San Pedro de Atacama

16-17 August 2003

San Pedro de Atacama (2440m) is a cool, but dusty village in Northern Chile. It was a hard contrast to our lovely apartment in Santiago, and we had to get used to cold showers, tiny beds, very hot days, cold nights, and eating lots and lots of dust.

This is the luxury bus we took from La Serena to Calama. It was the best bus we could take to cover the 14 hour journey. Jason was very excited so proceeded to sing Metallica whilst listening to Enrique in his headphones.

This bus came complete with annoying local in front of us (turning up his headphones and playing his Spanish music to everyone loudly and frequently) and a maniac bus driver, (they have a system in Chile where the bus beeps when they drive over the 70-mph limit, it is very loud buzzer that goes off at the front of the bus. (Glad we picked seats 1 and two).

We arrived at lunchtime in the boiling heat to meet Superman at Calama. He is a bus attendant who takes his job seriously. Dressing up just for tourists and children, he seemed to like checking himself out in the mirror alot. He also seemed to use his underpants to store his spare socks.... either that or he had a very large package!

There are miles of dirt tracks and dust to be discovered (Jason's words).  So, we got up with our hangovers and took to our bikes.  We were impressed that they actually had brakes and springy seats.  It was very hot and we would like to thank the thirty vehicles that drove past us (quickly) spraying us with dust and sand.

Each corner brought us spectacular views.  Here Claire stands before Volcan Lincancabur (5916m) on the Bolivian border. This is one of the Andes highest extinct volcanos.

The high plains behind the volcano would shortly give Claire pretty bad altitude sickness.

Jason hired a sand-board with his bicycle. Unfortunately the sand dunes in the Valle de Martes (Mars Valley) were not steep enough for sand-boarding and he soon got bored and gave up.

We hurried to Valle de Luna to see sunset.

We hardly saw anyone all day until sunset. Cycling through rough terrain (sand, hills) and mini rivers, we got muddy wet feet. As we rode, the silence was eerie.

Valle de luna is a beautiful valley that looks like particularly good at sunset with the sandunes and rock formations. This place is a real tourist trap with loads of tourists attempting to trek up the sand dune.

The view of the sun setting over the burnt red ground and sand-blasted rocks was really breathtaking.

This is us at the top, we were really tired now, and had covered 30 kilometres in only a few hours in the boiling heat.  Claire really enjoyed the journey home which was in the dark on bumpy tracks without a torch while bus-loads of tourists fly passed spraying us with dust.

San Pedro is famous for a museum constructed over many years by a Belgian priest called Gustavo Le Paige. It shows a few mummies that have been found on nearby mountains.  It was obviously quite cool at the time to leave dead bodies on hills.

This is the least gory mummy we could find.... it did still have some dried skin on its face preserved by the amazingly dry Atacama atmosphere.

San Pedro doesn't get out much, and the locals are only allowed three parties a year.  We had high expectations as we caught a nightbus to the Oasis party that had a really cool flyer, boasting DJ's and techno music. We had a very funny night watching the DJ's argue about what punk rock songs to play in betweeen the house tracks.  

The electricity went off three times and we were surrounded in darkness. This is a picture of a fire girl who danced around for the crowd before they had another power cut and we left at 4am. Jason was hounded by a gay guy who liked to keep touching him from behind while Claire was hugging Jason to mark her territory.  He followed us everywhere and was still stalking Jason the next night, along with our waiter for dinner.

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