Sheep, Stars and Sand

Trip Start Jan 15, 2010
Trip End Nov 09, 2010

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Where I stayed
Hostel Solor

Flag of Chile  ,
Monday, March 15, 2010

Our bus pulled into the Chilean side of customs 10 hours after leaving Salta (it was supposed to be an 8 hour journey, but who‘s counting?). I was joking with an Irish guy on the bus because we were literally in the middle of nowhere and he said “are you getting off here?“ I said “no way!!” There were mini dust tornadoes swirling about and it sure looked bleak! We were all piling back onto the bus after clearing customs and Jeff walked around to the front of the bus to take a picture of the “phew, glad we aren’t saying here variety”, and we see a lady walking up with “Ms. Tamara Fisher” written on a piece of notebook paper! We looked at each other, shrugged, and then grabbed our packs and threw them into the back of her truck. I guess that tells you something about first impressions-- we came for three nights and stayed for 6--that is how much we ended up loving this place! I imagine it could have been Santa Fe, New Mexico 200 years ago. All one story adobe buildings and houses, all the same clay color in a mountainous desert landscape. The roads in “town” were all dirt roads- they said to preserve the history (but the cynic in me says they just won’t admit to not wanting to spend the money on it!!). We stayed at the best hostel yet-- Hostal Solor--it was also the most expensive yet at $64/night but we didn’t mind (Chile is definitely more expensive than Argentina anyway!)--it was immaculately clean, with full use of a clean kitchen and sitting area with wi-fi that worked most of the time ---but the best part of the hostel was the owner, Sylvia. She was probably in her mid-60’s, and an incredibly kind, hard working woman. One afternoon I was trying to catch up on blogging and she came in and asked if I wanted tea--my first thought was that I really wanted to be quiet and blog, but my very next thought was--”be present and live in this moment!!” So I accepted the offer and closed my computer. We ended up chatting for almost 2 hours (in Spanish, she didn’t speak any English). She told me her story-- how she is from a small village outside of San Pedro called Solor and her family grew up farming and raising sheep. Ever since she was a young girl, she wanted to own a hostel, so as soon as she could start working and saving money she would travel to the nearest big city (Calama) and work as a hospital administrator. She worked for years and finally was able to save enough to buy a piece of dirt a 10 minute walk from the center of San Pedro. Her two sons helped her build a small 2 room hostel, and over the next 5 years she would add on 5 more rooms. But, as if running a hostel isn’t enough of a full time job, her mother passed away 4 years ago and left her the family farm in Solor. About this time in the story, she notices the time, hops up, as asks if we want to go with her to see the farm. OF COURSE, since we are pseudo farmers now J

We hop in the Toyota truck and head down the road. She pulls into a field and starts honking her horn. About a minute goes by and then her 30 sheep come running to the road! She starts to drive along, honking and herding the sheep in the truck. But there is a baby that keeps straggling and the sheep are a bit disorganized, so she signals for Jeff to take the wheel and hops out, grabs a stick and starts whacking the sheep into order! It was one of those crazy experiences where you wonder how you ended up helping this woman herd sheep in the middle of the dessert, but there we were! She does this every day--after serving breakfast to the tourists, she goes to the farm and herds the sheep from their pen to an alfalfa field down the road and does other chores at the farm. Then in the evenings she goes back to the farm to bring them back. Obviously this is hard work and she starts telling me how winter is coming and she doesn’t have time to get ready, so I offer for us to help her on the farm for a day. She is very appreciative and excited! So, the next day, we wake up and head to the farm. There are two types of trees native to the Atacama area, one there is no translation for, and the other is a carob tree. The carob tree dropped heaps of pods, which you can eat raw (which we did, and so did her playful dog, Banban), or many locals make marmalade out of it. But she just wanted to gather it up for the sheep to eat during the winter. So, we spent a couple of hours gathering up about 7 giant potato sacks full of carob pods. I thought we would work all day but I guess she didn’t want to ask any more of us. After working, she gave us a couple of beers and fresh eggs from the henhouse and we went back to the hostel to continue our vacation!

Other highlights of San Pedro:

Star Gazing: In fact, the skies are so clear that there is a huge multi-national project (Project Alma) being built to study the skies. We went on a star gazing tour one night-a French astronomer bought some property and started a star gazing tour for tourists. He has about 7 giant telescopes and through them we could see Saturn, the milky way, another galaxy and many other stars. He also showed us how to identify the southern cross, and a bunch of other constellations which I will have to re-learn in the future since I could only absorb so much!!

Altiplano lakes, flamingos and salt flats: One of the days we loaded up in the mini-van and did a tour with Cosmo Andino (there are a ton of companies, I could recommend this one). We started at the Salt Flats, where there were hundreds of flamingos who head there for the winter to feed on brine shrimp and build their nests. The nests feel like plaster and they lay one egg in there. It doesn’t seem like there is enough cushion for a rock, much less an egg, but somehow they manage to hatch! The scenery of the lakes is amazing--some look like Caribbean blue water with mountains around-spectacular!

          Sand dune boarding in Death Valley: Huge sand dunes, scorching sun, and not a green thing in site! And of course, there was no ski lift to get you to the top! I made the hike up twice and boarded down, but Jeff was putting all of the 20 something’s to shame sprinting up the hill over and over again for the entire 2 hours. We had snow boards and a stick of wax. The only instruction was “lots of wax, go fast, little wax, go slow”. And there was totally lots of sand in lots of places where the sun don’t shine!!!
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Hair on Fire on

You all look so happy! What a fabulous, fabulous experience. Great photos also.

Bo on

Lets go surfing now eveybody surfing now lets go bag some carob pods. That doe snot seem to fit. Your journey continues and we love living vicariously through you. Have fun and be safe.

Shamalama on

Now those are happy smiles!!!

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