Helena, the three French guys and myself got to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile, late morning on Boxing day (Thursday 26th December). The first impression was interesting because as we entered Chile our altitude dropped considerably. From the volcano we had a great view of San Pedro and surrounding. So as soon as we got there, there was no longer high altitude. We passed the migration and got to the touristy town, looking for a cheap hostel to stay in. Oh, I forgot to mention also that leaving Bolivia to Chile meant our budget would increase considerably so we tried to cut down on what we could. Once in town, I made friends with the three French travellers (PJ, Cindy and Yoann) and we left Helena who had to take a flight to Santiago later that day. We dropped our bags and went to withdraw some cash as well as changing our Bolivian pesos for Chilean ones. And then we went to grab some food. By midday we were all exhausted. The temp in San Pedro were way higher than in Bolivia and that, accumulating to our early morning wake up plus all the amazing things we did and saw that morning made us really tired. By midday I felt like I already spent a full day of activity. So we all agreed on resting for the rest of that day and planning the next one.
PJ, Cindy and Yoann already had in mind to do a bike tour in the surroundings to check out some key spots highly recommended. So we found a place that rented good price quite cheap and got our things booked for the next day.
On Friday, we picked up our bikes and left around ten thirty. We were quite ambitious as we wanted to visit as much as possible in a single day. However the distance between each spots to visit were quite long. Anyway, in the morning we decided to check Quebra del Diablo which is located on the northern side of town. On our way there we met a couple of horse riders. The landscape was fantastic and so different from Bolivia. San Pedro is one of the driest desert on the planet, most of the hills surrounding town and not made of rock as they look like but a mix of sand, dirt and small rocks. Which means if it does eventually rain, a lot of it would simply collapse. The weather was bright blue with no clouds and the contrast of colours with the hills made us feel in a Western movie. The first five or so kilometres were flat and it was quite green as there was a river along the way. But then we turned right into a gorge to see Quebra del Diablo and it all changed. The landscape was more like an Indiana Jones movie. The road changed into hard sand (soft at some place which made it difficult to ride). We stop to check put some ‘caves’ and realised how fragile those hills were. As we climbed, the soil would collapse under our feet, so we didn’t go too far, took some pix and continued. The ride was really cool as it was very narrow at times with a lot of curves. We couldn’t see more than fifty meters in front of us as the path kept on turning. After a little while we passed a group of walkers and we continued, without our bikes this time, to check out a lookout. We then left the group, went down and continued on journey. The path seems to never end, we knew it would eventually but started to wonder when. We even got to a crosspath were we decided to go downhill. Poor PJ who was riding in flip flops broke one of them and had to continue barefoot, going downhill on the sand, avoiding rocks, I let you imagine the challenge… Eventually we managed to find an exit to this never-ending path and got to a church, we knew was on the end of a loop. After a small break we realised we did some ten Ks within the gorge, no wonder why it felt so long.
Well after midday we rode back to town and had some empañadas for lunch. The afternoon we planned to check out Laguna Ceja: a super salty pond were you could float on the surface. The thing was it is located some twenty nine Ks out of town. We still decided to go ahead and start riding early afternoon. On the first part of the trip, which was flat and easy, on concrete road, Cindy turned around and went back. She got felt sick and couldn’t ride anymore. Yoann, PJ and I continued our trip. We passed the twenty Ks mark and the road to the salar turned right. From there we did two third of the way but the hardest part was in front of us. Nine kilometres on a very sandy road, full of bumps and soft sand and which we could hardly ride; add some side winds to make the whole thing more difficult.. it was horrible. This last leg of the trip felt like it lasted forever but we managed to get reach the salar in the end. Just before getting there, two mountain riders (probably pros) going super fast, passed us. We were so pissed off as it looked so easy for those guys.
Many buses were lining up to get into the salar when we got there. We were so exhausted that we couldn’t imagine going back. Paid the entry fee, got changed and went straight there. At first it looked disappointing. A big pond surrounded by dry salt were people were lying or tanning as if they were at the beach. But then we got inside the water and it was just incredible. Just the feeling of having your entire floating on the water is unreal. The size of the pond didn’t matter any more, we were just having so much fun. Right away we agreed: this was totally worth the ride. It was so salty our lips (that had small cuts since Bolivia) were on fire. When you exit the water and dry under the sun, it wasn’t long before heaps of salt crystals were formed and your entire body covered in white.
We played like kids for a long time. Yoann even decided to dive at one stage, which was quite stupid as the salt attacked his eyes once he reached the surface and tried to open them. We stayed there for a good hour before heading back. First, we cleaned ourself with clean water, had a snack, motivate ourselves and got back on our bike. The return was supposed to be easier (and it was) as it was a shortcut and only twenty three Ks this time. Yoann’s knees were hurting big time so he really struggle to make it back. The wind didn’t stop but eventually was in our favour. There was no longer soft sand which was fantastic, only bumps, soil, hard sand and dust. Not sure how but we managed to go back in a record time.
As we arrived at the hostel, we told Cindy she did really well not to come with us all the way, she would have struggled so much. Luckily she was feeling better. We just had time to shower that we had to bring the bikes back. The evening and night was spent chilling out as you can imagine, no motivation to go out.
Initially we were supposed to spit there as I was heading straight to Val Paraiso to spend New Years Eve with Jenni and Jemma and the guys would go to Iquique (a beach close to San Pedro in the north of Chile). But I managed to convinced the crew that NYE in Vapo was supposed to be huge. Everyone was going there so it would be the place to be. So they changed their mind and decided to come along and take this long bus ride from San Pedro to the Val Paraiso.