Posted by: robinson2000 | June 10, 2011

Sandy San Pedro

4th – 7th June

After experiencing unbelievable temperatures in the high salt flats, it was nice to be lower down in the warmer climate of San Pedro and in the heart of the Atacama Desert. Once I had regained the feeling in my extremities I had the arduous task of getting through Chilean immigration. Chileans in general don’t trust Bolivians and anyone coming from Bolivia, so our bags were given a thorough search for any kind of contraband including fruits and vegetables. Thankfully there were no problems and I found a quaint hostel situated around a courtyard. As I relaxed in a hammock, waiting for my room to be ready, a bird pooped on my brand new black jacket. Never a good omen when you’ve spent less than an hour in a new country. Thankfully this wasn’t a sign of things to come as San Pedro turned out to be an excellent place to visit with many interesting things to see and do.

My first adventure was a visit to the Lagoon Cejar, which was recommended by my travelling companion, Dr Rice, who managed to get himself lost on the way. After hiring a descent off-road bicycle and loading myself up with gallons of water, I pointed my bike south and began pedalling. I had been told by the bike shop owner that it was 25km away and would take nearly 2 hours to reach. Determined to prove him wrong, and save money on the bike hire, I pedalled furiously out of San Pedro, along a dead straight road that ran alongside the Andes mountain range and into the Atacama Desert. I was beginning to question my sense of direction after 25 minutes of cycling when I found a small signpost to the lagoon pointing down a dirt track. The track was pretty rugged with thick patches of sand to sink your tyres into but after another 45 minutes I was there. The only landmark along the entire track had been a single tree offering shade from the blazing sun. Feeling particularly pleased with myself for reaching the lagoon in 1hr 10 minutes, I stripped down and plunged into the cold salty water, where I was able to bob about like a cork.

Another recommended activity is sand boarding down the huge dunes that are situated just outside San Pedro. A group of us were driven out into the desert by a so called “Chilean sand boarding expert”, who basically walked us up a100 metredune, showed us how attach the board to our feet and simply left us to it. With some trial and error, most of us got the hang of it and spent the next 2 hours tearing down this dune. Finally the “Chilean sand boarding expert” reappeared from his folly and filmed a few of us boarding down the dune. Wanting to show off for the camera and impress the guide with my skills, I pointed my board down the dune and set off at some speed. It was all going so smoothly until I hit a nasty hump in the dune, lost my balance, and ended up face first in the sand. Not only was I finding sand in all my bodily orifices for days after the boarding, but I had also managed to twist my knee in the fall, which left me hobbling around for the rest of the week. It was all good fun though and the tour finished with a view of the sunset over the Atacama and the Luna del Valley with a beer in hand.

Another tour that is worth doing is a trip out to the El Tatio Geysers. The tour begins at a particularly ungodly hour of 4am when you are picked up from your accommodation and driven a couple of hours into the mountains. We arrived at the geysers just before sunrise in the freezing cold, wearing literally everything I owned, and were shown around a couple the sites. The guide left a carton of milk in one of the thermals and within 10 minutes we were drinking hot chocolate. Once the sun rose it was much more pleasant to wander around the various geysers that were spouting out of the earth. We found more of the strange green coloured plants that grow in the Chilean high mountains called Azorella, which only grow 5mm each year and can be used as fuel. Once we’d wondered around most of the geysers, we were driven to a small thermal pool where we could warm ourselves up with a quick dip. Always eager for a hot thermal bath, three of us stripped off and jumped into a disappointingly luke warm pool, which left us colder than before. On the whole the tour was really good and it finished with a visit to a tiny village, deep in the mountains, where locals tried to flog us their wares.

Before leaving San Pedro, I just had enough time to take a stargazing tour, run by a Frenchmen who had moved to the Atacama Desert and had setup a dozen huge telescopes in his backyard. There was much debate about whether the tour would go ahead as clouds had been blowing over the desert for most of the day, but at 9pm it was given the green light. A group of us were taken to the site where the eccentric, but fascinating Frenchmen proceeded to give us an excellent talk about the night sky, including the hundreds of constellations, the 12 signs of the Zodiac and much more. After he had finished his talk we were able to wander about the telescopes that were pointing at different parts of the night sky. The best one was the telescope pointing at Saturn, which showed incredible detail of the planet, including its rings. Another was pointing at a patch of sky that to the naked eye showed no stars, but when viewed through the telescope showed thousands of them. The brilliant tour finished at midnight after a cup of hot chocolate and some more thought provoking ideas from the Frenchmen.

With much reluctance I left San Pedro and hopped on a bus heading north to the city of Iquique, known for its surfing and paragliding.

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  1. Sounds almost identical to my experiences. Well done on finding your way to the Lagoon. In my defence I hadn’t really understood the Spanish directions very well and the map was really crap!

    Really jealous that you got to do the star-gazing. I waited a week in San Pedro for the bloody full moon to disappear but had to move on before the company opened up shop.

    I hope you love Chile as much as I did.

    • Yes I used your blog as a guide and basically condensed it a little. I ended up doing a monster couple of days to fit everything in. I think I did the sandboarding from 3pm till 8pm. Then stargazing from 9pm till 1am. Got 3 hours sleep and dragged myself back out at 4am for the El tatio tour. Back at 1pm and then caught a bus at 3pm to Iquique which didn’t arrive until 10.30pm so I was exhausted by the time I arrived. The directions to the lagoon were a bit sketchy, especially when that road out of san pedro seemed like a main highway which just continued on forever. Plus there was no one else doing the ride and not a soul around until i reached the lagoon. Going to spend a day body boarding in the surf today before catching a 24 hr bus ride down to santiago. Enjoy your last day before back to reality with a bump!

  2. Wow, what experiences you’re enjoying. Star gazing is wonderful, especially with someone who knows what he’s talking about.
    Reminds us of our trip to the outback in Oz, the stars were incredable and the wine wasn’t bad either!!
    Take care,
    M & S xx

    • Hi Sue, Thanks for reading. Yes the night sky was breath taking in the desert as their was no background light what so ever to spoil it. Shame I didn’t have a good enough camera to take some pictures of the sky but oh well. Hope your both well and looking forward to seeing you in a couple of months time.

  3. Ben – Sounds that you have having a marvellous time although you need to improve your surfing on both waves and sand. You don’t have to go to Chile to see the rings of Saturn – you can see them though my bird scope out my bedroom window!! Keep the blog coming.. I enjoy reading it. Dad

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