South America, Day Ten: San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Ok, so after a night of hell / adventure at Santiago airport, and a dodgy cup of tea (tasted like dirty dishwater), we finally checked in at 5am, and flew to Calama – then we caught a shuttle (12,000 pesos) to San Pedro. Don’t worry about pre-arranging this. There are shuttle companies everywhere and each charges the same.

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While I’m giving an overview of transport, Sky Airline are amazing – we’re so impressed. They run to time and they load you up with snacks and meals – even if you’re only hopping on a short flight. And the staff are all mega-helpful. Book with them if you can. They’re worlds apart from the likes of Ryan Air who, as we know, will screw us any which way they can.

Oh and something else about Santiago airport – NEVER order tea with milk. Or lemon pie. Both are gross and resemble nothing of their names.

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We arrived at our hostel by noon and, by the time we’d finished pottering about, set out to lunch shortly after. We ate at Sol Inti (as recommended by Hostal Campo Base) and we were really impressed. Good food, big plates at small prices. You must try the freshly squeezed juices! I chanced a salad (I’m still not ill, stomach of steel) and Vicki had chicken and rice (she’s still poorly, poor thing… I won’t elaborate.

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After lunch, we went on an organised tour: Valle de la Luna (or ‘Moon Valley’). Basically, this allowed us to explore the Atacama desert without the risk of getting lost / killed. Always a bonus. We booked with Desert Adventures and our tour guide was very, very charming. And attractive. His name was Javier. Despite feeling fifty shades of shit, Vicki caught his eye – which gives you an idea of how beautiful she is. When I feel like shit, I look like shit. When Vicki feels like shit, she pulls. Go figure.

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We first went to Death Valley. It was never supposed to be ‘Valley of the Dead’, it was  supposed to be ‘Valley of Mars’ – like the planet – but ‘Mars’ and ‘dead’ in Spanish sound pretty similar (Marte / muerto), so the wrong name just stuck. In short, it comprises of a series of rock formations – which give the appearance of being on Mars. Without disrespecting this archaeological wonder, it’s essentially a bunch of crumbly rocks, all of which sit on the driest place on earth.

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After we had finished playing with the phallic rocks, we visited the ‘salt range’; an area nearby which… well… had a lot of salt.

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Valle de la Luna was next on the list – a national park (entrance fee was 2,000 pesos). I’ve kept hold of the leaflet but – essentially – more rocks, plus rocky caves (which we had to navigate in, around and under). Then we had to climb a massive sand dune (nearly killed me, altitude is a bitch) and watched the sunset as sand blasted into our eyes.

Romantic.

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We didn’t last long tonight on account of sod all sleep so we had a quick snack at a bar that had a fire inside.

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A continuation of yesterday’s entry… I was too tired to write coherently as my last sentence will demonstrate:

San Pedro de Atacama is such a quirky town… terracotta shacks line the sandy streets, and the colours of the town blend into the tones and shades of the surrounding desert and sky. There’s a few patches of green here and there but essentially it’s a town in a desert. The drainage system constitutes a stream that runs along one side of the street – but it doesn’t smell and it isn’t unsightly. It’s just odd to hear the sound of water trickling as you walk around the driest place on earth.

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Again, it feels a lot safer here than any of the cities we’ve been to so far (Santiago, Buenos Aires) and we’re not wearing our backpacks on our fronts. That will change tomorrow when we head to Bolivia.

This place is awesome. It’s a shame we don’t have more time to explore. I feel a certain peace in dusty / barren places – perhaps that’s something to do with my upbringing (I was raised in the U.A.E.). There are a load of cool shops here too – not necessarily because of their content, but because each shop looks like a little cave that deserves to be explored.

There are a lot of young people here too – it seems to be a hotspot for gap year students. On the ‘Moon Valley’ tour, there were a handful of kids – couldn’t have been much older than eighteen. They’d been in South America for three months. Seasoned travellers and they’re only puppies!

The men here are very attractive. The guy who drove the shuttle from Calama to San Pedro was gorgeous. But I couldn’t keep myself awake and kept falling asleep with my mouth wide open (which Vicki was delighted to report!). Hmm… sexy.

Vicki’s not feeling very well so we’re taking it easy today.

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