Days: 320-323 (11 May 2015 – 13 May 2015)
Total distance travelled: 60,697.86 kilometres (37,700.53 miles)
As we bounced along a dirt track, minutes from the Bolivian border control, we began to wonder when we’d hit the Chilean side… a good while later we were still wondering, when suddenly, in a wonderful example of the haves and the have nots, we saw (or perhaps felt) the first signs of the difference between Bolivia and its neighbours, Chile and Argentina.
Suddenly our rutted dirt track gave way to a beautiful paved, lined and signed highway.
Well it didn’t give way, rather it met.
There, clearly signed to the left, Argentina. To the right, Chile.
To Bolivia… I didn’t see a sign at all!
It was now that I began to suspect that we wouldn’t in fact find a Chilean border post before we hit San Pedro de Atacama, and this suspicion was indeed correct.
There on edges of town we sat behind a couple of other shuttle vans that had arrived sooner (our German friends Kurt and Iris in the group immediately ahead), and eventually, probably just over an hour after we had actually crossed the frontier, we were stamped into Chile!
Officially, there is also supposed to be a reciprocity entrance fee for Australians (which means we charge them this fee, so therefore they charge us) of about $100.00 US, which for some reason we never got asked for.
Not prepared to look a gift horse in the mouth, we never mentioned it and just like that, we entered our thirtieth country together since our first trip abroad together back in 2009!
Minutes later (after leaving immigration) when our van pulled to a halt, we got our first feel for how small this town was.
Seconds after grabbing our bags, we were met by a guy trying to sell us on the merits of his hostel.
Kurt and Iris were also there in search of beds, however we’d booked something in advance, so quickly agreed/arranged to catch up with our German friends in the plaza at 5pm.
We made the trek out to where we thought our hostel to be, found the road then began to wander along… until we got to the end of the road, and still no hostel!
So we wandered back a little.
Still no hostel!
Luckily we’d taken a photo of the booking confirmation (which fortunately showed the address), which we eventually found.
For the second time in a fortnight, we’d booked a hostel that had no signage!
The relatively clear skies of the Atacama Desert are by all accounts an incredible place for stargazing (it is after all the driest place on earth), so it was to arrange such a tour that we made our first priority.
We’d had recommendations for a particular company with which to do the tour, so we sought them out, eager to try and jump aboard a tour for that very night.
After all, we had only planned on two nights here!
We signed up for the English language tour (they run tours in English, Spanish and French over different nights) scheduled for 11pm that night, and they said to pop by around 6 when they could confirm if the nights tour would go ahead (if it’s too cloudy, they will cancel rather than take your money and run a shit tour).
Now it was about now that the guy in the office confirmed that we had the same time as their clock, as apparently this year the Chilean president decided, seemingly on a whim, that there would be no daylight savings (or perhaps they simply won’t change back from daylight savings) this year.
Unfortunately, the rest of the world was seemingly not informed of this, as all international clocks, still automatically update to the incorrect hour (1 hour off).
This got us wondering if Iris and Kurt were aware of this, and whether we’d get to the plaza at 5pm, only for them not to arrive until an hour later at 6pm!
It all turned out okay, and Johan joined us as well, so over coffee, we all caught up on what other had been doing for the past seven months (in case you missed reading about our chance encounter in the Salar de Uyuni, we bumped into each other in the middle of nowhere, after parting ways in Guatemala)!
We agreed the following day to all meet up, hire bikes and ride out to the nearby Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon), then went our separate ways to check in on our tour (which was ultimately cancelled).
The only problem was the following night’s tour was also fully booked… this left us the Wednesday night when we’d planned on being on an overnight bus to Santiago!
Eager to not miss out on this opportunity, we signed up for Wednesday night’s tour, pushing our departure back another day, and hoping that the clouds would this time stay away.
The view on the way back to our hostel took our minds off any looming disappointment.
The following day, we did our DIY tour of the Valle de la Luna (which you can read about separately in my next post), returning just in time for a well-deserved beer or two, and the second half of the Champions League semi-final between Bayern and Barca.
In a football crazy country, it was great to be able to find a really pumping local bar, where we could sate our crazy thirsts.
It didn’t hurt that it was a cracker of a game as well!
Our final morning (as we were leaving tomorrow, regardless of whether tonight’s star gazing tour went ahead or not) saw us meet up with Johan again, intent on a second day of riding.
Maddy (his partner) was feeling a little better however (she hadn’t joined us for our Valle de la Luna day), but thought a bumpy bike may be just a little too much for her still fragile body.
We all quickly abandoned plans for a bike ride, and instead walk just out of town to the ruined fortress of Pukara de Quitor.
On the way we stopped in at the interesting Meteorite Museum, although both Maddy and myself found the stuffy interior a little much at times!
Maybe a hot half hour walk out of town, and we finally founds ourselves at the entrance to the Pukara de Quitor site, paid our entrance fee, then listened to a brief spiel from the waiting attendant.
There was also a long winding path that ascended an adjacent hill (up towards a mirador), but we thought we’d tackle the ruins first, then see both how Maddy felt, and if we all thought that the additional climb looked worth it.
At first we felt content with just the ruins, but when we realised how much higher the other path wove, we decided to suck it up, and make the climb as fast or slowly as Maddy felt necessary.
Pretty soon, we felt like the effort had been worth it.
Not only did we have great views back over the town and the mountainous border region beyond, but a new perspective on the terrain that surrounded the ruins themselves.
Our afternoon saw a repeat of the previous days efforts, where we enjoyed some beers in the very same bar, and had the pleasure of watching Juventus knock Real Madrid out in the second of the semi-finals.
About 4pm that afternoon we checked in to see if tonight’s tours were going ahead, which they were.
But somehow, they didn’t appear to have a booking for us anymore.
Thankfully, both of the staff members remembered us and that we’d had a booking, and despite our places having been given to others, we were added to the group and all was okay!
At 9pm however, as we waited in the designated pick-up location, all we could hear around us were French voices.
Had we somehow been attached to the wrong language tour?!
Our ticket definitely said English, and once we were collected and ferried out to the star-gazing field, it was thankfully, an English language tour.
It was also fucking cold.
We’d layered up expectant of such, but the reality was colder still.
Sarah took up the offer of a blanket they offered, yet despite how much we both enjoyed our time, once the offer of hot drinks was made, we were ready to get inside and savour something warm.
Despite freezing our arses off, we’d still however recommend not only the tour, but that specific company, to anybody!
* Our transfer from Bolivia across the border into Chile (to San Pedro de Atacama) was part of our Salar de Uyuni price (it was $50.00 Bolivianos per person for the Chilean transfer).
* We had expected to pay $95.00 US each as a reciprocity entrance fee at the Chilean border, but thankfully we were charged nothing!
* Entrance into the ruins of Pukara de Quitor was $3,000.00 pesos per person (less for students).
* Our stargazing tour with San Pedro de Atacama Celestial Explorations(SPACE), cost us $20,000.00 pesos per person, which included transport to & from the viewing location, as well as any coats or blankets you may need to keep warm (& a free hot chocolate).