We arrived at San Pedro de Atacama very late but managed to find our hostel in the dark. The next morning we had a wander around the village and arranged to go Sandboarding that afternoon. Sandboarding was great fun, it's a lot slower than snowboarding but we both got the hand of it pretty quickly
. Alasdair was better at it than the instructor! :-) The only problem was you had to walk to the top of sand dune which was hard work in the desert heat! A lift would would have come in handy! On the way to the sand dunes we drove through the death valley, the driest place on earth, absolutely nothing lives there! It was a bizarre landscape, a little like you'd expect the moon to look. After Sandboarding we watched the sunset over the Luna Valley, again, a moon like landscape with a cold beer before heading back the town. The town is very much like you'd expect a desert town to look, mud brick houses stretched out along thin dusty roads. Our hostel was very good we and enjoyed soaking up the sunshine in the hammocks in the courtyard. The next day whilst we were in our hammocks we noticed a bizarre circular rainbow around the sun. It looked like a big hole in sky! After a bit of googling, i found that its all to do with a certain type of cloud and the ice crystals, causing a rainbow. apparently theres only a few places in the world you can see this. The night sky in San Pedro was also phenomenal. So many more stars than you normally see.
The next morning we had an early 5am start for a 5 hour bus journey to take us across the Chilean boarder into Bolivia. Once across the Bolivian boarder, we were met by a 4x4 land cruiser that we would spend the next 3 days in, all prearranged in San Pedro de Atacama and shared with 4 others
. It was a snug fit with 7 of us including the driver in the 4x4 along with all our stuff on the roof! Our first stretch of driving through the Altiplano took us to laguna canapa where we saw volcano Ollague, lots of flamingos (3 different types) and vicunas (like a small Llama) . Here we stopped for lunch before heading on our way passing a couple more lakes and varying landscapes as we gained altitude. That evening we stayed in basic accommodation very high up in Siloli Desert, 4400m above sea level. The altitude made us feel quite breathless and nauseas at times but the next day we decended a little and had a cup of coca leaf tea which made us feel a bit better. We visited Largo Colorada which is orange in places caused by volcanic activity and sulphur, again frequented by lots of different flamingos. Apparently they use these minerals to make glass. As we made our way further in to Bolivia we also saw strange rock formations that looked like something out of an Indiana Jones film and stopped in a little village called Vila Alota. It was a bit of a ghost town only seeing one little Bolivian lady scuttling down a side street. That evening we stayed in another small town called Culpina where a Bolivian family cooked up hot soup meat and chips for dinner and we had a good nights sleep after a much needed hot shower.
Our driver was very good at driving the 4x4 through all manner of landscapes, only problem was he had terrible taste in music! For three days we endured bad cd after bad cd but after the horror stories of drunken drivers we'd read about online we thought we were very lucky! On our last day we set off to visit the train graveyard, on the way there we almost had to turn back as part of the road leading to Uyuni had been almost completely washed away due to heavy rainfall. The drivers surveyed the road that was now a river, debated what they should do and made the decision to drive through, luckily for us and our 4x4, we didn't get stuck and made it safely to more stable section of road
. It was the only road to Uyuni so there was no other option really! We had a quick look at all the abandoned steam trains that were used for mining many years ago and set on our way to the Uyuni salt flats (Salar de Uyuni).
As it is rainy season the salt flats were covered in about 10cm of rainwater, settling on the top of the hard salt rock cracked ground. This didn't stop our 4x4 driving straight into the middle of it. It was a beautiful sight, in places you couldn't tell where the horizon met the sky. Unfortunately it was quite cloudy but we still saw the impressive reflections and manage to take some good photographs as below. Our driver drove the land cruiser further in to the centre of the salt flats to the Hotel de Sal, a hotel made completely from salt but we spent most our time paddling around of the salt flats and taking lots of photos. That evening we checked in to our hostel in Uyuni and went out for a couple of drinks and some dinner. I noticed straightaway how poor Bolivia is in comparison to Chile. The housing Is poor, certainly in Uyuni and children not much younger than my nieces of 6 years are helping in restaurants and shops. It has made me think about how lucky I am to have had a great childhood in a warm house with hot water, great school and loving parents. I guess the children here do not know any different and they seem healthy and happy!
Our flight from Puerto Natales to Santiago was surprisingly good! It was a clear day and we flew across a massive ice cap that led in to all the glaciers in Chile and Argentina. It was a fantastic sight. I was also sat next to the Mayor of Puerto Natales, a lovely old man and very knowledgeable about the area. Throughout the flight he pointed everything out to us which was a bonus! We spent a couple of nights in Santiago before heading off on our 24 hour bus journey (gulp!) to the desert village of San Pedro de Atacama. The journey was fine but we think we'll try and keep bus journeys to under 20 hours in the future!