The Atacama Desert
20.07.2016 - 22.07.2016 22 °C
Most of the day was spent travelling so there's not a huge amount to add to our story so I'll dedicate more space therefore to the momentous day we had on Thursday in the Atacama but more on that later.
...and Hello Calama.
We got our flight in good time to Calama, Yve noticed that the flight was more like a Kavanaghs Bus than a domestic flight as it was full of locals. Even the Cabin Stewards shook hands with the lads as if they were the best of friends as they got on the plane. We made our way to the Europcar desk. I fear my rant with the company came back to haunt me as the expected VW Golf, 1.6 was replaced with a 1.2 Suzuki Swift. Horrible little thing. Has no business being offered for rental.
Anyway we set off from a secluded Calama Airport, always easier to set off in a new car when you have a nice open road to get used to it. We hadn't been out of the airport for more than 2 minutes when our jaws dropped as the northern edge of the Atacama came into view. It was barren, bleak yet beautiful. Very lunaresque if there is such a word.
The view was interrupted by dozens of Wind Turbines but even they look majestic against such a backdrop. As we meandered our way to San Pedro and onto Toconao we noticed several shrines on the side of road in tribute to those who've lost their lives. One or two families had left the vehicle exactly where it was found. An eerie reminder if ever was needed to be careful.
Took a while to find the 'hotel' we were staying in....I use the term hotel loosely. It was a former military camp, where the huts were converted into accommodation. Very basic but did the job. I parked the car up and heard a thud. Only when I tried to reverse did I realise I'd driven straight into a sand dune of sorts. First dealing with the owner, was him digging me out with a combination of a spade, water and know how. We checked in and had dinner in the very sparsely occupied former canteen. Food wasn't what we've come to expect in Chile but was fine. The wine was from a source right across the road so pretty local you might say.
We headed back to our penthouse suite and got an early night as we were getting up at some ungodly hour in the morning.
Yawn....3.45 is not a time any person should have to wake it but it was for good reason. We were heading to a place called El Tatio Geysers. We'd already established that the roads weren't signposted well so I erred on the side of caution and decided to drive into San Pedro and pick up the trail of one of the tour buses. Clever you might think. Not so as it turned out. We spent 20 minutes following a bus around the small town as it picked up one person after another. Turns out they weren't going to the Geysers at all. We scrambled our way out of town and managed to find the convoy of vehicles making their way up to the mountains. First leg of the journey was fine but once we turned off the main road, the Swift which should be called anything but, struggled to keep pace with the leaders. The road got progressively worse and pot hole after pot hole threatened to call a sudden halt to proceedings. We ploughed on, shamefully allowing one bus after another pass us by but after several nerve racking moments and 2 hours in the dodgem car we finally reached the chequered flag.
We'd been warned it was cold and we wrapped up accordingly but wow it was perishing. Within minutes the fingers were numb and threatening to fall off but as you can see the results were worth it.
El Tatio Geysers
El Tatio Geysers
Wonderful sight as these gushers spewed boiling hot water and sulphur into the freezing cold air. As dawn broke and the place became brighter so the sight became even more beautiful. It didn't get any bloody warmer mind so we headed over to the thermal baths where I braved, not the water which was lovely and warm, but getting back out again.
Thermal Baths, El Tatio Geysers
The journey up had been treacherous as the roads were dangerous and slippery but that was forgotten in a heartbeat during the trip back down. The sun was up, I could see the potholes and we took our time. We kinda had too really, the views were too good to miss. Every turn in the road revealed its own bit of beauty and that was duly honoured with the car being pulled over and a photo taken. This was the first of what will surely become many highlights on this trip.
A romantic interlude
Iglesias de Machuca
We saw some incredible stuff on the journey including Llama's, Deer and several of those Cactai that looked like were straight out of a Sergio Leone movie.
We reached San Pedro and decided to top up the tank. Easier said than done. I'd say we used up 2 gallons trying to find THE petrol station.
After a couple of hours chilling out in Toconao...
Yvonne looking melancholic
....we headed back out to watch the sunset at Laguna Chixa in the middle of the Salar de Atacama. Flamingoes strut their stuff in these waters and made for a lovely distraction as we waited for the sun to set. The mountains in the distance turn all shades of pink, red and purple before toffing their cap and saying goodnight. Sadly I forgot my phone so you'll have to use your imagination on this one!
The Atacama Desert was a stop-over really, somewhere to pass the time until we joined the 3 day Salt Flats tour. Anyone, myself included, who thought a desert was just Sand, Sand and more Sand couldn't be more wrong. It is so diverse here and the colours are magnificent. We have been rendered speechless by just how beautiful it is. Well I was and thus Yvonne was glad of the peace.
Our final day in Chile was spent sorting stuff out in preparation for our 3 day trip to the Salar de Uyuni. Had to bring the car back, check in to the hotel, check in to the tour, buy water, buy Bolivian money, cue more head wrecking calculations. We also had to drink no alcohol and eat only a very small amount, we duly listened....
Our last Chilean Pisco Sours
Llama Burger Ladies & Gentlemen
...and Yvonne eating Llama Steak, Egg & Chips
Thank you Chile it's been great.