We drove into Chile surrounded by volcanoes, each bigger than the next. We had two stops in Chile: San Pedro de Atacama and Santiago.
San Pedro de Atacama is known for its sand dune boarding, something Ean and I had never done before but since we were avid snowboarders, we were dying to try.
The town is nestled amongst a mix of flat desert and canyons. As you roam the dirt streets you will find small shops and hotels, with their entrances usually surrounded by a large wooden structure. After that night we spent sleeping in the crater and our car, the hostel’s bed was more than welcoming and we were so glad to be able to satisfy our juice withdrawal. My hands were basically shaking as I was making it and I was hastily chopping my fruits and vegetables because I couldn’t wait to drink my juice. We had gone a few days without any because, as we were warned, we never found any supermarket in Bolivia. We finally took a stroll around town. We had arrived during the quarter finals of Copa America and you could feel the excitement in the air. In both our hostel and in shops around town, people were glued to the TV watching Colombia and Mexico play against each other.
The next morning we rented boards and set off for Valle de la Muerte aka Death Valley. Sounds promising doesn’t it?
I couldn’t get over how large the dunes were and just climbing up there was a work out on its own. You almost wanted to stay up there for the rest of the day just so you wouldn’t have to climb again. Where was my ski lift?
Boarding on sand is not even close to the same as boarding on snow. Instead of a smooth ride, you get caught in the sand and the sound of the grains against the board is not the most pleasant sound. Snow melts, but sand finds its way in and you just have to wait till you get home to shower. At least it’s a good exfoliator.
I kid, it was still fun, but I think boarding down for maybe one minute then taking about 15 minutes just to make your way up there again makes this activity not really worth it. Ean enjoyed it a little more than I did but agreed with me: we are sticking to snow. We stayed to see the sun set on the valley and watched as the dunes gradually turned a dark amber and as shadows slowly started appearing on the rocky formations.
The next day we rented mountain bikes, another popular activity, and made our way to the nearest canyon. We weren’t really sure which way to go and soon enough we found our path cut off by a river. A local told us the path continued on the other side. We barely had time to think of a strategy before a group of 15 sheep started making their way towards us, cutting us off and acting like we were just pillars. Yes yes don’t mind me, after you I suppose… When we saw even the little ones cross the river we realized it wasn’t that deep. My trusted Quechua hiking shoes were waterproof but the water level was still going to come up to my shin so I wanted to avoid putting my feet in the water. I decided my strategy would be to just pedal fast into the water on what I hoped would be a shallower path. However there were tons of little rocks that were keeping me from peddling fast so it was a game of balance and strength and I managed to get through the river without falling in. Ean followed suit.
We finally found the canyon draped in hints of pink and coral. We were the only ones there and it was definitely rocky but we spent a great afternoon.
There was not much between San Pedro de Atacama and Santiago so we just drove long days and couldn’t wait to get to the city. Ean’s family friends were waiting for us with open arms and a wonderful apartment that made us feel right at home. We spent the evening watching the Chile-Bolivia game over wine and dinner.
The next day, they took us to Cerro San Cristóbal, a hill that sits at 300m above the city with the San Cristobal statue watching over. At the top we noticed the large cloud of pollution looming over the city. Someone explained to us that because Santiago is in in the middle of a valley, the pollution gets trapped and the air only clears when it rains.
Ean and I were in dire need of a glimpse into normal life and Ean had been missing going to a movie theatre so we bought last minute tickets to Jurrassic World. I know what you’re thinking, we came all the way here to see Jurassic World? Trust me, after almost 4 months of traveling, we needed it.
The next day we went on a self-guided walking tour of the city. We made our way through Barrio Bellas Artes and Barrio Lastarria, Plaza de Armas, the main square, and enjoyed live music in front of the cathedral. We had been told by many sources that Chile had excellent seafood so we made a stop at Mercado Central, the fish market. I had never seen so many fish in my life and I was impressed at how fresh they looked and smelled. My father would have been in heaven. We ate a succulent king crab for lunch. We had never had better seafood. We finished our tour at Santa Lucia Hill, a place that a dear friend of mine would often go to when she wanted to read a book and be surrounded by a bit of green.
The next morning marked our drive to the last country of the journey: Argentina. Ean’s dad was flying in from Hong Kong just to finish the journey with us and landed just on time for a quick breakfast before we set off for Mendoza. We cruised up the mountains, often sighting ski lifts, abandoned rail tracks and random little shops on the side of the road selling copper pans (Chile is a big producer of copper).