Thursday, April 28, 2005

San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

All signs pointed towards me not making it here to San Pedro de Atacama: first, the bus from Salta on Sunday was full, so we had to wait until Tuesday (which turned out to be fine, as there were movies on TV in the hostel, and Salta is a very nice place to kill two days, even if it has no decent digital cameras for sale, grrrr). Second, the man from the hostel who sold us the tickets said the bus left at 7:30 AM and I didn´t think to check them until 6:45, when it turned out the bus actually left at 7:00. An extremely rushed packing job, speedy taxi ride and sprint into the bus station at 7:01 ensued, to find the bus still there with the driver tapping his pen impatiently on his clipboard figures, the one time I´m late for a bus on this continent is the first time it is actually ready to leave on time. But strike three was when we arrived at the Paso de Jama (4,200 meters above sea level, border of Argentina and Chile) and were informed that the pass through the Andes was closed due to snow, until further notice. We wound up spending around 26 hours in that godforsaken place, buying cookies and snacks from the local woman who rode in on her bicycle to sell us her wares, watching movies on the bus, playing cards and getting to know the argentine, chilean, american, australian, brazilian, irish, and zimbabweans who were our fellow captives. All things considered, it wasn´t too bad, especially since the altitude didn´t pose any problems, the bus company gave us dinner and breakfast, and when we could find places against the customs building which were sheltered from the wind, it was actually pretty warm in the sun. And hey, it was one night when we didn´t have to pay for a hotel.

So anyway, here I am in San Pedro de Atacama, a town of 2,000-and-something residents and what must be nearly as many tourists, where every single business is a tour operator arranging excursions into the nearby desert and salt flats. As much as I usually hate this kind of touristy place, somehow I like it here. It is surrounded by mountains and desert, and you can turn a corner and see a huge volcano looming over the dirt streets and whitewashed buildings of the main square. Tonight we are going on an astronomical excursion to learn about the stars in the Southern Hemisphere. It should be fun, although the tour is in French! (I swear, if this keeps up, I´m going to wind up speaking Spanish with a French accent).

I should be able to post some more before I take off for Bolivia on Sunday, hopefully with some photos of tomorrow´s early-morning (4 AM!) expedition to see geysers in action, as well as my top-five (or maybe more) list of things I will miss about Argentina.