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Published: June 16th 2008
After all the rain further south it was fantastic to feel the warmth of the sun as we stepped off the bus in San Pedro de Atacama in northern Chile.
The town itself was lovely and quaint, much more picturesque than we'd expected considering it is in the middle of the desert. The town is not much more than a few dusty, adobe streets and a pretty tree-lined plaza with a nice church. However, it has a really lovely relaxed vibe that we found infectious and as well as lots of cycling we enjoyed lazing around the town watching the locals go around their daily business in the sunshine.
As we have enjoyed our previous cycling trips so much we opted once again to see the surrounding area on two wheels, rather than four. This would allow us to have a little more freedom and plan our own days rather than be tied to the schedule of a tour guide and stuck in a stuffy four wheel drive.
So for our first adventure into the desert we set off for the Valle de la Muerte or Death Valley, oooooh we hear you say! Well this valley is a
lot nicer than it sounds, and was ace fun to explore on bikes. We mazed our way through dusty tracks in between giant high-sided canyons and sand dunes. The tracks would sometimes open up into flat expanses of dry cracked ground that looked like terracotta and we often jumped off the bikes to explore these areas by foot. Eventually the tracks got too sandy to cycle along so we left our bikes at the side of the road to trek across the dunes for a spot of lunch, once again we appreciated how lucky we were to have lunch in such a spectacular location.
After a wee rest we jumped back on the bikes to cycle to some pre-Columbian ruins Tony was eager to see. These ruins called Pukará de Quitor are remnants of a 12th century fortified village which was one of the last places where the indigenous people held out against the Spanish. Here the Atacameño people fought bravely for many years until they were finally conquered by the Spaniards in 1540, and many of the men were beheaded and their heads hung up around the fort as an example to others. The fort is strategically located
on the side of a steep hill overlooking the surrouding desert and protected by a river gorge on one side. The hundred or so rooms of the fort are built into the hillside from large and small stones that are held together with mud. Although the ruins are crumbling now and have been restored in places we still found it fascinating to walk around the different rooms and we enjoyed speculating on how the people would have lived then. The views were also incredible and we were lucky enough to have the whole place to ourselves to enjoy some quiet moments. After much pondering over the ancient times and the tragedies gone by here, we cycled along the river to our next stop, La Cueva del Diablo (Devil's Cave). The cave burrowed into the gorge much further than we'd anticipated. Luckily Tony had his headtorch to hand and we enjoyed scrambling around in the dark into the tunnels that seemed to go on forever. It was nice and cool in here compared to the heat of the desert.
The following day we were back on the bikes heading 11 km to another achaeological site called Aldea de Tulor, the
Aldea de Tulor
A reconstruction of the Tulor houses
oldest excavated ruins in the region. These ruins were once a town built around 800BC. The buildings in this settlement were constructed from mud in round strctures. Each 'house' is interconnected by passageways, bringing us to think there must have been a real community spirit then. Most of the ruins are covered by the sand of the desert and only 4% of the site has been excavated. We found this amazing and couldn't understand why archaeologists out there aren't eager to get digging here as we imagine there must be so much history buried underneath the sand. Once again it was fascinating to imagine people living here in the middle of the desert so many years ago. Thankfully we had the site to ourselves again allowing us plenty of time to reflect, but we were perplexed as to why the other tourists weren't here too? We guessed we were the only budding Indian Jones' here! On the bikes again, we made our way to the Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley for it looks like the moon funnily enough!). From Tulor this was a 9 km cycle, we had to navigate along many dirt tracks. Being a desert, there are
Valle de la Luna
Rock formations shaped by the wind
of course no signposts, and at one point as we tried to find our way out of a tiny village we got caught up a dead-end to a house. Unfortunately a protective dog lived here and came barking after us, biting at our ankles as we tried to cycle as fast as we could in the other direction. Phew, we made it, at least we got those rabies injections before we left!
By the time we neared Valle de la Luna we were getting pretty exhausted, and we rushed to get there for sun set. Watching the sun set from this valley is the most popular tourist thing to do in the area, so we joined the hordes to enjoy this experience. However most other gringos visit the valley on an organised tour by bus. We decided we would try and beat the tour buses and cycle, hoping that by doing so we would have some time to explore the valley before the crowds arrived. We arrived just before the first tour bus pulled up! We managed to explore to the end of the valley and saw lots of cool rock formations eroded into strange shapes by the sand
Valle de la Luna
Sand dune at sunset
and wind. We then clambered up a sand dune to find ourselves a nice spot to watch the sun set above the lunar landscape. Unfortunately by the time the sun was due to set our nice quiet spot had turned into the place to be and we were surrounded by fellow tourists! The sunset was lovely but we reckon the whole experience is a bit hyped and being with so many other people wasn't really our thing. Thankfully though we did meet a lovely couple from Santiago who offered us a lift back to the town with our bikes in their pick-up truck - so we escaped the ride back in the dark.
That night we headed out to one of the many restaurants in the town. Most of these restaurants are set in the open air as they don't have to worry about the rain here, however once the sun has disappeared in the desert the temperature drops dramatically. Thankfully though all the bars have their tables around huge open fires so you can relax under the stars toasty and warm. We had parrillada for two, this is a huge serving of differents types of meats grilled on
the fire. It was easily the biggest, best and juciest steak, chicken, lamb and suasage we have ever tasted! All washed down with a Pisco Sour. Life is sweet in the desert.
Tot: 1.402s; Tpl: 0.071s; cc: 16; qc: 71; dbt: 0.053s; 1; m:saturn w:www (188.8.131.52); sld: 2;
; mem: 1.5mb