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la noche más bella que todos (viernes, 22 octubre)

San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

One thing I´ve learned about being here is that the buses rarely show up at the time they´re supposed to. Last night I´d bought an 8am ticket to San Pedro de Atacama. I arrived at the bus station around 7:30 just to make sure I didn´t miss the bus (when I went to Bolivia a few weeks ago I missed the bus because it left half an hour earlier than it was scheduled to). However, it wasn´t until almost 8:30 that the bus pulled into the parking lot. While waiting I talked with a couple from the Netherlands. The bus ride went by pretty quickly since we talked about travel experiences.

When I got to San Pedro, I was slightly surprised by how small it is. Prior to coming, I´d read that it´s a small town in the desert, but I thought it would be slightly bigger. Right away I realized I liked the calm, quiet atmosphere and the hot sun. Usually it´s much busier, but I´m here during the off-season, which means fewer tourists and a more ´real´experience. I walked down Caracoles, the main street, where I talked to a few different tour operators to get information about Valle de la Luna, El Tatio, and the lagunas. While looking for a hostel I found a place advertising horseback riding tours in the desert. I´d been wanting to ride again and really missed it, so I jumped at the chance. I stopped by there and talked to Daniel, the guy working there. As it turns out he used to live in Iquique. He told me to come back at around 12:30 to arrange the details for my horseback riding trip.

I found a hostel called La Ruca on Toconao, and it seemed a pretty reasonable price. The lady working there let me store my backpack until my room was ready later that evening. I walked to the main plaza and visited the church, which was made of adobe and the ceiling was made from a bunch of sticks. By then I was pretty hungry so I went to a restaurant called Adobe which offered pumpkin/squash/pecan soup.

At 12:30 I returned to the place and found out that today they were going to offer a five-hour long trip on horseback to Pukara de Quitor, Catarpe, Paseo del Toro, Valle de la Muerte, and Valle de la Luna. At first I wasn´t sure. I´d never ridden more than a few hours before, but five? I decided I was up for it and agreed to go. Since I had a few more hours to spend before riding, I looked in some of the shops, bought a few postcards, some (more) earrings, and found a pair of purple, orange, yellow, and red striped pants that I liked. The pants were originally supposed to cost 18 luca but I talked the guy down to 10 luca because I knew a little bit about how to salsa dance and agreed to dance the salsa in the store!! It was actually pretty fun, and the guy working there could dance really well.

We met up to go to the stable around 4pm. My horse was a paint named Trueno, which means ´lightning´in Spanish. At first he was very calm and easy to ride. In our group, it was just me, the guide, and a French couple who spoke just enough Spanish for us all to communicate. We rode along the dirt roads past Pukara de Quitor, ruins of a pre-Incan culture. Then we went to Catarpe and rode along the San Pedro River. Trueno kept trying to stop and eat whenever we´d pass by patches of grass, so I had to pay attention. Although I was alert and aware of details, riding through here was in many ways a very meditative, relaxing experienc, and I felt very connected to nature. I love spending time outside, but I really hadn´t enjoyed the outdoors this much in a long time. It was completely gorgeous riding through here. We ascended a mountain and went to Valle de la Muerte which had sort of rocky surfaces. Halfway up, we dismounted and drank some water, had some coca, and rested for a bit. The views of the mountains were so beautiful, and the sun was just starting to set. The pictures I took could not do this place justice. From here we had views of Licancabur, which is actually on the Bolivian side of the border, and other mountains in colors of sand, tangerine, and violet, thanks to the setting sun. Our break was for about fifteen minutes and then we got back on our horses and continued up the steep terrain. At the top it was a bit windy so I was glad I´d brought a sweatshirt and my jacket. When our tour guide told us we´d be descending the mountain in the sand, I started laughing, but then I realized he was serious. However, I was already up there, and it was too late to turn back. Plus, the adventurous side of me wasn´t scared. I followed the group down the mountain, down this enormous and kind of steep sand dune. It was a lot of fun, but Trueno kept wanting to go faster, so I had to keep a tight hold on the reins to make sure we didn´t go tumbling down the hill. At the bottom of the mountain Trueno decided to take off at a dead gallop. I wasn´t prepared for this and both of my feet came out of the stirrups. I hung on with my legs for dear life, but Trueno would not listen when I tried to get him to slow down. It was both exhilirating and scary at the same time, and for a flicker of a moment I saw parts of my life flashing before my eyes, certain that I was going to fall off. But I didn´t, and eventually Trueno did slow down to a more manageable pace. Then we rode to Valle de la Luna, which was spectacular because the full moon was just starting to rise. I enjoyed the quiet and solitude of the desert as we rode along. I´d never seen anything like this before. We rode through some flat desert back to the stable.

When we returned to San Pedro I felt pretty sore, but in a good kind of way. I was also starving by this point so I found a restaurant on Caracoles called El Restaurante Esquina. Inside there was a bonfire and the atmosphere was very relaxed. I ordered a vegan pizza and an amaretto sour. The pizza was fresh out of the oven and tasted delicious. On the way back to the hostel I saw a few of the people who were working at the horse/sandboard/bike agency, and they invited me for a few drinks at a place on Tocopillo (another street). However, I was tired and was planning to go on a tour the following day, so by midnight I went back to the hostel for a good night´s sleep.

permalink written by  Sara Florecita on October 22, 2010 from San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
from the travel blog: año de dos inviernos (Chile 2010)
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Sara Florecita Sara Florecita
1 Trip
8 Photos

-I am participating in the Inglés Abre Puertas program run by the Chilean Ministry of Education.
-Hobbies include travelling, writing, reading, learning Spanish and Italian, long-distance running, music, and art.
-I am a college graduate who is trying to find her place in this world.

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