From Salta we headed to San Pedro de Atacama, Northern Chile, recommended by Jo from BA for the desert scenery and also a starting point for Bolivia salt flat tours. It also weighed into our decision to go this way as it was another country to add to our lists! (It was number 60 for Cat and 44 for me).
The Geminis bus boasted heating and oxygen masks.... We realised that altitude was going to be involved getting over the border at the Jama Pass. We didn't realise how much until we got there and just standing made you dizzy. One girl on our bus fainted completely and needed the oxygen to revive her. The pass was 4,400m high - about 13,000 feet and was between mountains covered in snow.
Arriving in Sam Pedro was a relief - only 2,500 metres high, so barely any altitude impact. First impressions of San Pedro were of a shanty town - lots of low level adobe buildings and dusty scrubby streets with no names. Finding the hostel took us twice as long as it should have as the road isn't shown on any map available (online and in guide books!). When we got there the dusty scrubby outsides of the buildings were show to hide gems of courtyards and open spaces.
Our main priority in San Pedro was to arrange our Boivia tour and see some of the desert. We had heard that there were sights within cycling distance of town, so teaming up with Lucy and Matt - a British couple we had first met in Mendoza, who now seemed to be stalking us! - we decided to investigate tours and do a day of cycling.
The awesome foursome set off on quality mountain bikes to the Valle de La Muerte first. This valley has stupendous sand dunes and is commonly used for sand boarding excursions. We didn't try this out but walked around on the dunes trying to get glimpses of salt and volcanoes.
The other three of the awesome foursome
Salt! And yes Matt did lick it to check!
Sand boarders! (Videos to be loaded on Facebook...)
There were a lot of selfies and pictures in front of rocks etc - so here is a montage for your enjoyment.
Next up we cycled to the Pukara de Quito - where the ruins of the Incan settlement were less interesting than the trek up the mirador for panoramic views of the volcanoes, desert and sand dunes of Valle de la Muerte.
Volcano playing hide and seek - now you don't see it...
Ma-housive anticline! #rocks!
After our morning/mid afternoon excursions we headed back into town to take advantage of a set meal for lunch - 2 courses for under £4 - yum!
Following a brief respite we headed back out on the bikes to Valle de la Luna - aiming to catch sunset. Unfortunately a strong headwind made the 16km cycle out of town a tough challenge! We got to the gate of the park at 7pm and the staff seriously doubted we would make sunset. We probably would have made it if we had been allowed to cycle the whole way - but instead we were made to leave our bikes at an overflow parking about 15 minutes walk from the mirador. :(
So we missed the best of sunset but cracked open our celebratory beers at the top of the mirador only to be told off by the park ranger. Back down to the car park and we caged a lift the 2km to our bikes - only to have to ride the 16km back in the dark.
We fully deserved our happy hour pisco sours and empanadas the size of my head that evening!
And so completes the first adventure of the awesome foursome - more installments to come if they manage to stalk us to the next location lol!