Forgive me for glossing over San Pedro de Atacama. It’s not for lack of material, but rather because Bolivia is infinitely more interesting and wildly different, and the country has captured my imagination to such an extent that I am too tempted to compare it to Chile, which would be putting the cart before the horse at this stage of the writing. And San Pedro was kind of a write-off anyway, what with the one day of snow shutting down most attractions, like the hot springs and the lake with the flamingos. I was only interested in getting out of Chile at that point, and most of my four days (three nights) there was spent looking for the cheapest or easiest way to get to see Salar de Uyuni. From San Pedro, it turns out, that would have been unwise (we’d have to take an alternative, less scenic route) and wildly more expensive than I had anticipated.
I did however get to see Valle de la Luna (the Valley of the Moon) by bicycle. Remember the two stranger dudes I followed to the hostel? Tiago (Brazil), Juriam (Holland), Sina (from Germany but with a thick Australian accent) and I shared a dorm and also the trip out to this picturesque place. My big take-away from that day on the bikes is that I am disgustingly unfit. And that I rock on downhills, albeit approaching them with typical Sinclair caution. And that I prefer walking. And did I mention that I am unfit?
On the way back to San Pedro that evening I nearly died. But you know what they say; die agteros kom ook in die kraal. Stadig oor die klippertjies.
I did like San Pedro itself very much. Aesthetically, the low buildings are designed to blend into the landscape. Even big branded stores like the Cruz Verde pharmacies and the bus agencies adapt their signage to not offend the soft browns of the walls and the mountains and the streets (not a single one tarred, making for a mud-and-clay bonanza after a little snowfall). It is a tourism cesspool though, and there is little distraction other than the rows of tour operators (more than 80, I believe), the currency exchange booths, the expensive restaurants, and the market (which was a pleasure to walk through a number of times).
The four of us had some great cheap grilled chicken twice, and shared big bottles of wine, and I bought gloves for the first time, because holy moly, was it cold. I slept in my clothes, in my sleeping bag, under three blankets. I did not have the pleasure of a warm shower while I was there. Good personal hygiene became a very relative concept.
A photography tip from an amateur: Don’t wait for late afternoon to photograph this town, or any town like it with narrow streets. The shadows are a nightmare. I never got around to walking around at high noon, when I assume the vertical light allows for the best shots.
Finally I decided to just bite the bullet and buy a direct transfer to Uyuni in Bolivia, from where I would visit Salar de Uyuni, the biggest salt flat in the world.
But first, the delicate matter of getting into Bolivia.