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    South by South America Tour – Chile Part 21

    Tuesday, September 10, 2019
    San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

    Sunrise in the Atacama Desert, Chile.
    Sunrise in the Atacama Desert, Chile.

    Sometime after midnight on the bus from Santiago to San Pedro de Atacama, I fell asleep and shockingly actually got a few hours of shut eye, waking up around 6:30 am. After a breakfast consisting of leftover bread with a carrot and a zucchini, I watched sunrise unfold upon the eerie landscape of the Atacama desert. It looked like the bus had taken a detour to Mars. Around 10:00 am, we pulled into Chile’s second largest city, Antofagasta, a really unattractive conglomerate of severe, blocky buildings. After a short break at the bus station, we proceeded up through some mountainous desert toward the copper mining town of Calama.

    Sunrise on the road in the Atacama Desert, Chile.
    Sunrise on the road in the Atacama Desert, Chile.

    On the way there, we passed by several 18 wheelers carrying tires for the gigantic dump trucks that haul copper out of the mines. (Copper is Chile’s chief export.) Arriving at the bus station in Calama, I was chagrined to learn that the various buses to San Pedro de Atacama depart from other stations elsewhere. After studying maps for a awhile, I figured that since the one I chose, the Frontera station, was over a mile away, I should take a taxi instead of walking to save time. Right when I arrived, a bus was getting ready to leave to San Pedro, but it was full, so I had to wait three hours until another one. Argh! So, I bought a ticket and went to eat at a ramshackle local cafe.

    Entering Antofagasta, Chile.
    Entering Antofagasta, Chile.

    On the right is an 18 wheeler carrying the huge tires for copper mine dump trucks.
    On the right is an 18 wheeler carrying the huge tires for copper mine dump trucks.

    After ascending through a narrow, steep staircase and engaging in a shaky Spanglish session with the wait staff, I got a bowl of soup and an egg salad. I requested no meat, but the soup came out with a big ol’ hunk of beef anyway. When the waitress sent it back, the cook just removed the beef, but didn’t add any more veggies. Oh, well! Cry me a tar pit. At 4:30 pm, the bus for San Pedro departed. To my surprise, it was only about half full. I read online that the trip was supposed to take an hour, but it somehow ended up taking about 90 minutes. The Atacama desert landscape is incredible, unlike any I’ve ever seen. It looks like an otherworldly dreamscape with the snowcapped peaks of the Andes off in the hazy distance.

    A painting on the wall of a bus station in Calama, Chile.
    A painting on the wall of a bus station in Calama, Chile.

    Finally, around 6:00 pm, we pulled into San Pedro. Due to a lack of street signs on some corners, I had a very difficult time finding the center of town. After walking back and forth and around in circles on several blocks, I finally saw a sign pointing the way to downtown and made my way over there. Even downtown, some intersections had no street signs, so I got lost again. Eventually, after much frustration, I ended up at the Hostal Sonchek, where I had reserved four nights. In a four bed dorm room, I had a really good travel chat with a nice man named Wagner from Sao Paulo, Brazil. I was so bleary and exhausted, I just hit the hay early after some food and a much needed shower.

    The Atacama Desert before sunset near San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.
    The Atacama Desert before sunset near San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.

    Words and photos ©2019 Arcane Candy.

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