Well after our journey across the border we landed in the town of San Pedro de Atacama, a small town near the salt plains and desert of northern Chile, not far from both the Argentine and Bolivian borders and 2500m above sea level. This town of many colours would be home for the next few nights. Accommodation is pretty expensive in this part of the world so we all bunked down in one little room. The girls were sharing a bed, the old tops and tails. Piper loved it. There would be plenty to keep us busy here but first I wanted to hit the ATM. After our cash dramas in Argentina it was relief to be able to withdraw a decent amount of money without a shady back street deal. $400 per transaction was a lot better than the $100 in Argentina!
There are some pretty amazing sites to see in San Pedro so we hired a Ford Ranger (big SUV ute type thing) and cruised the streets. The town itself has an incredible vibe to it, you know the Mabo. Cool bars and restaurants, travel agencies, local musicians on every corner and backpackers with dreadlocks and poor hygiene. By day we saw the sights and by night we ate dinner quickly and took the kids home before they became feral. One night we were having dinner at a local Chilean restaurant when a little 4 piece band started up. People casually went about their eating while Piper and Evie made their own dance floor. Piper decided an Irish Jig would be the best accompaniment for the mellow Andean music while Evie thought whirling dervishes would be the way to go. I think the whole restaurant was a little bemused. Anyway, the girls had a great time!
First stop in the Atacama desert was the Valle de la Luna. A national park full of huge rock and sand formations that resembled the moon. Not that I’ve actually been to the moon but I got the word from Neil, Buzz and that other guy. It was pretty hot, dusty and sandy. The kids thought it was real, it was fun but it wasn’t real fun. So courageously daddy stepped up to take them for ice cream while ericamassingham.com stayed to hike and take a few happy snaps. When we came back to pick her up she was probably the most excited I had even seen her. She just kept saying it was amazing, it was amazing and was generally thrilled. I reminded her about the night 9 months prior to Evie being born but got nothing. I’ll stop talking now and let her photos do the talking.
Our next stop was the hot springs at Puritama. There are 8 different natural pools, about 35 degrees celsius with an altitude of 3500m. The air up there was still a little crisp, it was much warmer in the water than out. We stayed in here for hours with the girls loving it. When Evie was in the hot springs they were bubbling, but she turned the other cheek, literally. We ended up with a whole pool completely to ourselves. Not sure if others were scared off by the fact that we had 2 kids, Ez looked like a peeping Tom with the camera or that I had my “holiday body” on display but we were left alone. This was a highlight for everyone.
There are some pretty awesome geysers in town, the key is you have to leave town at 430am to get out there to see them. They are almost 4400m above sea level and the air temperature is about -5. We decided that the kids would have little interest so one of us would go and the other stay home with the kids and sleep. When it came to decision time I was out quicker than Helen Keller playing musical chairs so Ez was setting her alarm for 4am.
Ez says **As if Brett was ever going to go. It’s not a soccer game or free food so no chance he was going to get out of bed at that time. It was amazing, freezing, amazing, spectacular and very freezing. I went with a small group of Canadians who decided shorts and thongs were suitable attire for -5. I had on every piece of clothing from my suitcase and was still cold. I thought my fingers would fall off but the Canadians assured me frost bite would take a little longer to set in. The geysers were surreal, spluttering and steaming at every crack in the earth. They look the best in the freezing temperatures before sunrise as the steam condenses so quickly. It was another out-of-this-world location and well worth the early start.
After sunrise we swam in the hot springs close by. The only trouble was I had to change into my swimmers and my fingers were not working enough to coordinate the clasp on the back. I was stuck in the change rooms willing my fingers to work while an angry and cold Russian banged down the door (Cold War II?). Five minutes later I was successful and happy to be warming up in 35 degree water. A pretty good way to start the day, even though I had been up for hours. There was so much steam off the pool you couldn’t see the people 2m in front of you. It’s probably a good thing as you don’t realise you are swimming with hordes of other tourists (or Brett thinks Russian hookers).
Our last day in San Pedro we headed out to a few lakes in the salt flats which were more buoyant that the dead sea. It was harder to dive and float on the top, a great feeling. We weren’t alone here though as we timed it with the 73 bus groups that arrived at the same time. All good though it was enjoyable nonetheless. We left covered in salt, with our clothes stiffer than no undies at a school formal. Evie wouldn’t stop licking her arms, Ez’s hair turned grey and nearly snapped off like a dirty backpacker’s dreadlocks in the snow.
The Atacama region is unlike anywhere else, with crazy, spectacular scenery. The sky at night is pretty amazing, so dark and clear, you can see every star imaginable. We attempted star gazing one night, piling the kids into the back of the ute and laying out under the stars. But it was windy and dark and when there were no shooting stars after 0.36 seconds, the kids wanted to give up.
We ate some great meals in San Pedro and really enjoyed our time, extremely glad we included this on our itinerary. From here we would jump on our next flight from Calama (1 hr away) down to the capital to continue our adventure.
The kids – We bought each of them a little doll at the markets, the doll is a lady in traditional dress holding a baby. We let the kids name them and we suggested giving it a South American name like Verena, Estrella or Gabriela. Piper’s is called Rose Cheeks (as she has rosie cheeks) with the baby called Elvis and Evie’s is called Despicable Me with her baby Minion!
For more photos from Atacama, check out Erica’s gallery