17.03.2013 - 19.03.2013 30 °C
We got a night bus to San Pedro de Atacama - slightly more luxourious than the N47 but takes a bit longer (17 hours)! We didn`t get much sleep on the bus but at least there were some good films on and the view wasn't too bad either. The sky is so clear here that you can see so many stars they almost look like clouds. We arrived nice and early at the hostel and were a bit groggy but got planning the excursions we were going to do here right away.
We did a tour to Valle de Luna (Moon Valley) and Valle de la Muerte (Death Valley). This tour took us to some caves that used to be an underwater sea system until an earthquake exposed it to the scorching desert sun. Now there's just empty caves with salt deposits, climbing around in these was really fun! We walked up to the top of Valle de Luna which does look like you've landed on the moon. The conditions are so harsh here that nothing at all can live here. We stopped off at some rock formations that have been carved by the wind and sand over 1000's of years and then stopped of at Valle de la Muerte. Although this valley is really steep and you wouldn't survive a fall, it was actually called this due to a mistranslation from from Belgian settlers who called it Mars Valley to the spanish settlers. The red sand and rocks (and lack of oxygen) does make you feel like you're on Mars!
The next day we enjoyed lazying around the hostel in the hammocks and enjoying the cloudless sky! Avocados are so cheap we've had them for lunch most days. That night we did some star gazing. The Atacama desert is one of the best places on Earth to do it because there's only about 10 cloudy nights a year (opposite to home!) and the high altitude means there's less atmosphere getting in the way between us and the rest of the universe! The guide was very interesting. He showed us all the constellations and taught us about basic astrology. We then got to look through different telescopes to see different star clusters, saturn and its rings and see the detail of the moon's surface, craters and all. We then had a. Q&A session over a hot chocolate, which was definitely needed as it got pretty chilly!
The next day (Tues 19th March) we said bye to Alex who we'd been travelling with since Valparaiso. I lost my paper that I got at the border from Argentina so I had to get a new one from customs. Fortunately it didn't take long so we did a bit of shopping and paid for our 3 day tour to Bolivia via the salt flats. We also had to change money to pay for the entance to the national park. The normal exchange rate doesn't exist in San Pedro so you get ripped off everywhere but I guess they've got to make their money in the desert somehow! We went to bed fairly early in preparation for our tour.