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Welcome to Chile!

San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Sat 18th and Sun 19th Dec

After reliving myself behind a burnt-out shell that once was a gringo tour bus, we happily left possibly the worst border-control site in South America. It didn’t just border Bolivia, it bordered on shithouse, even though it didn’t have one! Our escape, thankfully, was not to be in the confines of a 4WD but a familiar looking bus which gave hope to our arses and made us think of the supposed civilisation Chile had on offer. We filled in or immigration forms for Chile with some concern due to some of our dubious cargo, beaded bracelets, Incan voodoo recipes and the like. We got to chatting to a Spanish girl and a couple of Auzzies along the way, and before we knew it we back on smooth modern roads then to quickly arrive in San Pedro.
In contrast to Bolivia, security in Chile much tighter. We were expecting this from the horror stories told over end-of-the-day drinks on tour. Tales of urine testing and cavity searches, bags being torn apart and gringos detained. Much to our relief, quite like North America, the only discomfort was to wait in line to have our passports stamps, our bags scanned- politely by hand (It’s the personal touches that make the difference) and were on our way.

We went around to a few different hostels before we decided on one. We had just stepped onto Chilean soil and we felt a little ripped-off as we were to being billed at $2200 a nite! Okay, we were a little unsure sure how the pricing worked. All we knew was 20,000 pesos sounded like a fuck load, but after a bit of research it is only $42 Australian. Once settled in and after a shower and shave of the legs, we were off to eat and to change money.

San Pedro is a beautiful little place. It is still located in the dessert so water is scarce and the ground is bone dry, but the local fauna seems okay with its surroundings with trees and grass and greenery most areas. It looked very different to anything we had seen in Bolivia. In fact, I think it was probably more the people than the plant life that seemed different to us. Not only were there more ’holiday makers’ about, as opposed to ’backpackers’, but there was a definite, dare we say, sense of style amongst the denizens. San Pedro had a lot of boutique shops, not little road side tables with cheap hand-made wares. There was also a lot of hand made specialty goods. Gorgeous original prints, shirts and jewellery from crafted from various metals. I could’ve spent large there! Okay I did buy myself a Christmas present which I love immensely.

San Pedro is also known for its star-gazing tours that Mel and Andrea had recommended. We went and booked for that evening, getting in just in time as after that evening they were closed for five days due to the full moon. We paid, got our tickets, and agreed to be there at 8.50pm…

For lunch Pete (the gringo) got the biggest burger ever and the bread was soft for once! Another marvellous gift Chile can offer. We had been missing fresh bread that didn’t feel like it was three days old. Pete thinks this was the first miracle caused by the second coming of Saint Peter to San Pedro. Dinner was the real divinity though. We went to a restaurant that served well Chilean food, but surprisingly tasted European. Pete had chicken stuffed with goats cheese with a corn sauce and fried potato. I had pork that was cooked to perfection with a mash of something, roasted red capsicum and the juices of the pork drizzled over. I even got to have wine which had been a while. The flavours were amazing, the food was actually hot, something that didn’t happen all the time in Bolivia.

Excitedly we finished our meals with the anticipation to go off to our pre-arranged star-gazing tour. We got to the shop and strangely it appeared to be locked up for the night, with a sign on the door stating it would be open again in five days time after the full moon had passed. In truth we were a couple of minutes late, but it wasn’t yet nine o’clock, and we were left scratching our heads. ‘Maybe waiting in the wings they will sweep passed in a jeep’ we thought? As we were standing there utterly perplexed, shop- keepers begin to tell us in educated tones that the company were indeed closed for the evening. Even a restaurant worker who was in the street giving out business cards came to us saying that the company would do another tour later if we wanted to wait two hours- we had missed the first. We checked our watches again telling him our story, explaining to him that they simply couldn’t have left without us-surly it had only gone nine. The punch line came like a small Peruvian pickpocket that had just nabbed $120 U.S when he man looked at his mobile and said casually-’Actually, it’s ten pm, Chile is an hour ahead of Bolivia'. Needless to say we were pissed off. ‘Where’s fucking Waldo’, we thought, and why didn’t the man who was so concerned with time mention that we needed to put our watches forward on hour? We had completely missed the star-gazing tour! We stood there a bit flabbergasted, didn’t really know what to do. Of course I had a rant and rave and we went back to the hostel. Things weren’t looking up. Not the perfect ending to a wonderful day, but at least we changed our watches just in time to avoid another potential disaster, missing buses came to mind.

On Sunday we went for a walk around the town. It was like an oasis in the middle of the desert. When we got to the edge of the town, after walking past green fields, rows of olive trees and houses, it was just dry mountains, rocks and dust. Again it was a pretty laid back day and we were feeling like it was a real holiday- sun, wine, afternoon naps and oh the food!

Monday afternoon we were booked in for a mammoth bus ride. We were going to La Serena which is the second biggest city in Chile; a city located on the coast sixteen hours from San Pedro. We organised ourselves in the morning, scraped around for any books in English for Pete so he wouldn’t get bored. He only found Dan Brown. He had to buy it too, not exchange. We stocked up on the water and snacks and made sure we were dressed for any kind of heat or lack thereof on the bus. We hopped on the bus at 2.30pm, knowing we wouldn’t be free till 6.30am the next morning. We said goodbye to San Pedro, our beautiful desert oasis, peped and preped for the next leg of our trip!

permalink written by  Pete+Rochelle on December 25, 2010 from San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
from the travel blog: Round the world!!!
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