We awoke surprisingly well rested at 6 am after our sleep was continually disturbed by half of our group playing drinking games until late into the night. The two of us soaked up the good feeling while the secretly laughing at the bloodshot eyes and fistfuls of ibuprofen adorning our fellow travelers.
We were on our way 1.5 hours later after downing some pancakes like tacos and packing up our stuff. We only had two stops to visit before the group would be split – half to Chile and half back to Uyuni. The first was a brief stop to the Dali Desert, a landscape that is said to resemble that of Salvador Dali’s paintings though he has never been their. Neither of us are overly familiar with his work so we couldn’t comment one way or the other, but both agreed that the view out the other side was significantly better being illuminated by the rising sun. The second stop was to yet another lake, this one being green, but it did have a fairly standout feature: it is poisonous. Yes, this lake is full of copper and arsenic so you’ll find so flamingos in it and hopefully no people, at least not living. The group took a few final pictures together with the lake and it’s surrounding landscape before saying our goodbyes.
Six of us, Lucio, and a driver piled into one car (if you are counting, that’s way more cramped than the car has been), with us in the middle seat this time, and were off to the border. Thankfully the ride was only 30 minutes long and we were soon at Bolivia’s border along with a slew of other tourists.
We waited and waited and waited in a very long line before being asked to pay yet another tax to Bolivia to leave (15 Bolivians) then retrieved our bags and said our goodbyes before boarding the bus into Chile. It seems we’d be doing our Chilean immigration at an office in San Pedro de Atacama so we, according to our driver, had an our to either get rid of our fruit, vegetables, marijuana, and cocaine or consume it.
The driver gave the bus an into to the landscape we’d be traveling through in Spanish and we tried to understand as much as we could. We did hear that the drive would be 40 kilometers, which we both immediately questioned. Why would it take an hour to go 40 km? We soon found out. The entire hour was downhill, no switchbacks, on paved highway. This is how high we were in Bolivia. Yesterday we were at 5000 meters. Today, we are arriving in San Pedro de Atacama at 2407 meters. Holy cow.
We were immediately impressed with our Chilean comforts. Like I said, the road was paved, but we also had A/C in the van, there were tourist information signs along the highway, there we guardrails, and even multiple runaway car ramps. We were definitely no longer in Bolivia and after a pretty harmless inspection in San Pedro de Atacama we were now in Chile. Horray!
Our bus dropped us off in the very small town’s center before we took off on foot to our hostel. We were immediately taken with the adobe architecture that feels a lot like New Mexico and the quaint streets.
We arrived at our hostel hoping to check in but completely forgetting that we need Chilean money to do so. Also our room wasn’t ready, so after a quick tour and dripping our bags off, we walked back into town. Soon enough we had changed our remaining Bolivianos for Chilean Pesos and found and ATM. We had also discovered than San Pedro de Atacama is very much a tourist town, not only for foreigners but also Chilean. And, in stark contrast to Bolivia, a surprising number are at or beyond retirement age. It seems Chile will be a bit less hectic than Peru or Bolivia were.
Next we walked up and down Caracoles road hoping to find a standout place for lunch, but they all looked pretty much the same so we eventually settled for a local offering chilli con carne. Though, after sitting down, we completely forgot about the chilli and both ordered salads and juices to the ripe ‘ol price of US$21. Yikes, definitely not in Bolivia anymore.
After lunch we did a whole lotta errands for the remainder of the afternoon. We finished checking into our hostel, booked a number of tours for the bulk of our stay here (unfortunately necessary unless you want to rent a car and we aren’t ready for that just yet) and posted many many blog posts from our past 7 days without reliable WiFi (sorry about that). We then got to work on the remainder of our stay in Chile: where to stay in Puerto Natales, how to cross back into Argentina, where to stay in El Calafate etc. etc.
By this point it was 8 p.m. and time for a dinner break so we walked back into town to eat at the only restaurant with over 600 reviews and were not disappointed even if Doug accidentally ordered beef tartare when he thought it would be some sort of pork (Crudo is not pork, cerdo is pork. Check and check.). So far Chilean food far exceeds Bolivian food. On the way we saw a fantastic sunset and on the way back delighted in the coolness of the air and the fact that the streets had lights. Then it was to bed early since we had to wake up for an early four. Let’s just hope the Americans watching the Super Bowl don’t get too rowdy.
Daily Walking Mileage: 6
- According to Lucio, the reason why the U.S. is required to pay such a hefty visa fee is because an American decided to set off explosives that he obtained in Potosi in downtown La Paz 10 years ago or so. The president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, had him caught and now forces the rest of us to suffer for us.
- From the green lake in Bolivia, you can see the peak on the nearby mountain range which is the border between Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina.
- Chile’s president, Sebastian Pifiera, wants the country to be a developed nation by 2020. This may explain the drastic difference between it and its neighbors.