Calama, Chile
22° 28' S 68° 56' W
Sep 08, 2004 17:16
Distance 183km

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Text written in: English

Calama (8 - 10 September 2004)

5:00 AM. Pitch dark, no lights and freezing cold. And I had paid for this. Something seemed wrong but it was not at all. Getting up and out of the warm sleeping bag was not easy. I had slept with all my clothes on to stay warm and warm it was. The Fanta bottle I had filled with the hot water the night before had served me well for some hours.

We all got up and packed while Leo was trying to warm up the engine of the car before loading all bags on top of it for the last time. It was absolutely freezing, about -10 I guess and it took quite some time to get warm in the car.

The night before Leo had asked us whether we could take one extra passenger in the car. This Swiss couple was also cycling but came from Uyuni, unlike the German we met the previous day who had come from the other side. The girl had become sick and just could not cycle anymore. Of course you can not leave someone at 4200 meters in such a remote place without any facilities so the Italians and myself did not even think a second. The Americans showed their real attitude however.

The Americans were so afraid of getting sick and Bush Healthcare plan was apparently not that good that they refused to have the sick girl in our car. It was unbelievable and very embarrassing for all of us. She just had some flue, cold and altitude sickness and was definitely not carrying cholera or something like that. The Americans insisited however that she would go in another car and that we would have her healthy boyfriend. Unbelievable. If there would not have been another car they would probably have left her there just to avoid exposure. Good to know who your friends are. The Italians also could not believe it.

We had to leave so early as it was about 1.5 hours to the geyeser field at nearly 4900 meters. The landscape was all very desert and still nothing grew there. The geysers were quite nice, especially with the crisp clear blue sky behind it although they were not much more than boiling fields and mud pools. No high spouting geysers like in Rotorua in New Zealand. For most of the passengers it was impressive as they had never seen geysers before and these are the highest situated ones in the world.

It was freezing however and I was happy we drove on about 30 minutes later for our breakfast at the hot springs, 700 meters lower. Breakfast tasted great and the hot springs, lakes at a temperature of about 30 degrees were very inviting and nice. Not having had a shower for two mornings now it was great and relaxing to jump in these pools and stare at the damping lake, the countless birds and the barren surroundings. Really nice!

After breakfast, around 9:00 AM we continued the drive through the desolate but o so beautiful landscape of vulcanoes, deserts and all colours from yellow to brown. Laguna Blanca and Laguna Verde are next to eachother and were the last stop on the tour. Normally Laguna Verde is quite green, that is why it is called Verde (Spanish for green). This however only happens when there is some wind so the minerals circulate a bit. The lack of wind however resulted in another very spectacular effect, a 100% reflection of the vulcano behind the lake. This incredible reflection reminded me of the Torres del Paine Park in the south of Chile. There I had a similar reflection.

After the stop at the lakes we continued for about 15 minutes to stop at some barracks to change buses. The Italians were returning to Uyuni but both the Americans and me were transferring to San Pedro de Atacama, about 50 kilometers away.

We stopped at a checkpoint to have our national park tickets checked as the whole south west corner of the country is a national park, requiring a 30 Bolivianos entrance fee.

The Bolivian border post was not much further and lucky for the Americans the post was open. Uyuni is quite far to return to haha. Actually we were hoping it would be closed because of the behaviour of the Americans earlier that morning.

One more mountain pass and from that top we could see the enormous low lying valley where San Pedro de Atacama was situated. What a difference in height. We had to descend from 4500 meters to about 2700 in less than 40 kilometers. Quite steep down. Great views.

Chilean immigration was right at the entrance of the village of 3000 people, a bit closer to civilisation than their Bolivian counterparts. We had our feet disinfected because of foot and mouth disease outbreaks in Bolivia and a thorough search of all luggage.

San Pedro was extremely touristic and about 10 streets in size. It was too much of a Donald Duck village for me, with too many people touting for tours and restaurants that I decided to leave just after lunch to the bigger and more authentic Chilean city of Calama, two hours away.

The trip from San Pedro to calama was more dust and extremely dry desert type landscape. Calama was a city of about 100.000 people and exactly what I needed. No tourists, just a nice bigger city where does not happen too much but that is nice to relax for two nights, organise onward transport and have a few good meals.

The only thing that was not nice were the prices. Ouch, Chile had become more expensive even. Last year I got about 800 Pesos for the dollar, now only 610! 25% more expensive almost and it was not that cheap already.

Good it was only for two nights ans so I splurged on a nice hotel with cable TV and a very nice bathroom. I deserved it after all the basics of the last week.