Andean Desert Adventures

Published: February 7th 2016
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R: We started with a quiet day after our bus adventures overnight. We used the time to explore the town, and book a tour for the following day. Most of the sights are outside of town, up to 150km, in some cases, so the tours are a cheap and easy way of seeing them. We opted for the Altiplanic Lagoons for the second day. We are staying in a small hostel here run by an elderly gentleman by the name of Gustavo, who speaks no English, but loves the sound of my name. So we go by with "Buenos Dias, Gustavo", "ROJER! y, er, CATERINA!" , "BUENOS DIAS!" shouted back at us. The afternoon receptionist helped a lot in explaining anything else. Though I have to say, my crash learning of Spanish before we left has helped a little. At the end of the stay, Gustavo and I agreed that we were Amigos.

San Pedro itself is an odd place. The walls are made of Adobe and are teracotta clay coloured, including the town church. Most have straw or wooden roofs, often made from a now endangered cactus wood which is now forbidden to use except for listed buildings. The main streets are dust tracks with very little in the way of pavements and these are shared between cyclists, people, tourist minibuses and the numerous dogs - not stray we think, but free to roam. The night sky is amazing, I have never seen stars as bright as here. There is so little pollution here, it is just so bright. So good, in fact, that ALMA, an international observatory has set up its base up here.

After a 630am start, we headed for the Altiplanic lagoons. It's about 150km drive, so it was sunny by the time we started the tour properly. On the way we saw the sunrise over the volcanic range that is on one edge of the Atacama Salt flat. We went to some pretty lakes that had been sealed in by volcanic eruptions over the year, making them salty. This attracts vacunias, a ancestor of the llama. We had a breakfast while looking over the range. Very pretty. Then we moved on to the salt flat, which is home to colonies of three kinds of flamingos which were all bus fishing for shrimps when we came to see them. Just as we were leaving they all took off into the sky, which was quite a sight. On the way home we got taken to a nearby village, where we could browse tourist-tat and feed a llama. (Llamas are completely domesticated, hybrid crosses of other wild camelids). We went for a wander in the evening and happened upon an unspecified parade of people dressed as witches, gorillas and god knows what else, as well as dancers and several big bands. San Pedro is nestled up in a plane up in the Andes, so you are at altitude the whole time, but it's not enough here to give you any real sickness.

The next day we went to the El Tatio geyser field. This was a 430am start... Cate was not happy. Particularly as the parade played long into the night which we could hear from our hostel. You have to leave early to see the steam from the geysers and allow the pressure to build in the rocks. The outside temperature is -5c at 630am, due to it being 4320m above sea level, but quickly rises when the sun comes out, so the steam starts to dissipate and there are less eruptions. They geyser field was quite impressive, mostly due to its setting surrounded by volcanoes and mountains. We strolled around in between various bursts of hot water and steam before stopping for scrambled egg, made on a camping stove near the geysers. (We did remark that we had seen better geysers in Iceland - but then realised we must sound like such travel snobs. So we banished that thought from our minds). After that we went to a natural rustic geothermal pool which you could jump in if you could bear the cold outside. Of course we had to do it, even though it stank of Sulphur and who knows what else. Not much like our experience at the Blue Lagoon in Iceland. The terrain in between this area and the town was great to see - as it was dark when we went there, we saw none of it. Various wetlands, filled with vacunias and flamingos along geothermal rivers, then acrid desert with cacti like you'd expect in any western. We returned to town and immediately had a nap. The parade started again...

Then came the fun of booking a bus out of there. To cut a long story short, booking a bus in Chile is not easy, no one seems to know what they are talking about, and no one wants to help if you can't speak English. Eventually I booked one online (which two hostels, tourist information and the tripadvisor said couldn't be done - but it can!). We ended up staying a day longer than we wanted in San Pedro which is no great hardship, but it meant we had to move hostels as ours was full the next night.

Both of us have been suffering a bit from travellers-belly related issues this week, so the next day we had an easy start. We wandered about town and found our way into the Meteorite museum, a place where those baffled by science, can go to be baffled by science. I'm not sure who it was aimed at because it was pitched at degree level. We have survived well on "menu del dia" options here, where you can get 3 course lunch normally consisting of a salad, a simple main with one side, and a dessert for £4. For £1 more, you can have a large glass of wine thrown in. We moved our final tour - to Death Valley and Luna Valley to this final day.

Now, a trip sold by a tourist agency, with no warnings as to the fitness levels needed to do said tour, or without mentioning that you may need a torch - probably shouldn't include caving, in my opinion. It wasn't too hard, but some people really struggled and we had to wait quite a long time for people to calm down from over exertion and mild panic atacks at the end. The salt landscape of Death Valley was incredible. Grey volcanic sand dunes, rippling alongside large outcrops of orange rock and all framed by the background of volcanoes! not forgetting the crust of salt on the top! We climbed to the top of one of the rocks to get the best view of the valley which was tremendous! but involved a little bit of scrambling. At the end of the trip they took us to see the sunset on top of a rock, above a beautiful valley with different coloured rock formations, that turned amazing shades of orange as the sun set. In the background the volcanoes turned almost pink as we watched. A great way to end our time in the Atacama.

On our way back in, we stopped for some moderately priced Chilean red and a massive plate of meat and fries, called "Lomo al Pobre" here. Delicious meat, we did order a salad too, but we felt like we got rather carried away.

Oh well, the next day proved to be a long time before we got to eat anything as we finally got our bus to Argentina...

Additional photos below
Photos: 28, Displayed: 27


Rare endangered CactusRare endangered Cactus
Rare endangered Cactus

Unfortunate shape
Salar de AtacamaSalar de Atacama
Salar de Atacama

(Salt Flat)
Rustic poolRustic pool
Rustic pool

(With rustic changing compartments)

Tot: 2.653s; Tpl: 0.074s; cc: 21; qc: 61; dbt: 0.0653s; 2; m:saturn w:www (; sld: 2; ; mem: 1.4mb