After leaving Bahia, Sophia and I continued on our road trip north through the desert, with overnight stops in Antofagasta, Calama and San Pedro. Antofagasta is the second largest city in Chile (after Santiago) and I found it quite charming. This may have been as both Sophia and I received presents from admirers while we were sunbathing on the beach which we both found rather amusing. Having been in South America for a month and a half now, I have become quite accustomed to being leered at on a daily basis. Not subtly either, one thing is for sure the men certainly are not shy about vocalising their opinions here and rather surprisingly the comments come from men of all ages and types. It also doesn’t seem to matter if the men are leering in front of their wives, girlfriends or families either which can be rather cringe worthy also. So as usual Sophia and I are minding our own business, chatting on the beach whilst sunning ourselves and a man approaches us and hands Sophia a rose made out of paper attached to a wilted flower stem and me a love note written on the back of a completos (a Chilean hot dog) wrapper. Five minutes later he came back with a completos and handed it to me. Unfortunately the man was rather less than desirable, lacking a full set of teeth and spoke so badly neither Sophia or I could understand a word he was saying but hey I was quite flattered anyway I mean whoever turned down a free hot dog eh?!
So onto Calama. This is where my friend Sophia is based for work and I was rather intrigued to see the place merely from the reactions that it has proved in all the Chileans we have met on our trip so far. ‘Calama?’ they all say whilst grimacing, ‘but why? Its so ugly?’ The Loney Planet Guide to Chile also describes Calama as ‘an expensive, brash and somewhat narrow-minded mining city’. I didn’t get to see much of the place but it did perfectly as an overnight stop to wash some clothes, drink a couple of pisco sours with Sophia’s friends and get a good night’s sleep!
San Pedro de Atacama is a little tourist town in the middle of the desert an hour from Calama and what a quaint little place it is. The town is absolutely tiny you can walk around it in less than 10 minutes but it is a great base for activities like visiting geysers, volcanoes, trekking, sand boarding and visiting thermal pools. Being limited on time meant we could only pick two activities but we chose to visit some thermal pools on the first day and to go sand boarding on the second. If I had to pick a favourite it would have to be the thermal pools for me. Just for the record sand boarding sounds a lot more fun than it is. I have never been an adventure sports kinda gal but there is still a big part of me that would really love to be good at things like surfing, snowboarding etc but it just ain’t gonna happen. I spent pretty much the whole time sliding around on my bum, with cramp in my legs and ended up being covered head to toe in sand. Not really my cup of tea but the views from the top of the sand dunes were worth it!
After the sand boarding finished (much to my relief!) our tour guide drove us out to another place called the Valley of the Moon to watch the sunset over the mountains and volcanoes and it really is a quite spectacular place. The rock formations all look like dinosaurs to me and there really is something quite otherworldly about the place.
San Pedro also has quite a special nightlife which was also another highlight. Everything is very relaxed and there are lots of nice outdoor restaurants and bars to while away a few hours sitting around a bonfire bonding with complete strangers and drinking even more pisco sours!
So that leads me to where I am now after a 3 week road trip in Chile: exhausted but happy, tanned compared to my usual reflective white skin, a few pounds heavier from overindulging in meat, red wine and of course pisco, still even after 3 showers covered in dust and sand, smelling like a bonfire and with drier skin than I could ever imagine! I was warned before coming here that the Atacama is the driest desert in the world but I never really knew quite what to expect. I have been very fortunate to have met and interacted with a lot of the locals and go to places a bit off the beaten track and for that reason have had a real Chilean experience. Now I am taking an overnight bus to the Chilean – Peruvian border and then have to take another bus from the border to Cusco which will be my new home for a month. Hopefully I will survive the bus journey and I am currently taking bets on how long it will take me to get there, i’ve been told it could take anywhere between 24 and 36 hours. I rather hope it is the former but I am quite accustomed to Latino time now and so I am not holding my breath!