Sunday, March 24, 2013

San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

A short drive from the hot springs and we arrived at the border of Chile and Bolivia. I had to show a piece of paper from my original entry to Bolivia and my departure date was stamped. Time in Bolivia is rarely exact and after waiting an hour for the car that would transport is, we were on our way. In Chile there are paved roads unlike in Bolivia, so the route was fast.

Once in San Pedro de Atacama we went trough the border control, and in a breeze were admitted in, our passports stamped and dropped off at the bus terminal. The touristy nature of the pueblo was immediately apparent and the difference between this Chilean community and Bolivia huge.

We exchanged a bit of money as I tried unsuccessfully to take money out of an ATM, later learning that the ATMs often are without money by weekend. The heat felt a little oppressive after the harsh cold of the night and morning before, and I was glad when a place to camp was located and I could put down my packs. This day proved to be super tranquil.

In San Pedro de Atacama, most of the destinations are attainable by biking and the bikes available to rent are in remarkable good condition. One day we went biking with a French guy named Gwendel, heading to see nearby ruins and a mirador (an overlook of an area) at Pukara de Quitor, before continuing to see the valley of the dead, which is sprawling rocks and dryness and involved uphill biking on a dirt path that tested my fitness abilities. After the valley was a tunnel and the descent began. Then we were biking on more rocks and sand for many kilometers and appeared to be biking in the middle of nowhere as we did not have this region on our map. Part of this time involved me walking my bike when the uphills and sand got to be too much for me. After a grueling time in the sand, we saw the distant outline of a car and confirmed that we had found the road. Once at the road, biking got easier but I was exhausted. Finally we spotted another mirador from the road and the view was majestic. And the direction back to town was a triumphant downhill from the mountain.

During the day we snacked on grapes, peaches, bananas, bread, crackers, granola and water, so a dinner of salad and meat and rice, accompanied by beer and live music was a welcome end to the day.

The next day we hitch hiked the 30 km to the nearby pueblo Tocanoa, and were picked up by a woman driving a bus who also picked up two young girls to transport them. When in town we took one of the girl's lead and headed to lunch at a place packed with locals had pork, rice, potatoes and bread (perhaps by now you are seeing a trend in the diet).
While walking to valle de jere a dog joined us and he followed us all the way to the entry way and into the place. Max became our dog for the day, following by our side, eating grapes and bread, playing in the stream and napping in the sun and shade with us. The day was delightfully relaxing with the hardest part a trek up a super steep sand dune. In the area we found fruit trees and tried a fruit that is somewhat like a dry pear, ate grapes from a vine and even had a fig each. Getting a ride back to San Pedro started to seem bleak, but a friendly Chilean man picked us up.

That night we bought groceries and I cooked chicken legs on the stovetop of the hostel and made a Greek salad (mini the cheese) for the three of us.

The next morning we rented bikes again and headed to Valle de la Luna (moon). The bike ride for the day would be 32 km round trip with part of the ride pavement to the valley and the majority within the amazing area. There was an area with salt flats which continually look like snow to me, and mountains of rock and sand and salt of course. There was a point where we had to leave our bikes and walked through caverns with one point absolutely devoid of light. When we got through the darkness, there was a part which truly felt like we were on the moon as the rocks were decorated with white salt and stretched out continually. Then we reached an area with steep walls of rock and I was convinced that the place became more and more beautiful with every step. After this portion we returned to a steep uphill bike ride and rock formations to view all around us. Near the end of the park there were some strange formations to be seen but we stopped briefly, preferring to head to a mine that required us to bike on a salty route. The mine was immense and the ground surrounded by quartz crystals. Sun was going to fade in an hour and and we headed to one more spot before returning to a grand mirador to watch the sunset. And wow, the view was gorgeous and the winds strong. Unprepared for a cold night and darkness, we turned around and biked back while there was still some light. The route home felt exhilarating with down downhills, beautiful sky and when there was finally darkness all that remained was 6 km of paved, flat road.

That night there was a party at the hostel and we joined in with the wine drinking after eating a mountain of spaghetti.

The hostel had a goat that behaved like a dog, and every day I watched him push open the windows to enter in the kitchen. The goat was adorable. During the party the hostel owner's friend got unruly and grabbed the goat (Herbacious is his name) by his horns and jerked him around. The police were called over to help with this and watching the police mainly try to talk reason into this drunk man reminded me just how different our cultures are. Our police would have had cuffs on the man in a hurry.

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