We left our hostal in Santiago at 0700 on the 24th for our 0905 flight to Calama in northern Chile. There were at least 10-15 check-in counters for LAN, but between them and us were probably 300-400 people! We got our our boarding passes printed at one of the self-service kiosks with coaching from the man in line behind us. Boarding passes in hand, we proceeded straight to security screening and the gate--the joys of carry-on luggage!!
The LAN flight on a newer Airbus 320 was pleasant enough despite tight seating, but a snack and drink kept us happy. After the two hour ten minute flight and a twenty minute wait for our transport we were on the road for the 100 km ride to San Pedro de Atacama (7900' msl). Our hotel, the Terrantai Lodge, is located in the center of town right next to the church and town square.
San Pedro (population about 3400) is the gateway for visiting the many interesting natural sites in this part of the Atacama Desert hard by the Bolivian border. It is a fairly new attraction for organized tourism now boasting over 30 hotels (12 years ago there were 5) and accompanying tour operators, artisan shops, restaurants, bicycle rentals, etc. There is not a paved street to be had in town, generators provide the electrical power, the local water supply is still adequate, and the growing pains are obvious. Many of the Atacameños have left town due to the rising cost of living here--the price of change in today's world.
A few hours after our arrival we were picked up by our tour operator, Rutas Andinas Expeditions, for our visit to the the Valley of the Moon (Valle de la Luna). Our group of eight consisted of couples from France, Holland, Italy and us. The four hour riding/walking tour took us through some incredible moon-like scenery. At out last stop on an cliff overlooking a rugged gorge we watched the sun go down and the colors of the distant volcanoes change dramatically with the waning light. We were pleasantly surprised when the guides and the driver unloaded two small tables, covered them with a table cloth, and put out a nice selection of cheeses, crackers, dips, and a tasty Chilean Carménère.
|Patterns in the sand|
|Full moon rising at sunset|