San Pedro de Atacama and Valparaiso

Trip Start Jul 31, 2005
Trip End Feb 18, 2007

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Monday, November 13, 2006

Chile, Civilized Surroundings, Uncivilized Prices

As we walked around the desert oasis of San Pedro de Atacama, with clean, orderly streets, modern cars, flashy bars and restaurants, we had a kind of feeling of relief of being back in civilization, that was at least, until we saw the price of everything. Ten dollars for a main course in a restaurant, 3-4 dollars for a small bottle of beer in a bar. A shocking increase from the 2 dollars for a main course and a dollar for a large bottle of beer that we were paying in Bolivia.

We´re not Exactly on a Primary Bus Route

Our first problem in San Pedro was how to get out of the place. We met up again with Billy and Vanina who had crossed the Salar de Uyuni on another tour and had arrived in San Pedro at the same time as us. Our intention was to get a bus with them over to Salta in Argentina and to travel down from there, but there are only three buses to Salta a week and they were all full. So, we look at our options, which included waiting for 5 days for the next available bus to Argentina, trying to find somebody with a jeep who was willing to take us to Salta or forgetting about Salta and waiting a day for the next available night bus down to central Chile. With every minute in San Pedro burning a big hole in our pocket, we eventually decided to take local buses to step-stone our way to the much bigger town of Antofagasta, on the coast, and try and get a night bus the same day to central Chile from there.

We're off, Down South

The ride to Antofagasta took us through some surreal scenery in the Atacama desert, which is the driest desert in the world, and is complemented by a deep blue, cloudless sky.

At Antofagasta we manage to get four seats on a 12 hour night bus south to La Serena. As we don't generally get much sleep on night buses, we decided to try to see if drinking copious amounts of alcohol might help. We started our drinking fest in a restaurant, which we were pleased to find out was much cheaper than any of the restaurants in San Pedro, and bought a bottle of wine to share on the bus. It seemed to do the trick nicely, as after a couple of hours we were sound asleep, and when we woke up we had almost arrived, with no recollection of the last 9 hours of bus travel.

As we'd unexpectedly slept so well, rather than stopping a day in La Serena as planned, we felt brave enough to get on another bus to Valparaiso, a resort on the Chilean coast close to the capital Santiago.

Valparaiso, Chile's very own Brighton

We've heard some great opinions from other travelers about Valparaiso, and although it was a pleasant enough place, we didn't find much of tourist interest outside of the historical elevators which were built to take people up and down the hillside, and the attractive streets with wooden buildings built up on the hill. Though one thing which surprised us was the mix of architecture. Not just typical Spanish colonial architecture this time, but lots of British Victorian architecture, some French architecture and various Italian influences. Something we weren't expecting at all. We're also still getting over our return to civilization culture shock, and keep getting excited at seeing well stocked supermarkets with huge ranges of imported goods, proper cafes, and a variety of foreign restaurants. We are also getting used to the nice feeling of being able to walk around a town, without being constantly stared at.

We leave Chile temporarily to pop over to Mendoza in Argentina, but we'll shortly be back, to visit the capital Santiago.
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