The trip from Iquique to San Pedro de Atacama was pretty long, 10 hours sitting in a bus… Oh, yea, there is the landscape…nice the first 2 hours, all along the coast, with seldom villages, but after that, the landscape was pretty boring : it is the desert ! so nothing really to look at through the windows… 🙁
When I arrived in my hostel in San Pedro de Atacama, which is really a city in the middle of nowhere, I met a German couple (Coco and Flo). We talked a bit about what to do, where to go for a few days, and after a few minutes I got invited to join their bicycle trip the day after !
We rent bicycles for 5 hours, and drove to valle de la luna. A really nice landscape, the valley was nice, but not ämazingly awesome” as the people tell you it is… but except the really really warm sun on the way back, we had a good time !
It was so warm that when we got back around 2:00 pm we just relaxed in the shade in the big terrace of the hostel… and enjoyed the presence of a Christmas tree… which feels really really weird for summer!
In the night, after saying good bye to Coco & Flo , I went to a french observatory a bit out of the town. The guide was a Canadian astronaut, so his english was easier to understand than the Chilean people! It was really interesting, we stood outside, staring at stars and planets (and the guide’s laser to point some stars in the sky), and imagining beeing thousands years ago, when the earth was flat and that we would have to understand the sky… So many information in 2 hours and a half, I wish it would have last longer, I learn how to find the south pole in the sky (because there is not the northern star 🙂 ) and to locate some constellations, some galaxies, Jupiter, beetlejuice, sirius, the pleiades (which is named Subaru in Japan – and is the logo of the automobile company), the big and the small magellans… how to reconize planets and stars, were to find the planets, how is the sky “turning” (yea of course the earth is turning, not the sky 🙂 but you get my point!)
It was really interesting ! And afterwards, we had time to watch all of that in 10 telescopes, and I even managed to take pictures through some of them…
And after heaps of shouting stars (so a good bunch of wishes) and a hot chocolate, I went back to San Pedro and slept for the rest of the night (pretty short!)
In the morning I got up pretty early, I went to some “lagunas altiplanicas” (=lakes altiplanics / high in altitud). The tour started with a stop in the salt plain of San Pedro, with a reserve, where are some flamingos (lake Chaxa).
After that, and a nice breakfast, we drove up to 4300 meters elevation, to face 2 beautiful blue lakes.
When I asked if the vicuña meat was good, the guide answer yes, of course, and it is delicious, better than alpaca and lama 🙂 But not easy to find it to try it here… 🙁 too bad !
I was happy that I didn’t really feel the altitude sickness this time, even if I was higher than in Peru! In Peru I often used paracetamol, that really works, and drank some coca leaves tea, but I didn’t need anything here 🙂
On the way down I had a “funny” meeting with one of my friends from Santiago, that I met in the Spanish classes… Constantin was standing on the side of the road with dome friends of him, behind an up-side downed four-wheels-drive… I had no idea he would be around! Everybody was fine, the car was out of order, they “just” rolled over and that was actually a good thing to try this with a brand new rental car, because the car is safe in this circumstances (all around the binnacle there are some steel studs).
After I got back to San Pedro, I met them for dinner and a sunset on a hill. I couldn’t stay for their barbecue, because I planned again to get high (in elevation – no, no use of drugs here) the day after, really early in the morning, so it wasn’t recommended to drink any alcohol, or eat fatty food or red meat 🙁
All of that to avoid to have the altitud sickness…
So my alarm rang at 3:30 am… ouch ! Got picked up around 4:45 am… that was worth it to get up that early… anyway, I found a seat in the bus (at the front of course, I learn from Peru that my stomach doesn’t like it!) and we were on our way to the Tatio geysers.
As the flyers say : “A spectacular attraction”, “Magic and amazing”… let’s see that…
We arrived in the geothermic basin around 6:00 am, before the sunrise. The temperature was around -3 degrees celcius. That dropped just before the sun got out, and afterward it got better, I could get rid of my bonnet and my gloves (made from New Zealand’s possums 🙂 ), and my jacket with a few of my layers! By 10:00 am, I was wearing shorts and t-shirt again!
So, the geysers… I laughed ! It is a geothermic basin, with smoke around, boiling mud, bubbling water, light spitting water… ok, that is what I saw in New Zealand already ! I really expected a geyser, like a water-shoot, or a kind of a fountain… the highest water-spit (I can’t call it a shoot) we saw was 30/35 cm high… :-/
Ok, appart from this disappointment, the landscape was amazing (at least that was!) And again, at 4300 meters high I did not feel sick!
And the water is boiling at 85 degrees celcius here, and not 100! … of course, with the difference of air pressure at 4300 meters high! Still, it’s burning if you touch it… not a big difference 🙂
On the way back, we saw Vicuñas, Lamas… and a village, with 7 persons living in : Machuca. There were more tourist buses than houses :-/ It felt a bit ridiculous to stop there… but it was nice to see lamas around the corner, and we were at 4500 meters high !
The way down to San Pedro was beautiful :
Back to San Pedro, around 13:00, I went to the hostel to rest a little bit. At 16:00, I left again with another group, to the lake Cejar, which is a lake with a really high concentration of salt (of course, we are in salt plains, so if there is water, it is getting salt walter!).
The lake looked like a normal lake, yea it’s just water, let’s swim! … but how do you swim when you float without doing anything ? It is not really possible…
It was a really interesting sensation, but weird when you want to “stand” in the water : actually it is really hard! It is impossible to stay straight in the water… the water is pushing you up again! So, just relax, and even without an air matress for the nap 😉
Afterwards, we were looking a bit white-ish so we went in an other water hole, still a bit salty but not as much, so we could rinse ourselves. The funny thing before jumping in the water again, was that our swimmers got really hard… we could fold them, or put some shorts standing like that on the ground…
After we got cleaned in the really cold water hole, the sun was going down and it got a bit chili… and we went to the laguna tebenquiche, to watch the sunset.
I really didn’t expect that thing! for me the highlight of the tour was to float in a salt lake! But we arrived in front of a white plain, and with turquoise water!
It was salt cristals, everywhere, really deep… sometimes sharps…we walked in, took funny pictures and enjoyed the view until the sunset. We got Pisco sour served, and drove back to San Pedro.
WhenI got back to my hostel, I fell asleep pretty much instantly, for a long repairing night :-).
I woke up late on Thursday, and pretty much hung around all day, writing on my blog, answering to late emails, going shopping…
and I left around 17:30 San Pedro, to sleep one night in Calama. I found a bus the day after from Calama to La Serena, on west coast and more south, but I couldn’t get a bus from San PEdro in the morning early enough to catch this bus.
I found an hostel (where miners stays in the weeks to work around Calama), and I met a Czech woman in the bus that had no idea where to spend the night and how to get to the airport the next morning. So she went with me to this hostel and as she wasn’t talking spanish, I helped her to figure out how to get to the airport on Friday morning, while I went back to the bus station and got my bus.
When I arrived to La Serena, I met Alex, who arrived from Santiago with an other bus. We decided a little bit at the last minute that we could meet for the week end!
So we visited La Serena, which is for me not a really nice looking city, I didn’t really like it, so we went to the beach… which was kind of full of rubbish and stuck between the city buildings, the road and the water (of course, we need water, otherwise there is no beach…)
Anyway, we walked around a bit, and decided to not stay longer here and to follow the tips from friends, to go to Valle Elqui.
So we took our stuff, a bus, and arrived in Vicuña, a quiet village in the Valley, on hour away from La Serena.
In the evening, we tried to watch the sunset from the top of a hill, but we actually didn’t find the track… so we stopped somewhere, and watched…
In the night, after we had choripans, we went to the observatorio Mamalluca, to see more stars and get explanations about the sky. (again for me, but as I really enjoyed the one in San Pedro, I wanted more!) It was alright, but the guide was Chilean and was talking a real Chilean language… so I couldn’t get anything of what he was saying… 🙁
On Sunday, after a short night because the tour at the Observatory started late, we took an other bus for another hour and got to Pisco Elqui (as far as possible with the bus).
We rented bicyles, and went a bit further on the road, to visit a bodega de Pisco and wine, and see the valley from inside. After a few kilometers, we were soaked of sweat, it was so warm !! We drove on a bridge, and up a hill… we were exhausted on the “top” and as we didn’t find a way to go to the river to have a bath (as the girl at the bicycles office told us we could do), we went down the hill again and stopped at the bridge. We went to the small river, and found a spot really quiet, with a small “pool” just for us ! We spent probably 2 hours there, and drove back afterwards, which was easier because the road was going down!
And we went back to La Serena, to catch a bus later back to Santiago.
So I got back to Santiago a little bit earlier, but actually I didn’t see the point to stay longer in the desert, and everything to do in San Pedro was so expensive, that it was a good choice to do a little bit of excursions there, and to think that there is more and that I could come back one day, who knows?!