Chile: San Pedro de Atacama and border crossing to Bolivia (Salar de Uyuni)

On our way to San Pedro de Atacama

On our way to San Pedro de Atacama

What uuuuuup people??? It’s been ages since updating my blog. Sorry for that. You probably guessed that there are no (good) connections where I’m at currently! You got it right! Bolivia is an exception to South American countries we’ve been at so far. Wi-fi is rare and slow, and we’re back to good old internet shops. Oh boy, like in the old times (six years ago in Southeast Asia). LOL.

Double Oh boy, I’m not feeling quite myself while writing this. This morning I woke up having heart burn which I have a history of. I took a pill and tried to get some sleep. It was getting worse and I also got nauseous. Raffi went to brekkie and I tried to recover because we were supposed to leave the town today and had the tickets bought too. No can do. I got some sort of feverish stomach bug (the first one in 7months!) and am running back and forth of the bathroom. I’m really not feeling good.. argh. I was looking for to changing a place and naturally whenever you’re sick while traveling you miss home. At least I do, nothing beats recovering at your own home. So here we are stuck in the room. Last time I felt like this was a year ago in Barcelona, Spain, when I got a similar virus at a work trip. Then I was in a cool hotel but by myself. My colleagues brought snacks and meds, one of my friend who lives there brought Finnish magazines. Sweet. Luckily I have Raffi here with me now. What a way to start exploring Bolivia, although this was expected.

Behind those mountains is Bolivia!

Behind those mountains is Bolivia!

Anyway, back to traveling. I think I found my favorite place in Chile! It’s a small small small town called San Pedro de Atacama which is northeast of Chile and near the border to Bolivia. We finally left behind La Serena and took a long bus drive to Calama and swapped to a San Pedro bound bus there. Although I slept majority of the hour or so drive I was awake at the last bit and the scenery was amazing! It’s hot in the desert town and we had a task to find a hostel for the time being. The search almost ended up like the cartoons where you start hallucinating an oasis in the heat. It was dead-hot and the dust was everywhere. The town is not big but still you have to walk for a while if you’re into hotels a bit further. ;) We chose one from LP and it turned out it wasn’t that easy of a walk with 20kilos in your back. But we made it to the door of Hostel Candelaria. Sometimes we’re very lucky with the hostels we choose. We checked few places on TripAdvisor the day before and gsus it was difficult to choose one. There were bad reviews in almost everyone and then you just have to figure what is smallest annoyance. I definitely didn’t want to sleep where the peeping tom works and the other place had something else too.

Sunset

Sunset

Candelaria got pretty good reviews and the parts that some people felt annoying did not matter to us. Like the zoo they have. :D They have three dogs, 7+cats, undulates, chicken… The dogs were so cute, it was amazing to follow them for three days. There were two bigger ones and one poodle princess called Perla. She was bossing and teasing the two bigger ones around which was hilarious. On the last day Raffi bought them dog bones, 2pieces, which he figured he’d give to the two bigger dogs due to their size. They started gnawing the bones and the little poodle comes out. She’s watching the big guys eating and you can tell she wasn’t happy for not having one. She tried to approach them both but got growling as an answer and she figured to stay away. But she just couldn’t and once the other dog had the bone’s end fall off this princess saw her opportunity and picked up the part. And even better, when the dogs had a break yet again she used that opportunity to swap her leftover bone to bigger. Hahaha..LOL. And whenever the dogs approached her she gave back her biggest growl. On the last night we were still bonding with the animals and it was so much fun them running around us, wanting to be petted. The owners, a couple in their mid-50s, were lovely too. It felt like staying at home staying with them.

Adobe houses with satellite discs

Adobe houses with satellite discs

San Pedro is a really authentic-like village. The streets are mainly dust and the buildings orange-brownish clay huts, yet you can get quite a scale of products in their little shops and market. The plaza is surrounded by lovely willowish trees and there are a few cafes too. They were working on the roads though so there were tractors here and there. The village is really situated in an oasis of a desert and the salt flats of Atacama.

San Pedro is famous for the activities you can do around, they’re basically never-ending. So we had to book few too. We had one evening tour to see sunset at Valle de la Luna, and another evening/night tour to go observing stars. Once we hired bikes and went to a close-by ruins. The lookout of the ruins was hard work, it took a bit less than an hour to ascend, and since it’s pretty high altitude it took your breath away. But it was fun. Valle de la Luna was fun too but we weren’t that impressed by the sunset. We climbed pretty high in the valley but I was expecting the colors to be more intensive. The area has amazing rock formations though which you cannot stop photographing of. The star gazing at the observatory must have been my favorite! We left at dark and outside the observatory a Canadian guy was explaining us about the stars. It was amazing how many stars you can see and the Milky Way was amazing. Later we had somewhat ten telescopes that we could spot the star formations closer. My absolute favorite was Saturn! Omg, it felt surreal to look at it through telescope and being able to see the rings around it and one of its small moon. The magical night was ending with a cup of hot chocolate at the hut. Loved it. Too bad you cannot take pictures of what we saw, not with my cam. The Canadian also told us there was a small earthquake in the afternoon we arrived but we didn’t even notice. :D

Salt as far as the eye can see

Salt as far as the eye can see

Whenever someone asked us where we’re from and after telling them we’re from Finland almost everyone immediately told us about a Finnish guy who owns a bar in the main street. Haha, what a coincidence. That’s actually rare. Once in Cambodia did we see a Finn who owns a restaurant there but that’s as far as it goes. So one evening after walking by we see a blonde guy sitting behind a bar and you can tell it’s him. It’s too crowded to go there and we didn’t agree with Raffi what to tell him. :D On the evening of star gazing we go there for a couple of beers and I tell the Finn that we had to come check-out the Finn because everyone keeps mentioning it. We talked for a while and although he seemed friendly there might have been some annoyance meeting another Finn? I don’t know, hard to tell.. or then he’s just shy like we always blame if Finns are not talkative. ;) He did tell me (me questioning) that he was traveling like us 16years ago and ended up in San Pedro which he liked so much that he planned to stay there. There was no electricity at the time and it was very different from the tourist sight it has become but it has good and bad sides. He used to have a restaurant with his local spouse but they divorced and he got his bar. Like in every little village gossips go around and this one we heard from our host. Speaking of the restaurants in San Pedro, the food was amazing in there!!! They have variety of veggies and salads on offer, the food is very healthy, home-made stff and similar to the menu del dias in Spain. I suppose this was a place where we ate lot of veggies after Argentina. ;) Yummy. We also toasted to our last night in Chile and tried the local drink called Pisco Sour. Now we know where the name comes from and you can probably guess too.. I’m not a big fan of sweet drinks but this one was wayyy toooo souuuuur. We were like two lemons after that. It also had too much of tequila’s taste in it. Yuk. Not good memories with that liquid.

My massive vege sandwich - compare to the cap!

My massive vege sandwich – compare to the cap!

The second attraction in this town is the closeness of Bolivian border and the famous Salar de Uyuni. The world’s biggest salt flat! It’s yet again a hassle to choose the right company to join in a tour because there are so many of them and some of them not with a very good safety record. We heard and read stories of drivers threatening customers with hammers, being drunk or dropping them off in the middle of nowhere because they got pissed off by something. We trusted in LP and chose the bit more expensive Cordillera Traveller. The three days, two nights combination was CLP85k pp.

Raffi and Perla - the poodle

Raffi and Perla – the poodle

After we said goodbye to our hosts the morning of departure we had a looong driving ahead. The Chilean driver is not allowed to work in Bolivia so at the border (which by the way is one small hut in the middle of mountains and altiplanos) we needed to changed our bus to two jeeps and local drivers. Our group was divided to those jeeps and I think we got a pretty nice team there. Us two, one Brit and an Australian couple of whom the guy is half-Swiss. :D The sights were impressive throughout the drive but I must say that the last day’s Salar de Uyuni was my favorite by far, along with the cactus island Incahuasi in the middle of it. We saw different-colored lagoons, termas, geysers (or more like hot springs), and lot of flamingos. The first night we reached 4200m or something like that to spend our night in one of the hostels. I wasn’t too eager about it, afraid of the altitude sickness or cold night. I had headache and it was freezing at first, and it didn’t help that oxygen was a bit low. :D But the beds were comfy and had many layers of blankets so coldness didn’t bother after I warmed up. Our group of five shared a dorm and we all kept gasping of breath throughout the night and therefore I didn’t sleep too well. You couldn’t cover you face with the blanket even though it was cold because it meant you couldn’t get even the slightest of air. I was lucky though not having any other or more severe symptoms like the one Polish guy. He was feeling pretty sick and we all felt sorry for him. The Australians are junior doctorates so they were instructing him and one of the locals even brought him a pill to ease his suffering. I suppose he and his girlfriend slept even less than I. I wasn’t too impressed about sleeping at that high altitude..phew. Luckily we had few days to adjust in San Pedro. I was also positively surprised about the food they offered! Salad and fruits were included throughout. Our Bolivian driver Johnny was speaking on and off. Sometimes he said a lot (in Spanish) and sometimes he had nothing to say. But I felt he was a good driver and on the second evening at a local pub while some drivers were drinking beer he sticked with his juice.

Volcano Licancabur (Raffi's pic)

Volcano Licancabur (Raffi’s pic)

The second night was memorable. We spent the night in a town called San Juan and in a hotel made of salt. It was so cutesy and cozy. And it was warm inside the room. We even got a private room which was promised but we heard stories again from people saying they had to share rooms. Before the dinner we were dropped off to a pub (made of salt too) 200meters from the hotel where we had beer with coca (leaves). It was like any other beer to me. And at the dinner we were being pampered by a bottle of red wine. After that I think our group was pretty much done for the day. :D We decided to wake up early the next morning and head towards Salar de Uyuni by the time to catch up the sunset. Phew.. what an early morning, we woke up at 4!! But Salar de Uyuni is just simply amazing! It’s something you have to see once in your lifetime! It has become quite a tourist trap, solely in Uyuni there are tens of companies doing the tour! By the way, Cordillera Traveller also seemed like an eco-friendly company and they did take all the rubbish back with them and drove the correct track at the salar. Funny pictures were definitely the theme at the salt flat, the result can be seen in the pictures section. ;) I’d say this was one of the highlights so far, and I’m glad we did it. It was less painful than I imagined it to be. Johnny took us to Uyuni (a town) as the last stop and there we spent one night before moving on. I wish we had changed emails with the Australian couple, we had good time while traveling as a group.

Wind in my hair..dust everywhere!

Wind in my hair..dust everywhere!

By the morning we were about to took off to Tupiza Raffi’s old buddies had visited him again. Bed bugs!!! Yuk. He must have allergic reaction to the bites because they grow huge! And his head was covered with them. The funny thing is I never get anything (luckily, I’d be on a plane to home by then ;) ) and bed bugs should not be living at an high altitude. Hmmm.. But it cannot be his clothes either because then it would happen all the time. So he has his back ache, the bed bug bites and me stomach flu. We’re doing good! ;P

That’s pretty much it. You can find the awesome Salar de Uyuni pictures in the following blog entry, pictures only.
Take care, I’ll try to do that too although I don’t feel like getting up anytime soon.
Hugs, Nora

Accommodation: Hostel Candelaria, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile; Hotel Julia, Uyuni, Bolivia
Price: Candelaria CLP25k per night shared bathroom, including bf, we got some discount for staying four nights; Hotel Julia 100bolivianos per night, shared bathroom, no bf
Other: The setting of Candelaria is inside a pretty courtyard, some 10-15mins walk from the “centre”, rooms are basic and clean, breakfast amazing. We liked the animals there and they weren’t noisy at all. If you have anything to complain about it might be the smell of the courtyard in the burning sunshine. You know what Im talking about. ; Hotel Julia is right next to Cordillera Traveller and few blocks from the bus station, it’s very basic but ok.

Hostal Candelaria

Hostal Candelaria

//Moikkamoiiiii, täällä taas sorvin ääressä niin kuin duunissa konsanaan. hah, no ei onneks vielä. Ja tästä työstä mä tykkään. ;) Kuumeista vatsatautia pukkas ekaa kertaa matkalla täällä Bolivian turffilla mut onneks selvisin pelkällä päivällä. Chilestä löytyi se meiän lempparikylä viime hetkellä. San Pedro on aivan ihan pieni kylänen, ja niin erilainen kun muu Chile tai Argentiina. Tekemistä ois riittänyt monelle päivälle ja muutama retki tehtiinkin. Kohokohta varmaan Saturnuksen spottaaminen teleskoopilla observatoriossa, ihan utopinen näky!! Samoin kun kaunis tähtitaivas ja Milky Way. Jenkkiläisittäin: Oh wow!! ;D Muutama sana tossa mahtavasta Uyunista (suolakentät vai miten sen suomentais??) joka oli matkan yks kohokohdista, ihan uskomaton! Näihin tunnelmiin… nauttikaa kuvista ja mukavaa kevään odottelua, ehkä se nyt vihdoin sieltä saapuu kun Sveitsissäkin jo nautittiin 20asteen lämmöstä. Puspus.

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