San Pedro de Atacama

Whoops, we’re only running a month late with our posts.

We arrived into San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, the driest desert in the world, just in time for Christmas. The border crossing was, once again, a bit of mission. Thankfully there were no hidden costs to this one but we did park up at a huge market for an hour so the driver of the bus could do some last minute Christmas shopping! Classic South America, we’ve discovered.

The Christmas market we stopped at. At least there was a nice view behind.

San Pedro is a really lovely town, an oasis in the desert, where all the buildings are only one-storey high and have a wild west feel about them. The temperature was hot and dry and the hostel we had booked to stay at was very similar to the casita in Joshua Tree; delightfully peaceful, surrounded by cacti, and with hammocks swinging in every suntrap.

We felt a little homesick after calling our families to wish them a Merry Christmas (it was Christmas day in New Zealand already) as they were all together, exchanging gifts and eating delicious dinners, so we kept it as non-Christmassy as we could and grabbed some Chinese food for dinner. We ate it as we basked in the setting sun, sipping cold and extremely cheap, Chilean beer.

Yes, I know. Some would say that’s a pretty nice Christmas Eve!

Christmas day was different. We hired some bikes after a “festive” menu del dia for lunch, from a local restaurant, and cycled to the Valle de la Luna in Flamingos National Desert Reserve. The entire loop of the park is about 40k but we only biked a quarter of the way around and came back on ourselves. Remember how it’s the driest desert in the world? The dehydration kicked in fast; our mouths were insanely dry and our energy was waning fast. We’d also heard the second half of the ride was a bit boring and there weren’t many places to stop and explore.

Christmas Day lunch

We stopped along the first half of the route and hiked up to a few miradors boasting some incredible views of volcanos, the limitless desert, salt flats, and geysers. There was also a short walk through some salt caves.

On Christmas day evening we were supposed to go on a stargazing tour, which we were really looking forward to as the sky is so clear in San Pedro. We were collected by a tour bus just after 11pm, which was already 30 minutes late, by a small tour bus driven by an OAP (old age pensioner) and accompanied by who we thought was our tour guide, as he was the one ticking names off the list. However, he jumped off the bus just as it was leaving town, heading into the vast desert.

We were supposed to arrive at a base where there’s zero light pollution and there are big telescopes set up with a guide present to instruct you. We never even made it there. The OAP had no idea where he was going and just kept veering off down random desert roads, mostly dead ends so he would have to make a 10-point turn. At some point, we all realised we were lost so we tried to help him with our google maps but then, would you believe it, we got stuck. At this point it was about 12:30 am and people were getting agitated.

Some of the boys got off the bus to push it, trying to direct the very distressed driver (bless him) in broken Spanish. During this, there was an annoying American guy calling his hostel loudly to complain and asking them to alert the police, asking for his money back, all the while reassuring his fellow travelers that he was a lawyer and that he would get them all a refund.

Erm, shut up (we were all thinking).

Anyway, to cut a long story short, we eventually became unstuck and were promptly driven back to our hostel. We were pretty gutted that the tour was a complete failure but we laughed about it too. I just felt so sorry for the OAP and hope that he didn’t lose his job because of it.

The next morning we actually did try to get a refund but the agent we’d booked with didn’t show up at the office in time and we had to rush to get our next bus to Santiago. Oh well, we’ve been lucky so far in South America (knock on wood) so we were due to lose money somewhere…

After some weeks tripping around desert towns, canyons and salt flats, we were headed south to a modern metropolis, to Chile’s capital city, Santiago.

 

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