Turning 30 with altitude! – San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

So yes, a certain someone was going to be turning 30 during our time in San Pedro de Atacama and so I was determined to have a great time there!

Arrival to San Pedro was interesting in itself. After an overnight bus from La Serena to Calama we had to change for another bus from there to San Pedro where the Atacama desert awaited us. We were on a trusty Tur Bus (Chile’s largest coach service) and they proved their worth when the coach stopped close to the city to allow us all to take pictures of the beautiful landscape. Somehow we couldn’t imagine National Express offering the same service!

San Pedro itself is an unusual place, situated as it is in the middle of a desert. Walking from the bus station to our hostel it quickly became obvious that this was a place pretty much solely set up for tourism. Walking down the dusty, sand roads we passed a plethora of tours operators, restaurants, gift shops, tourists and little else.

Our hostel was nice and our friendly Brazilian room-mate helped to save us some time by telling us all about the research that he had done into tours from San Pedro to Uyuni in Bolivia across the national park and salt flats. We knew that we wanted to do this trip when we left Chile and so were happy to take him up on his recommendation of using Cordillera when he mentioned that they haven’t had any accidents in 13 years of operating, which sounded perfect after hearing bad stories of drivers getting drunk and having accidents!

The next day we had an early start for a birthday trip to the geysers in Tatio. We were collected at 4.30am and made the two hour journey in to the geysers in the bus with the aim of seeing them at sunrise when the changing light adds to the ambience and the geysers themselves are at their most active. Thankfully we made it in time and were duly issued with our boiled eggs to help keep our hands warm (which worked amazingly well), but sadly the rapid climb to 4,800 metres altitude made Sarah a little bit ill so she wasn’t able to fully enjoy the spectacle that the rising clouds of steam produced. One highlight of the trip was the opportunity to have a birthday dip in one of the thermal pools created by the geysers. The water was warm but very high in mineral content so left a slight orange tint on your skin until you towelled down afterwards. I really enjoyed having a little swim and didn’t let the altitude stop me doing a few laps of the pool. Happily Sarah was also feeling better and had a little dip herself – when else was she going to get the chance to swim in a thermal pool at 4,800 metres at 8am??

That evening we headed into town to have a birthday meal and party hard. We went to a lovely restaurant and I had Cannelloni with Thai green curry inside which was a slightly strange combination, but tasty none-the-less and it was made even tastier when Sarah paid the bill! After dinner we decided to move on and find somewhere else to continue the party, but finding nowhere that looked as good, returned to the same place and took up a new position sitting at the bar. Luckily for me the birthday paradox (Alex Bellos’ excellent Alex’s Adventures in Numberland has an explanation of this on pages 325-328) held true and there was someone else with the same birthday as me in the bar. This became apparent when the DJ played Feliz Cumpleanos and the lucky birthday person was given a free shot! Not wanting to be left out we quickly let them know that it was my birthday too and I was soon confronted with my own, free, flaming tequila shot! I quickly blew it out and saw it away and when the bar man turned back with a straw for me he was astonished to see the shot already gone and was concerned that I may have burnt myself. He duly shook my hand at such a manly display and then set about making us some free shot glass sized mojito’s. Later on I saw a local drinking one of the shots that I had had and it turned out that the local way was to leave it flaming and drink it through a straw. Wanting to prove that I could also handle that arrangement I ordered another and did it the San Pedro way. By this time I was plenty merry and not being able to find a club to go to, we decided that the best course of action was to go home, but not before having a photo taken with the bar staff who had become our new friends!

Next day we were able to treat ourselves to a lie in because the only plans was an afternoon trip to the Valley of the Moon which sounded amazing after we had spoken to another English couple in our hostel (Becca and James) who had done it the previous day and who incidentally ended up being on our tour from San Pedro to Uyuni! Sadly for us it seemed that our guide wasn’t as good as theirs had been because while the trip was ok with some spectacular scenery, it wasn’t amazing because we didn’t do some of the stuff that they had told us about and instead went for a really long walk along the top of the sand which did lead to an amazing view, but for whatever reason, at the time, wasn’t what Sarah and I had in mind to be doing.

Next day was another early start as it was time to move on out of Chile and into Bolivia with a three day jeep tour (more of which you will hear in the next blog)! We had really enjoyed our time in Chile and San Pedro de Atacama had been a great place to round off our time there and also a great place to celebrate turning 30 – it will certainly be something that I remember for a long time!

That’s all for now.

Best wishes,

Chris.

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