• Eyes on Fire - Blue Foundation
  • Rooster - Alice in Chains
  • Jigsaw Falling into Place - Radiohead
  • Quien Fuera - Silvio Rodriguez
  • La Tortura - Shakira

Sunday, October 01, 2006

A jewel in the desert - Day 2

Day 2 began with a tour of the Salt Lake with still blue waters reflecting the majestic Andes and white salt deposits all around. The water comes down when the snow melts from the Andes. But the relentless sun evaporates much of the water and crystalline salt deposits are formed after hundreds and thousands of years.

It's very easy to get lost in its splendor till you see a flock of pink flamingoes fishing for food and flying. These are elegant birds and I managed to take some neat shots with my zoom lens.

We later went on to the lagunas high up in the mountain at about 4500m. I forget the names but they are spectacular. I would probably treat these as the highlight of the trip. It takes a bit to adjust to the altitude here so one would be wise to preserve their energies for the treks around the lake. I became a bit breathless around here.

On the way back, we had lunch at the local native indian restaurant. This was the first time I tasted Quinoa - a plant that grows only in the mountains and is a very rich source of protein and fibre. I was to have the same thing for 20 times the cost in a whole foods store in Colorado.

A jewel in the desert - Day 1

After a quick breakfast at the hotel, we took at cab to the bus station. There we found out that the first bus to leave for San Pedro left at 10:30am. At this stage I was ready to throw a fit. I am extremely greedy when it comes to utilizing my vacation time and we were just wasting time here.

We took a walk around to kill time. There was nothing much to do. Calama looks pretty run down and has a typical desert-town look. About the only interesting thing we say were a pack of 20-30 stray dogs that were going down the main artery of the town (where the bus station is located).

We reached San Pedro at around 1pm. The first thing that hits you on the ride is the stark landscape. This isn't a 'duney' desert. It's very dry, reddish and rocky. It isn't pretty like Rajasthan or Namibia. San Pedro itself is a little village. They don't get any littler than this - given my very limited village experience. The bus drops you on the 'outskirts' which is about 2 blocks from the main square. As soon as you get off the bus, horde of people offering accomodation will approach you. A lot of them are so-called 'hostels' where you share accomodation with other guests for something as low as $10 a night. Perfect if you are single - which I'm not! Hmph ..

We lugged our suitcases to the town center and tried to look for something more regular - you should ideally carry back packs. Chile is back-packing heaven - someday, we'll do that hopefully. We found a couple of very pricey hotels ($150 a night with a swimming pool and internet) but eventually were lucky enough to find this newly opened motel for about $40 a night. The units were quite charming and very neatly (but sparely) furnished. It even had a little backyard where we dried our clothes later in our stay.

I was able to get by with my very limited spanish but I couldn't have done much worse. The place is quite safe and the people very friendly - quite unlike Valparaiso. We had lunch at this little cafe called La Canela run by a young woman whose little kid brother (?) occasionally serves as the 'waiter' - it was a balancing act as he barely managed to hold our plates. I managed to convey that we were both vegetarians. She made us a deliciously simple meal starting with a salad and some kind of a vegetable lassagna and finished with a desert. It cost us $10 each.

The next step was to find ourself a tourist agencywho would take us on expeditions to nearby places. There are some obligatory things on a tourist's to-do list when in San Pedro de Atacama.

1. Valle de La Luna (Valley of the moon)
2. Lagunas (lakes in the Andes)
3. Termas (the hot springs)

We booked a package deal for the both of us at $120 to visit these three over the next three days. The guide wouldn't speak english but hey that would force us to learn a little more spanish wouldn't it ? Also, the english ones were pricier from what I heard. In addition, these guys were friendly and as we found out, they were quite helpful over the next couple of days.

Valle de la Luna was the least spectacular of the three destinations but was quite beautiful in its own right. The ride takes you into the desert and to points were you get a sweeping view of the valley. The trip ends with a view of the sun going down from one of those 'sunset points'. It's a short hike up to this point and climbing in sand isn't exactly that easy. My lack of exercise over the past few months was showing.

We ended the day dining at one of the most visually charming restaurants that we had ever come across anywhere. It was called Milagro and sits on Caracoles St. that houses 80% of the restaurants and businesses in San Pedro de Atacama. Everything is built out of mud and wood and this was no exception. The restaurant had a fireplace in the center opening out out into one of the clearest skies in the world (the Atacama is known for that) with candle lit tables all around + live music. It could not have been any more romantic and I was basking in Aparna's admiring looks. That was until food arrived - a real anti-climax.

A jewel in the desert - Day 0

The delirium continues - of a different sort. I'm back from San Pedro de Atacama. Aparna flew out tonight back to Atlanta. I'll fly back this friday - now that the project is complete. It was a very smooth and uneventful GoLive. Enough about that ..

I probably won't be coming back to Chile again but I'm glad I was able to experience what this little jewel in the Atacama desert had to offer. The planning was quite bad (non-existent really) as you could make out from my previous post.

Day 0 - Wednesday:
The idea was to reach San Pedro Wednesday night in order to maximize our time there. However, it became obvious there was no public transport at our disposal around the time we were to reach Calama. I booked a hotel a mere half an hour before I left for the airport. I was praying it would be decent enough for a married guy.

We reached Calama at 10pm. It was cold and dry when we got out of the airport. We waited for a taxi and asked him to take us to hotel Olimpo. They charged about $50 a night but I have to admit we were nervous getting to the place. Calama appears a little old and run down and I couldn't help but have visions that the taxi driver will take us to a deserted corner and his croonies would rob us at knifepoint!

My fears were misplaced. The taxi driver was quite friendly and got us to the hotel which can be best described as 'adequate' in a very seedy looking surrounding. The furnishings were very average but functional. We took a quick shower and went to bed. The bus to San Pedro was to leave at 8am according to the lady at the front desk.