The Atacama Desert

Trip Start May 18, 2005
Trip End May 18, 2006

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Flag of Chile  ,
Monday, April 24, 2006

24 hours. Thats how long we spent on a bus from Santiago to San Pedro De Atacama. Lord!! But it wasn't all that bad, especially since we got a first class fully reclining seat for the journey. They even give you meals and show movies. It was great!! Better than a plane, and much cheaper too.

San Pedro De Atacama is a little village quite literally in the middle of nowhere. Its in the Atacama desert, the driest place on the planet. There's a place about 20 miles from the village where no rainfall has ever been recorded. EVER!! The streets are paved with, er...dirt. Thats right, no tarmac (although they were in the process of laying a tarmac road along the street of the richest guy in the town - they even had to employ guys to stay at each end of it and chase off any sray daogs that wanted to give it thier own personal mark of approval!!).

But, despite the lack of flat roads, San Pedro a happening place and the action centre of Chile. Its right in the middle of a bunch of natural wonders. After wandering around town for a bit we eventually found a nice little place to stay, looking like those traditional houses you often see on the telly in spaggetti westerns, white washed and a little bit wonky looking, but nice nonetheless.

We got up at the ungodly hour of 4am the first morning to go see the El Tatio Geysers, the highest geyser field in th world at about 4500 metres way up in the Andes, about 7km from the Bolivian border. It took about 2.5 hours to get there, travelling in the dark along a fairly treacherous looking roads. We got there just before dawn broke, which is when they begin to erupt, but, as our guide informed us "it's not cold enough for them to explode really high". Not cold enough!?!? It was feckin freezing!! He was right though, some of them erupted about 20 feet high, but if its cold enough the place is meant to look like the earth is going to open up beneath you, with geysers spewing hot water aout all over the shop. Don't get me wrong though, it was still impressive, especially since I got to swim in the highest natural hot water pool in the world. Bit cold when I got out though.

Later that same day we headed out to the Salar De Atacama, the largest salt flat in Chile and the third biggest in the world. Its basically the harshest, most inhospitable looking landscape you ever saw. Lets just say you wouldn't want to get lost in the middle of it. The salt is twenty metres thick and forms basically from water flowing from the andes that evapourates before it can go anywhere and deposits the slat it contains on the flat(you learn something new every day). Amazingly there are some animals that can survive here, most notably the flamigoes who look very impressive in pink against the white salt plains. They live in the small pools that dot the flat. We watched the sunset over the flats, which was amazing, easily as good as Ayers rock.

Hidden away in the depths of our guide book we came across a little titbit that at first we thought must be some sort of mistake. It said that if you go to any restaurant in Chile for lunch and ask for the 'Menu del Dia' you will be able to get pretty much a full 3 course meal for half the price you would pay in the evening. There is less choice, but its a nice meal nonetheless. We decided to test this out and low and behold it worked!! The propreiters all appear shocked when you ask them, as if the best kept dining secret of Chileans had been compromised. We always had to ask for it at least twice beofre we got it, and even then it was reluctantly handed over. so from then on we had our main meal at lunch ime rather than in the vening for twice the price.

On our last night in town we decided not to go for the 'Menu del Dia' but to go for a hearty meal in one of the tonnes of restaurants in the town. The food was good, as always, but you tend to come out smelling like a piromaniac because they all have huge bonfires in the middle of the room (it gets VERY cold at night) and the smoke and soot gets all over you. Mabe that's what makes the food so good too!!

We had another long journey ahead the next day so we had an early night.
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