Monday, 20 February 2012

San Pedro de Atacama

Our first feel of Chile was lukewarm. While more modern and comfortable than Bolivia, Chile has the higher prices and tourist-screwing know-how that can easily leave a sour taste in the mouths of price conscious, authenticity-seeking backpackers like ourselves. Bolivia was charmingly na├»ve when it came to squeezing every dollar possible from us and we got a rude awakening when we crossed the border. 

Our first day in San Pedro de Atacama, a nice-enough adobe village in the desert of Northern Chile, was fine. We were charmed by the quaint earthen buildings and impressed by the isolation of the town. The next morning, we went to buy a bus ticket to Argentina, as was our plan. And that’s when I had my first travel-related break-down.

We found out that there were no buses for another six days due to Carnaval in northern Argentina. We had two choices: stay in San Pedro much longer than we wanted to, missing the Carnaval celebrations, or pay $150 per person, instead of $60, to take a private minibus across the border. Now $150 doesn’t seem like an exorbitant amount of money, but considering that’s what a full week in Bolivia was costing us per person, we were less than willing to part with it for an eight hour bus ride.

The idea that we were stuck, paired with the misery of our last two days during the Uyuni tour (I was still recovering from my food poisoning), on top of the realization that I had somehow lost my $70 fleece, was enough to send me whimpering and then weeping into Vincent’s arms, which was super awkward considering he was lying in a hammock at the time. Instead of throwing myself dramatically against his chest in anguish, I weirdly draped myself perpendicularly across his body, pinning his arms against his sides, with my head and shoulders hanging uncomfortably over the other side of the hammock. So much for my damsel in distress routine...

Once we accepted that we weren’t going anywhere, we actually started to enjoy San Pedro. We relaxed in the hostel garden, cooked every night in the communal kitchen and went to a really interesting archeological museum, which taught us more about the indigenous people of South American than six weeks in Bolivia and Peru. 

On one of our last days, we rented bikes and went out into the desert for what ended up being a six-hour ride/ hike. The Atacama Desert is the driest desert in the world, however this season has been the wettest in 12 years and we actually had big, violent storms several of the evenings we were there. During our outing, we rode on a quiet road through a flat, empty landscape, stopping to enjoy our picnic of empanadas under the shade of a lone tree. We enjoyed views of a nearby chain of mountains and saw two desert owls, which Vincent kept trying to creep up on to take pictures.
We then rode towards the mountains, winding through dry, sandstone gorges enclosed by red rock spires. It felt like we were on the moon and I couldn't stop myself from singing that Police song to myself: "Walking on, walking on the moooon." We then went up along a rocky ridge for an incredible panoramic view of the oasis below, the surrounding mountains, which were layered and etched in a way that looked like multi-colored spikes, and a snow-capped volcano in the distance. 
Once the path got too steep and sandy, we ditched the bikes and went the rest of the way up on foot. The result was breath-taking. We walked up through a pink, layer-cake canyon that fell into massive foothills of fine sand until the top, where we had a 360 view of the mountainous desert around us. It was spectacular.
What was also spectacular were two absolute tools we passed on our way back down: two guys in neon do-rags and black muscle shirts, who were attempting to take pictures of each other “free climbing” the walls of the canyon. If you will remember, the canyon was made of sandstone, which would immediately crumble every time one of the guys got a handhold, releasing a shower of rock down on top of him before he was even a foot off the ground. We watched them do this five consecutive times without getting any hint until Vincent finally pulled me away before I could be my normal know-it-all self and inform them that they were clueless. 

We saw them again as they passed us on their bikes going down. Or should I say, tried to pass us. We were on foot, walking through the loose, heavy sand that had forced us to drop our bikes coming up. That idea was obviously not hardcore enough for these two, who were trying to ride through the sand downhill and failing miserably. Every few meters, they would lose control and slide on the sand, pulling their bikes down on top of them as they fell. After jumping up like nothing happened and looking around to make sure no one saw their fall, they would hop back on their bikes and repeat the entire process. They did this the entire way down.

The last time we saw them, they had found a steepish hill, which I guess was easier to climb than a sandstone cliff face, and were taking turns pretending to rock climb up the hill while the other one bent at an angle to take pictures that would look like it was a sheer face. It would have been too obvious of us to take pictures of these shenanigans, but believe me when I tell you that these guys were champions of douchery and they made our day. 

So that was San Pedro for us: desert and douchebags.

1 comment:

  1. Elissa ce n'eat pas gentil de se moquer..mais c'est rigolo...