Trip Start Jan 04, 2008
Trip End Apr 08, 2008

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Flag of Chile  ,
Saturday, February 16, 2008

Atacama....the driest desert in the world according to Lonely Planet....and I believe it.  We move inland on an overnight bus to San Pedro de Atacama.  They only drive this stretch at night I think because it is SO hot during the day...and at night it cools way down...the bus is more likely to make it without overheating I guess.   San Pedro is supposed to be a popular vacation destination for Chileans and we meet a lot of folks from Santiago and other parts.  But at first glance, one wonders why they're all drawn here... to a dusty little town in the middle of the desert.   But feeling road weary, as all night buses will leave you, it's no time for judgment....time for a hostel.  And we settle quickly, only to realize there is no water available today.  OK, we wander around town, come back in the evening...still no it our hostel or the whole town?  To make a long story short, we end up switching locations to a lovely, family-run hostel that has a few tanks on the roof that serve as a water back-up system.  Another seemingly odd place for people to live.  Here we are in a place, clearly unfit for human habitation, we're way outside of our essential need zone...yet people are flocking here.
Our first planned activity is to go dune boarding in a place fittingly enough called Valle de los Muertes....the Valley of Death.  Sandboarding is just like snowboarding - same type of board - except you're surfing down the dunes and there's no lift to bring you back up....and keep in mind it's HOT AND DRY.   And we're not going to take a tourist shuttle, we decide to rent bicycles and sandboards for the day.  So we strap them across our back, we wait till about 6 PM when it's only slightly tolerable in the sun and head out of town...along roadways through vast open areas of blowing sand.  Now picture a snowboard strapped across your back, through your backpack, pretty much grinding into your vertebrae as you pedal, creating a wing like effect, except at this moment, the wind is in our face.  As hard as we pedal, it is slow going even on areas of only slight incline.  Lisa stops to express her misery...shall we retreat back to town....give up on this adventure?  Although equally exhausted, I'm not ready to give up....I mean it's not like this is fun right now...but I have visions of myself careening down sand dunes in northern Chile...and if it takes a hellish ride thru the desert to make that happen, I can keep pedaling.   

So we make an agreement to go to the horizon line and reassess.  As much as I hope to realize my dreams of surfing the Valley of Death, this ride to the horizon line is practically killing me and I'm secretly thinking I ought to embrace Lisa's lack of desire to continue as the voice of sanity.  So of course, at the horizon line, we see hilly dirt roads, further into lands that lack an ounce of moisture in either the air or soil....Lisa has already turned her bike around....I can either proceed alone or join her.  Hmmm....risk my life and limbs alone hurtling down a desert slope or let my new wings carry me back to the oasis to slurp down some Fanta and roasted chicken in the plaza with good company.  The choice is easy.  Sandboarding will have to wait...maybe even until my next lifetime.
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