Stunning scenery in chilly Chile

Published: May 19th 2015
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With time and money almost anything is possible. I don't know anyone who has limitless supplies of both, so then it's all about choices. The last time I came to South America five years ago I ran out of both time and money, and I couldn't visit some of the places that I had been dreaming about. But five years later I'm back and this time my choices will get me there. First up is the Atacama Desert - the driest desert in the world, with scenery that is truly spectacular.

It was a very long journey to get here, with two flights and one bus, however thanks to the magic of the international date line, after leaving Sydney on Saturday morning I arrived in San Pedro de Atacama on Saturday evening just in time for dinner. I met Rod in Santiago at the airport, although 'met' is not entirely the right word. I was expecting that we would meet in Calama airport, so he surprised me by literally jumping out from behind a pillar - it certainly woke me up!

Arriving in San Pedro de Atacama in the late afternoon, the scenery made up for the 20 hours of travel. It is simply gorgeous. The town itself is tiny with cute little dusty streets, lined with little adobe houses. It's gorgeous and an easy place to hang out in and do pretty much nothing. However the reason to be here is for the amazing landscapes, so we booked ourselves on a couple of day trips.

First up was an afternoon trip to the Valle de la Luna and the Valle de la Muerte. I hadn't thought to ask if the tour was in English or Spanish, and it was only as we got underway that it became apparent the tour was in Spanish. My Spanish is a bit rusty but I could more or less understand and then translate what I thought I had heard and what I thought Rod needed to know. The guide did however speak English and every now and again he came over to chat to us and see how we were getting on. We also chatted in Spanish, great practice for me, although to my horror, in the middle of one of his explanations to the group he asked me for the answer to something, which we had chatted about earlier. Good thing I had been concentrating and listening and could answer - "perfecto!" he said. Phew. It was like being in a five hour Spanish exam! The scenery was incredible. Apparently the name comes from NASA, as the valley's dry and harsh terrain was much like the moon, and used for testing, such as a prototype for a Mars rover.

The next day we had a 5.00 am start for our trip to the Geysers del Tatio. It was only my second night in Chile and I was still jetlagged, wide awake at 2.30 am and couldn't for the life of me get back to sleep. So when our pick up for the trip didn't turn up I was a little crotchety to say the least. We tried calling the 24 hour number but it took several calls until anyone answered. No one knows exactly what happened, either the driver slept in or missed us off the list, but we definitely weren't heading to the Geysers that day. We finally managed to speak to the lady who had booked our tour and she was extremely apologetic. She offered us the chance to go on another tour that day for free and to do the Geyser tour the next day. We thought about it, but the other tour was an all day trip, not finishing until after 5.00 pm, and given I had been awake most of the night I thought I might not last the day. So instead I suggested we just do the Geyser tour the next day with a full refund, which she agreed to. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise as the local ATM had run out of cash and we had run out of money - so now we were cashed up again.

I am so glad that we did eventually get the opportunity to go to the Geysers, the scenery was truly spectacular. It was an early start, but that meant we got there just before the sunrise, when the colours were at their most beautiful. The Geyser field is the highest in the world, and the third biggest. Located at the foot of the Andes, with the pampas around them and with the snow-capped mountains in the background the geysers blowing steam looked simply breath taking. The other thing that was breath taking was the altitude - we were around 4200 metres high, and it was absolutely freezing at -10 degrees. I have never been so cold in my life! It was certainly worth it.

On the way down, we stopped off at a tiny town called Machuca. Apparently people used to live there but now there are only two people. It was kind of cute, but seemed to exist these days solely for tourists. Rod and I bought some chachacoma tea, which is supposed to help for those at altitude and given we are heading even higher in the coming days as we travel into Bolivia we thought we would give it a shot. I quite liked it, tasted a bit like a cross between green tea and chamomile.

We stopped off several times on the way back to San Pedro for photos, and also saw some of the local wildlife - vicunas, which looked to me like an alpaca, and a vizcacha, a strange looking animal that looked like a cross between a rabbit and a squirrel, but also jumped about a bit like a wallaby. We arrived back about lunch time, just in time for an afternoon snooze!

Spectacular San Pedro - go visit if you can!

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A mug of wine!A mug of wine!
A mug of wine!

...or a mug with wine?!

19th May 2015
The Tres Marias

Time for two
Nice pic of the Three Marias Rachael...brings a smile when you know what is around you when you take the shot. Excited for you that you are entering Bolivia from the Atacama. Looking forward to your pics...pretty hard not to take good ones! Have a blast.
20th May 2015
The Tres Marias

Yes, I am pretty excited about the next little part of our adventure. Isn't the scenery amazing? We will have have to swap notes when I get back. Any tips for now though, let me know! After Uyuni we are heading to La Paz. What an incredible part of the world this is.
20th May 2015

Yes the scenery is amazing but does look very cold. Went to see Jonty today and the improvement is amazing in less than 24 hours he is testing himself and giving himself injections he is one gutsy little kid no moaning there. He was so excited to show me his diabetes kit and the different types of insulin that he has to use his notebook that he writes down all his tests. I was really blown away with his enthusiasm. Hope you are having a great time in Bolivia now. I realise it will be a few days before you can get back to us. Love Jackie
22nd May 2015

Just arrived in Uyuni and there was more amazing scenery and even colder weather! Glad to hear that Jonty is getting better and figuring out the insulin all by himself. We are going to La Paz in the morning so will try to get in touch in the weekend sometime.
20th May 2015

Now I need to add South America to the list - dont you just love those blessings in disguise? thanks RJT
22nd May 2015

You really do need to add it to the list, the scenery is stunning!
21st May 2015

Oh so jealous!
Looks like exactly my kind of place! Cold, but scenery and atmos to die for. Sorry I will miss you in Sydney. Bum timing. Have an amazing trip and say hi to Rod. L
22nd May 2015

Ha! You're right, it's exactly your kind of place, absolutely freezing in parts but completely stunning. Have fun in Sydney, sorry I will miss you.
22nd May 2015
Let sleeping dogs lie....San Pedro de Atacama

Let sleeping dogs and napping Aussies lie
Good for you for speaking Spanish. You wanted a tip--well, Spanish is it. In Bolivia, they speak much less English than in the adorable, touristed San Pedro. But it's all so fantastic--you'll love the unworldly Salar de Uyuni and the very indigenous La Paz--just go slowly to conserve your breath. Look forward to your impressions!
22nd May 2015
Let sleeping dogs lie....San Pedro de Atacama

I am certainly getting a lot of Spanish practice which is good for me. You're right, Salar de Uyuni is amazing, incredible dramatic scenery and I loved it. I'm really looking forward to getting to La Paz tomorrow too. And yes, I'm walking slowly!!
23rd May 2015

Chile is on our travel list for 2017. That will be here before we know it. We know you have been to S.A. a few times so glad you got to go back and practice your Spanish. Looks so lovely.
23rd May 2015

I haven't seen much of Chile, just Santiago and now San Pedro de Atacama, so it is still on my list! However from what I have seen, it is really gorgeous and I think you'd love it. Dust off the Spanish!!

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