When the government says no, it’s a no.

Before arriving in San Pedro and well before leaving the US, Alana, Courtney and I had our hearts set on visiting El Tatio, the geysers. Your tour (you cannot do this trip without a licensed guide) picks you up well before dawn to get there for sunrise. Due to the massive rainfall and flooding the region had recently experienced, the government had suspended these tours indefinitely.

Disappointed, we really tried to figure out a way to go. The Chilean government would provide email updates on the status of the geysers. Our hotel would receive email updates at 6p and 11p; neither would give us favorable news.

Understanding that we could be arrested if we went on our own (therefore, eliminating that option), we told the front desk we’d set an alarm and check in for an update in the middle of the night … just in case the government’s restrictions were lifted. We were well aware at how far-fetched this was since our pick up was scheduled for 4.30am.

Let me clarify how insane we were. If the 11pm email said ‘closed,’ we REALLY didn’t need to wake up super early for a tour that was never leaving, or even bother with getting a status update in the middle of the night, since the chance of the geysers opening were nil.

We were persistent but when the government says no, they mean no.

The restrictions were not lifted that night. SPOILER ALERT: the geysers wouldn’t reopen during our time in the region.

 

Knowing now that ‘town’ didn’t offer much during the day but a convenient jumping off point to further explore the region, we spent some of the morning relaxing poolside, which, as you can see from our view, wasn’t a really terrible way to spend the morning.

pool

We had the pool to ourselves.

After lunch, one of the girls at the front desk connected us with Freddie, who, with his pal Sergio, would take us to several attractions in the region. And this is when we finally got to start exploring. It certainly took our mind off the geysers, but we still were keen on seeing if the government would lift their restrictions before we headed out of the region.

Our first excursion was a tour of the Valle de Luna, which translates to Valley of the Moon, appropriately so, don’t you think? What you might think in these photos is snow, is actually salt. Take a look at the scenery and the sky. The weather was fickle, changing from one minute to the next. Shorts and tees or sweaters and shivering? All of it.

This is what I would call ‘the middle of nowhere.’ Except we were somewhere in the north of Chile and it was pretty freaking spectacular.

 


Nightlife in San Pedro de Atacama

Based on the subject of this post, this is a short one. The altitude does not combine well with an active nightlife. Were bars and restaurants busy? Sure, but imbibe with care. The hangover wouldn’t be worth it. Altitude and alcohol are not the best combination.

San Pedro is a jumping off point for tours and trips to see the landscapes of the region – which start during the early morning hours and throughout the daylight hours.

Nightlife consists of travelers going to the ATM…seriously. We quickly learned that you can expect a 30-45 minute wait each time. In this photo, we’re pretty close to the front, after an extended wait. At this point you’re just hoping there’s still cash in the machine by the time you get to swipe your card.

the-bank

After securing cash and food, heading back to the hotel is up next.

headlamp

Once you leave the confines of the few streets making up the ‘town,’ there are no streetlights. None. Laugh all you want at the headlamp (my friends did) but this headlamp was a lifesaver (probably literally too) on our walk back to our hotel in the pitch dark.


A pizza place runs out of dough

The three of us arrived into town after a short walk from the hotel. After I dropped off my dirty laundry – a mere storefronts away – from the restaurant we chose on the main plaza (which was literally ‘town’).

We ordered a pizza to share. We were also warned it would take a long time. Not a big deal, we had drinks and plenty of catching up to do.

While waiting an extremely long time for a simple pizza, even with the warning we’d be waiting, we noticed another table had fries, which were not on this menu. So Courtney went to find out where they were from … another restaurant. She went to procure us some fries. We devoured them.

fries

Finding the fries!

After another excessively long period of time, the waiter came over and told us ‘no pan,’ ummmm, what? Pan is bread, or in this case, dough. Did you not know this an hour ago? We were no longer hungry but now we were three hangry ladies. We paid for our drinks and left.

Quickly found another restaurant and were able to catch up over food, that actually existed. Called it a relatively early night and planned to head back to the hotel for some much needed sleep. First, we’d stop at the (only) ATM (in town) to get some local cash for the girls.

We were ready to cover a lot of ground in the region over the next few days and it was unanimous that we all wanted to get some sleep!


What to do before check in?

I opened my eyes and was ready to bail on this place. It took me less than ten minutes from the time I woke up to be checked out of the hostel. I asked for a taxi and instead found out I could easily walk the 15 minutes to the hotel. ‘Muy cerca,’ I was told. Very close, I translated silently. And it was. Gear and all, I believe I made it in under 10 minutes.

Arrived at the hotel only to find out that I had hours before check in – which 2pm. I had just over 4 hours until I could check in and close to 6 hours before the girls would arrive.

It was a beautiful property.

hotel-1

One of the gorgeous views.

The staff invited me to eat breakfast, which was lovely. And since I had plenty of time to spare, and a solid internet connection, I decided to take care of business … I Skyped with family, booked a hostel in Salta, Argentina – my next stop, got the details for the bus terminal where I’d be departing from in a few days and emptied out all the papers, notes and tickets I had been collecting in my backpack, adding unnecessary weight to my load.

tickets

Some of the tickets I had been carrying around, unnecessarily. Tucked into pockets here and there, the weight adds up.

I even went so far as to pull together my dirty laundry since I planned on dropping it off at a lavanderia in town. This must have been quite a sight to see … remember I’m in their ‘lobby’ since I can’t check in for hours.

While this seems like a lot of ‘to do’s,’ and a lot less travel, it was nice to regroup and get reorganized with this downtime. Once I was able to check in, I showered and began to download photos off my camera, so I could get those uploaded and clear out some memory.

After a few hours, Alana and Courtney arrived and it was quite the reunion!

arrivalSince they flew overnight, connected in Santiago for Calama and then took the hour-long drive from the airport in Calama to San Pedro de Atacama, they had a pretty long run of travel. They got settled, showered and we made our way into town. I didn’t go into much detail around ‘town.’ Since I was pretty surprised, I wanted them to be too! I was eager to see what they thought. We’d be there soon enough.


My first night in San Pedro de Atacama

After quite the treacherous bus journey from the airport in Calama to the small adobe village of San Pedro de Atacama, I finally arrived at my hostel. What an interesting set up. Once you entered the property from the dusty street, you were transplanted into a large courtyard. Looking around, you could see small huts dotting the property.

During check in, I realized that I hadn’t eaten since the plane, so I wanted to find something to eat. It was 8.50pm and the woman at the front desk advised me that the supermarket closed at 9 but was just around the corner.

my-hut1

My hut.

After being shown to my hut, I left my bags and headed out into the dark, dusty street. From what I could tell, I felt like I was on a movie set. The streets were sandy, dust was everywhere. The town felt old and worn, like a cowboy movie type of town. At the same time it felt charming and I was excited to explore, if only a short walk to the supermarket at this point.

I first went into the wrong place … they only had day-old (or older) empanadas. I figured out my error and came back outside, found the supermarket (all the buildings looked the same). This was no supermarket with fluorescent lights. This was a very, very small bodega.

The choices were slim and hodge podge. I went with a roll (that looked fresh), wafers, apple juice and water. Seeing a sign for cheese, but no sign of cheese, I asked the person behind the counter how it worked. I was asked how many slices, and not seeing a deli slicer, I wasn’t sure what I was going to get so I replied, ‘cuatro,’ (four in Spanish). After all, I thought, I could easily polish off four slices of cheese. Instead, I must have gotten four 1/4 pounds of cheese. Oops.

I made my purchase and my way back to the hostel. One of the huts was designated a communal kitchen. The lights were on and I could hear voices so I went inside to eat. Inside I met a German man and Italian woman. They had offered me some of their home-cooked meal but instead I nibbled on my cheese while we shared pleasantries.

After dinner they asked if I wanted to join them for a walk into town to go to the ATM. I clearly had nothing else planned for the evening, and hadn’t yet seen the town so I went along.

The center of town was a couple of small alleys away and after a whopping five minute tour, I saw it all. As I would later learn, the ATM was the highlight of the nightlife. After waiting in line at the ATM (it was popular), we popped into a bar for a beer before heading back to the hostel and calling it a night.

I was happy to get to bed since I knew when I woke up I’d be moving to the lovely boutique hotel that my friends and I had booked before I left New York.

Knowing now how small the town was, I didn’t want to explore on my own since I’d be doing it again with the girls once they arrived. My plan for the following morning was quite simple. Wake up, transfer to the fancy place, check in, figure out my next steps after San Pedro, and finally, spend the rest of the day poolside until the girls arrived. I was so excited to see familiar faces and now, after some reflection on my ride from the Calama airport, I was immensely curious how their ride would be, not even 24 hours after mine.


And the driest desert in the world, floods

Forget the (tiny) airport surprise, my biggest surprise came when the bus came to get me (the hotel we would be staying at had a bus that picked people up). While I wasn’t staying at the hotel until the following evening when the girls arrived, they were nice enough to get me and take me to the hostel I had reserved in town. However, the drive was interesting.

I had the knowledge from Google earlier that day that the region had seen the worst flooding in 11 years, but on top of that, I didn’t realize that the region would look like Mars.

I snapped photos basically the whole drive.

And then we stopped. In the middle of nowhere. Because the road was taken over by, what else, water. We could no longer pass.

On the left, part of the washed out road. On the right, is the bus driver calling his boss to find out what other road we can take to get to town. At this point, I am wondering what ‘town’ looks like too.


Santiago to Calama (a flight)

The first thing I noticed on my Sky Airline flight was that this was an old easyJet plane. easyJet is a low cost British carrier and why their plane was being rebranded (on the outside) slightly concerned me. How old was this aircraft, really?

But I couldn’t focus on that for long. Once we were in the air, the scenery was otherworldly. Every photo was wildly better than the last. The clouds mixed with the landscape was just incredible.

Received a lovely meal on the (short) flight …

meal on plane

And I had it of surprise when I landed. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect in Calama but it wasn’t this! This is the entrance to the airport after deplaning by stairs. All planes landed this way. We were basically dropped in the middle of nowhere so whoever I asked to take the photo, took a bit of a photo shoot with the plane in the background. Check out the background, or lack of, in each of the pictures. If you think this looks like Mars, wait for the next post.