Hmmm what did we expect when we arrived in San Pedro?! I am not not gonna lie, we were a tad worried as to what awaited us in the desert. Especially as I had accidentally booked us into a matrimonial apartment with no actual address. Must not do this when James comes out!
I was realllllly looking forward to the star gazing tour with professional astronomers at SPACE, Moon Valley and seeing some geysers. However, what else awaited us I was not sure about. Normally I love being away from big cities and into the countryside. However, there was something that made me a tad anxious about San Pedro. Maybe its the complete isolation as we literally were in the middle of the desert and I don’t speak Spanish. Or that it is just so small.
We boarded our flight and I wasn’t expecting much from this as it had been soooo cheap. I had imagined it possibly being cargo and flying with alpacas. However, Sky airlines is apparently a newer company in the Chile airline field and cheaper than LAN – the main airline here. It was a lovely plane journey and we got lunch – result. The views were amazing, we flew alongside the Andes and then into desert mania. Gulp.
Calama airport is tiny and is still being built it seemed. There was no checking of passports and we simply grabbed our bag and passed the shuttle service which offered to and fro services to San Pedro. Awesome. Athough not having an actual address was confusing. Dropped off on a street corner?! Hmmm.
On route to San Pedro we passed some amazing scenery – I cannot describe how wierd it is to be here. I have never seen anything like it. Complete nothingness. Also I say some amazing scenery – I fell asleep for part of the shuttle trip – something about the motion of a vehicle that sends me to sleep. Fast.
So then we arrived at our street corner and a man comes to meet us. Mum and I think he looks like Jesus (however Jesus is supposed to look – different subject matter). He is our landlord a it were and very nice. Oh and he speaks English – result! Our apartment is just off the main street (so getting lost is impossible – except if you are my mum who still gets confused when we do the same walk up and down the main street here) and it is loooooovely. Soooo cute. Anyone who knows me knows I have a inner hippy streak and love granny kitsch. This apartment is IT! If I could bring it back to the UK I so would. I have already brought some knitted Alpacas 🙂 And I am sooo getting a knitted jumper from here – its the softest wool EVER! However, the hundreds of ants climbing the tree in our outdoor ‘dining room’ can stay here. Grrr. We have already lost the sugar to the ants.
I would definitely recommend this place to couples coming here for a few days. Not perhaps the 6 full days that we stayed here! But as you will see from the photos, it is very unique and I love showering outdoors! Also on the Sunday there was a town parade going on (a religious parade I think) and the locals partook in this with fancy outfits, live bands and dancers. It was very cool AND we got to watch this from our doorstep. How nice was it showering in our garden listening to a live band march through the town IN THE SUN.
So, relieved about the apartment, we then venture into town. I kid you not when I say it is practically one long, main street with a few side streets and a main square. It would take you less than hour to walk around it all. And we have six days here. Gulp. And no WIFI. Gulp again. Mum says ‘you’ll just have to learn to relax without the internet’. I am confused as to what she is saying and every opportunity I can I find somewhere with the internet. Ha. As expected, its not fast but its good enough.
So cue LOTS of time mooching around – in our apartment and a bar/restaurant with WIFI. Its a lovely place though and the shops are brimming with amazing, expensive things to buy. All made here obviously. As well as my jumper, I have seen a funky water bottle carrier and hippy trousers. I recks Ill give the hippy trousers a miss though – I would hate to become a cliche 😉 Althouuuu it would be worth it though just to greet James in them when he gets here! Hee. And see my brothers face when he sees me wearing them 🙂 Also it would be funny to wear them to work on my first day back! But I am on a budget – important things only.. Like my jumper and water bottle carrier 🙂
At night San Pedro comes alive with tourists and locals drinking it up. And of course how could I forget the human like dogs. There is suddenly a noise level as people emerge from… the desert?! to consume alcohol. However this all all stops at 1ish and I have not partaken in this drink culture. Shock. Although we have indulged in cocktails and wine, they seem to give us headaches the next day. Not sure if it was the strength of the sun out there or altitude. I have since found out its likely to be the altitude and mum was not feeling great from it and not adjusting to the altitude here as suggested online. She sounds like Darth Vader with her blocked sinuses and I am not an expert in altitude sickness. Most ailments yes, but not this one. I sort of expect to turn around and find Darth Vader standing there ‘Tara, I am your mother….’. Ha.
So tucked up in our matrimonial bed we are most evenings at 11pm the latest! With one eye open I may add – I know those pesky ants are just waiting for an opportunity to march all over me like they did my sugar!
There are also soooo many tour operators we didnt know who to go with! So we thought we would go with three different ones – mostly recommended by the Lonely Planet (LP) and the last one because it is next to our apartment and I wanted their free wifi! Hee. These are Grado10, Atacama Adventures and Turis Tours. For the next fews days, we have planned visits to star gaze, visit Moon Valley, see the geyers and a trip to see some flamingos/lagoon. Mum wanted to see the latter. I wanted to go to Salar de Tara – right, its clearly meant for me – but the LP says although spectacular (why thank you :)) it is also back breaking (ha, perhaps more apt!). But not quite sure mum was feeling that or the sand boarding at night. Funny that.
We did the star tour first with SPACE and this was sooooo beautiful. I mean the view is just amazing – hundreds of stars – and we saw the brightest of them all through a telescope. I forget its name though! :s We also got to see Jupiter which was amazing. I also discovered that there was more to Orion than his belt (or Tara’s line as I used to call it) and discovered where the Southern Cross was. Also felt impressed with myself when the astronomer explained ‘supernova’ as I knew what this was from currently reading Bill Bryson’s ‘short history of everything’ book. Go me.
Signing to mum in the pitch black was difficult, I am not gonna lie but at least we got a hot chocolate at the end of the evening. Yay. We also saw an amazing shooting star (amongst a few others) which, to quote said astronomer ‘was the best he had seen in the last 5 years’. It was amazing – although I missed part of it due to signing to mum. The tour was definitely worth doing and the astronomer explained so much more about space but to be honest, I find it all a tad mind boggling. Better get on with my Bill Bryson reading…
We then headed to Moon Valley with Grado10 and the guide was lovely. His name was Nicholas and he wanted to learn sign language so we taught him the basics – hello/bye, thank you, you’re welcome and my name is Nicholas. I think I would be a good teacher. He also came to South America 2 years ago from France – started off in Ushuaia like me – with plans to travel for 10 months. He is still here and appears not to have made it far! He said he was leaving San Pedro in March to travel and end up in French Guinea where he wants to stay for another 2 years?! How do people just do this?! I am in awe of people like this. I wish I was brave enough.
Moon Valley is gorgeous and it was really nice to leave San Pedro and see the sites. It was also time to bask in the gloriously HOT sun! We ventured into a small salt cave and had to climb up part of this steep hill which set off mums fear of heights. Poor love, I don’t think this is what she had in mind when she said she wanted to come to Chile. We then headed to Death Valley and watched the sunset. It was pretty gorgeous but it ain’t no Ayes Rock. I wonder if by travelling I have become a tad complacent about beautiful places. In my head I am like ‘Yeah that’s cool, but it was better in….’ Blah blah! Tut.
We then did a tour to see the geysers. The tour company was picking us up at 4AM! Lord. So up at 3.15am we were and were told to bring warm clothes. Well, I feel I did not really grasp the point of that as it was soooooooooooo cold! I mean literally like climbing the mountain in Torres but WITHOUT THE PROPER CLOTHES (and rain). The guide said it was below -0 but honestly, I could not feel my toes and felt cold to the bone. One lady suffered from altitude sickness pretty bad and had to head down before us but I was ok – just FA-REEZING. Mum felt a bit lightheaded.
The geysers were pretty amazing and I have not seen these before so I was impressed.
The noise they make is sooo wierd – like one heavy breath and poof, hot smoke comes out. I was trying to stand near the smoke so it would warm me up and am unsure how, when there is soooo much heat below the surface bursting through, my feet were SO cold. Why was the floor not warmer?! Bill Bryson?! Anyone?! Some were gushing hot water too (these are the actual geysers) and ha, our guide placed eggs and drinking chocolate in a hot water pool for our breakfast. Cue boiled eggs and hot chocolate for breakfast (or tea for me and mum). This is because the guide said the hot water was about 99 degrees. Wow. I didnt test this by dipping my finger in – basically because I was rigid from the cold. Honestly see said picture below for how cold I look and times it by 100. We then had the opportunity to swim in the hot springs which some people did. Had my toes not been in a state of frostbite and my bones rigid, I might have done this as I really wanted to. However, the guide says he has done this trip for over 5 years and he still has not ventured into the hot springs due to the thought of getting undressed and dressed in the cold. So I am not the only one! It looked pretty cool though.
I have now made a mental note though to try everything (almost everything) for my last part of the tour. I can be quite a chicken and lazy so I regret not jumping off a rock when water rafting (it was high and haha I have done it already in Aussie land was my excuse ;p) and not getting into the hot springs. So hence forth, going forward I shall be Tara the Brave. Ish. And thus have no regrets.
We didnt end up doing the last tour due to it being at quite a high altitude and mum not feeling great. So we mooched for day 5 and actually it was really nice. I think we adapted to doing very little!
Overall San Pedro is amazing and I would highly recommend coming here – it is truly a beautiful and unique place. However, 4 days would be plenty of time to do most of the tours. But apart from the tours, there isnt much else to do apart from eat, drink and shop and it is expensive here. Also these things dont take that long so you are left with quite a bit of time on your hands. Maybe to contemplate the beauty of life if you so wish. The tours are mainly half day ones so mooching around seems to be how we have spent most of our time. This would be fine if we didnt want to do more in the Santiago area (or home as we have come to refer to it!). I might come back here for a couple of days (to do the rest of the tours, night time sandboarding and have a night out in San Pedro) as part of another trip.
So thats it for now peeps, back to Santiago tomorrow for my last few days in Chile and we are going to the apparently wonderful Valpraisio. Back to civilisation and mum breathing like a normal person! Then its off to Argentina again for me and the last part of my wonderful trip.
Oh and in case you were wondering, I have injured my leg ´twice by walking into the wooden matrimonial bed frame and almost concussed myself by headbutting the door frame twice. Just so you know I havent changed that much.
Ciao 🙂 x