After our first attempt at snowboarding being a little thin on the snow, we decided the best thing to do was head north and wait for an improvement. This being the southern hemisphere heading North means getting hotter, in fact we headed to the desert.
After 26 hours on the bus from Santiago we arrived in the dark at San Pedro, in the heart of the Atacama Desert. It is strange how different places feel at night, the quaint mud brick Adobe houses seem more sinister and the dogs howling add to the aura as we get lost in the back streets. This is the driest place on earth with some spots never recording any rain. Therefore despite the altitude the chances for any snow were almost non existent. It seems San Pedro is firmly on the back packer route and this means tours and day trips galore.
San Pedro is a fun place but it is full of tourists and gap yearers. There is no real sense of the true remoteness . Everyone is discussing how they had “done” Argentina in 2 weeks meaning they had been to Buenos Aires and Mendoza as well as maybe Iguazu falls. It was slightly depressing to see everyone following the same lonely planet route, spending so much on uninspired rip off day trips and sadly us having to join the to get anywhere in San Pedro. We signed up for 3 trips, sand boarding, sunrise at Tatio geysers and a 3 day trip across the altiplano into Ulyuni in Bolivia. It became apparent that one really needs to rent a 4×4 to explore this area and for the trip across the salt flats into Bolivia the vastness needs a good map. Next time I would rent a vehicle and try to explore myself, but it was too late for that this time.
Sand boarding is pretty lame I am glad I tried it but it is bit like snowboarding in slow motion, it is frustrating, and definitely not like riding powder as the guide informed us it would be. This misleading information should have warranted a refund! The views were great and a spectacular sunset drinking Pisco sours on a mountain top finished off a good day.
The geysers, were spectacular at a height of 4600m this is the highest thermal activity and geysers in the world. The night time low temperature freezes the water, building up pressure that gets released at sunrise. It is busy, a compulsory stop on the lonely planet route, snap snap, sit in hot water then complain about the cold and bumpy roads. This is what most people enjoyed. Taking time away from the crowds though it is a serene place with atmospheric steam swirling in the first shards of morning sunlight.
We then left San Pedro for Bolivia ona 3 day trip across the Altiplano and the vast salt flats. The entire distance was covered in land cruisers on rough tracks or on solid salt.