my first desert
12.11.2008 33 °C
Arrival in San Pedro de Atacama came after a 24 hour bus ride from Santiago and as pleasant as that sounds it seriously wrecked my head. We also had no accomedation in San Pedro because most of the hostels don´t seem to have internet access. I had every hope of either an informaiton center at the bus station or representatives from the hostels promoting their business. No such luck on either could. The bus station was a dusty gravel parking lot and there was only one lady there from a hostel who we decided to throw our luck in with. The place was nice enough happily and cheap if not a bit spartan. The plan was only to stay there for a couple days then head off on a salt flat tour. The next day I had thought to rest most of the day and acclimatize to the altitude...Steve persuaded me to go on a Valley of the Moon trip. It was quite impressively scenic with landscapes that you would imagine would be on mars. We visited the valley of death in some seriously scorching heat with no hats or much water. The highlight of this was running down a sand dune in bare feet. The sand was surprisingly soft and since it was only spring still cool enough to expose your bare feet to. Next we headed to the valley of the moon. Again very sparse landscapes more red then white but with layers of gemsalt beneath. The sunset was beautiful - the colours surreal. I, however, have found with sunsets as tourist attractions that it isn´t about the location or that the sunset is somehow better there;it´s about simply taking the time to watch a sunset. It doesn´t matter where you are - it´s always beautiful.
The next day I was beginning to feel the effects of altitude sickness: insomnia, fatigue, nausea. Not very fun. We headed out at night on an astronomy tour. Even before we were in San Pedro I had somehow heard of the crazy frenchman that lives there in the middle of the desert. He´s more funny than crazy a very interesting guy and very french in his flamboyance. Very informative though and served us some very good hot chocolate after the tour. The next day we were supposed to head out salt flat tours. I was very anxious about this having read a very graphic account of an accident in April that happened on the flats. Dangerous apparently, 17 people died on the route, simply from falling asleep at the wheel or careless driving. We picked the company that had the best reputation out of San Pedro however I think they all are pretty similar. No seatbelts or radios and this is some serious terrain. No way you could travel on it in anything other than a 4WD Jeep. Anyway we were supposed to go the next day but altitude sickness, anxiety and the neighbours partying till 4am got the better of me. I hadn´t had any sleep, and was in a state because of the altitude sickness so we had to put it off. We ended up having to stay in San Pedro for an extra three days. I rested for most of and got better, Steve did mountain biking around the area apparently almost getting himself lost in the desert one of the days.
San Pedro is a decent town to use as a base to travel to the amazing sites around it: Valley of the Moon, Death Valley, el Tatio geysers, Astronomy tour but can be a really boring town and expensive town. We were damn happy to leave even if it meant heading perilously into the Bolivian Altiplano. San Pedro was my first desert and a very interesting landscape and atmosphere. Dry and hot and sparse. How anything grows there i don´t know. Better things to come though. To the Salar de Uyuni, the biggest salt flat in the world.
Check out more pics of San Pedro here: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=78299&l=eb748&id=684816071