GUEST BLOG (Dykesy & TJ)
After been forced back to semi-cama for 19 hours, we arrived at what could only just be classified as a bus stop in the middle of a dry brown desert. Cramming into the back of a HiAce, we found our hostel in the middle of a labyrinth of dirt roads and packs of stray dogs on heat. We thought we had finally become real travellers…How we were wrong…
The mud streets were lined with small shacks filled with not only numerous tourist agencies but also restaurants and shops equalling that of any city we had visited on our travels thus far. In addition, there were enough bars and local desert parties at the ‘butcher’s house’ for us to really welcome Ryan and Anna into the group.
It is not by coincidence that this tourist oasis exists. San Pedro de Atacama sits at 2,400m above sea level and is surrounded by arguably some of the most amazing natural scenery in the world. We managed to tick off most of the key sites between us including the craters of the moon, geysers and sand boarding.
But the main attraction of this town was the 4WD tour from Chile across to Bolivia. We had heard various horror stories of breakdowns and drunk drivers so we were a tad nervous (even though we had worked out that the seven of us could keep each other warm for multiple nights with one of the great spoons).
After crossing the highest, coldest and most relaxed customs process of our trip, our tour group of 14 (11 of those being Kiwis) jumped into three Land Cruisers with our local guides, cranked the Bolivian house music and headed out into the desert.
The days consisted of sightseeing that can only really be described by photos – geysers, various coloured lakes, flamingos, rocks, flamingos, hot pools and flamingos.
But the accommodation is something worth expanding on.
The first night we were welcomed with mashed potato and sausages before heading off to bed at -15 degrees Celsius at an altitude of 4,600m. This combination resulted in frozen windows and clothes and certain members of the group adapting to the lack of oxygen by developing a strange combination of snoring and hyperventilation. Needless to say we all got very little sleep.
By the second night we were approaching the salt flats and this fact had not gone unnoticed by the hostel’s ‘architect’ as the whole place was made of salt: the walls, the tables and the chairs were made of solid slabs of salt and even the floor was made of a variety of table salt (the novelty factor of the latter wore off once salt was found throughout our bags and shoes). However we had a hot shower, chewy llama for dinner and a comparatively warm room so we couldn’t complain.
Irrespective of the fact that our drivers’ had had a large night on the cervezas, the following day we were up to watch sunrise on the salt flats followed by a morning of exploring our creative sides. The results speak for themselves…
So after three days we had reached an altitude of 4,800m, slept in temperatures of -15 degrees Celsius, eaten llama, seen flamingos, spooned in the thermal hot pools, got semi-nude on the flats, memorised the words of the 10 Bolivian pop songs, seen some great scenery, survived five flat tyres and arrived in Uyuni, Bolivia.