San Pedro de Atacama (and San Pedro de Atacama once again)
25.02.2016 - 28.02.2016 20 °C
The Atacama desert is the second driest place in the world behind Antarctica. Incredibly it rained for us. Lucky us?
In fact, when we tried to cross the Andes to Argentina, the snow had closed the pass - stranding us for an extra two days. Fortunately this wasn't a terrible place to be stranded.
We arrived at 10am, tired from our 4am start on the salt flats tour. Immediately we noticed a difference from Bolivia - we had gone from South America's poorest country to its equal richest. The food was more varied and included fresh vegetables, the accommodation was nicer, and the bathrooms had toilet paper.
We met an eccentric Hawaiian-shirt-clad man called Christian who appeared on his bike every time we walked out of a hostel, offering to show us the way to the best price in town - so we went to his place, a little way out but comfortable, and it included a kitchen and decent wifi. All the prices in town were more than twice that in Bolivia.
After lunch with Lisa (a kiwi that we met on the shuttle from the border) we took a nap, undertook some research and explored the town. Although we had read about renting bikes to visit the valley of the moon, nobody would let us rent their bikes due to the impending rain and the damage that the salty mud slush would do to the bikes.
That night the storm came, but before the clouds came we did go for a walk to see if we could see the stars. The next morning the three of us took a run to the ruins of the hillside fort of the Atacama people, which allowed us to truly see San Pedro - in the middle of an empty desert, San Pedro is an oasis of green next to the river which flows from the Andes.
After we met up with Lisa again we booked a sunset tour of the valley of the moon - which was spectacular. We drove to various scenic spots before seeing the day end from the top of a ridge overlooking salty outcrops of rock and an immense sand dune.
The next morning we had planned to bus over the Andes to Argentina, but overnight the storm had snowed in the pass. The pass didn't open this day, so we decided to try again the next morning. We used the afternoon to relax, eat and catch up on all things internet. One added bonus was the beautiful snow on the mountains on the horizon.
The next morning we again tried to leave and despite the pass being opened, the only scheduled bus had preemptively been cancelled. We again tried to find other forms of transport (eg minivans or taxis) but the bus companies have a monopoly at this time of year. We booked a bus for the next morning - what would be our fourth of the two we had planned. This plan had the added bonuses that both Peter and I could watch a game of football each, we could visit the meteor museum across the road, and that we could try to see the famously clear night sky.
The meteor museum was professional and explained the different stages of earth's development and the role meteors have played.
After the museum we enjoyed a home cooked dinner and then walked out of town to sit by the river to stare at the stars. Peter had downloaded a night sky app so we were able to identify all the visible celestial bodies.
Even though we spent two extra days in Chile, we weren't worried. We really enjoyed the small part we saw and particularly the tasty restaurant food and other first world reminders. We look forward to coming back to visit Chile one day.