On the third day of the salt flats tour we were dropped off near the Chilean border, where a short trip in a minibus saw us wave goodbye to the delights of Bolivia. Our budget urges us to return soon but our stomachs have crossed it off the Christmas card list for good.
Night 35 and 36 were spent in San Pedro de Atacama. It is apparently the driest desert in the world, although beer seems to be in plentiful supply. Our time there was uneventful aside from the odd upset stomach and anvil-splitting headache – perhaps a reluctance on the part of Bolivia to release us from its grimy grip.
From SPdA it was a 16-hour bus ride to La Serena – which isn’t as arduous a trip as you’d imagine. Once you been forged in the fire of the La Paz-Uyuni route, then you can pretty much survive anything.
La Serena lies 300 miles or so to the north of Santiago and is Chile’s second oldest city. More importantly it is a big fat zero metres above sea level, which after three weeks above 3,000m provided a much needed boost to those red corpuscles; and after Rio’s Atlantic delights it was our first real encounter with the Pacific Ocean.
A smallish city, La Serena has a homely, European feel about it. Everyone seems very polite and friendly and despite the chilly, damp mornings it’s not a bad place to kick-back for a few days. Which is precisely what we did…
Strangely, Day 39 turned out to be a typical, UK-style Saturday. In the morning we went to the mall…
In the afternoon we visited the park (albeit Japanese)…
In the evening we went out for pasta and ice cream. And at night we watched the stars. In this case, not Strictly Come Dancing but the likes of Alpha Ursae Minoris and Proxima Centauri at the Mamalluca Observatory, a two-hour drive outside of La Serena. Please see the photograph below, where you can clearly make out the dazzling night sky (ahem…).
Day 40 consisted of a comical tour of Elqui Valley. A beautiful area full of vineyards and fruit farms, it was only marred by our Spanish-only-speaking guide who blustered and blagged his way around the valley. A French chap on the tour, who helpfully could speak both Spanish and English, confirmed our suspicions and dutifully informed us that the guide was ‘at it’ and we weren’t missing much. Still, the lunch was nice and along the way we were introduced to the joys of cactus flavoured ice cream.
Today (Day 42) we take the bus to Santiago, Chile’s capital, and one of South America’s more friendly and manageable metropolises. It will provide the base for exploring more of Chile in the coming weeks.