Wednesday, 26 March 2014

A Tourist Oasis

The sunset on our 2nd overnight bus during our journey to San Pedro 

Our final stop in Chile (after 2 overnight buses and 36 hours of travel) was San Pedro de Atacama, an oasis in the middle of the the driest desert on earth. The town was cute, all the buildings are made out of adobe (mud bricks) and it looked very rural. However, beneath it's rustic exterior is a touristy hotspot, where each building is either a hotel, tourist agency or restaurant! From the little town you can do any number of excursions into the amazing landscapes of The Atacama desert and Altiplano, as well as organise your trip to the famous salt flats of Uyuani in Bolivia. 

The Photographer and I watching the Sunset at Valle De La Luna (photo courtesy of John)

As soon as we arrived and got of the bus we were both feeling the effects of the altitude (San Pedro is at around 2400 meters) and it was difficult to walk and talk at the same time! Our hostel (Campo base) was more expensive than some of the other options in town but was so nice (with an amazing breakfast). We spent our first day mostly just relaxing and eating, with a little bit of tour shopping for our Uyuni trip (there are ao many options in the town and so many awful stories it can feel a little overwhelming). We also met the lovely John our roommate for most of our stay and hung out around the hostel (till we got sent to bed for being too noisey)! 

Sitting on the edge of another world - Valle De La Luna at sunset.
Our little tour group gang at Valle De La Luna

The next day we decided to tag along on Johns afternoon tour to see the sunset in the Valle De La Luna. The tour was a little more active than we anticipated (flip flops were not a good plan) as we had a bit of a trek through the rocks and a little adventure through a cave before we settled down to see the sunset. The whole thing was pretty fun, the landscape was beautiful, more like mars than the moon, but definitely another world. Our tour group was very amusing with people helping the guide out with Spanish to English translations and Andreia (Johns friend from a previous tour) putting us into fits of giggles after throwing her water around to 'feed the desert'!! The sunset itself was wonderful (if a little crowded), the landscape turned a hundred shades of pink and orange and we even got to see the moon come up over the valley. 

Crazy rock formations at the Valle De La Luna


At the Valle De La Muerte (view point at of the death valley, also visited on our Valle De La Luna tour)


On day two we decided to forgo any tours and just hire a couple of bikes to explore the surrounding area ourselves. We decided on a short 3K ride out of town (we were still suffering at the altitude) to some small ruins (pukara de Quitor) and a little view point which as actually quite a walk uphill!! The views over San Pedro and the surrounding valleys were great and my lungs just about survived the exertion. As we were still feeling ok we continued on the road to Catarpe which has a few sites to see. Unfortunately after attempting (I ended up walking) to ride a very steep uphill to look at a tunnel (seriously), we were exhausted and we decided to head back to San Pedro for a chilled evening with John and our new roommate Raoul. 

Ruins and the veiw of the San Pedro oasis from our bike ride mirador

On our final full day in San Pedro we were all up at 4am to head out for sunrise at the geysers. It was absolutely freezing (deserts are not always warm apparently...) and the journey to the geysers took us up over 4000m. This was my first time seeing anything like this and it was really cool, our guide explained everything really well and getting close to the steaming geysers was a good way to keep warm. We even got to enjoy hot chocolate and eggs cooked in one of the hot water pools!! After a beautiful sunrise we headed on to a warm pool where The Photographer and I attempted a swim - it was not as hot as advertised so I got out pretty quickly!! Back in San Pedro we had a goodbye lunch (of super classy chicken and chips) with John who was leaving that day before spending the afternoon preparing for our upcoming uyuni salt flats trip (which we had finally booked the day before- don't worry more on this to come).

At the Geysers
 
The not so hot, hot pool (don't let the steam fool you)
Old adobe church on the way back from the geysers
Holding hot eggs, cooked in a geyser pool

Fox spotted by the geysers

That night at the Photographer's insistence we had a stargazing trip with a company called Space. I have to admit I was not overly enthused, after all we had been up since 4am and had another early start the next morning! But as soon as we got there I was enthralled, the French guy who ran the tour was so funny and enthusiastic and despite the bright moon we still got to see some pretty cool things!! Learning about the stars is actually pretty exciting and makes you feel so incredibly tiny. 

I crawled into bed at midnight exhausted and totally unprepared for the next few days..

A photo with john and a happy couple in San Pedro

The moon, taken through a telescope on our Space stargazing tour

Summary

Location: San Pedro de Atacama

Highlights: Geysers, stargazing and new friends. 

Top tips: Shop around for tour company's, desert adventures was really good and the Space stargazing is a must! Also food here can be pretty pricey, but there are a few great markets where you can buy cheap fruit and veg, and an amazing place in the centre that does cheap spit roasted chicken - yum!! 

Profile pictures: Yes and cover photos too!! 

Epiphany's: 0 Even the wonderment of looking up at the stars and realizing how tiny we are hasn't helped! 

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