SAN PEDRO DE ATACAMA. THE HEART OF A DESERT
We arrived at San Pedro after 26 hours spent in a bus from Santiago de Chile. The ride was long and the scenery around was very monotonous. Once when I woke up around 5 am I saw a desert and a full moon surrounded by stars. I fell asleep again. When I woke up 2 hours later the scenery looked exactly the same. Only the moon was replaced with the sun.
The rest of the road was exactly the same. Sand, rocks, rocks and sand. I had an impression that I’ve been there already… five hours ago. One place that changed this somehow beautiful monotony was the city of Antofagasta. It was an extraordinary view. The city, situated next to the ocean, looked as if it was a scenography from the Waterworld movie but made on a desert instead of on the water. The roofs of most of the houses and many of the walls were made of corrugated plate and everything was covered with dust. We’ve only passed through the city with a bus so I had a chance to have only the first impression. Yet, it was enough to happily go further.
As a contrast to that, San Pedro de Atacama looked like an oasis in the desert. All the sudden we saw trees, houses and people in the middle of nowhere. The town is very touristic but not in a negative sense. It doesn’t look neither kitsch nor plastic. It seems that there is someone taking care of its appearance and its coherent look matching to the surrounding desert scenery. All the signboards are made of wood. Even coca-cola had to obey that rule and carve its logo on a brown, wooden board instead of on a red, plastic neon. The aisles are narrow and filled with numerous stores selling local so-called handicraft. I write “so-called” because you’ll find the same bracelets or figures of Pachamama in different stores, but nevertheless it’s possible to find pretty things. What I found quite funny were all the woolen caps, gloves, sweaters, scarves and socks exhibited in the shops in this overwhelming heat of 35 degrees Celsius. I still wonder who buys them. Are they prepared for tourists who want to take home a souvenir or for locals to warm them up during the cold nights on the desert?
In San Pedro de Atacama you’ll find many backpackers from all around the world. People who arrive there look for an adventure and they find it there for sure! The town is a base for all tours taking travelers to the desert, volcanoes, lagoons and geysers. Numerous tour agencies offer the same tours to the same places but for different prices. It often happens that you buy a tour in one agency and you go on a bus with another. That’s why it’s worth double-checking the prices. We went on tours with the Cumbre 6000 agency. It had the same offer as all the other ones but 30% less expensive. Of course, there are places nearby the town you can visit on a bike or some a bit more distant where you can try hitch-hiking or by renting a car, so everyone will find something for himself.
There is one more thing we’ve experienced in San Pedro. One day when we were sitting in a garden of a small bar watching the football game between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, we suddenly felt as if we were dizzy. Then we realized that the chairs on which we’re sitting are moving. In a split of a second we realized that everything around is moving: the tables, the walls, the roof and the TV with the game still on. It all lasted around 3-4 seconds and is stopped as suddenly as it began. The movements were horizontal and it felt as if someone wanted to take a moving platform from under your feet. We were a bit scared as this was the first time in our lives when we felt the ground moving, but the locals sitting next to us explained to us with a smile on their faces that it was ONLY a temblor (a tremor) and not a terramoto (earthquake) so there is nothing to worry about! An earthquake or not, I was glad that this was over after a few seconds!