Throughout the night we were kept apprised of the triumphs and failures of the Broncos for every minute of the Superbowl thanks to a very loud American from Denver watching in the hostel lobby. Our room it seems is very poorly positioned for quiet and this was only exacerbated by his inability to not shout at the TV. At one point someone from a nearby room asked him to please keep it down because they had to be up for a tour at 4 am. His response was,” Fuck you, this is the fucking Superbowl and it’s only one fucking night a year.” We immediately understood why the world hates Americans. To the rest of the world, we are very sorry, we’re not all selfish assholes. By 12.30 the game was finally over but we weren’t able to get to sleep for another hour because of the continued celebratory shouts and high fiving of strangers that we could hear through our thin door.
When 6.45 finally came neither of us were very well rested and we are both looking forward to never sleeping in hostels again after one more month. We quickly dressed and groggily headed to the lobby to wait for our tour to pick us up. We moved outside as the sun came up and to escape the loud snoring of the receptionist sleeping on a couch and a lovely golden retriever came and found us, eager for some head scratches. A short while later our ride arrived and we climbed aboard, between two German girls in the back row for a tour of the lagos altiplanos.
The tour took us through several small villages as we headed south. After crossing the Tropic of Capricorn, we made our way into more salt flats in the Salar de Atacama. Despite having less mineral abundance than the Uyuni salt flats, our guide was quick to point out that Atacama’s are more harvestable. There definitely seems to be some animosity between Bolivia and Chile. We watched some flamingos play in a reflective lagoon for a while and a small duck spin in circles for more than ten minutes before heading back to the bus for the traditional “breakfast” of tea and bread. Afterwards we headed further south before breaking from the paved highway and heading back up in altitude to see the final two lakes, Miscanti and Miniques. Both were incredibly picturesque and our guide had some great insight into not only the native plants and animals, but also how the geology of the area was formed. After a brief walk by the lakes, it was back into the bus for an hour and a half drive back to San Pedro. We spent most of it napping.
We were dropped off at the center of town, which was convenient because it was now 2 pm and we were hungry for lunch. First though, we stopped off by the offices of our stargazing tour we have scheduled for tonight to check in and make sure no foul weather would ruin it. Sad news, it seems some clouds are threatening so the tour is, as of now, unconfirmed. We need to come back at 8.15 tonight and see if it’s cleared up enough. The clouds didn’t look that bad so we went to find lunch, optimistic that they would clear in time.
All of the restaurants in San Pedro are basically the same, so we chose one with the cheapest lunch special and ordered a bowl of chicken stew for Lynn and a pork and beef stew for me. Mine was the favorite but Lynn’s wasn’t bad either after adding some salt. After lunch we headed for home where we caught up on some bus bookings and took more naps before continuing the day.
At 7.30 we packed up our bags for the night and headed back into town for dinner and our astronomy tour. We stopped at a little cafe for sandwiches that we drowned in hot sauce. We then checked in with our tour and the clouds had indeed cleared and we were on. We had 45 more minute to kill before the tour pickup so we wandered around town exploring all of the little back alleys. The town’s backpackerness was on full display with impromptu bands of didgeridoos and guitars playing on the street and people selling sandwiches out of a cardboard box.
At 9.00 our bus pulled up and the twenty of us all loaded up and headed outside town to a French ex-pat couple’s home full of telescopes. The next hour was a very well done presentation on the stars (that were on full display) including how they track across the sky, the constellations, navigation, and even some history of astronomy thrown in. A lot of the people in the tour with us were quite ridiculous and seem to have never seen or even heard of stars before. One of them would punctuate every learned fact with an “Oh my gawwwwwd,” and an Indian women kept interrupting to ask off topic questions. Our guide was much more polite than either of us would have been, and when it was finally time to look through the telescopes we were thankful to be done with them.
There were ten telescopes set up in their front yard, including the largest public telescope in South America, each pointing to a different constellation or nebula, and one even eyeing Jupiter as it rose up over the horizon. We took turns peering through the telescopes, sometimes in awe (Alpha Centauri sparkling like a multicolored diamond) and sometimes having no idea what we were looking at (usually a nebula or supernova remnant).
After telescopes we headed inside to conclude the night with some hot chocolate and Q&A before heading back into town. As the bus was about to pull away the driver asked if the town center (where we had been picked up) was fine for everyone as a drop off. Everyone was fine except for the Indian couple who requested to be dropped off at their hotel. The driver begrudgingly complied. As he drove towards it though there was a lot of comotion ahead. He turned around and tried a different way, coming to a stop at an intersection just as a Carnivale parade was coming down the street of the hotel. He told the Indians that their hotel was a hundred yards into the parade and they would need to walk. They seemed very concerned about the walk, and the safety of walking 100 yards on a well lit tourist street and wanted a few minutes to talk it over. Meanwhile the parade was imminently approaching and threatening to block us in until it passed, possibly hours later. They took too long and with the rest of the bus shouting “vamos” the driver hopped back into his seat and took off just as the first revelers started swarming the bus.
After a few more tight turns we were dropped back off at the city center and made our back to our hostel, which was thankfully quiet tonight and we turned in, knowing we had to wake up in another 4 hours for our geyser tour in the morning.
Daily Walking Mileage: 4 miles
- The Atacama Desert is the driest non-polar desert in the world with, on average, 0.6 inches of rainfall per year though some weather stations have never reported rainfall. It is, in fact, so dry that NASA uses it to test instruments as a proxy for Mars’ environment.
- There are 57 volcanoes that line the Atacama Desert, some of which are still active.