Been through the desert on a biscuit with no name

Trip Start Jun 06, 2011
Trip End May 22, 2012

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Where I stayed
Hostal Sonchek
What I did
Met some cats

Flag of Chile  ,
Saturday, August 27, 2011

Tuesday 23 August

LK: Our last couple of days in Santiago were chilled; having a bit of a late start on Sunday as apparently the clocks had gone forward, we visited the National History Museum (and everything stops at 1973) then strolled out onto the Plaza de Armas. A military brass band was playing the strangest tunes (Putting on the Ritz; On the Street Where You Live) – the jarring contrast gave it the air of a Nazi tea party. We rode on the funicular to the top of San Cristobel hill where the blessed statue had a ladder up her back for some reason.

KK: We walked back down as the sun started setting, a layer of smog giving the evening a hazy glow.  Our plans for a cheap Sunday dinner were spoiled by our favourite reggae-themed bar being closed. We ended up back in The Dublin watching Colo Colo on the TV. Unremarkable except LK had her first curry in ages and I overdosed on cheese from a pizza.  It was about half an inch thick. "Are you sure you want to do this?" asked Christian as we struggled out the hostel with our bags on Tuesday morning; “you can stay here.” We were very tempted, Christian, a former professional footballer, racing car driver, acrobat and Nobel Prize winning scientist had been so kind to us and all he asked in return (apart from rent) was that we lied convincingly about him on our travel blog. How long do we have to sit on this bus for?

LK: About 23 hours, with 3 hourly bagno stops (although this was quickly working out to be a bit pricey at 250 pesos a go – all future bagno stops were to use the toilet on the bus instead). They promised us snacks, why aren't there snacks?

KK:  We did have films: Donald Sutherland starring as the fabulous Mr Bennett in “Pride and Prejudice” with Ms Keira Knightley  in the lesser role of Lizzy. (yes that was a “Pride and Prejudice” joke – you don’t see many of those nowadays). LK looked out the window at the Pacific coast and fog while I watched “The Hurt Locker”; the puffed up abomination that is “Australia” (only redeemed by the little boy’s swearing: “cheekybloodybulls”) and “Minority Report” which was either incomprehensible garbage or I should have been trying to get some sleep instead. I had no sooner nodded off when a man poked me awake to give me a bloody biscuit. I was livid.

Wednesday 24 August

LK: As KK fell into his second deep sleep at 5.30am, the same man poked him awake with our luxurious biscuit and juice breakfast and rambled on at us about getting off the bus in Calama. This seemed to be for the sole purpose of getting us frozen and actually wanting to sit on the bus again, even after 21 hours. Then the road ploughed through a vast area of rocky, sandy nothingness to deliver us to the dusty streets of San Pedro de Atacama. One of the driest places in the world, and, oh good, more bloody street dogs and this time they’re huge.

KK:  It is a tiny town with two main streets, which cross, and with a small square where the church is. And we still managed to get lost looking for our hostel. Eventually we found it and the cheery lady who runs it introduced us to one of the three cats and showed us to our room. We had a wander round until we were convinced we couldn’t get lost again then had a lie down. The room is cosy and has a thatched roof which keeps us cool during the day and warm at night. This is good because the days are damned hot and the nights are chilly. We went out for a sunset tour to enjoy both extremes.

LK: Joining a party of ten Slovenians and their interpreter, we visited valleys de la muerte and de la luna which were both bleak in a beautiful way. We walked through volcanic salt canyons modelled by wind and atmospheric pressure and you could hear the salt cracking. We did more climbing than I wanted to do, especially getting buffered by gales on the top of an escarpment. “Look at the changing colours as the sun goes down,” says our guide Julio. I looked into the sleeve of KK’s coat as vertigo got the better of me.

KK:  Thinking she might miss the sunset LK had bounced up the escarpment like a mountain goat. It was steep and tricky and the fading light and strong wind made coming down more difficult. LK accomplished this by bouncing down the hill on her bottom while our new Japanese friend Taka shouted encouragement. The sky glowed pink as we drove back to town. On the way to the tour we passed a bar playing Motorhead and showing football on three TVs. It is right by the corner of the street where we live and as such is now our local. Just the place to buy a dusty-bottomed wife a cold drink. Splendid.

LK: And as our bus to Argentina doesn’t leave until Sunday morning, the beer is delicious and the sky shows us more stars than you could possibly dream of, it’s no hardship to extend our stay at the hostel with the sunny central courtyard and chilled out cats for a couple more nights.

Thursday 25 August

KK:  It takes a few hours for the sun to warm the desert up. Our beds are piled with so many blankets it is hard to move. Two quite pathetic excuses for us not getting breakfast until 10am.  Altitude and our entirely biscuit based diet of the last two days had the strange effect of destroying our appetite. But we had to get something to eat to take our antimalarial tablets.

LK: Scrambled eggs with juice did the trick, and now we await any number of crippling side effects selected from the alarming list included with the tablets. We strayed into the church on the main plaza, not giving up a chance to see the gruesome wax representations of saintly people that Spanish Catholicism so adores. When we came out, we started talking to a kindly old gentleman who had known John Kennedy as he had worked in the US at the White House in the 60s. He kindly advised us that the police “are very serious in this country”. The lives some people lead, honestly.

KK:   “I’m not sure I want to watch Newcastle play Scunthorpe,” LK said as we discussed when to revisit Bar Motorhead. “Nobody wants to watch Newcastle play Scunthorpe,” I explained, “but if we can watch it we have to.” In the bar they were showing a rerun of another game but the only people looking at it left.   “Permisso, futbol ingles por favor?” I said to the bored looking girl behind the bar, while LK looked at me while shaking her head. The girl poked the remote, we looked at a blank screen for a few seconds then, to our utter astonishment – black and white stripes.  We were more chuffed at actually being able to see it than we were about the game itself. Until we had a couple of beers then we started making the locals jump with our exhortations. Sammi Ameobi scored the winner for Newcastle while The Clash’s “English Civil War” played on the sound system. I like it here.

Friday 26 August

LK: For the sake of spreading the tourist pesos around, we went to a different restaurant for breakfast. Oh dear – the bacon omelettes should have been called gristle omelettes and KK’s gr anulated coffee offering was the texture of Mellow Birds (reference for those of you over 40). It was somewhat disappointing, as I’m sure Michael Winner would have in one of his reviews.

KK:  Every civilisation moves from hunter/gather to pastoral agriculture. From stone age to forging metal. They all discover clay and they all without exception make bowls and fertility symbols. And hundreds of years later they all open museums to display dug up pots and cocks. In the Atacama the dug up artefacts are in excellent condition because of the dry climate.

LK: The museum in San Pedro used to have mummies and human remains on display but have now removed them out of deference to the Atacamean peoples. Which meant we got more than our fair share of flint heads and ceramic wares. But we got some culture and retained some different knowledge if only for a short while.

KK:  Ah retaining knowledge... LK’s Spanish is racing along, she now has entire conversations and shares jokes with the locals. Whereas every day I return to Spanish For Remedials: Day 1 “Hola” = “Hello” – I blame the comprehensive educational system. LK blames all the snakebite I drank in the 1980s.

KK &LK: Happy Birthdays to Shaun and ADD XX
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