In the Spirit of Adventure // Peru into Chile

Cusco and the Sacred Valley had us in her mystical clutch for nearly 6 weeks.

In that time we held a 24 Hour Bazaar, shipped it all out, spent days diagnosing and sorting a mysterious electrical issue with the van, celebrated Emily’s birthday, got rained on a lot, held another 24 Hour Bazaar, shipped it all out, celebrated Thanksgiving, spent days diagnosing and sorting another mysterious van issue, celebrated Adam’s birthday, and worked on a hush-hush project.

It was GOOD to finally be back ‘on the road again’… we blasted Willy Nelson and hit the dusty trail.

We headed south-east toward Lake Titicaca, turning on the small road leading to Canyon de Colca.  A few bumpy hours later the sky illuminated with strikes of lightening and the all-too-close sound of booming thunder.  Heavy blotches of water were hurled at the windshield, whose wipers strained to sufficiently swipe the sheets that coated the glass.  Just a moving tin can in an electrical storm out in the open expanses, we looked at each other and giggled nervously. 

The crazy rainstorm ceased, we sloshed through puddles as the sky changed from heavy grey to a dazzling display of faceted jewel tones.  Rubies and topaz and amethyst and tanzanite set behind mountain peaks glimmered in the thin air.  Looking down at the GPS, the elevation read 16,000. 
We carried down the road hoping the elevation would drop, but dark set and the elevation had been hanging around 15,500 for some time.  Spotting a smaller dirt road off the already small dirt road, we turned right following it a few hundred meters to the edge of a small lake.  The wind bit at the van, gusts seeking any entrance into our considerably warmer abode.  For the first time, we opted to sleep downstairs instead of popping the top. Our canvas tent has great breathability, much enjoyed in humid environs- but here at 15,500- we knew it was going to be a cold night.  Sandwiched between layers of alpaca blankets, we three stayed toasty warm downstairs while watching a movie on the laptop after a simple, warming dinner.

Hola?… hooolaaa?”  Ugh- our least favorite way to awaken, we peered through the pixelated windows trying to get a sense of who was calling to us before presenting ourselves.  The glass was covered in a thin layer of frost, making it impossible to see out.  Adam tried the sliding window, but found that frozen shut; he tried the sliding door, but found that equally frozen.
After about 10 booty-bumps the door finally creaked open.  Off in the distance, a curious alpaca-herder waved and hollered “buenos dias!”  Like pieces of a broken mirror, water around the lakes edge froze into shards.  
These Andean Coots dove into the icy waters, retrieving grass from the mud below, swimming it to their floating islands and placed the fresh reeds on top of the old.  Did perhaps the people of Lake Titicaca see these birds and gain inspiration to build their own floating islands?  Hopping amongst the boulders was the elusive viscacha, a relative to the chinchilla.  These shy rodents reminded us of the springhare, a cool critter we saw in Namibia.  The camel is related to the llama/ alpaca/ vicuna/ guanaco clan, so it seems these critters must have gone down a similar evolutionary path.  So fun to have the dots connect in ones mind! 
This region of the altiplano had the largest herds of alpaca we have yet to see.  Gathered in corals at night, by day the packs of 200-300 camelids graze on the wild grasses.
Camp packed and ready to roll, the van made a pathetic whimper when asked to turn over.  What now?!  Seems the headlights were turned to parking lights, not all the way off- and because the thick layer of mud we saw no illumination break through the dim beacons… the battery slowly drained the whole night, leaving us without enough juice to get going.  We had also used the lights, charged laptops and otherwise used our reserve battery we could’ve jumped the starter battery off of.  Crap.

Adam soon cried “AHA!” and pulled out our Goal Zero Boulder 30 solar panels.  With the charge controller set to the battery, and our high altitude putting us virtually next to the beaming sun- the battery charged in 10 short minutes.  Emily turned the key while Adam looked in the engine compartment and we three let out a happy yelp when the van roared to life.  What a life saver- thanks Goal Zero!

In these southern high plains, we noticed a new style of dress in the local women: the Cusco region knee-length skirts paired with knee socks were replaced with long skirts in the Arequipa and Colca Canyon region.  Hats now have 2 distinct styles: round bowlers with a 3-4″ brim made of white cotton are intricately embroidered in bright primary colors, this style signifies the West region of the canyon region; stiff flat top hats in white flocked velvet ornately covered in lace, plastic flowers and other chachkies are worn by women of the eastern canyon region. 
Vast and open skies carry on and allow the eyes to rest.  The healing and cleansing energy of lands uncluttered is a poultice for the mind.
The clear mark of Inca Empire, who ruled from the early 13th century until the last stronghold fell to Spanish forces in 1572, is terraced into the hillsides.
Camp was made and a quiet night uninterrupted and the temperature of lower altitudes enjoyed. 
Winding about the bumpy dirt roads, we made it to Canyon de Colca- long thought the world’s deepest canyon- but now 2nd in line behind the nearby Cotahuasi.  At a marveling 12,000 + foot drop, the canyon drops away, playing mind games on the scale of things below.  Across the wind filled expanse on the other side, tiny ants moving  prove upon deeper inspection to be farmers plowing a field. 
An elderly Japanese backpacker sat cross-legged upon the rock wall, and as we arrived shook his head “no condor.” 
Birds whirl by, enjoying a variety of hearty foliage along the canyons different climates.  This beautiful hummingbird kept us entertained for the length of our stay at the famed Cruz del Condor overlook
After a patient 45 minutes enjoying our hummingbirds antics of darting to and fro, diving deep into the canyon and putting on an aerial performance fit for Cirque du Soleil, we saw- off in the distance, a soaring Andean Condor.
At first just a silhouette, the bird was soon swooping on the thermal drafts perilously close to the steep canyon walls.  Trailing behind was another condor.  A pair had graced us at their namesake overlook, and the busload of early morning onlookers that shared our view all cheered for them. 
The thing that we keep returning to is how well the rebuilt front end and Fox shocks from GoWesty function in the van.   Just one ride in a Peruvian taxi will illuminate how a road  with crappy shocks really feels.   
In “the White City” of Arequipa, we found a comfortable camp at Hostal Las Mercedes, which hosts overlanders in the colorful gardens and guests in the castle-like main quarters.  
Balancing work and play, we photographed some of the rugs for our online shop in the courtyard.  You can check out our newest selection of Peruvian goods in our SHOP
Carwashes are a rare indulgence, but after three hard days on endless dirt roads, a major undertaking was in order.   Colette and Adam stripped to shorts, pulled out the sponges and went to work.  After a couple rounds, the Westy was once more blue again!   
Recycled green and white soda bottles were transformed into a Christmas tree in the main plaza of Arequipa.  Colette was torn between that and the synthetic bows laden with wrapped presents and giant balls; she rushed back and forth from the two, maniacally screaming “Ahhh! Christmas trees!!! TWO Christmas trees!!”  Giggling and leaping, she kept us and the many onlookers amused. 
Santa appeared later one evening, and Colette rushed to him, her eyes aglow.  Although she looks a bit stunned, it is just from being in the presence of one SO famous.  She was stoked and continued to talk about it for the next two weeks, pleading to look at the picture on Emily’s phone to see “Coco & Santa.”
At camps where overlanders gather, we always meet some cool & interesting folks who are on the road.  Diego left Brazil several months ago and Latetia joined him for a couple weeks for adventuring around in this awesome car.  When we make to Brazil, we are stoked to have some good peeps to call upon.   
The temporary import permit that was so much hassle to put on hold, but well worth the pains, was about to expire for the van.  With 2 days left, we headed south from Arequipa on our final stretch in Peru. 
About an hour outside of the city, we smelled an ominous odor.  When Adam next tried to shift gears, he found out what that smell was… the clutch.  It was toast.  In the barren stretch of the northern Atacama desert from Arequipa into Chile we had a couple hours before Moquegua, the next town.  Praying for no more hills, our solicitations went unanswered as we happened upon another steep pass of highway.  The old motto “if you can’t find it, grind it” really came into play as he forced the van into submission, minimally changing gears only when necessary.  Rallying the options, we decided it was unlikely to roll into a town past 5pm and find a mechanic who could replace the clutch in the next 24 hours.  Possible, but not likely…  and given our expiring import permit for the van, we chose not to chance the probability of Peruvian mechanics taking longer than promised to finish a job.  Possible seizure of the van for staying past your allotted permit was not a risk we were willing to take, so onward with our sights on Chile we rolled. 
Then came a toll.  It was dusk, there were 3 cars in the single file line heading south.  Knowing we couldn’t stop, Adam shouted for Emily to get ready to jump from the slowing vehicle so he could pass thru the open lane for traffic heading the opposite direction.

“Babe, you can’t be serious?”
“It’s the only way!”… Adam rolled thru the toll in the wrong direction- the guards suddenly leaping to their feet from their half reclined plastic chairs waved their arms furiously.
Emily, grabbing her flip flops, shouted “slow down more!”
He threw back “I can’t!”
The van still moving too fast for Emily to leap out in flip flops, opened the door yelling over her shoulder “slow the fuck down!” and waited for the van (in 2nd gear) to chug slower before hopping out of the moving car, Dukes of Hazard style.   She quickly ran to the guards explaining in rudimentary Spanish “The clutch is out, we can’t stop!  Where do I pay?”
They guard, eyeing Emily suspiciously strolled to the toll window, where a sneering lady with painted eyebrows s-l-o-w-l-y accepted the toll and hand wrote a (totally unnecessary) receipt.
Emily jogged back to the van- which Adam now had parked on the shoulder.  Returning Adam sneered “WHAT took you so long?!”
“Well” she snapped back “they weren’t exactly stoked on that maneuver and took their sweet ass time!”
“Great.  Now how do we get going.”
“Fuck if I know.”
Life on the road isn’t all peaches and cream.

Then… thankfully- the “AHA!” moment came.  Many years ago- after a long week of surfing, tequila drinking (which inspired spring break style mechanical bull riding) and general revelry with our dear friends Salman Agah (of LA’s finest pizza PIZZANISTA! and legendary skateboarding icon) and his sister Ameena (cellist, teacher and maker of apothecary goods)- we waited in the impossibly long return line from Mexico back into California at Tijuana, the busiest border in the world.  While inching forward at a snails pace, we were suddenly jerked forward.  Getting out to inspect the damage from the slow-impact fender-bender, the car behind us looked quizzically at us.  There was no signs of impact, the car still quite far behind us.  We can only imagine how thankful the car behind us was that the two stern-faced dudes inspecting and staring suspiciously in their way loaded back in without incident.  Shaking our heads, Adam and Salman reloaded into the van.   Adam tried to restart the van, and soon discovered the clutch was out !  As we were just 1/4 mile back to the US (and AAA would come to our rescue in the states just so short a distance away), Emily climbed into the drivers seat while Adam and Salman clambered out again to push us across the border.  Finally back in the states, we called AAA who loaded the van onto a flatbed trailer (Ameena & Emily shared the scariest ride of their lives in the van atop the flatbed, while Adam & Salman sat up front with the driver).  In San Diego at a high end VW specialist, they informed us it would be $1,300 just to replace the clutch.  Gasping, Adam called our LA mechanic Mauricio who quickly boffed at the price and told Adam how to drive it back to LA without a clutch.

Using that knowledge, Adam put it in first gear with the motor off and turned over the key- the van chugging pathetically forward and finally coughing to life we drove on, forcing it into second then into third without pushing down the clutch pedal.

“Whew” we sighed in unison, and rolled on into the night. 
Peru- you have been great.  Below, the highlighted route of our entire time in Peru- over 5 and a half months all together!   At the border of Peru, we checked out both the van and ourselves, explaining to the inspectors why we parked so far away… again at the border into Chile, the same deal… after a bit of explaining and special exceptions, we made it safely to Arica where we had been 5 months earlier. 
Adam’s rocking the Poler Excursion pack and Raen optics.
After waiting for the first mechanic for a few days, to return to do the work as promised- we sorted out another mechanic who towed the van on a flatbed to their shop, where they pulled out the old clutch.  The mechanics jaws dropped when they saw how dusted the old clutch was.  We carried a spare clutch kit from GoWesty so no need to hunt around for one!
One day at a local surf break, we met a friendly Chileno who lives in Biarritz, France.  He was heading over to his childhood friends house for a beer & invited us to join them.  

His friend, who we will call ‘Tiburon’, helped to build and was a crew member of the Expedition Mata Rangi II, that sailed from Arica, Chile to the Marquesas- a 5,000 mile open water journey on the totora reed boat in 1999.  
He lives across from a beach-break and spends as much time as possible in the water, when not ‘recycling’ anything of interest he passes.  

He has developed an ingenious and unforgettable method of clearing the crowds from the water on busy days… he simply suits up, and puts on his fiberglass shark mask which has a snorkel inside.   Tiburon gladly suited up to put on a quick performance (which left Colette in tears after she was snatched by the crazy guy). 
Colette loves to hike and climb… to be back in warm weather is a dream and we are relishing the barefoot afternoons. Can’t believe this little munchkin is almost 3!  
Back in LA, Adam used to take Colette on surf trips with the crew… the guys would take turns watching Coco so Adam could get in the water too.  Uncle Salman taught her to put her ‘toes on the nose’ and when she sat on the board here in Chile, so many thousands of miles away- our tribe is right here with us.  We love & miss you all! 
Some local surfers scored this radical VW conversion van a while back when a European traveler needed to sell it off.
The discreet Museo Arqueologico San Miguel de Azapa, just 20 minutes from Arica, houses the oldest mummies in the world.   Some 2,000 years before the Egyptians were preserving their dead- nearly 6,000 years ago!
Ceremonial turbans and headdresses displayed were stunning.
This infant mask and headdress was exquisitely made, but super creepy.
Guardian to the city, which was part of Peru prior to the War of the Pacific in 1879-1883, is Cristo del Morro del Arica.
Christmas-time was upon us… the time of year hardest to be so far away from family & friends.  The time of year usually spent in the kitchen preparing elaborate meals, then pulled up around the table playing games late into the night, the sound of laughter filling heart and soul.  It is hard to be away, but it is what we have chosen, this magical, wandering life on the road.  The greatest  gift we have to be with our daughter every day.  
In true Brandle family tradition (Emily’s maiden name), she made Christmas breakfast of Eggs Benedict.  Emily had attempted this 10 years earlier… an attempt that was thus referred to as “burnt sour butter glop.”  It all came together delightfully- neither burnt nor sour, but rich and velvety smooth with a perfect lemony kick.  We soon after went to the beach for a perfect day spent swimming & surfing, Colette rejoicing in her new sand toys that Santa brought.  Watching large Hitchcock-ian flocks of birds pass by, we departed shortly before the sun lazily set around 8:30pm.  Returning to camp for a late dinner of lasagna, garlic bread & grilled broccoli, sun drenched and salty we three smiled broadly, rejoicing our simple day.  Friends & family, you were all missed and in our hearts the day through.
Meet Susan from Germany.  She bought her BMW motorbike new 25 years ago. She has always had a dream to ride from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego.  Her husband didn’t share that dream so she’s doing it solo!  Yup, a total badass!
Perhaps one day Colette will embark on a grand voyage of her own.
After 2 months away from the ocean, the reunion of Adam and the ocean was joyous.  He slipped into his Matuse 2mm Full John wetsuit and paddled out on one of the boards he made in Los Angeles before departure.  Matuse wetsuits are the easiest in-and-out experience he has ever had with a wetsuit, provide the best movement and flexibility while in the water, have an amazingly short dry time (so it isn’t soggy for dawn patrol after a sunset session) AND is good for our mother earth- made from Geoprene, a limestone based material,not petroleum like traditional wetsuits!   Super stoked, thanks Matuse!
Colette is happy to suit-up for a swim with Papa!  Although she is an Aquarius- an air sign- it is the water bearer… and she does love the water- even when its cold!
Eugene has been overlanding  South America in his Land Rover Defender since departing Germany 9 years ago. 
An hour down the coast is secluded Caleta Vitor– a gorgeous expanse that inspires sunset kisses.
With the Light-a-Life lights from Goal Zero, our home space doubles at night.  These led lights illuminate with a nice white light (no weird blue shades) that distribute evenly (unlike most camp lanterns) all while being green.
When camping in the wilds for more than a day or so, we set up our solar panels to keep our casa rodante fully functional. Chaining the 4 panels together, we harness the sun and can keep the fridge cold, laptops charged, and music playing indefinitely! 
Chores are chores and must be attended to- this looked like the perfect spot to do some mending.
Go ahead and make some “No-bake Nachos”… super simple & they are delicious!
tortilla chips
beans (refried used- but whole pinto, black or canellini would work well too)
thin slices raw zucchini
chopped tomato
chunks of avocado
shredded cheese (we shredded a local goat cheese)
salsa & hot sauce
On the winding canyon out of the Caleta, tomatoes miraculously grow in the desert. 
Next stop was Pisagua- a port town most known for a mass grave discovered during the brutal reign of General Pinochet who ruled by military junta from 1973- 1990.  This sleepy towns name translates to “pisswater” was so called because of nitric acid contamination in the water from the nitrate boom.   
American Oystercatcher peruse the beach for invertebrates to eat.   These striking birds are found along the Atlantic from the New England to northern Florida, Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina; along the Pacific they occupy California, Mexico, Central America, Peru & down to here in Chile.
A morning bath.
Jellyfish are aptly called medusas in Spanish.  Gotta keep your eyes peeled in the water- tons of these stingers floating along this stretch of coast.  Adam got stung four times so far while surfing.
Once a thriving town with grand buildings, it is now a skeleton of its former self.  

Nowadays, Pisagaua is a fishing village
Concentration camp is not such a pleasant reality.  Pisagua has been used as such for political prisoners three times- in the 20’s for male homosexuals under the rule of Carlos Ibáñez del Campo, Gabriel González Videla locked up communists, anarchists and revolutionaries in the 40’s and Augusto Pinochet tortured, imprisoned and killed thousands of left-wing militants in the 70’s and 80’s.  Here, a graveyard made in the place one mass grave was discovered during Pinochet’s rule.
Desert on one side and ocean on the other, this isolated community was exploited because of this.
From what we have heard, Chile is like 3 separate countries- the wild and dry north, Santiago and surrounds, and the wild and wet south.  
El Gigante de Atacama is the largest anthropomorphic geoglyph (a design produced on the ground using rocks representing a human) in the world, measuring 390 feet!  Depending on their alignment with the moon, the points on the top and side of the head indicated what season it was.  In the barren Atacama,  planting according to when the rainy season would come was vital information!
Like a mirage rising from the desert, the city of Iquique so rises behind a towering sand dune kissing the Pacific.
In the full swing of summer, a lifesaver-like assortment of umbrellas dot one of the many sandy stretches in this beach-rich town.  
We free-camped in a lot along Playa Brava, where several other international and  local vehicle-dwellers also posted up.  One neighbor gave Colette this super-sized treat.  At first she was very excited to hold the pretty pinwheel, but when we told her it was a giant lollipop- her eyes nearly busted out of her head!
As 2013 came to a close, we reminisced of our wondrous year.  Last New Years was welcomed in Costa Rica with Emily’s parents, brother and his girlfriend.  Already a year has transpired!  We continued south into Panama, shipped to Colombia, celebrated Colette’s 2nd birthday while awaiting the arrival of the van, and began a new chapter of Our Open Road with the arrival of our Westy and our next leg of adventure in South America.  Traversing south through Colombia’s rich country, our hearts were captured.  We crossed into Ecuador, where we slowed our previous pace, launching 24 Hour Bazaar and new means to fund our travels.  In Peru, we discovered our 3 month visa quickly expired and bounced into Chile for a 2 week border hop.  Back in Peru we left the van in Lima for our 2 month journey back stateside.  The last half of August was magically spent on the Big Island of Hawaii with family.  All of September whirled by as we hopped to many corners of California soaking up time with friends and family.  We returned recharged for more.  October brought us back to South America, where we spent 2 more months in Peru before departing south to Chile to celebrate Christmas and the New Year…
Thank you 2013!
Welcome 2014!
Cheers to 2014 and a new haircut for Emily from Adam!
Our new friend, El Pata- aka Luis, has been playing the harmonica since he was 7.  When he started blowing, Colette had to get hers to join in for a duet! 
… and so New Years was welcomed in with fireworks, a new friend in a new place. 
Just outside of town, we finally found the local break where Adam gladly paddled out for hours of fun.  
After digging in the sand, sleeping beauty nodded off as Mama brushed her hair.
There are some days when the simple force of our family- together on the road- is overwhelming to our own minds.  We look at each other and nod knowingly of our infinite good fortune to be in the present, toothy grins splitting our faces into marionette caricatures of our normal selves. 
Wake to the sound of waves, climb downstairs, make breakfast- granola with yogurt and fresh fruit, brush teeth and get dressed, apply sunscreen and transport sand toys to beach, wash dishes, and so on… A great bounty of joy is stored in our hearts & seared into our minds.  This simple life we are overjoyed to have, we lament how many people chase false hopes.  True happiness is not attained by a new car, or a bigger television, but by having time to address yourself, listen to your self doubts and work on them, learning to dull the noise of modern life’s distractions- constantly checking statuses and likes, emails and voicemails- in lieu of having a real conversation with a loved one unaltered by contraptions which connect you to strangers and high school acquaintances.

Don’t get us wrong- modern technology is a wonderful thing- but having time away from it- is necessary, it is good for you, it is good for your soul.  Try it!  Just turn off the phone and go for a walk with your bestie, or a hike with your brother, or a long chat with your mom.  Don’t turn it on the moment you ‘finish’ with your scheduled time away from it.  Keep it off for an afternoon, or a day, or go camping out of range for a restorative weekend.  You will find that the pressing matters are not always so pressing. Perhaps you will discover a different quiet in your own mind, this media age spins faster and faster while the earth still spins the same.  Slow yourself down.  Enjoy the present.
Adam advancing the sport of surfing- ha ha!   Stung by jellyfish 4 times and with a foot full of sea urchin spikes, he still can’t be kept from the water!  Again we departed the sea, heading inland towards the oasis of San Pedro de Atacama.  Our first night in the area, we camped along the ridge of Valle de la Luna, Valley of the Moon.
The stunning stone and sand landscapes formed over millennia by wind and water.  It is said that areas of the valley have not received a single drop of rain for hundreds of years.
We thought is quite curious that a space man should appear that very night!
There was also a wiggly tiny space being that radiated great love & joy!
The morning revealed itself as dramatic as nightfall.  
Inside the chapel of San Pedro de Atacama, algarrobo (carob) and cardón (cactus) beams sit atop the adobe walls built during Spanish colonial rule.
Inside the Gustavo Le Paige museum, a beautifully preserved room holds relics of the Belgian Jesuit monks diverse interests.  He preserved over 380,000 pre-colombian artifacts of the  Atacameño people, many of which were displayed in the interesting museum.
Valle de Jere holds ancient stone houses overlooking a lush stream.  The stream is diverted into ancient causeways which water individually farmed plots which grow roses, figs, wild pears, quince, grapes- all quite a surprise to see in the seemingly barren lands. 
Near the end of the valley was a swimming hole which Colette without hesitation jumped into for a mid-day cool off.

Between the town of Toconao and the valley stood the sheer walls of a working quarry.  
We headed into the Salar de Atacama, which float on forever, mimicking the clouds in an endless sea of dappled white.
 The Los Flamencos National Reserve is home to more than just its namesake.  Endemic to the Salar de Atacama is this guy- the Saltflat Lizard, Liolaemus fabiani.  Our subject seemed to be in a post-food coma, his belly swollen from feasting on the bugs that buzz about the salt shores.  
James’s flamingoes are identifiable by their orange legs and red, yellow and black bills.  Their world population is estimated at 100,000 avians, the 2nd lowest population of the 6 varieties.  
The Andean avocet is easily identified by the upturned bill; a non-migratory bird, they prefer the altiplano around this region.
The petite Puna plover is yet another of the many birds that call the saline marshes of the Salar de Atacama home.
The sun set late.  We drove into the picturesque stretch, feeling blessed to have seen so many beautiful creatures without fence or rail to contain their movements , enjoying their natural habitat as they have for eons.  
En route from the Salar de Atacama to El Tatio Geysers the van crapped out whilst climbing to the 14,000 foot fields. Adam strapped on his headlamp and investigated.  We slept roadside and at daybreak he continued his engine-jockeying. 
A vast remoteness on the border of Bolivia, this area is ringed by many volcanoes that top 20,000 feet.   Shimmering in the intensity of midday shone a body of water on the horizon.  Dappled with grasses, vicuña grazed as did birds upon the water.  
Teenage hormones came to a head as a pair of young vicuña battle on the rocky plains.  For 15 minutes we, entranced, watched them thrash their necks into each other, kicking their viciously while turning circles towards their opponents head.  One would run off, the other following suit while striving to biting his enemies butt, the lead runner bucking about wildly.   It was a true and wild scene to witness; our former assumptions of the docility of these doe-eyed camelids swept away in the dust they wound up.   
Nesting birds are not to be reckoned with- just check out the crazy look in the eyes of this Andean Gull!This alpine lake had a bounty of biodiversity!  Andean Goose nested along the lake.
No, you are not tripping- these ducks really do have red eyes & blue beaks!

Colette takes her job helping daddy drive on dirt roads very seriously.  
Somewhere above 14,000 feet we made it to the El Tatio Geyser field, the highest in the world and among the largest. The variety of boiling, gurgling, smelching, burbling, bubbling, spitting and hissing pools, fissures and geysers that dot the altiplano is truly stunning.  Some boil grey-black mud, others form salt crystal formations like miniature ice castles, some pools lay flat with rainbow rims.  
Surely this mud is marvelous for facials, but it was a bit too hot to collect.
After exploring the area in the late afternoon light, we slipped into the natural hot springs fit for a dip.  It was glorious! 

 A small hole boiled over into the pool, the sandy bottom would fluctuate from hot to cool as thermal jets flowed upward.  On the far end the water was tepid, thought the wind freezing, and grass grew from the bottom.

This little one is SO thankful for the beautiful day!
Familiar and altogether out of place, the alarm sounded at 5:30 am.  We zipped the window open and peered into the distance, a faint outline of the mighty mountains slowly coming to light.  Down we climbed, into layers of warm clothes and out into the frosty morning air.  Sunrise is the most popular time at El Tatio Geysers, as the cold morning air interacts with the vapor from the vents creating the most dynamic displays of steam.  Tourists by the bus load leave from San Pedro de Atacama at 4am to arrive here for sunrise at 6.
This culpeo, Andean Fox, appeared on the horizon.  We quickly pulled over, fumbling for the camera… thankfully the fuzzy friend was curious about us and posed for a few shots.  What a stunning gift to sight this majestic little fella!
Out of the mountains and back at the beach, the air was thick and deliciously warm.
When a sandy beach is not available, make your own pool! 
Its amazing how many waves are on this long stretch of remote coast,  Adam surfs much of the time with no one else out.Emily has been making some free-style hippy pancakes lately… this version was especially tasty!  Whole wheat, barley, maca and flax flours, oatmeal, dried coconut, cinnamon, egg and peach juice make the batter.  Chia seeds, slivered almonds and peach juice soaked overnight made the ‘syrup’, mixed with some raspberry jam to sweetness in the morning provided a healthy, energy packed meal.
It seems Chile is safe from the Fukushima radiation for now… 
A curious sea lion checks out a curious Coco from the Taltal pier.
Pan de Azucar, Sugarloaf, National Park was beautiful… but just smelled expensive… the campsites were $30 PER person + entrance fee + the boat ride out to the island.  We drove thru and slipped out unnoticed the other side, continuing to calmer waters.
Chile is the only first world nation in South America.  After so long in developing and 3rd world nations, we appreciate having toilet paper in public bathrooms, windshield squeegees at the gas station, and an overall sense of security and tranquility.  (We have also noticed teenage punks and a much larger overweight population.)  This status is also clearest in the grocery stores… the wide aisles open up with 15 types of granola, 4 brands of whole wheat bread and imported cheeses from the States and Europe- and not just in the capital- this is most towns!  Lacking, however, is organic options, but hey- I will still gladly take tahini when I can find it even if it isn’t organic!

This tasty salad was arugula(!), oranges, porotos white beans, heart of palm & red bell pepper in a lemon/tahini/olive oil dressing topped with avocado and beets.  
Here we found 2 great waves(a left and a right), a chill beach and a perfect camp spot.
A young family walked towards us, their daughter about Colette’s age curiously eyeing her pool…  Us four adults were soon hanging and the two girls were giggling and splashing in the pool.  Pedro, the local family doctor, and Adam paddled out for an evening surf, while Barbara & Emily chatted and watched Colette & Trinidad play.  The guys finally emerged from the water after sunset- at 9pm!
The next afternoon we accepted the invite to join Barbara & Pedro’s friends for an afternoon cook-out.  It seems we discovered a little paradise in the middle of nowhere.  The land is homesteaded… thats right, free for the taking… and everyone built their surf-chic abodes with no permits necessary.  Running solar power and boasting water towers for daily use these eco-cabinas are completely off the grid.

It was a gorgeous day spent with cool folks who have traded the hustle of city life for a mellow pace on the ocean.  A day with these good folks was very welcome and totally inspiring.
Trini, Pedro & Barbara! 
Alvarro & Augustina moved here from Santiago 3 years ago.  Alvaro is here full-time, while Augustina continues to freelance as a fashion designer part time in Santiago.  Augustina’s sister Catalina moved up a year and a half ago with her boyfriend Arturo.
Until next time amigas! 
Down the coast we headed, hearts full. 
… and then, the van was acting up again… the starter went out & would only start by jumpstarting it downhill from 2nd gear.  As we drove towards the closest town to address the issue, the motor died.  We flagged down a passer-by, as there was no hill to try to jumpstart, but as they pulled us- the van would not start and mad a horrible grinding noise.  Tied to the good samaritan, we were towed the 15 miles to the town of Vallenar.  
The mechanic in Vallenar fixed the starter, but when we tried to start the van- it was clear our suspicions of a bigger problem were real.  All (as in the two) mechanics in the town were unfamiliar with Subaru motors and honestly recommended we head to La Serena- 3 hours away.

Loaded on a flatbed tow truck, we watched movies in the van on the 3 hour ride to La Serena.  We arrived at a mechanic that the tow-truck drivers friend knew.  Outside was a Subaru logo on the sign, which was a great relief.  Gabrael, the owner, said we could camp in the yard, use the bathroom and (cold only) shower, and there is even wifi.

All 4 cylinders had really bad compression and drastic measures had to be taken.  Considering the used engine had 244K (information we learned after the motor was blown) on it when purchased almost 3 years ago for only $400 bucks- it did pretty good to get us so far.

So we end this post as we sit and wait.  Engine pulled apart into pieces & fingers crossed.