So, where did I leave off? I believe that I was in Antofagasta about to head into the Atacama desert. What day was that? This trip has been so amazing, I can´t believe its only been 8 days since we left…absolutely insanely wonderful and beautiful.
So…the next morning we headed north on the highway.towards the dry of the desert, and the oasis of Peine. Along the way we stopped at a viewpoint overlooking the SALT Flats, these incredible stretches of SALT parched ground spreading as far the eye could see all the way to the Bolivian border. Surrounding this vast white valley floor were 5 and 6000 metre peaks, 8 of which are active Volcanoes. Stunning. Simple stunning. We stopped several times for pictures of unlikely poses set against the amazing landscape.
Alter several hours we arrived in Peine – a tiny village of about 400 inhabitants who are descendants of the original altiplano peoples – the Atacamans. After getting extremely hot and sweaty walking around town visiting the original centuries old hieroglyphic type cave art and the fort ruins, we all welcomes a swim in the town´s only lake- being fed by a mountain stream from the Andes, which, unfortunately is the dwindling water supply for the community. The mining extraction of Lithium in the area, being done solely by US companies, is diverting much of the water from the local´s water supply so as to avoid having to pipe it in from the sea. It is a very sad state of affairs. This town might have to be abandoned in the next few years…
Anyway, it was very refreshing and we had lots of fun judging a diving contest that all the guys used to show off their fine skills.
After another several hours in the bus, we arrived at La Reserva de los Flamingos – a national reserve for Flamingos, who live here in the few lakes that exist on the flats, eating a rich diet of Brine Shrimp. The birds were majestic as they flew against a reddening sky…we stayed there and watched the sun setting over the Andes.
Another 2 hours brought us to our most northern destination – the little town of San Pedro De Atacama, in the middle of the desert and gateway to Bolivia. After a quick shower we all headed out as a large group for dinner. We were all passing out from hunger, but it seems that Chilenas do not blink an eye at eating dinner at 1030pm. The food was amazing as usual, with ridiculously sized portions. Luckily, Ice Bru has become my human garbage disposal unit, and happily eats whatever I can´t. Great for avoiding temptation. Eating very late has become somewhat of a pattern on this trip – last night we sat down for food at 12:30am!!!
That night we all bought Pisco and drank around the FIRE at the hostel. Jorge had arranged a "private Party" for most of the group to go to, but I opted for an early night at 2am!!! That is considered "early"! Most of the peeps staggered in around 6am…
The next day, Thursday, we were free to spend as we pleased in San Pedro. After wandering around the town and having breakfast, a few of us decided to rent mountain bikes and venture out to visit the Inca Fort and a mountain bike destination known on our maps as The Devils Gorge. It sounded promising.
Well, it was more than promising. The scenery, quite frankly, was utterly inspirational. Tall red dusty rocks and towering mountains in the dry dry heat. It was extremely hot and you have to pile on sun screen like your life depends upon it. Devils Gorge turned out to be these very unique, narrow and maze like rock formations that you could cycle around, sometimes carrying your bike over narrow stretches, going deeper and deeper into the gorge. At one point, we had to cross the river – and there was nothing for it but to just go full speed through the water, hoping the current didn´t take the wheels out from under you.
The gorge was the most fantastic thing I´ve experienced thus far on the trip. I remembered how excited I could get at wondrous natural rock phenomenon , and was openly whooping at every corner as the scenery unveiled itself. It was the perfect morning adventure.
As it was getting late, the four of us turned back and pedalled madly back into town, picking up some needed nourishment in the form of cheese and tomato empanadas – fast becoming my favorite snack in Chile.
That evening, Jorge took us on a tour of a place called Valle de la Luna, or Moon Valley in English. It is an amazing array of sand dunes, caves, rocks, and mountains that set against the pink of the dying sun made the soul just soar. We began with hike and a free climb up some rocks and into a cave that opened up to a kind of mini canyon. If you stood silent you could hear the rocks cracking under the intense pressure of the suns rays.
We then donned headlamps and got down and dirty in a set of caves that serpentine for about a mile. At one point, I was crawling on my belly and trying not to smack my head in the overhangs, and fighting claustrophobia along the way…a little scary but fun nonetheless.
We then huffed and puffed, exerting our tired, hungover, altitude plagued little bodies up an 500 metre sand dune to get a good spot to drink in the sunset. After at least an hour taking way too many silly photos, we all shut up and gawked at the colors the dying sun splashed onto the rock below. Beautiful.