San Pedro de Atacama

30 July, got up, walked to bus station, bought bus ticket, and waited for bus. Easy. A little bit of internet to pass the time, and then watching guy and girl – trying to figure out if they were father and affectionate daughter, or pervert and gullible young girl. Finally figured out it was the latter. Also present was the young girl’s mother, who didn’t seem to be too disturbed by the situation. Finally got on bus, along with pervert. Not sure if I was pleased about this or not. Good as it does mean the young girl gets some solo time, hopefully to get healthy attraction to some guy at her school. Bad, as I have to sit on the same bus as a pervert. Go through all the customs stuff. Chile has similar rules to NZ regarding fruit, vegetables, animal products, etc. Very big on their bio-security, which I find odd in a country with so many (and large) land borders. Still, plenty of ways to get past it if you so wish, which made me slightly regret drinking back my remaining coca liqor on the bus, straight. Some good landscape on the way.

Anyway, got to Arica in the nighttime. Argentinian girl asks if I know of any hostels. Nope, but we listen to a couple of touts. She says that she is going to “stick close to me”. I’d seen her rather affectionate farewell of boyfriend in La Paz, and was hoping that she hadn’t forgotten him already. We go outside to catch a”micro” to the centre. (A micro is a van used as a bus, pretty much.) Then, I notice a rather large sign across the road claiming to advertise a “hostal”. Seeing as Argy is going to airport tomorrow, and I’m thinking of just getting on another bus to somewhere – we check that out. Turns out to be very cheap (for Chile, still much more than Bolivia) – so we take that. I ask Argy if the guy realises we’re not ‘together’. She confirms, sweet. We get one room, but with two single beds. Then – take a romantic walk around the corner to find some internet for Argy to confirm she’s flying out tomorrow, and then dinner at a cheap family chicken place. No booze. Luckily I had consumed that coca liqor, or today would have been the first ‘dry’ day in memory.

31 July – Argy leaves, then I get up, and head over to bus station. Don’t know what to do, and the hangover of a sober night has made my mind all confused. Decide to head to the bus station restaurant, and have a cerveza to get the mind working again. Soon figure that I’m very hungry, and that the barman’s claim of this brand of beer being very strong is true. So, order some food and cerveza. Then, decide I’m heading to San Pedro. Recommended by the french woman in San Rafael, many months ago. Also, guide book claims that their museum has an excellent mummy in it, nicknamed Miss Chile. And is a very small village, no ATMs or banks, etc. Apparently, many buses from Calama to San Pedro. So, I find a bus to Calama. Sweet – no more need for thinking. So, find some internet, upload some photos, and generally wait. Back to bus station, and to the restaurant/bar. More food, and cerveza. Then – have to put backpack through ‘customs’. Guy doesn’t really search my bag, just asks if I have only clothes, or some souvenirs. I say sure, some souvenirs – show him one example, and he gives me the OK stamp. Then, they take my bag. Not sure if I am in the right place at the right time, so nervously hang around to see what bus my bag is put onto. See it put onto a big orange bus. Sweet. Then, a little while, big orange bus disappears. Dumb. Reappears soon – just wanted to change parks, to a park two spots over. Finally get on bus, next to nice man. Nice man goes and gets a pillow and blanket, and the same for me too. Nice, isn’t he? Then, he goes to sleep. And soon after, sticks his elbow in my face. Not so nice. I struggle to find a way of sleeping while avoiding his elbow.

Woken up very early in the morning of 01 Aug, for a customs checkpoint. Everybody gets of bus, lines up alongside a bench. Very very cold. Stand around, then we get back on bus, with nobody ever checking anything. Back for a little more sleep, avoiding the man for whom one seat is not enough. Arrive in Calama. Not sure if Calama has a bus station. If so, we certainly weren’t dropped off there. Instead, at 6am, we’re deposited outside a shopping mall. Very cold, and very absent of ideas. This time, with no restaurant or bar to do my thinking in, I opt for standing still, and doing nothing. So, the other passengers dissipate, eventually leaving myself, one man, and one girl standing there. Eventually the girl decides to take the offer of one of the taxis. Leaving me and one man. One and a half hours of standing there, doing nothing, and not even really considering my options. As I couldn’t think of many options. Just standing on the side of the road. The sun eventually started to come up, and I was just about to go and get some more money from an ATM, and stand in the sunshine while I did some proper thinking. But, then a taxi pulled over – and instead of just offering me a ride, asked me where I was going. I say that I think I want to go to San Pedro, but don’t know where to get a bus. So he tells me, and offers me a ride. Sweet – no need for thinking. Waiting for circumstances to make my decisions for me has again triumphed. Taxi takes me to one bus company which goes to San Pedro. I pay him the fare which is advertised on his window, and which I’d confirmed before getting in. He looks disgusted. Expected tip, I guess – and rightly so. But – no more change, so I pretend not to notice. Bus company is closed, but with lady sitting on chair outside – and people sitting in a bus which is open. Lady tells me the bus goes to San Pedro at 8:30, and the office opens at 8 for me to buy a ticket. So, I wait. Others arrive, get the same info. Lady starts chatting to me a little bit, wants me to sit in the bus as outside is cold. I tell her I’m fine. Office eventually opens, and lady makes sure I go in, and buy ticket – even pushing into line for me. As I was here first, I gather. Then she makes sure I take my backpack to the bus, and that I get on it. I don’t disappoint her. Bus, however, can’t leave. Roadworkers have deposited a heap of shingle on the road, making it impossible for the bus to turn out of it’s driveway. After a while the heap is moved, and we head off.

Fairly short trip to San Pedro – where we’re dropped off in a dusty ’street’. I walk around, finding nothing but dusty ground and dirt walls. Eventually find a hostel – which is full. The girl tells me which direction the centre of ‘town’ is though. Am not expecting much. Heading that way, I find another hostel – with a spare reasonably priced room. Sweet. Then, continue my walk. Find the centre of town. About two dozen tour agencies, a few internet places, half a dozen ‘mini-markets’, and a dozen restaurants. This village decided a while back to become a tourist town, and did so. Wholeheartedly. I find one tarseal street. Then, the central plaza – quite nice. Church, trees, dogs. Lots of big friendly dogs in this village. I make my decision on preferred tour company due to the fact they post their prices on the door – removing the need to go in and confirm. Prices are nearly identical for every company, but still… I like places that have little details like that. So – book a place in this evening’s trip to the Valle de la Luna. Valley of the Moon. There are lots of valleys of the moon in South America. This one is supposed to be pectacular at sunset or sunrise. Sunrise involves getting up early, and bykling out to it. Sunset is supposed to be crowded with tourists. I made m choice. Then – lunch and cerveza. Waitress is amused when I order a pitcher. Rightly so, as it was a decent sized pitcher. I roll up my sleeves, however, and finish it. Then – a short siesta, and up in time for my touristy tour.

Into a minibus, and off we go. First stop, the Valle de Muerte. And I walked through the Valley of Death. I even walked in the shadow of it for some way, just like Samuel L Jackson. Didn’t kill anybody afterwards though, just saw some people ’sandboarding’. Smaller and less steep sand dunes than Northland – and I decide I won’t be paying to do that. Then – onto the Valle de la Luna. See a cave, some oddly shaped rocks, and other filler. Then, to the valley. Climb up a hill, and three choices of places to watch sunset from. I opt for the one which involves walking a rock path, rather than along the crest of a sand dune. Keep walking past a point with multiple people, and find my own little spot. Watch sunset. Not particularly exciting. Walk back to junction, then see opportunity for a photo of all the tourists returning along the sand dune crest. Run down dune. Take photo. Then, start to walk back to bus, noticing an irate looking man walking towards me. We meet, and he is furious that I ran down the dune. I try to say that I didn’t know it wasn’t allowed, and he points out all the people walking down the path, showing that it is rather obvious. I don’t know how to point out that his countrymen, and in fact the population of his entire continent, tend to show a wonderful ignorance of anything obvious or resembling common sense. Probably just as well. Instead, just apologise, and then as questions regarding the guide arise – try to save the guide’s neck by saying that he may have given us the required instructions, but maybe I didn’t understand. We find guide, man gives a little rant, then leaves. Guide says he’ll just get a written warning or something.

Back to San Pedro, where I book a trip for the next morning. 4am. To geysers. Not entirely convinced on this, but convinced by the geysers being the highest geyser field IN THE WORLD! 4am, but. Am told not to have a heavy meal, drink any alcohol, or drink any carbonated drinks tonight. Find a restaurant, order the set menu, and a couple of highly alcoholic pico sours. Then – early to bed.

Early to rise. 02 Aug, 4am. Very cold. Who’d have thought that it would be hot and sunny during the day, and freezing cold at night? Here? In the driest desert IN THE WORLD! (See how long I delayed the whole ‘driest desert IN THE WORLD thing? But once the geysers “…IN THE WORLD” came out, I couldn’t resist anymore.)

Anyway – into another minivan. Same guide. Manage to get a little sleep in the 2.5 hour drive up to these geysers. They only work in the morning, hence the early hour. Get there, still very very cold. Negative something. Walk around – am willing to heed instructions on where not to go, as several tourists have died from walking on thin bits which break – dumping them in boiling water. However, guide just says be careful. One geyser has circle of stones around it, presumably signifying the no-go point. Otherwise, nada. Geysers aren’t particularly interesting. No spraying of water into the air. Just some bubbling and lots of steam. Lots of iced over rivers, directly next to pools of boiling water. I return to minibus after trying to interest myself in these puddles as long as possible. The Rotorua region has much better geysers – and they work all day. Mud too. Breakfast is served. Hot coffee is much appreciated, mostly to warm the hands. Then – into minibus. Am looking forward to an hours drive, then some hot pools when the sun is up properly. Turns out to be a five minute drive, and we arrive at a hot pool. Still zero degrees Celsius. And very difficult to change in a very public place when my towel is not large enough to wrap around. But, I manage, and discover the pool is tepid, rather than warm. One hot spot where a geyser enters the pool – but is of course crowded. After a while of soaking in more disappointment, I get out. Run to clothes, and again struggle to change without proving that it has been a very very long time since ‘down there’ got any sun. Manage, and back onto minibus. Drive some distance to a small village. Tiny village, about a dozen ‘houses’, and – of course – a church. Nice enough. Thatched rooves (yep, it’s a word – rooves and roofs both), church on a hill, streetlights, and most houses with a solar panel. Then, onwards. Well, backwards – to San Pedro. Stop to admire some alpacas, llamas, vicunas, etc on the way. Valley with lush strip of toi-tois in the bottom, and barren slopes of cactus on the sides.

Back to San Pedro – and decide food/cerveza is priority over siesta. So – tasty meal accompanied by cerveza. Waitress is amused when I order my third bottle. But has seemed amused since my arrival. Amused and rather taken by charming ol’ Kruse. But – no time for that, I pay the bill and back to hostel for a siesta. Rather long siesta. Up in time to go for a walk, and find a bar. Hopefully they have more reasonably priced drinks than the very tourist-oriented restaurants. Turns out they do, but the prices are still a shock after Bolivia. Sit down, and start drinking cerveza. Old drunk local man chats to me – but eventually leaves. Young local couple come in – change the DVD from local rock act to a “Megamix” of music videos. Michael Jackson seamlessly merging into Aerosmith, and onto Shakespeare’s Sister, Alanis Morissette (twice), Stone Temple Pilots, G’n’R’s, and many others. Young couple then invites me to join them – and I do so, hoping that musical taste doesn’t arise. It does, but only after the football is put on the big screen – and some Bowie played on the stereo. Which means I avoid the awkward question “Do you like this, which we specifically requested?” More of their friends arrive. One chap who is rather effiminate. Keep drinking cerveza. They recommend a bar for later that night, but by the time the soccer game is over – I’ve easily had enough cerveza – and excuse myself. Forced into one more, then manage to leave.

Right then, today – 03 Aug. Got up, and went to sort myself a bus ticket out of here. Remarkably successful, and last minute decision to go to La Serena. Locals last night suggested that La Serena is much nicer than Antofogasta. Only bus available is this evening, arriving in early afternoon tomorrow. So, rather long trip. Gets me that much closer to Santiago however, where Pen arrives in a week. So – with bus ticket done (thankfully they accept Visa), I wandered around trying to figure out what to do with my littler remaining cash. (Turns out there ARE two ATMS in town – but only one accepts Visa – and has been out of order). Go back to restaurant with the waitress who took a liking to Kruse (as I know they also accept Visa), and she isn’t there. Get some breakfast without all that troublesome fluttering of eyelids and unnecessary bending over the table. Wander past the Visa ATM – and today it’s working. So – get some cash out while I can, and continue on feeling cashed-up. First stop, the museum.  Looking forward to these very well preserved mummies.  Walk through entire thing, noting quite a bit of old artwork/stuff that is remarkably similar to Maori equivalent.  But no mummies.  Read comment book, and there’s a few complaints about the lack of mummies.  Then – internet, the great time-waster. And viola – this update. So – now have a few hours left in San Pedro – then off to La Serena. about to go use some of this cash – quite possibly on cervezas and/or pisco sours.

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