Earthquakes, Law Breaking and Revenge

Trip Start Nov 29, 2013
Trip End Nov 29, 2014

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Flag of Chile  , Antofagasta Region,
Sunday, April 6, 2014


San Pedro de Atacama, a backpacker haven, cuddled right up into Bolivia's underarm it remains at the centre of Northern Chile's most spectacular scenery. Salt lakes, volcanoes, geysers, sand dunes and moon-like landscapes.

There are more tourists than natives and there are swarms of irritating touts buzzing around. However, it's a charming desert town, so quaint and completely different from any other part of Chile we've visited.

The journey was not too enjoyable, David and I had to sit separately and were both unfortunate enough to be wedged into the window seat by fat, snoring, bad-breathed ogres.

Arriving at our destination bright and early the next day to find a few youngsters had their backpacks stolen on our bus. What idiots... Who puts their life line in the stall above. Not us. We cuddle our bags.

A little bewildered, we searched for the main plaza. A buzz of English and Hebrew flooded my brain, here we were in tourist town. A load of 'gap yah' posho's walked by in hotpants and vests. It was good to see everyone had taken the 'lonely planet' advise to cover up out of respect.

The "rustic" campsite that we rocked up to was far from what we were used to. We were greeted by a huge guy wearing a 'Nightmare on Elm Street' t shirt. Inviting. The small ground outside a hostel was littered in tents, had a man-made shit stream running through it and there was barely enough room to put our little tent. "We'll take it!", well it was as cheap as chips and had wiff woff. It seemed everyone else had this idea too and there were several occasions where newbies actually tried to move our tent to make room for theirs. Once, we were inside the tent when a guy attempted to drag it! You can imagine D's rage at said French guy.

There's plenty to do in San Pedro, but because all of this is so far away from the town, it's advisable to go with a tour. There's so many tours though, walking down the main road compared to Almafra Campsite: you can't get anywhere fast, everyone wants to talk to you. It used to take us a good hour to get to the pool.

To help us we took a trip to Tourist Information to read their big bad book about the tour operators written by the public. Great idea firstly, because it's funny, secondly, you know who and who not to book with.

We settled in, getting ready to go to bed as other backpackers drank or rolled up a doobie. I went to brush my teeth and use the lavatory to shift a bit of wind I´d acquired from one too many figs. All of a sudden, the toilet jolted underneath me. Golly, I knew I could have blocked up their sewage system but surely, I couldn't detach the whole latrine.

Standing up to get a better view, it felt like the earth was spinning. Uh oh... Low blood pressure, I'm going to faint and there's only direction to fall. I didn't. My senses were devoured further when the electricity cut out. I threw myself out of the washroom, it felt like I surfed out, the ground was swaying like the tide. Hearing a worried David shout my name, I followed his voice.

It's a bloody earthquake? I questioned the surrounding bodies. An 8.2 on the Richter Scale. The buildings were having a good shake and sway. I looked at my distressed boyfriend who was barefoot, "are you alright?", I asked. "You know the film 'The Impossible'? Well I felt like the woman in that when I was looking for you". Drama Queen.

The next day we found ourselves in an office at the back of a fruit ´n´ veg store with a big guy who showed us his crack. It was in fact a tour operator who pointed to the fractures in the walls of his office left by the "terremoto" (earthquake). He was a friendly bloke and he had a young Brazilian sidekick who translated for us. We were sold, we paid about a fiver each for the salt lake tour later that afternoon.

These three salt pools, averaging 40 metres deep, they were something else. Although it's freezing, we bobbed around, floating like clouds, taking in magnificent views of the desert and volcanoes. Back on dry land, the salt crystallises all over your skin, it feels like you're covered in glue. There's only one thing for it... Get back in!

As we wandered over to another pool, David began cursing as his flip flops became wedged stuck in the most foul smelling mud. He was made to hand pick his Haviannas from the gut wrenching bog. Only David eh?!

We met a really cool Canadian couple who were also on our tour, we got along so we hired bikes and a sandboard the following day. Originally called Moon Valley, because of the out of this world scenery, the name was lost in translation and now has the sincere label, Death Valley. The four of us bombed through the mars-like landscape, it felt like we were the only people on the planet. We reached the sand dunes where I had another embarrassing dose of dehydration. With no shade available, we cowered next to a rock while we watched Sara and Shadoe glide down the dunes. These guys snowboard at home, so it was no surprise the Chileans, also at the dunes, ran over to them in excitement. I'm not sure who these local kids thought we were but they took our photo's left, right and centre. We didn't stay too long as we knew Hidde was arriving in San Pedro with his sister, Sanne.

The six of us went into town to eat, wandering through the main road, an Eastender grabbed our attention. She was a promoter for the bar/restaurant we were all stood outside. With a sullen expression, she explained how it´s illegal to dance in San Pedro so when the bar ´´goes off´´, there is always someone stood outside and watches out for the police. ´´It´s absolutely crazy´´, her monotonal cockney matched her face...cheerless. We shimmied off giggling, breaking into dance once out of earshot. Dancing illegal? Imagine that one on your criminal record.

After finding a decent place that served pizza and beer while surrounded by a pack of grovelling dogs we retreated back to the hostel. Shadoe and Sara donated a bottle of Pisco as they were off early the following day. During one rowdy game, the delightful guy in the Nightmare on Elm Street shirt came over and leaned upon the table grinning at us.
´´Right chicos, I have rearranged the tents...´´
Yep, this oaf had moved our tent.
´´...this is so we have a space in the middle. No tents can be pitched here, this is our earthquake evacuation site´´
I enquired if there was going to be a big one tonight, as we´d experienced a few per night since the 8.2, three days ago.
´´No´´ he grinned.
This fool took 72 hours to come up with this, better late than never.

Still peeved that Freddy Kruger had dragged our tent, the next morning we found our milk had been taken. For the second time. I couldn´t have written our names any clearer on it. I took revenge on our final day. I emptied the last of our milk from its carton and peed in it. And off we went to watch the football.

Our last afternoon was spent at the Valle de Luna. Not knowing what to expect, I rocked up in a dress and we all had flip flops on. 45 minutes later, we were in a cave about to embark on a rock climb. The Belgians were fine, just sweaty trottered beard and blonde whose feet were all over the show. So we stayed at the back and took our time taking in the views... the woman whose trousers had split, the David Bailey wannabe who squashed her face right up to every single rock face with her SLR in hand. What a wild Instagram page that would be.

Our gregarious guide ushered us along throughut the day, even when I´d taken in all there was to see and started toward the minibus, he waved his hands to another rock, barking ´´photographs, photographs´´. Upon arriving at the highlight of the tour, the sunset over the beautiful Luna Valley, Hidde and Sanne exited the vehicle, when all of a sudden the minibus started to roll backwards. My heart stopped as we started gaining speed toward the edge of the valley, Hidde and Sanne´s faces shrinking in the distance. UH OHHHHHH !!!! This handbreak had failed, the driver spun the wheel, the bus spun around and up to safety where we ran off the bus.
´´Ha ha ha, your faces, man´´. Not funny Hidde.

Apart from premature hypertension, the sunset was a beautiful ending to our time in San Pedro de Atacama. Winding David on the edge of the futuristic valley was incredible. Yes, I wrote winding. The poor guy got wind, probably from all of the minibus screaming. The sky danced with every shade as the sun plunged under Earth and we retreated back to the hostel in darkness wondering.... has anyone drank my milk yet ?
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Meg on

Loving the pictures. Didn't make it that far south. Hands up, I was one of those idiots who left a bag up the top and got stuff stolen, silly billy! X x m

beardandblonde on

I've been back on your page for inspiration over the last couple of weeks ... Xxx

turnleftatrio on

Ha ha ha brilliant! Xxx

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