New Year in the driest desert in the world!
Arriving in Chile from Bolivia was an interesting experience.. we had this wee lady (all of 4ft nothing!) dressed in black, throwing her hands around screaming in the worlds squeakiest voice "Vamos, vamos.." to everyone, to get us all in and moving up the bus, so she could fit as many people as possible into the "collectivo" that would take us to our fourth country of the trip - Chile.... and to San Pedro de Atacama.... officially the driest desert in the world! The border crossing at San Pedro was interesting, with each of us having to squidge through a rather scabby and antiquated looking large sponge, presumably to take care of any "foot and mouth" disease we may be bringing from Bolivia? Hmmn, not very efficient to say the least! But as border crossings go, the process didnt take too long, and then it was into town to look for a fabulous place to stay- which Dom and I found at Residencial Vilacayo.... remind me to tell you about a weirdo and his hammock, but ill keep that for a little later!
San Pedro is an interesting place; at 2,440m a lot lower than the 5,000m we had stayed at during our Salar trip, super hot, hot, hot (it is a desert town after all) and tiny... (with about 3,000 people officially living there!). It is made up of about 4 main streets, with lots of dogs, and tons and tons of "gringos"...but not a single bank, which as many of those "gringos" and our friend Mark found out, is a bit of a bummer, meaning they have to trek 5 hours to Calama and back (the nearest town that DOES have such a modern convenience as a bank!) when they run out of casheroonie!
The town is really laid back and relaxed, exactly what we needed for a few days, and the perfect place to take it easy for New Year! I may have mentioned before that the "gringo tour" of South America is very small, and you end up bumping into people you have previously met, many times over!! So no surprise as we sat having dinner one night, when we heard a lovely Scottish "hullo" from Mark, our friend from Spanish school in Cuenca, Ecuador! Great to see him and find out where he had been on his travels!
We decided the three of us would take a trip out by bike to the Valle de la Luna the next day....so met up at 12noon to head off! Hmmn should have reminded myself the last time i went a long bike ride, but more on that later! Valle de la Luna AKA Moon Valley, is exactly that! The strikingly eroded landforms showcase why the area is famous for its resemblence to the surface of the moon, owing to its different stratifications and the salt formations that have been caused by natural environmental factors! See how knowledgeable you can get when you travel! So, we had biked a mere 12km (ok that may not be much to you Tour de France types, but contrary to popular belief, I had now become a complete blob on this trip, and after the asphalt road gave way to the "bump, bump, bump" sandy pathway (and here i definitely use path as a massive overstatement), i was getting a wee bitty cansada to say the least! We talked to some lovely park guides who explained there was another 7-8km of fabuluous scenery to see in the park (ahh, you know that happy-sad feeling you sometimes get - lots of great scenery, more banging of your bum against the bike seat! Nah, just kidding!!) but first we had to explore the nearby caves....
The Valle really was incredible - and a bit of a secret ´cos there was no-one else there for the majority of the day, until the blobby fake tourists arrived later in the afternoon for the well-promoted sunset, in mini-vans no less! Huh - none of that rubbish for us! From scrambling through the caves, and biking across HOT sandy roads, to the beautiful sunset we watched from the top of the giant sand dunes, it was a fab, if somewhat knackering day! (especially when we had to ride back - post sunset - in the dark....not quite such great fun!!
So needless to say, I was delighted and wanted to hug and kiss the bike guy when we handed our bikes in! Phew - im getting old!
Time for dinner - we met the delightful Isadora, a fun young lady of approx. 3 going on 30, whose mum ran the local pizza parlour! We had great fun as she decided we all needed to clean our hands that were very "sucio AKA dirty".. then she proceeded to wash my face again and again througout the entire meal, with ice cubes no less, and then pat me down and say "Listo, listo" I was officially clean. Wanted to take her home with me!!!
Next day was New Years Eve - or Hogmanay as i explained to everyone in town! After pottering around all day, we had the girls and Mark come over for some vino and chips before we headed out that evening (did i mention Chile is about a million times more expensive than Bolivia, so we have had to resort to some serious budget reviews and doing things the "real backpacker" way... at least for a while!). All the bars were doing specials so we picked one that looked fun and hoped for the best. OK then- the company was great, the vino went down well, the food - yuk, it was rotten to say the least!!! But to be honest, we didn´t care as we threw caution to the wind and decided to liven the place up by grabbing some well-affixed hats from the wall behind us, and posing for each other again, and again, and again! We had a great time and so did the rest of the clientele, watching this daft bunch!!!!
After a while, we thought we would take a look outside and see what was going on, but after much review, we decided our place was pretty good, even with its Chilean folk/house techno style music (a treat in itself!), so we brought a bunch of young things back with us (about 50 - and yes, that was the number of people, not their age!!) that certainly livened things up! Lasted till after 3am -so a fun, albeit different hogmanay this year!!
PS oh, yes, the hammock story! On New Year´s Day, we were sitting in the courtyard of our hostel talking to Kate and Lauren, who were about to head off on a 24hr bus journey down to Santiago! There are a bunch of hammocks there, for folks to use - so we did! A little later on, this wierdo guy and his girlfriend, who were staying at the hostel, and had spent every waking moment snogging each other - yuk! and no jealousy involved, he was a dork! - came back from wherever, and said to Dominique "can i sit in the hammock". Now she had stepped up to let them pass, so very nicely said "well, sure, when im finished with it". Poor Dominique, as i had pretty much sat in it all day! He continued to say "no, can i sit in it" like 3 or 4 times, until he realised we were all looking at him very strangely. THEN he decides to tell us its actually his hammock that he had brought with him, and he wanted to sit in it NOW! Seriously, what a weirdo on a number of fronts! Tell us its yours and of course we will move. But more importantly, who the heck carries around a bloomin´ big hammock in their backpack as they travel around South America! What a tube! Oh well, we laughed it off and left him to it, hammock and all! So happy New Year!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!