Published: November 24th 2009November 7th 2009
Nov 3, 2009
Our tour of Salar de Uyuni, the lagoons, and the other sites were amazing. However, we weren’t too thrilled with our guide who seemed to always be in a hurry and dropped us off about 90 min before the planned end to the tour. Normally I wouldn’t complain but he should have made sure we didn’t have any customs issues - which we did. The border crossing is very shady anyways (you must obtain a purchased stamp in Uyuni before the tour begins).
In Uyuni the “company” who stamped the passport used a date two days after we would be crossing. Rumi caught it earlier, but I didn’t think we would have too much difficulty because we had an exit stamp. After our guide left us in the middle of the desert with our incorrectly pre-dated stamps, the customs official threatened to not authorize our exit. Fortunately, our Spanish friend, Juan, told the official it wasn’t our fault and he let us pass.
If things didn’t work out so well, we would have been forced to negotiate with one of the remaining trucks to take us back to Uyuni (most likely at full cost of
another tour). Fortunately, the customs official didn’t go along with the scam and gave us a new stamp with the correct date. I was very excited about going back to Chile!
The Bolivia - Chile border crossing is very thorough and exhausting. They went through every piece of luggage for everyone on the bus. One Japanese teenager had an apple (a 100USD fine) but luckily the Customs official eventually didn’t force payment.
After making it through that lengthy process, we arrived in the Wild Wild Western town of San Pedro de Atacama. We were once again swarmed by hustlers offering their hostels as the “cheapest” hostel. We decided to stick together with Kinu and Juan and made it to our “cheapest” hostel.
What we thought was an expensive price for a hostel may have actually been the cheapest hostel price in the town. We were astonished at the pricey San Pedro. The town solely survives off tourism now and they do a very good job surviving! Our luxurious hostel came with no hot water, no internet, and no key for the door (the innkeeper gave our key to another guest). I personally didn’t find the water ordeal
to problematic because it was a very warm, dry, desert, but it did get cold at night.
We had lunch with Kinu before planning the next day. She was only in transit so would be leaving the following morning. Juan discovered that no one would accept his traveler’s checks, so he was forced to leave for the next town of Calama immediately.
Before Kinu left, she gave Rumi and I bracelets that she personally made while on our tour. It was very nice of her and we really appreciated her time with us. She was heading to Santiago and would explore some of the cities we had previously done.
Nov 4, 2009
Before exploring the Atacama Desert, we made plans to get back on our trip path. Our next big destination was Machu Picchu, but we wanted to see Lake Titicaca beforehand. Interestingly, the most logical bus route was via Arica, Chile (a beach town NW of San Pedro) onwards to La Paz, Bolivia. On a map it doesn’t make any sense, but when in South America, you begin to follow the most common bus routes to avoid sitting in one location to wait for a
direct bus. Therefore, we booked our night bus from San Pedro to Arica.
Past the expensive prices and tourist obstacles, the sites surrounding San Pedro are fantastic. We decided the best way to see the sites we wanted to see were with a mountain bike. We decided to map out an Ancient city’s defensive position and the Valley of the Death. It wasn’t a very aggressive ride, but we were not use to the exercise or being in the driest desert in the world, so we thought it would be better to stick to destinations not too far away.
Pukará de Quitor was a hidden treasure. No tours go there (perhaps because of the additional entrance fee) but it was a mountain top defensive position surrounded by panoramic views of volcanoes from Bolivia. Additionally at the base of the mountain was a carved entrance way with gigantic head sculptures of the ancient civilization.
The ancient people were called Atacameños. They lived off corn and llama breeding. Their civiliazation is pre-Incan and has recordable history pre-2000BC. The defensive site was constructed around the 12th century to protect themselves from neighboring tribes. When the Spanish conquered the site, they
decapitated all of the commanding chiefs.
After staying at the ancient ruins for the majority of our day, we headed to a trek through the valley of death. It was an incredible canyon carved by the wind erosion. It didn’t even appear real and the walls were extremely brittle. The pictures describe it the best!
We had rented the bikes for 6 hours, so we decided to head back a little early, get something to eat, and relax before our night bus to Arica.
We were surprised to find almost no restaurants open. We had to kill some time before 1800, so we were forced to find the local Helado (ice cream) store. I don’t know if it was because we had been in the heat all day, tired from four days exploring dry salt flats and desert, or if we were just hungry, but that ice cream was the best we had ever eaten! It was similar to Italian gelatos; absolutely fantastic.
After walking around a bit more, we decided to go to a great pizzeria before heading to our bus. On the bus we saw the two Polish guys who were on our Salt
Flats tour. It was wonderful being on a Chilean bus opposed to the Bolivian buses. They are very professional - even have a speedometer in the back of the bus with the bus drivers name just in case he’s driving too fast. We watched an alien movie with The Rock and the first episode to Smallville (surprisingly pretty good).
There are more photos below