San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

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After leaving the salt flats tour group I jumped on a bus which took me to the border of Bolivia and Chile. In the line for immigration I met an English guy called Alan who seemed to be the only English speaking person in the area (although he does speak Spanish rather well also) which was a relief because my Spanish is still pretty ordinary. After immigration and customs it was only a few minutes on the bus before we arrived in San Pedro de Atacama.

Alan and I decided to seek out a hostel that had been recommended to me by my friend Ed in La Paz, it was a bit out of the way and therefore cheaper. For once I followed his directions well and we came a across hostel Cabur.

It is a quiet place with a nice shady courtyard, a hammock and a fireplace in the evenings. After three days in the desert I enjoyed a nice hot shower and then we headed back into town to check out the main attractions – and of course we found the pub where a futbol match between Chile and Spain was about to commence.

San Pedro is a peaceful town that caters solely for tourists. It is only small and is made up of restaurants, tour agencies and Internet cafes.

There are an abundance of tours you can do, mainly involving lagunas and geysers, however we felt we’d seen enough of those on our Salar tour so we opted for sand boarding in the Death Valley instead.

I was pretty worried I was going to hurt myself (especially after Will stacked it in Huacachina) but it was really fun and when I did stack it I didn’t hurt myself – just got absolutely covered in sand! Only bad thing was having to trek back up the hill to come down again.

Alan showing off his mad skills.

After the sand boarding we went to a lookout point so we could watch the sunset over the Atacama desert. The landscapes there are just amazing, they look like something from Mars, red dirt that has formed into rugged hills and gullies and then surrounded by the ever present Andes on one side and another mountain range on the other.

I also went stargazing at the observatory of a French astronomer where I learnt about all he different zodiac constellations and the makeup of our galaxy. I absolutely froze but it was really interesting.

We ended up staying four days and three nights in San Pedro and didn’t really do all that much, which was kinda nice. Alan had to srt out flights and I wanted to get my blog up to date but apart from that we just cooked for ourselves and hung around in the hammock in the hostel. It was lovely!

(Sorry about the lack of photos of San Pedro, I was a little bit lazy in this town as you can probably tell.)


Ballestas Islands, Pisco Tasting and Sandboarding

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From Lima we jumped on a bus and headed south for about five hours to Pisco (the drink is named after the town because it is made nearby) and then another bus to Paracas (a quiet fishing town).

Along the way I was astonished by the landscapes, huge mountains of rock right next to the ocean and then vast stretches of sand.

Many of these coastal towns in this area were badly damaged during the 2007 earthquake and still appear to be recovering.

In the morning we went on a boat tour of the Islas Ballestas. The islands are nicknamed ‘the poor mans Galapagos’ but were amazing nonetheless. On the way out we saw a giant candelabra which has been etched into the sands above the rocky coastline and then about a bazillion birds including penguins. But my favorite was definitely the sea lions.

It was pretty freezing on the boat but once we got back to land the sun came out. All the English guys on the tour are hoping to get some nice tans so they were pretty happy.

After a short bus trip we arrived at a Pisco vineyard where we were shown how they make the drink and then were able to taste. Pisco is 46% alcohol which is stronger than Tequila so after sampling several different varieties we were all pretty happy and ended up buying quite a few bottles to take with us.

The next stop was an oasis in the middle of the desert called Huacachina. It is surrounded by mountainous sand dunes and has a beautiful lagoon and palm trees in the middle making it an absolutely spectacular sight.

We were able to go for a sand buggy ride in the dunes near the oasis which was exhilarating. It was like being on a rollercoaster because as you came up the dune all you could see was the horizon and you had no idea how steep they were on the other side. We were all screaming but none were louder than Rod, our group leader. After cruising around for a while we got out to take a few photos of the valley and the surrounding mountains which were absolutely spectacular, it took my breath away.

And then the fun really began. We pulled up on top of a huge sand dune and out came the boards. We were told to lay down on the board with your elbows tucked in and legs apart and the buggy driver would give you a push and off you went flying down the dune. It was pretty scary as the dune was very tall and quite steep. I let out a scream but copped a mouthful of sand so I learnt quickly to keep my mouth shut.

Once the whole group had come down the buggy driver would drive around and pick us up so we didn’t have to walk back up the dunes. Thank god!

A couple of the boys were adventurous and attempted to stand up on the boards, but it didn’t end well when one of them stacked it and took a tumble, ending up with a concussion.

Will was not badly hurt and had to get over it pretty quickly because we had planned to celebrate his birthday that night, as the following night, his actual birthday, we were taking an overnight bus.

And celebrate we did! We finished off most of the bottles of Pisco we bought that day and everyone was having a fantastic time (although soon everyone was dreading when it was their turn to take a shot of the Pisco!)

Rod was enjoying himself very much, telling us crazy stories about his travels, often sharing a little more information than we were looking for – earning him the nickname of Notorious R.O.D. and also earning him a quick dip in the hotel pool, courtesy of the group carrying him, kicking and screaming, and dropping him in to cool off. But the stress of the night was a little too much for Notorious R.O.D and he decided to pay us back by projectile vomiting all over one of the group members. It was off to bed for Rod after that!

It had been a day and a night to remember! As I went to bed I was just a little worried about how the flight over the Nazca lines would go tomorrow…

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