San Pedro de Atacama
Trip Start Sep 05, 2007
38Trip End Feb 24, 2008
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One reason it's good to be back here -- good coffee. I stayed at an inexpensive hotel last night ($8 for my own room, with shared bathroom) and it came with breakfast this morning
So let me fill you in on the last few days. I got to San Pedro de Atacama around 10am on Tuesday. The ride was OK, except on the bus from Iquique to Calama, we stopped at a checkpoint around 2 or 3am and we all had to get off the bus. My bag was even one of the ones searched quickly. Then, I had to wait about an hour and a half at the Calama bus station for our connection to San Pedro. After getting to San Pedro, I walked around to a few different hostels with a few people from my hostel in Iquique. We finally settled on one (not great, but cheap) and ended up sharing a dorm room there. Buses to Argentina from San Pedro only run three times a week, so I bought a ticket for the next bus, on Friday (meaning I had to stay in San Pedro for 3 days).
San Pedro (altitude 2,440 meters) has become a really popular tourist town over the last several years. I think every local who lives there works in the tourism industry, as it seems like all of the buildings are hotels or tour agencies
The trend of waking up at ridiculous hours continued, as my first morning in San Pedro I woke up at 3:40am. At 4, a group of us were picked up for a tour of the El Tatio geyser field. It is one of the largest geyser fields in the world and also one of the highest (at an elevation of 4,300 meters, or more than 14,000 feet). We left at 4 because it took about 2 hours to get there and the geysers are most impressive between 6 and 7am. We stayed at the field till 8am and the geysers did get much smaller by then. It was freezing (below zero) but warmed up a bit once the sun came out more. We had breakfast there at the geyser field and then went to some nearby thermal baths for a swim. These hot springs were different from the others I'd been in because the temperature of the water was not very consistent. It was a bit cold, especially at one end of the pool, but there would be like underwater waves of really hot water as well
The main thing for Thursday was doing a tour of the Valle de la Luna. Valle de la Luna is a beautiful area near San Pedro that looks like a moonscape in many places. A small group of us left at 4pm and first drove to Cordillera de la Sal, a small mountain range next to the Andes. We then drove to a place called Valle de la Muerte (Death Valley) where we got out of the car and hiked about half an hour. Really nice desert scenery along the way. Our driver picked us up and we went to Cañon de la Sal where we did another walk over sand dunes and through a small canyon. Finally, we drove to a spot where we could climb a hill and watch the sunset over Valle de la Luna. That was cool to see, we had a great view of Licancabur Volcano (5,920 meters, or nearly 20,000 feet), which is on the border of Bolivia and Chile. I had seen this same volcano during my tour of Southwest Bolivia, when I didn't think I was going to end up traveling to Chile.
I had taken out what I hoped would be the right amount of Chilean pesos in Iquique before heading to San Pedro because I heard that, although San Pedro does have an ATM, it often does not work. And since San Pedro would be my last stop in Chile, I also did not want to take out too many pesos
Speaking of pisco sours, this is an interesting drink because Peruvians and Chileans have a big rivalry about it. Both think that they have the best pisco and that they invented the pisco sour. Pisco is a white grape brandy -- Peruvians make their pisco sours with pisco, lemon juice, syrup, bitters and egg whites. Chilean pisco sours don't have egg white in them and therefore are more clear, while the Peruvian kind is foamy. Talking about this is a good way to start a fight between Peruvians and Chileans.
The bus from San Pedro left at 10:30am and I got to San Salvador de Jujuy at around 7pm. The border crossings weren't too fast, and the bus just sat for a while at the Argentinian crossing after everyone was on the bus. We also stopped once for half an hour and were given tea and a ham and cheese sandwich at a roadside restaurant
The ride itself was really nice towards the end especially, as we passed through some beautiful scenery (some of which I plan to return to over the next few days). We saw a couple of rainbows, one of which was projected onto the hills, which I'd never really seen before. We took a really windy road down some mountains and then drove through a fertile green valley, surrounded by hills of different colors. Most of the tourists on the bus were getting off at Salta (including the two people from my Iquique hostel who were going to Argentina), I think I was the only one who got off at Jujuy (other than locals). One guy got off before me at Purmamarca -- the area looked great, confirming that I wanted to visit there while I'm up here. OK, that's it for now, will be spending the next few days in some really small towns with great scenery.