Weird Landscapes, Part 2 - Chile in 48 Hours

Trip Start Jan 31, 2005
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Trip End Mar 30, 2006


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Friday, May 27, 2005

Every time we have crossed a border we have noticed differences fairly quickly, but none so fast as passing from Bolivia to Chile (particularly after spending 3 days in highland wilderness). We turned off a dirt road leading from the Bolivian borderpost onto a beautiful asphalt-paved road with paved shoulders, guardrails and even lines! We were in awe. After about an hour we rolled into San Pedro de Atacama, a cute little town in the middle of a desert. We went through Chilean immigration and customs (much more thorough than any we have done so far) and then got dropped off in the heart of San Pedro.

We liked the laid-back feel of the town and its weather right away and set off to look for a place to stay. This ended up taking quite awhile, as we were hit with Chilean price shock. While it is still a bargain by US standards, prices in San Pedro were about double what we have been used to the last four months. It took visiting about 5 hotels/hostals for it to sink in, and we finally chose the first one we visited which turned out afterall to have been a stellar deal. We then spent awhile working on changing some money (no banks, no ATM and a couple of shops that exchange dollars at terrible rates), checking into our options for getting to Argentina (one bus company sells tickets and it wasn't open until the following morning) and looking into what we could do in San Pedro in the meantime. We didn't do much the first day except enjoy one of the best (and most expensive) dinners we have had in South America. Sort of like, "OK, twist my arm and I'll have that salmon dish with the glass of wine and chocolate mousse, if that is all you serve..."

The next day we found ourselves some breakfast in the form of a trip to a little corner store (fruit, yogurt and bread) and a pastry shop next door (quite possibly the best little apple pies in the world...) We then headed to the bus company that has busses to Argentina, arriving 5 minutes before it was supposed to open, and, uh oh, a line of backpackers was already starting to form... Although there is a seemingly large demand to go from San Pedro to Argentina, the one bus company only runs three days per week (and charges a small fortune for the privilege of being one of the lucky ones with a ticket). We arrived in San Pedro on a Wednesday and were hoping to take the Friday bus out of town. When we saw the line we were a little worried we might not be able to. But luck was with us and we ended up with some of the last tickets.

That afternoon we rented bikes and sandboards and rode a few kilometers out of town to some dunes to see if we could still stand up on a board. The ride out of town was beautiful - the desert is very rocky and filled with interesting red-brown towering rock formations in addition to dunes. We were sort of a funny sight, riding down the roads with sandboards tucked behind our backpacks like wings. Sandboarding was very fun and we made it up and down a half dozen times over a few hours. Although it was hot when we were biking in the midday sun, the desert is at a pretty high altitude and the temperature dropped pretty quickly in the shade. The dunes we sandboarded on were shaded by the surrounding rocky hills for much of the day, and the sand was unexpectedly cold (considering the desert surroundings and bright sun). Around 5:30 or so, as the air got even cooler, we stashed our bikes and boards behind a rock and climbed up to a high point to watch the sunset. It was beautiful - we could see the landscape in every direction and watched the sky turn purple. Before it got too dark we ran down the dune back to our stuff and started riding back to town. Darkness came fast, which made the ride a little slow-going, but it was worth it for the unexpected treat of watching the stars come out so quickly. By the time we got back to San Pedro about 45 minutes later it looked like it could have been midnight.

After turning in our bikes and boards we took showers and then had another good dinner. The next morning we basically just got ourselves organized for the long trip to Salta, Argentina, and then got on the bus around 12:30 p.m. By no means a thorough visit to Chile, but we are glad we had a few days for San Pedro.
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