The change was dramatic and instantaneous crossing over between the countries - the roads, the signs, even the look of the people changed straight away which was quite strange. Unfortunately the language changed as well and just as my Spanish was becoming respectable, I find that the Chileans have torn classic spanish apart and ruined it for everyone. Suddenly new words are being used, the ends are being chopped off, they don't even pronounce s's and they speak at light speed.
Apart from that it's a great place (oh and apart from the prices too - painfully high at around 3 pounds for a set meal, ouch). Having travelled over the mountains and being at the slightly more breathable altitude of 2500m I was in the Atacama desert proper, staying in a small and very touristy town of San Pedro. Despite being full of westerners it was still a lovely place; very relaxed and very hot too so it was nice for a few days. I rented a bike and cycled out of town on the highway that runs through the desert to a place called Valle de la Luna (Valley of the moon). Itīs a sizeable reserve full of weird rock formations and canyons and small salt flats which is so-called as it resembles the surface of the moon (and those Chilean astronauts know their stuff). Really impressive place and I went on top of a big sand dune to watch the sunset in the desert which was good. Only trouble being that I then had to cycle back 15km in the dark on the main road which was a bit dangerous.
I gave myself a day off to relax in town and then the next day took a bus to nearby Calama to go and visit the mine at Chuquicamata.
It is the world's largest open-cast mine and also the largest hole in the world (with honourable mentions going to Liverpool) and was very impressive to see. They also have some of the biggest dumper trucks around with the wheels alone being at least 10ft tall. We were told that one wheel costs $30,000 and the whole truck costs about $4m. An absolute snip for all of the copper you can carry on that monster though. I rushed back to San Pedro afterwards and then hopped on a bus to go further south in Chile to the beach.
Having got a pretty horrendous jeep ride from Uyuni cross-country to the border of Chile, I could not have been more thrilled when, within metres of the worst road you've ever seen was the perfectly smooth, glissening tarmac of a slightly more developed country covering the countryside. Since then i've been enjoying tarmac wherever i've been - great invention.