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Tales from a Rolling Stone

To the Moon and Back

CHILE | Thursday, 18 September 2008 | Views [622]

Buenos Dias from San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.

Last I wrote, I was in Salta, Argentina, where although we only planned on staying for a short two days, ended up making the small colonial town our home for a solid five.  Originally we elongated the stay to be able to take the trip to Cafayate (which I briefly mentioned in the previous post), but once Bolivia shut down, we got comfortable while we planned our next steps. Although our days were rather uneventful, we spent our evenings with Francisco, the always-smoking hostel worker who gave us tours of the town in the middle of the night (I´m talking like 2am after our midnight dinner but before going dancing at 3am), and the soccer team who adopted us as the in house Shankees and did their best to show us a Argentine good time. 

(Note: To Argentines, all Americans are Yankees - or ¨Shankees¨ with their awful accent.)

Our last night in Salta was very bittersweet, as our soccer team threw us Shankees a farewell asada (bbq).  (Although our time in Salta was a blast, and we felt especially privileged to get a glimpse of the culture and life of Argentines from our new friends, after five days our itch to hit the road was back in full effect.)  Because the town was shut down for the festival celebrating the Virgin of Salta - because apparently there´s a virgin of Salta -  we ended up driving around looking for meat for nearly two hours (see: Latin pride).  By 8 o´clock the guys were finally willing to give in, and we settled for burgers and chicken... which Jen and I were somehow finagled into buying for the whole team.  Dancing, ping pong, and two pheonomenal burgers later, our two favorite players took us out for ice cream. After coming back and trying to dance tango to U2, we decided it was finally off to bed before our 6am bus to Chile.

Now, before I go on any more, let me just tell you how spoiled we´ve been with buses.  Don´t get me wrong, they haven´t been any great deal (muy caro!!), but we´ve taken five overnight buses at this point and they are all pretty spacious and recline about 120 degrees.  Really haven´t been able to complain.  Unfortunately, our - or should I say my - luck ran out on this one, as just after we crossed the Chilean border I lost my last ham sandwich in the bus bathroom.  Call it a border allergy, but that is now the second time I´ve ralphed crossing a border.  (Maybe I´m not meant to be a nomad after all??)

Anywho, it was not 20 minutes after we crossed into Chile before the bus pulled over and called our stop.  Considering it was the middle of the desert, Jen and I assumed we were to transfer to the only other bus there.  Apparently that was not the case, as San Pedro de Atacama is in the middle of the desert.  Bags in hand with zero Chilean pesos we looked for someone soliciting a hostel since we had no place to stay.  Finally a guy came up to us with a flier for his rather spendy hostel, but seeing no other options, Jen and decided it seemed like our best bet.  Realizing I´d left my jacket on the bus, I ran back to grab it, however, by the time I´d returned to Jen we were the only ones standing there - the hostel man nowhere to be seen.  Luckily he had pointed in the direction of town before taking off, so with no other options in sight we began walking.  Noticing that the hostel flyer had a street map on it, we started looking for our turn once we saw what looked to be town; however, quickly noticed that although our map had street names, the streets themselves were not marked with any.  A sweaty half hour of aimlessly walking around later, we finally found our dirty, barren, and expensive hostel and  put our stuff down to go get some money and food. 

Since we´d passed an ATM coming into town and had been told about one more, we didn´t think getting money would be an issue.  Unfortunately, as we approached one of the ATMs, we were met by half a dozen Europeans who told us that both ATMs in town were out of cash.  REALLY??!!  (Most of Latin America works in cash economies so our plastic was fairly worthless.  Did I mention we had no local currency??  Or that my watch randomly started beeping and frying itself??) 

Finally finding a place that exchanged Chilean Pesos for the weakening US Dollar, we looked around for a place to eat - not too difficult when you´re in a tourist town that´s made up of overpriced hostels, restaurants, excursion places, and gift shops.  Of course once we decided on a place to eat, the lights went out - indicating to us that it was closed for the night.  Silly assumption, for as we were walking away a server came out and ushered us back inside, assuring us it was open and the power would be back on in a minute. Silly Americans assuming power was always on, ha!  (That´s like assuming places have hot water... also oftentimes not the case.)  Anywho, for the next hour, we sat inside a restaurant with two cats roaming around the desert floor with the lights in and out, and a generator trying its hardest (we knew this because it would sound like a lawnmower everytime the lights were flickering back on).  Food was fabulous though.  Server was great too, and after we finished up he invited us to meet him and his friends to go to a party.  With no other plans for the night, we decided to throw caution to the wind and join him.  Although we stayed sober after our long day of travel, the fiesta was a great time and our new friend, Oswaldo offered to take us to Moon Valley via bicycle the next day.

After a good night´s sleep, we lathered up in sunscreen and rented our bikes to check out the surrounding desert.  (The Atacama desert is the most arrid on Earth, with some places boasting no recorded rainfall - ever).  Oswaldo had to work and therefore couldn´t come after all, but we decided to go try to checkout Moon Valley nonetheless.  Moon Valley is supposed to resemble the surface of the moon - hence the name - and is renowned for incredible sunsets, so after a bite to eat we set off on the ride to see what it had to offer.  Thinking it would be an easy half hour ride before catching the sun descend behind the red hills, Jen and I were in for an unpleasant surprise.  An hour and a half of uphill riding later and some rather sore bums (maybe I should´ve learned the first time??) the sun was setting behind the ridges and it seemed as though we´d gone all that way for nothing.  We´d missed it. Giving up and turning around; however, we were shocked to see that all we had to do was look behind us: our backs had been to Moon Valley that whole time and we caught it just as the sun´s final rays touched the Earth. 

We raced back with my headlamp leading the way (see: bad idea), and dusty, sore and exhausted, inhaled some trail mix and fell asleep by 8pm.

So that´s where I am now.  Still in San Pedro, but off tonight to head up into Peru.  Unfortunately Chile´s just too expensive to spend any more time in.  Internet cafe´s expensive too, so since I´ve written quite a novel anyway, should probably sign off. 



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