San Pedro de Atacama…Chile’s North

Kimal Hotel

Kimal Hotel

Today saw us aboard a bus for the whole day (and then some, about 26 hours worth of travel time), as we travelled from the capital Santiago to the Atacama Desert and San Pedro de Atacama, a small town amidst this desolate region. I’m thankful we had comfortable bus seats, that not only allowed us to sit comfortable without too much numbing, but in which we could also lie down and stretch out. Much of this leg of the journey was spent sleeping, reading, and watching T.V, including some hilarious Just for Laughs – Gags episodes, a hidden camera type show with some of the strangest set-ups to completely fool unsuspecting passers-by. The one gag had a fellow who looked like Jesus walking across water (he was actually walking on some sort of plexiglass or something just below the water’s surface) to the stunned amazement of people on the shore. I laughed so hard at that one.

We when we finally arrived in San Pedro, it was great to get off the bus, and we probably would’ve been pleased no matter where we were, but San Pedro did look like a nice little town, so we were doubly pleased. With a fellow Canadian we had met on the bus in tow, we set off to find a place to stay for the evening.

Atacama Salt flat

Atacama Salt flat

The town being very small, it’s easily crossed from one end to the other in short order, which we did the next day to get a good feel for it and see all it had to offer. There were many shops scattered about with brightly lit cloths featuring llamas and local images and crafts of many kinds strewn about tables, and the little San Pedro church had a real rustic peace about it

After a day spent walking the streets, we were quite tired and returned to our Hotel for a siesta (nap). After this we hit the streets again, this time looking for a place to eat. We stayed at Kimal Hotel. Nice hotel, clean, good service and great people there! . That night we didn’t want to stay eating at the hotel.

We had heard of a veggie place nearby, and so off we went in search of it. We never did find the place, but we found a good place to try out along our search, which we later returned after giving up on the veggie joint. Very Chilean décor greeted us both outside and inside, and the meal was great and very cheap. Now stuffed and content, we returned to the hotel and called it a day.

Another biker in Death Valley

Another biker in Death Valley

Next morning we decided to hire bikes for the day and really get out there and explore the region. There are many tours that you can take in this region, as it very much caters to tourists, but we felt the cheaper and more adventurous bikes would be the way to go, anyway to took the same route as one of the tours in the San Pedro. We headed out for Tulor, the site of an old native village, the remains of which could still be seen poking through the sand in spots. It wasn’t a great distance away, though we did work up a good sweat in the blazing heat. The site was really something, tucked between volcanic peaks, old masonry and stone scattered about, and even a few reconstructed building around, remodelled to look just like they would have back then. Really makes you think about what life would’ve been like back then. It’s incredible to think how quickly things have changed in the world.

We returned to San Pedro for another siesta and light lunch, a welcome time to escape the heat, as it was now midday and positively scorching out there. Later in the afternoon as it began to cool just slightly, we set off for Valle de la Luna to catch the sunset. This was a much longer trip than the trek to Tulor, and also contained a more challenging set of terrain, but it was great fun. Not even the winds blowing in our faces, trying to keep us back like some mystical force could stop us on our way. We weren’t entirely surprised to see many others at this spot as we approached, all planning to take in the sunset like us. It really was an almost haunting experience. The colors and shadows cast about off the many peaks and ridges was a dazzling sight.

Flamencos

Flamencos

Of course after it was all said and done, we were now stuck cycling back to San Pedro in the dark, and with it much cooler than earlier. It happened to be mostly downhill on the way back though which helped immensely, and the wind was still present and now aiding us instead of hindering us, which also made the journey back infinitely easier. We returned to La Triba , a little restaurant that became our favorite, that night for dinner before calling it a night.

The next morning we were back on our bikes again, which now firmly contained the impressions of our butts in them. This day we were off to Valle de la Muerte (Death Valley…really welcoming uh?) and took a much more interesting and off the beaten track way there, leading us over rocky terrain and at times thick sand. The area was a vast sea of rolling sand dunes, and our goal while here was to do some sandboarding, similar to snowboarding or surfing.

We spent the rest of that day perfecting our technique (actually it was more like developing our technique, as we had none to begin with), and it wasn’t easy. Climbing even the smaller dunes was exhausting after awhile. We all had fun with it, though none of us did particularly well, even though most of us are experienced snowboarders. We biked back to town after this and relaxed with a nice meal and a shower to wash the sand off our bodies (and believe me, it had gotten everywhere). After that it was time to pack up our things, as we’d be taking the bus out of Atacama that night, on the way to Arica along the Chilean border. We met some great people and experienced some wonderful things in just a few short days, and would love to return some day.