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New Zealand

New Zealand. Perhaps the most eagerly anticipated destination for Olleydays, started in difficult circumstances, almost bittersweet.

The kerfuffle started with leaving South America. There is one flight daily from Santiago de Chile to Auckland at about 9 o’clock in the evening. We arrived at the airport only to be told our flight had flown the previous day, despite all our paperwork suggesting we had arrived for the correct flight. We were advised we wouldn’t be able to get out of Santiago unless there were cancellations for the next flight and that was highly unlikely and required us to hang around at the airport all evening until check-in close. Further investigation, by the very helpful staff at the airport, highlighted some odd activity on our ticket showing multiple bookings for previous flights over the prior week. Some sort of monumental cock-up by the people who booked our tickets! The airport staff even recognised our name from several apparent no shows that we knew nothing about! We waited and sure enough, were unable to fly.

Fury didn’t even quite cut it. Not only had someone messed up our booking, but we had to venture back one hour into Santiago. We lugged our entire lives back with us into the city which was no mean feat and fortunately our hostal room was still free. Multiple emails and skypes were had to try and ascertain what had happened and to alert our camper van rental company that we would be late, how late we weren’t sure but that we still wanted the rental. We were feeling pretty annoyed that our hotly anticipated trip to NZ was going to be reduced by a day. We were advised to try again the following day and we reluctantly agreed having been told that the flight was fully booked already by airport staff.

We set off for the airport again with an air of resignation, expecting not to be able to fly, the promise of a complementary stay at a nearby hotel the only silver lining to us.

Same story, different day. Hours of hanging around to no avail. Instead of travelling back to our hostal to potentially be disappointed and traipse around Santiago at midnight looking for somewhere to stay, we checked into the nearby Hilton, courtesy of the company who managed to mess up our tickets. This time, we were told it was looking good availability wise for the next flight so we enjoyed a day at the pool and the luxury of a hotel room. We had made contact with our van rental company, Jucy, and  advised that we hoped to arrive the following day, hopeful that they would be lenient with no arrival fees.

After a quite restful day in the hotel, we spent another evening waiting around at the airport until the end of check in. This time, there were two spots available! However, there were three of us on the waiting list. Seeing as the guy ahead of us had been waiting a day longer, we decided to let him go, leaving only one seat and two of us. Surely this good karma would pay off eventually? Back to the Hilton, it could’ve been worse.

The following day started with more contact with our agents and this time they rang our hotel room to confirm we were leaving South America at last that evening! Although not to Auckland as planned, but Sydney with a tight changeover for Auckland. We contacted Jucy again to keep them up to date and confirmed we hoped to be there the following day, again. Now 3 days out of our 4 weeks of scheduled NZ time.

We’d left South America, finally! Our plane was a little delayed leaving but I felt sure we’d make it up, and some, and be able to catch the flight to Auckland.

We didn’t make it up. In fact it was even slower and we were alerted mid-flight that we wouldn’t make the transfer. In fairness, we were told we’d be put up in a hotel in preperation for the following flight the next day at 7am, but this doesn’t make up for the further day eaten away from our NZ trip. I wondered how much Jucy would expect us to pay of our missed rental as it was starting to get embarrassing. It started to feel like a higher being did not want us to visit New Zealand!

Jucy, our camper van hire company, could not have been any better. Prior to our delayed arrival, they were very aware of our strict budget and did everything they could to lower the overall cost of the hire and even threw in the use of a gps device and free second driver cover so that we could both take the wheel whilst in New Zealand. Despite our numerous delayed arrivals, they also didn’t charge us for missed days. Service like this just doesn’t happen in England.

The more we travel, the more we’ve begun to realise how miserable and unhelpful people are (generally) in England. Customer service and even a willingness to help strangers in need seems to be dying out. Everywhere we’ve been so far, people go out of their way to ensure that customers, or even strangers like us have a pleasant experience with their company or country. Regardless of if it’s looking for certain items in a supermarket, trying to arrange alternate travel for missed busses or errors with paperwork that leave us stranded, we have been dealt with in a very professional, respectful and hospitable manner. Thinking to times where these sorts of things have occurred to us in England, I’m sure some of you are familiar with the shrug of the shoulders and the ‘not my problem’ response. Frankly, it’s quite embarrassing and is something that we should  be ashamed of; one aspect of life at home that I’m not looking forward to returning to. Do some people not realise that this can result in further business and positive attitudes towards a company and even a whole nation of people? It really doesn’t cost anything and, contrary to some belief, IS a part of your job.
It was this ‘can do’ attitude that made Jucy appealing to us as we were recommended to them by some fellow travellers as being particularly helpful. As a result, we’ve recommended Jucy to numerous other people, some of whom have made bookings. I couldn’t recommend them any more highly. If you are ever in NZ or Aus, just book with them. You shan’t be disappointed. If you are, then I will shoulder some of the blame.
Rather than give you a written rundown of everything we
did, I’ll leave it to the pictures to do the talking for us.
Here’s the route:
north
mid
south
Simply put: the most breath-takingly stunning place that I have ever seen, and possibly ever will get the opportunity to. Here’s the gallery and the photos in no particular order

 

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4 Days of Salt

Far from being as boring as it sounds, The Salt Flats in Bolivia were actually one of the most astoundingly beautiful places we’d been so far. The thought of a 4 day tour consisting entirely of salt might, for want of a better phrase, be slightly unsavoury for some, but the 4 day salt flat tour is somewhat misleading, but in a good way. The salt flat part of the tour only takes about half a day, but that is not until you visit the train cemetery.

An excuse to spin some money from some abandoned and rusted machinery. Or a way to fill some time. Either way, what was moderately interesting, was that the coal powered steam trains were purchased from England to move minerals across South America. The coal powered trains, it transpired, were consuming vast quantities of expensive coal. They then realized that coal was not a commodity they had in that region and the poor old steam trains were laid to rest in place of their more economically sound diesel relative. But they did make them into a playground; so it’s all swings and roundabouts.

Then on to the real reason we were doing the trip; the salt.
The salt flats of Uyuni, or Salar de Uyuni as they are known locally, are an incredible expanse of totally flat and arid land that stretch for a mind boggling distance. It seems that no one really knows how they came to pass but it is thought to have been the result of the fault lines and frequent plate movement that lifted a large sea above sea level. This eventually dried depositing metres and metres worth of salt and a perfectly flat landscape. The shift in height or the extent of the land undulation is said to be under a metre across an expanse of over 4000 square miles.
What is agreed however, is that they are a great source of salt and a worthy venue for tourists to visit and try to comprehend these sorts of distances. And to take some pictures.

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Salt collected in piles for ease of transportation.

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A short drive across the monotonous landscape and you arrive at the cactus island. It sticks out like a sore thumb, absolutely nothing for miles and all of a sudden, the most dense array of cactus, clustered into a relatively confined space. Some of the Cacti are said to be over 1000 years old. Bizarre.

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Later that day we headed across the reams of salt to experiment with some perspective shots and to enjoy the sunset. These are not as easy to make convincing as it might seem, so short of embarrassing myself with something that would be more at home in a poorly funded 1950’s film, here are some of us utilizing the dimming light conditions around sunset and showing off the unique patterns that salt often makes on the surface.

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After a cold night in the remotest of villages, we set off to discover what else the region had to offer. It didnt disappoint. Prepare your eyes for stunning vistas a plenty. Panoramic shots seem to be a relatively good way of demonstrating the colossal distances and mountains that we experienced that day. Definitely worth clicking these images to get a full screen appreciation.

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Panorama complete with our transport.

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One of the most incredibly coloured mountains, no idea what it’s called or where it is. Our driver’s English was absent. As was my Spanish.

Day three was my favourite day. Flamingos, a red lake and star gazing whilst basking in natural thermal pools after a steak dinner.

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The Burgundy character of Laguna Colorada (coloured Lake) is caused by, I think, algae that lives in the water. It is only red for a short period of the day when the algae are feeding from the sun.

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Look closely – Pink Flamingos!

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The extreme right of the image shows the changing rooms and thermal pools. This was sunset, just before our dinner. We didn’t enter the pools until it was about 9pm, pitch black and about 3 degrees!

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There are flamingos here too!

The fourth and final day consisted mainly of a visit to the windiest place I’ve ever been, apart from Brighton on James Toner’s stag do. Actually, this may have been worse. Laguna Verde, or Green Lake; the highlight. You’ll see why…

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Simply stunning. So remote.  An incredible part of our planet. Not just for landscapes, but wildlife too.

If you are going to South America, make sure this is part of your trip. It is just remarkable.

Next post: Wining and Biking around Mendoza, Argentina and the Marlborough region of New Zealand!