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Published: March 26th 2016
The journey to San Pedro de Atacama from Valparaiso was a long one, over 24 hours with 2 lots of buses. Our first main bus was Cama standard and a little bit luxury for Chilean standards. Within South America they have 3 classes of buses depending on how much money you have. Came is the highest with bigger seats and more leg room, going down to Semi Cama which is a smaller seat with less leg room, but can be on a par with European buses, then there is no Cama which is with the proper locals and their chickens! The prices are very cheap and most bus journeys I’ve taken have been Semi Cama as I can sleep anywhere. This time with discount given, me and the boys were in first class luxory ish. The buses usually play films and for the first one, we were given Batman Returns in English with Spanish subtitles, the first I’ve seen in the continent so sat back and relaxed. We arrived in Calama at around 7 o’clock that night to wait for an hour and a half for the next bus to get us to the desert. We arrived in Atacama late at night and got a taxi from a local woman who took us to the hostel via the ATM. For some reason my card wouldn’t work but the guys did, which probably meant that my bank had stopped my card for the umpteenth time. Getting to the hostel we were tired and hungry, so we dropped our bags off and headed into town It is a tourist place with hotels and hostels and so many tourists coming to experience the Salt Plains and everything in the area. We found a restaurant and ordered food while a chilean band played in the background. The place was packed and we were seated right at the back with a dodgy table. I had enough money to pay but had to explain to the hostel that we would all pay once we had the money.
Waking up in our private room, which was still cheap, we had the basic breakfast and then attempted to ring my bank to find out why my card had been stopped. Their explanation, which I still find hard to digest, was that old ATMs use the information on the plastic strip on the back of your bank card, while newer ATMs (last decade) use the chip on the card. I was using an old machine and my bank don’t recognise them any more, which was a bit of a nuisance being stuck in a desert with money running out. I wasn’t going to start panicking yet.
The lads had decided that today was going to be adventurous day and we were going to hire bikes out and see the sights around. I will be honest and say that if they had not been around then I wouldn’t even be in the desert or even getting on a bike. They definitely got my travelling spirit back, just as I had planned on going back to UK. We found a bike rental shop which was ran by a Chilean wide boy. His english was perfect and was really into his bikes and money! Handing over the last of our cash, we got on and started on the road. Our first stop was meant to be to a oasis where you could swim in an open air natural pool. The road out there was stunning with desert to the left and right with the Andes in the background. It was only 3 km out of town and discovered to our horror it was actually a purpose built swimming pool with cafes and had to pay to get in. Not really what we were expecting and was a bit disappointed, so it was back on the bikes to see Devils Canyon. This was a bit further and had to go back through town, so we stopped off at the hostel to drop off our bike helmets and pick up some water. Straight back out and although I have used the words stunning and amazing for so many sights I’ve seen in the past 13 months its really hard to describe without photographs. The landscape is all mountains as far as the eye can see with the road going in-between it. There is a river that flows along the road but as its high season its a bit low. The area we were riding through was also an archeologist dream as there were ancient monuments carved into the mountains. We stopped off at what we assumed was Devils Canyon and climbed up a space through the hills and got to the top (after a bit of huffing and puffing) to see the whole landscape in front of us. It was breathtaking and realised how much I had miss the adventurous side of travelling, even with sweat dripping down me.
We had been out for about 4 hours and thought it be best to go back but saw a sign that some other cyclists were following, so being inquisitive we followed them. Thats when we realised that this was the actual Devils Canyon that we should have come to. There was only so far that we could ride the bikes and then dropped them off to walk the rest of the way. I have no idea why they called it this but it was a small pathway between the mountains that lead to an uphill steep to a higher point to where we were before. When I say uphill steep, it was steep and to make it worse as I got higher it turned into sand. For every step I took, I would slip a little bit and then carry on upwards. With the 2 lads in their 20’s and in their prime they raced up leaving me to stop every now and again, just to ‘take in the view’. I arrived at the top and whatever I said was breathtaking about the previous view, this was 10 times better. Looking out for miles through the valleys and the mountains and it was a moment to just stop and take it all in. In the distance was the Andes with their snow covered peaks coming closer with smaller peaks, all perfectly formed by mother nature. We spent about 15 minutes looking around being awestruck by what was there in front of us. however time was pushing for us to return the bikes and headed back to the hostel to pick up the helmets. Thats when disaster struck! Leaving the bikes rested against the wall of the building while we went in for literally 4/5 minutes, we came out to discover that the bike I had, had been stolen. In such a short space of time, someone had seen us park the bikes up and taken it. Horrified I knew we had to go back to the rental shop and tell him what had happened. The owner was furious, not with us but the fact that someone in the town had done it. He explained that there was a massive drug problem in the town that things were always being stolen for money. He was totally blunt in telling us that I had to pay. Knowing roughly how much a second hand bike would cost in UK, he shocked me in saying that I had to give him £140 (UK equivalent). Money was already tight and I did not need this but I had to admit that he did tell us a few times before riding off that we had to lock the bikes up at all times, even providing a bike lock. He gave me directions of another ATM, which this time took my card and came back giving him the cash.
Leaving the rental shop, it was a silent walk back to the hostel while I worked out in my head, how I was going to afford the rest of the journey. Harry and Mike then told me that any one of our bikes could have been taken and for that reason it was only fair that they should split the costs 3 ways. Absolutely top blokes and I couldn’t have asked for better people and true to their word they handed over their share. I wasn’t feeling sad or down about it, just trying to get a new plan in my head. I told them it had been done and there was nothing more that could be done and to get out to town and get some food and carry on being happy travellers with the bike being stolen not to be mentioned again! We headed out to the same place that we had been the previous night, ordered pizza and beers, sharing a table with a German guy and his wife and had an awesome night. We finished it off by grabbing a couple bottles of cheap wine and headed back to the hostel to finish the night off. It had been an awesome day being spoilt by half an hour of crap but as I said we weren’t allowed to mention it! The lads had also decided that instead of this being our last night together and them going up to Peru and me to Arica on the border of Bolivia, they would break up their long long bus trip with following me to Arica before finally parting our ways.
So the next day we had a wander to the bus station as they had to be in Lima for a certain time and I was on my way to get to Rio before the end of the month and with the bad experience it was a good excuse to get out of the desert and into another city. The bus station only gave rides into Calama and we would have to find out another bus once there. it was part of the adventure and getting into Calama we found an overnight bus that was going our way, which would get us into our destination for 8 in the morning which was perfect. We did have about 2 hours to kill and having seen a dominos pizza when we first got to Calama, that was what we wanted to go. We filled our faces and headed back to the depot and onwards to our next place in semi cama and a quiet bus.
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