Travel Journal

San Pedro de Atacama

(Sunday 17 April 2011) by Mike and Julie's sort of round the world trip
Day 242 4/6/11
It only a little more than an hour ride to San Pedro and when the asphalt stops you know you’re there. San Pedro is a very small town with dirt roads and not potable water source which means everyone either filters their water to get out the heavy chemicals or buys bottled water. There are some farm lands around town and you see the occasional herd of sheep passing through but otherwise the town is totally geared to tourism and I was one of the many backpackers ambling around town.
It’s expensive here; the best room I could find was just that -- a room about 8X10 with a shared bathroom outside and that was twenty dollars. I had realized my camera was missing as I wanted to take at least one picture in Calama and couldn’t find it in my day pack and the ugly truth was revealed when I emptied everything out at the hotel. Surprisingly there was a shop that sold a few digital cameras but they were not very good and very expensive so I added San Pedro to the towns that would not have any pictures on this trip.
One of the main reasons I took this detour was for the star gazing. San Pedro is basically an oasis in the Atacama Desert where it rains maybe a few days out of the years and there are clouds in the sky perhaps twenty days in the year the rest of the time is just a vast, blue sky and the night sky is remarkable. I signed up with a tour from the astronomy club in time that would take me out in to the desert that night with an astronomer at a rather high price of $30. I booked a tour for a sunset tour from another company that should get me back in time for the star tour.
There were about ten of us in the group and they took us first to a view point that looked over the Salar de Atacama the remains of a great salt lake left by the ocean when the Andes came about. It was interesting but like the entire area around the town, just grey and alien looking worthy of maybe ten minutes watching.
We next went to a lookout over the Valle de la Mortes – Valley of the Dead or Death Valley. The name is actually a misinterpretation of the original name Valley Mort (Valley of Mars) from a French explorer who, though never actually visited Mars, thought the landscape resembled that planet. This is very similar to Valle de la Luna, which we visited next, so named for its lunar landscape but still it’s just grey sand and rocks. This is not to say they weren’t interesting to see but not so remarkable to make a special trip. There were some highlights: the chryristalized salt that was mined here, the oyster shaded theater and the massive sand dunes that locals and tourist alike sandboard down.
I had noticed that today was one of those ten days a year where there were actually quite a few clouds in the sky and I hoped they would clear out as the day progressed but they did not. After watching the sun drop and the grey landscape take on a red hue we returned to town where I found the star gazing trip had been cancelled because of cloud coverage. I took the refund rather than rescheduling as I had already got tickets to Iquique for the next day from Calama. Sigh, things just aren’t going well right now.


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