Our unexpected trip to San Pedro de Atacama has been an awesome stop! We arrived via TurBus in the early evening to multiple people trying to sell us on their hostel. It is actually great when this happens becuase we can compare prices and get a general idea of the area without having to trek from place to place with our big packs.
We found our way to a company with star tours and booked it for 10:30p that night. Though we didn´t know at the time, it turns out that this area is one of the best in the world for star gazing. Locally the average annual rainfall is below 100 mm which, combined with the 5000m altitude, makes an excellent location for astronomical research. Currently the largest astronomical project in existance, ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array), is being built nearby. I forget the exact number but the telescopes will be able to see around 100x further in space than ever before. Finally we can find the aliens! Link to the website for any interested parties: http://www.almaobservatory.org/en/about-alma/location/why-chile
During the tour, Les, our Canadian guide, showed us the southern cross (Matt = so excited), the astrological formations, and so
many other cool, geeky space things. Plus we got up close and personal with Saturn and Mars with the telescopes.
Whoops, how could I forget to mention Ricardo. We began our three day Barros addiction earlier in the evening and met our favorite Atacamian, Ricardo. He was our waiter at a restuarant close to the hostel (though everything is close in San Pedro, tiny tiny town) and was so gregarious and likable that we ended up eating at Barros every day we were in San Pedro. He further confirmed multiple conversations we have had with other Chileans that very few traveling Americans know Spanish. Repeatedly people have been surprised to learn we are from the US after we converse in Spanish. Certainly that is a pretty broad stereotype but we both leave those coversations feeling glad that we took the time to learn at least a little.
March 23. Another tour and this time we are going SANDBOARDING! Yes, that´s right, sand + desert + snowboards = a crazy fun afternoon! We left the cold Colorado slopes behind and replaced them with the slopes of Valle de la Muerte (Death Valley). The tour guide gave me a snowboard,
said ´lean back´and up the sand dune I went. Matt went thru a quick lesson with essentially the same message. Snowboarding thru sand is different than snow becuase you lose so much momentum trying to change directions that the best way is just straight down no stopping! We recorded some videos which we can hopefully post plus the company (Sanboard San Pedro de Atacama) did a video of everyone on YouTube. Click the link 23.03.2012 and you can find us at: 6:27, 7:00, 8:50, 9:30. Unfortunately these are mostly our falling shots http://www.youtube.com/user/sandboardsanpedro/videos?sort=dd&view=0
The views from the top of the dune were otherworldly. Massive sand dunes with dusty, rocky, Bryce-Canyon like formations nearby with salt flats in the distance with huge snowcapped volcanic mountains even further in the distance. I start to run out of adjectives to describe places like this but it was in the breathtaking realm.
Valley of the Moon next to watch the sunset over this vast landscape followed by exploration of a salt cave in the dark. We rounded out the night with a pisco sour happy hour which I mention becuase happy hour in Chile is from 7p to 11p. For Chileans,
this is the beginning of the night! Oh, and in this bread-crazed country even a happy hour drink comes with two biscuits. I love it.
March 24. We decided to skip on another tour ($$) and walk to Pozo3, a pool 3km away from San Pedro. Don´t cringe. Yes we swam in the pool but no we didn´t get sick from the water. It was great to be outside the city to get better views of the desert and watch the dust tornadoes in the distance. This desert is beyond barren, not one plant or one cactus, not one spec of green for miles. I truly don´t understand how the town of San Pedro supports the endless tourist flow and the high demand for water/showers/etc. A farewell dinner with Ricardo then our bus takes us back to Calama to catch an overnight to Arica, the border town with Peru.
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