Published: May 22nd 2012May 6th 2012
There were three reasons why I went to San Pedro de Atacama: 1. My previous travel buddy, Felix, had written to me to tell me that he was there; 2. To go sandboarding, which had been recommended to be my many people; 3. To go to an observatory and gaze at the stars. Unfortunately, due to the full moon, a stargazing tour was not possible, yet my time that followed in the high deserts of Bolivia more than sufficed for this missed opportunity. To put you in the picture of how renowned the night sky is in this part of the world, just outside of San Pedro, construction has commenced on the most powerful telescope on the planet. This area was chosen due to the eternally cloudless skies, the high altitude and lack of ambient light. There is something like five telescopes being used in an array, with each telescope on its own being more powerful than any other on earth. As I watched the sunset over the valleys and mountains one night, the complex was pointed out to me where this telescope is being constructed.
So, having finally made my way to the desert oasis of San Pedro de
Atacama, a destination which had been on my agenda for nearly two years, I was fortunate to end up in a dorm with a terrific group of travellers who I would soon join forces with to traverse the deserts of the high Altiplano of Bolivia. Before that endeavour got underway though, I first had to try my hand at sandboarding for the first time. I was already enjoying the experience before I had even descended the dune for the first time, due solely to the remarkable view afforded to those who climbed the dune, staring across luna landscapes in the desert to the mountains and volcanos that form the border with Bolivia. Then the real fun started as we spent the next couple of hours becoming more confident on our boards and there was a moment where I felt everything come together in harmony. I felt myself to be effortlessly sliding down the dune, gathering speed and just wholly enjoying the moment. To onlookers, I was probably going at little more than a snail’s pace, but I loved it.
The other highlight of my time in this tourist mecca (every adobe building houses either a tour agency, hostel, bottle
shop, restaurant or similar) was going to a clandestine party in someone’s property in the desert to celebrate the full moon. Having loaded ourselves up on cheap alcohol at the hostel beforehand, we jumped into a VW Combi and drove along mostly deserted roads, occasionally stopping to listen for music, as that would be where the party was at. Any vehicle we came across pulled over and questions were asked as to where the party was (for the police weren’t to know, hence the fact that no-one seemed to know where to go). Eventually, we parked the van somewhere non-descript and went for a stroll in the night, somehow ending up in the right place and then getting riotously drunk on the alcohol that we had smuggled in. With the first rays of the rising sun starting to shimmer across the mountains, some of us stumbled back to the hostel, with the following day being one that will forever remain unknown to me. Even the guy who ran the hostel spent the whole day in a bed in our dorm, jumping in next to me at one point and telling me that next time I am in San Pedro, I
am to stay at his place, not the hostel.
The hostel itself was an experience, due solely to a couple of the guests/inhabitants, who were Chilean artists that seemed to spend every waking moment either drinking or getting stoned. During my stay, I never once saw the whites of their eyes, as they were permanently concealed behind a luminescent pinkish-red. I did in fact see some of their art, yet I never saw them work on any. They went by the names of Lapis (as in Lapis Lazuli) and El Pulpo (The Octopus). I am not sure how things transpired in their day-to-day lives, but one day they made everyone in the hostel a delicious feast of fish and vegetables, procured from an unseen source. On our final night, Lapis told us that he would miss us, that we were good people, and then, just when we were about to drift off to sleep, he turned on his radio so that we could all listen to a midnight mass together, followed by the strains of ‘I’ve Had the Time of My Life’ from ‘Dirty Dancing’. Dormitory life certainly has its unique moments!
There are more photos below