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The Adventures of a Lifetime: Part 1

After a few days after my departure from Chile and of settling into the trusty old rhythm of lots of sleeping, drinking tea, and eating Dutch food, it seems like a good time to reflect upon my travels at the end of the semester. When looking back on it from the greenery and sunshine of Holland (it’s not actually raining for once), it seems like another world away, and quite strange to think that only a week ago I was still in Chile, and that two weeks ago I was admiring La Paz and all it had to offer. In any case, while it is quite lovely to be back in Holland and to be spoiled by my family once more, my two weeks in northern Chile and Bolivia were quite possibly the adventures of a lifetime. Clearly, I have to go back on another extended trip, this time to Peru, Argentina, back to Chile to visit my host family, and then maybe head off to Antarctica. You know, casually.

I left on this trip, however, the day after the farewell dinner on a flight to Calama (from Santiago). The view from the plane wasn’t too bad….



From the airport, we headed on a little bus to San Pedro de Atacama, where I was staying with two friends for the first 3.5 days of my journey. We arrived at San Pedro at around 4pm, checked in to our hostel, and explored the incredibly touristy streets of San Pedro. We booked three tours for the next two days (which I found to be rather pricey for Chile, but they did include transport and food and guides and decent company…. but still, I feel as though there are many more incredible things to see in the area that are also less expensive), walked around for a bit (and wandered into this shop including the lovely llamas seen below), and ended up going to this cute little restaurant for a not-so-expensive dinner.



The first full day we had planned included a trip from about 7:30 to 17:30, including breakfast and lunch, visits to a couple of lakes at altitude, an area with some pretty strange red rocks, and a visit to the flamingos at the Salar de Atacama. However, the trip itself didn’t exactly go as planned… about an hour into our bus ride to the lakes, our bus broke down. We were told that one of the cables was broken, and therefore the motor wouldn’t work, and on top of that we had no way to contact anyone as we were stranded halfway up the ride without service on our phones and no satellite phone because apparently those are “too expensive” for a profitable tourist company in San Pedro. In any case, whilst the guide and the driver were trying to figure out what to do, they set up breakfast on the side of the road, where we slowly froze to death waiting for a solution. As it was, after about 45 minutes of walking around and admiring the scenery, another bus ended up chugging by, which still had space for about 10 of the 30 people that were on our bus, so the three of us managed to stow aboard and continue our excursion with a different tour company. After visiting the lagunas altiplanicas, we were about to head to the second place on the tour, when we passed by the original bus that we were on going to the lagunas altiplanicas, so we hopped back on that bus and visited the lakes a second time. Eh, the view itself was worth it.

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After that, we drove about 1.5 hours (this was my biggest problem with all the tours: unfortunately, all the places are quite far apart, so it’s a lot of bus riding, picture taking, short explanation, and then back into the bus to do the exact same thing for a different place. It just all felt very touristy, and it felt wrong to hear more English or Portuguese than Spanish whilst walking in the streets of San Pedro) to the next place, which was the piedras rojas. This place was pretty cool too.

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After eating lunch at a local restaurant (ají de gallina, which is this amazing Peruvian dish), we headed to the Salar de Atacama, which is quite different from the far more famous Salar de Uyuni, as the Salar de Atacama gets its water from underground sources, which means it grows quite differently, as can be seen below (and my beautiful posing).

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The surrounding area and the local animals were also quite pretty:



That was pretty much it for the first day; after dinner, we all tried to get some sleep as the following day we had to be ready at 4:30am for a tour to the geysers of Tatio. However, the tour company ended up picking us up at about 5:15am, meaning we could have had at least another half an hour of sleep. Grhghnrnnr.

Anyway, the geysers themselves, whilst quite interesting – especially seeing as they were at about 4.5km altitude – were just steaming along without any real eruptions, and as such didn’t really compare to the geysers I saw in Iceland (no, I swear I’m not spoiled or anything…)

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Afterwards, we were taken to the so-called “hot springs” at about the same altitude, which Kirsten and I did end up going in, though we soon found out why all the people were clustered in a very small part of the pool: the rest of it was freezing. And by freezing I mean probably around 25ºC, but considering it was only a few degrees above freezing outside the water, it just wasn’t pleasant.

We returned to San Pedro, ate lunch with this Chilean professor who we’d started talking to during the tour (who taught dance at an important university in Santiago where the students had, naturally, been on strike for a couple of weeks), and then headed off on the following tour of the Valle de la Muerte and Valle de la Luna, where we would watch the sunset. The Valle de la Muerte is, obviously, known for there being literally no life around in a pretty large area (as such there isn’t… all that much to see… apart from this one panorama view of which the photos are below). However, salt does grow in that area, and at one point in the tour we were asked to be completely quiet and we could hear the salt crystals expanding and making weird clunky noises inside the rocks. After that, we walked up this pretty large hill (which actually wasn’t part of the tour) so that we could get a pretty spectacular view of the Valle de la Muerte, but unfortunately those pictures have disappeared from my laptop.

On that tour, we also started talking to this very friendly Australian (Nick) who would be staying in Chile for a couple of weeks, and two American friends (two Catholics called Mary and Joseph. Yep), and we chatted with the three of them throughout the whole tour and ended up eating dinner with them. But, back to the Valle de la Luna tour. It was quite busy, but we did end up getting a pretty decent, if not spectacular, view of the sunset that night.

Unfortunately, all of the pictures that I had of the sunset also seem to have disappeared.

After getting back to San Pedro, we went to dinner with our new friends, and met up with our friend Kiren, who had arrived at San Pedro that day with her family. Kirsten and I went for drinks with her and her family (her father studied at the same university my brother studied… small world), and when getting back to the hostel the receptionist invited us both our for a drink. It was quite a lovely night overall.

The next day was my last full day in San Pedro, and I dedicated it to first procrastinating and then actually writing a final essay for one of my history classes (which I ended up finishing at about 11pm that night, thereby finishing my semester!!), though Nick, Kirsten and I (Gabriel had left earlier that morning) did rent bikes to see some ruins nearby, which also had a pretty impressive view of the surrounding area.

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That night, Kirsten and I went to dinner with Nick and watched Chile beat Peru in the Copa América, and afterwards we met with Kiren again and had a sleepover in her hotel by way of spending our last night together. That was it for Chile: I had booked a 3-day tour from San Pedro to Uyuni, Bolivia, including lodging and food, which would leave the following morning. That morning, I said farewell to Kiren and Kirsten (they both live in Pennsylvania so hopefully I could visit them at some point), and waited for the bus to pick me up to go Uyuni. And waited a little bit longer. And a little bit longer. At one point, the receptionist said that, as Kiren’s family had actually paid for breakfast and didn’t eat it because they had a tour starting early in the morning, I could eat a free continental breakfast with bacon and eggs and bread and tea and other lovely wonderful things. I eventually got picked up only 45 minutes late, right after finishing breakfast, and thus started my trip to Bolivia.


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