Day 3 – Atacama

27 Mar

The day started only 4 hours after the last one finished, with a wake up call at 2:30am. An almost full breakfast had been provided, although the coffee was cold! It wasn’t enough to wake me up.

I hoped that I’d taken everything from the hotel room, as we headed for the bus to the airport. Only one drunk person spotted en route to the airport. That and an ambulance.

Check in was very easy, as Jo had already got our boarding passes for us – some of the group had also got them in London 3 days earlier! Dropped our bags and made it through to the gate, still semi asleep. Anyone looking for coffee was disappointed as nothing was open. What would you expect for a 5:10am flight. I’ve had to manually type that as my phone doesn’t recognise that time!

The flight to Calama in northern Chile took lees than 2 hours and the sun still hadn’t risen by the time we landed. Then a planed 3 hour drive to San Pedro de Atacama actually turned out to only take 90 minutes.  This is in the middle of the Atacama desert – the driest in the world, and we passed through a very barren landscape on the way.

Before arriving, we stopped off to take some photos of the salt on which this whole area is encased. It is normally hidden beneath a brown later of dust and sand, but recent rains (in the driest desert in the world!) Have washed this away and caused the place to take on a white and shiny appearance.

Most of us managed to check in to our hotel in San Pedro when we arrived. Basic rooms with no air con or TV, but perfectly passable.

Jo then walked us into town – the original nature has to be preserved,therefore only blue or brown doors are allowed, all buildings must be one storey and must all be adobe (or at least look like they are!) Population is just over 3500. There is only one tarmaced road. Cars stop for all pedestrians, which makes driving impossible. Place is full of Europeans.

We found the important shops hidden away behind narrow doorways – water, food, changing cash and several thousand shops dedicated to tourist tat.

Our guide left us in the square and we headed to the market for some tourist tat, where Judy bought a hat,after MUCH deliberation!

Judy, Penny & I then went to some more shops, where I found a flag and we all bought Empanadas – the South American equivalent of a bridie.

Sat in the square and fed the dogs the crusts, with Bob & Anne. Dogs still everywhere!

I then headed to the museum of bits collected by a Belgian priest who studied the architecture here – it was very interesting. It was cool, they had toilets, and a bit of history of the people and the area.

I headed back to the hotel for a well deserved power nap, before waking up in time for our trip to Moon Valley.

Oscar, our local guide for this part of the trip, was replaced by Rodrigo, who was a whole lot of fun – no really, he actually was!

We headed out and stopped for a toilet break while he bought the tickets and checked in with the national park security.

The first stop was at a salt mine, where we were allowed to walk on the salt – very different since the 40 minute flood in February this year. It will eventually go back to brown but is currently very white! Coping with the heat, dry air and altitude meant that we went very slowly.

One of the quarries could be heard cracking loudly due to geological changes and the salt was either razor sharp or very smooth, depending on how it was brought to the surface.

Back in the minibus, we headed on to the “Three Marys”. “Imagination” is the key to this and several other interpretations of rock formations! They did look like three rocks. There was also a pac-man shaped one next to it.

Moving on we found a rock amphitheatre with a “monk”-like rock – apparently, and the great sand dune, which would only be great if you’d never seen one before.

Several photos of active volcanos later, we saw the result of the February rain – roads washed away and a heck of a lot of salt brought to the surface.

Second last stop was at “death” valley or “Mars” valley. The Spanish words are very similar and the Belgian priest that named it wasn’t very good at Spanish!  It was definitely red though, so Mars is the more common name.

At this point, imagination was abandoned and someone actually thought they saw a Puma, which is incredibly rare. In the end the verdict was a wild dog, but I think Paul made it up and drew the tracks with his fingers!

Last stop was to overlook the valley, along with every other tourist in the area! Coyote rock (overhanging) was a favourite snapshot. We watched the sun go down and the moon brighten to a cup full of Pisco sour. Or two. Or three.

After we headed back to town, Paul and I headed off to Rodrigo’s suggestion of Adobe (a restaurant) for some food. Turned out to be an excellent choice, with a steak, onions and a fried egg complimented by too many chips even for me! I also tried the local beer. Just the one mind as we didn’t have all week. We were entertained by some locals on panpipes and the place had a great atmosphere, centred around a barbecue pit with a roaring fire.

Back in bed your another early start tomorrow! Sleep will come at some point! Probably April.

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