Published: December 16th 2009December 15th 2009
cool shot of the night sky
most of it is camera trickery, though
I'd been recommended to go to an agency called "space xx.." whilst in san pedro; the minibus came at 9pm, with 30 of us waiting, and drove at breakneck speed into the salar, about 15 minutes away. We were greeted by a frenchman under a very dull red light, and shown inside. I say shown, but it was even darker in there, with just a candle to illuminate our seats, arranged in a double ring under a wicker roof, with a 2m wide hole in it. The french fella then proceeded to charm everyone in the room for about half an hour. When we stepped outside he said it was possible to see 3000 stars and I could quite easily believe him! I don't remember ever seeing so many stars. He showed us 4 galaxies and quite a few constellations, before letting us loose on the telescopes, pointing at double stars and nebula, and more galaxies; absorbing stuff in the cold; we were invited back inside for a tea and q&a, then driven back to town, all very mellow.
The next day dawned to perfectly clear skies again, although the mountains are a bit misty in the morning - could this
be because I´m looking into the sun? Without my good camera I´ve had to call off the tour across the salt flats in Bolivia (shame, I was really looking forward to it) and headed for Iquique, but not before hiring a bike and going to the pre-columbian fortress (a little underwhelming, sorry) and the viewpoint over the town. It gets a might hot in the desert - I swear it wasn´t this hot on my first day... anyway, was short of time after lunch; dived into the hostel, grabbed a shower and ran for the bus, making it just in time. Another high altitude hour (only 3200m!) and I was in Calama.
The next bus pulled in and turned out to be the kind of thing you might have expected in South America - no aircon!! Curtains drawn we headed on, past the copper mine; I think it´s the second largest in the world, but you couldn´t see much from the road as the slag heaps are about 1000ft high!! After this we climbed again as we headed towards the sea, and after another 10000ft crossing we seemed to go downhill forever, whilst watching a movie. I was also trying
to play spot the living thing; this really is a desert, with minutes passing between desicated plants, but plenty of rocks. Unlike some of the other deserts I´ve been to, this one had no colour either, just a greyey-brown, rock strewn, hilly expanse.. After an exciting canyon plummet we arrived in Tocopilla, another dry and dusty town, with wooden buildings and an air of the wild west. The train line looked like something out of Indiana Jones, but there, for the first time clearly on my trip, was the pacific ocean, big rolling waves moving in with the feel of a freight train.
The coach moved on, past mining towns, where there are several thousand clone houses (how would you find where you lived?), though the sunset and eventually, after dark, into Iquique. From the bus station I found myself sharing a cab; after horror story following horror story about sharing a cab I wondered what was going to happen; nothing, he took me straight to the address I asked, but I suppose he did over charge me a little. I walked into the hostel to find a parillada in full swing so got stuck in!
Yesterday I set off
into town, buying bits here and there like water, internet time, phonecalls and everywhere you go they write you a little receipt; I´d noticed this in San Pedro too, and wondered why.....
Wandering around I was always looking for the shade; the weather isn´t hot - 20 degrees C, but the sun´ll fry you alive! I saw my first union jack in a while, on the back of a Honda, and someone wandering around in a shirt with "British" written across the front - not quite as good as the "Inglaterra" red tracksuit top I saw in Argentina, though! I wandered off to Zofri, a big shopping mall, but failed to find the camera I wanted. I then found that you could wander past all the import warehouses so off I went. I found the Nikon importer, negotiated a better price, but ended up getting a Canon for no discount... now I'm confused. A quiet night in front of the telly (they have HBO with spanish subtitles) and I think I´m about ready to head for Arica.
There are more photos below