and the wilds of Patagonia

Alpha dos and the Chilean flagThe NefA2 climbing waterfallsSi, Lucy and I at the glacierMy reasons for signing up to Raleigh International are still a mystery to me. Before this expedition my entire experience of camping was sleeping in my tent in the back garden with duvet and cuddly toys as a 9 year old or a not particularly taxing two days walking and camping around the Surrey Hampshire dog-walking countryside for my Bronze Duke of Edinburgh. What convinced me that jumping from this straight to trekking up glacial valleys in Patagonian autumn time carrying 20kg, digging long drops, with only ponchos for shelter hundreds of kilometres from civilisation is, as I said, a mystery. Sign up I did and despite the tears, frozen underwear, blisters, earwigs in my ears, bleach-cracked fingers, hammer bruised thumbs, incessant farting and total lack of fresh food for 3 months it was undoubtedly one of the most amazing experiences of my life.

our mini mountain in the Nef

Things I learnt on Raleigh…

  1. How to body surf down rapids
  2. How to climb up waterfalls and rivers in your underwear
  3. How to make alpha bites
  4. How to start a fire with shoe polish
  5. How to dig the ultimate long drop
  6. Always hoard toilet paper, as the group will always run out
  7. Never refuse food – you can use it as a valuable bargaining tool
  8. How an abattoir smells after several cows have been killed in it
  9. How to build a basic football stadium
  10. How to creosote logs
  11. How to use a hammer and nails
  12. How to kill a sheep
  13. That whatever happens keep your sleeping bag dry
  14. That if you’ve been in the water then technically you’re clean
  15. The clothes you were wearing in the water are also technically clean
  16. If they won’t dry don’t wash them
  17. That the G.O.P.E. (Chilean mountain rescue police)  rule
  18. That you can carry more than you think
  19. How to cover blisters
  20. How to stay dry in the rain with a log, a poncho and some tent pegs
  21. That you can see by starlight
  22. That Glacial lakes are bloody freezing!
  23. How to avoid your underwear freezing as it dries overnight

Alpha dos in the Nef Valley

glaciergorge jumpingMy first phase was trekking up the stunning beautiful and very remote Nef valley in the wonderful company of the 16 that will forever be alpha dos. We invented the unparalleled alpha bites through a secret combination of porridge oats, mars bars, snickers, Milo, manjar & sugar! We climbed waterfalls, got woken up by Lucy getting scared by wild horses in the middle of the night, got rained on, bathed in rivers, jumped of bridges, body-surfed down rapids, climbed over rocks, dug long drops, built shelters with our ponchos, ran out of loo roll, ate peanut butter and sardines on biscuits brown, huddled round the camp fire doing ‘high point and low point’ of the day with Daddy Paul, got chased by horse flies, looked after Chunk and his broken ankle, nearly ran out of food, got saved by the GOPE, reached the glacier, ate Belgian chocolate spread on the terminal moraine, bathed in icy waters, helped to kill a sheep and all made it back in one piece…except for maybe Ben’s Dad’s shorts which I totally ripped whilst bending over!

Banging nails and avoiding floods in Villa O’Higgins

lago-higgins-stadiumlagohigginslago-higgins-boyslago-higgins-slaughterVilla O’Higgins, a small hamlet of 500 people on the border with Argentina where a group of us attempted to build a third of a wooden football stadium and teach English classes to the population. We watched a rodeo, perfected our card playing skills, banged nails, dug holes, creosoted tree trunks, tried to build a shower in the camp, chopped down a tree (ssssshhhhh!!!!!), concocted culinary delights, heralded the weekly place that brought mail, got rained on, flooded out and took refuge in the town abattoir shed for a week. We stopped our midday photo shoots in the abattoir after the weekly slaughter started to make the place smell a little too strongly of blood!

Searching for the elusive Huemul in Tamango

Huemul deerIn Tamango with the radioTamango dinnerVisitor centre, TamanoMy final phase was in the national park of Tamango in what passes for a luxury campsite on Raleigh. We had a sheltered area with a long dining table, benches, a rack for our mess tins, two gas burners under shelter and a fridge. Okay, I’m lying about the fridge, it was a big plastic tub we kept submerged in the cold river. It worked pretty well as a fridge. We spent our days doing some serious building work constructing a visitor’s centre for the park, curved walls, zig zag walls, a roof and all. When we weren’t doing that we were trekking deep into the park with large radio antennas looking for tagged Huemul deer, an endangered species of deer found only around Chile and Argentina in Patagonia. Hard to find and once you find them, hard to spot!