A birthday in the Chilean desert

Trip Start Oct 01, 2012
Trip End Oct 01, 2015

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Flag of Chile  , Antofagasta Region,
Monday, February 11, 2013

We descended 2000m as we headed down into chile to the border town of San pedro de atacama. As we arrived at immigration we were shocked to find a queue of at least 500 people. It was hot, we hadn't showered for 4 days, we'd got up at 4 and it was Tai's birthday so this was obviously not how we wanted to spend our time. To make it all a bit more interesting we made a little bet on how long it would take us to get to the front- the winner would be able to choose any horrible food or liquid for the other to eat or drink when we got to Asia- on our trip so far we'd heard stories of such things as deep friend tarantula or snakes blood so the stakes were high! By bet was 2hrs , Tai's 1.30. The wait was obviously long and as we passed the 1.30hr mark I though my luck was in, then a huge group left the line and we moved forward and we were almost at the front. In the end we both got our passports stamped after 1hr 42 - tai had won!!! I'm hoping he forgets by the time we get to Asia!
After a quick bag check we were back on the bus heading into town. Our driver who was very anti San pedro de atacama drove the bus round town as he shouted to us in Spanish - "San pedro, very small, many tourists, very expensive!" we got a little tour of the town before being dropped off on one of the main roads. The Spanish couple (jaime and Joanna) had given us the name of the cheapest hostel in town as theyd been there before so we headed there! San pedro is in the middle of the Chilean desert and it shows, the streets are dirt and all the buildings are one storey and made from this kind of red clay material. Most of the hostels are either Eco lodges or ranches and there seemed to be lots of oversized wheels stuck to all the fences. We liked it immediately but were nervous of the costs as had heard it was super expensive here. We turned up and the hostel owner told us the cost of a room was 20,000 Chilean pesos- wed looked at the exchange rates and couldn't believe it- that's only 3 pounds! We checked in straight away , made use of the hot shower, tai opened his presents and we headed out for something to eat. We saw jaime and Joanna on our way out- theyd finally made it through immigration too and thanked them for finding us such a cheap hostel. We wandered round town in search of something to eat , places were offering menus of the day for 4000 - which was only 50p , this seemed weird as everyone told us how expensive things were here... We quickly got the phone out and double checked the exchange rate - wed got it wrong - it was actually 700 to the pound not 7000 which made our hostel £30 , the most expensive place we'd stayed at yet!! So in the end finding somewhere cheap to eat turned into a struggle and we had to settle on overpriced sandwiches! We decided the only thing to do was go and get a beer and discuss our options- was chile and Argentina going to be too expensive for us, should we just head straight to NZ?
After a few drinks we decided that we would stay and head to Argentina the day after next. We bar hopped our way around town for the afternoon before heading back to the hostel where we drank wine and in typical Spanish tradition ate dinner super late with jaime and Joanna. Tai even got a birthday candle!
We eventually retired to bed after being up for 22 hours!
The following day we had a lie in and then ambled our way around town, we also found out why the border crossing had been so crazy. For 3 days before we arrived there had been really heavy storms, the border was shut and the road that leads in and out of the town was closed. So on the day we arrived 3 days worth of people were trying to leave or enter, we also heard from a few people we know who were dotted around south America, most of them
were stranded in places unable to leave because of storms... Somehow we'd managed to miss it all!
That afternoon we tried to book our bus to leave the following day, we were still getting completely disorientated in San pedro and it took us about 3 hours (there's only about 5 roads in the town) to find the bus ticket office!
Feeling inspired by the night sky the previous night and as San pedro is famous for star gazing we booked ourselves on a star gazing tour for that night at midnight, we just had to return to the office at around 8 to check weather conditions and pay.
We found a cheap ish restaurant- well the wine was cheap - and had a belated birthday meal out. Tai ordered vegetable curry and I ordered a delicious creamy pasta dish, tai unfortunately didn't like his and so I swapped with him- that's love right there!
At 8 o clock we returned to check our tour and were told to come back at 9 which we did to find a closed office with a "all tours cancelled" sign on the door :-(
Feeling a little down but relieved it wasn't the salt flats which were cancelled we headed back to our hostel to get ready for our bus journey to Argentina the following day.
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