Atacama Desert (Chile)

 

 

When the weather helps, and considering I don’t edit my pictures that much, I don’t spend a lot of time selecting and working on my photos. This is the gallery of pictures that are the result of my week long adventure through the Atacama Desert. An amazing place, although it’s not a trip for everyone. I hope you like them.

 


 

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Today should be a very quiet day, with nothing relevant happening. I would drive some 300 miles from Iquique to Calama, when I would get the first of four flights that would take me back to Portugal. That was the plan but that was not what happened.

That car…the one I didn’t trust that much since the begining of the trip, just broke in the middle of the road, when I was going at some 75 miles/hour. The engine just stopped. Now the details. I was some 40 miles away from Calama and had my flight leaving in less than 4 hours. Even worse, there was no cell phone reception where the problem happened! Solution? The only solution possible was to wave at some random car and hope that the person would stop. I was quite lucky because the first person I wasked to stop and help me, did just that. Yes, I have the best impression of Chileans. I did pay him very well for his help later but he didn’t know that when he decided to help me. Great person. So it happened the thing I was the most afraid of when I drive in other countries. The car broke in the middle of nowhere and I managed to solve things. Another experience. Obviously, the first thing I did when I got to the airport was to go to the Budget counter and let them know what I was thinking about the whole situation. Not happy at all.

To finish a really crappy day, my flight from Santiago to Houston was almost 5 hours delayed. Some “problems in the electrical system of the airplane”, they said. Luckily, I had a crazy long layover in Houston, almost 8 hours, so I ended up not missing my other flights.

So yes…I’m having some crazy stuff happening to me the last couple of trips…but to the travel gods out there. I’m not going to stop travelling!

On the picture above, the Calama Airport, in the middle of the desert.

Greetings from Houston. My next post will be from Portugal :)

 


 

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Today’s update is short because I spent almost the entire day driving and on very bumpy roads, so I’m really tired. GPS was an amazing invention to everyone who likes to travel but when you’re depending on it 100%, things can go wrong. Today it insisted that I would drive on that “road” on the picture. And the part on the picture was actually the best part of the whole thing. And it was a 80 km drive. It would take me hours and hours but after 10 miles, I decided to turn around and just go back using the same road that took me there. The GPS road was horrible and I think I would end up in some hole I couldn’t get out of.

And none of my trips is completed without a contact with the local authorities :) This time was nothing personal though…they were stopping everyone looking for drugs.

Oh…and how about the effect of altitude on a bottle of Coke? I had one close to me while driving, as usual, and suddently I ear a loud “pop”. When I look at the bottle, it was all sucked in, like if someone sucked the air out of it. Crazy. It was the first time I saw something like that. Always learning.

The end of the day was trully epic. Arriving to Iquique, a city close to the ocean, is freaking amazing…speacially at night. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to take pictures but you can check some images online. The road approaches the city from the top of a mountain and there’s a moment when you start to see the city down there, with it’s buildings and beach…and all the lights…trully beautiful. Theres also a giant sand dune (I mean HUGE) just outside the city, like if it was protecting it. Amazing.

And that’s it for today. I’m tired. See you tomorrow.

 


 

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And today, a complete change of landscape. From the high mountains near San Pedro, to the sea level. A 400 miles drive from San Pedro de Atacama to Arica, in the north of Chile, very close to the border with Peru and a seaside resort in the Pacific Ocean. The trip was ok, with cloudy skies for most of the day. The roads in Chile are surprisingly good, specially the main ones, and they don’t have that much traffic. 90% of the trip was quite boring, always with the same landscaoe for dozens of miles, as you can see on the picture below.

centenas de km disto :)
centenas de km disto :)

But some 75 miles outside Arica, the road starts to go through the mountains, up and down, revealing some amazing scenery. A different place for sure, very different from most of the road. It was worth all the boring miles.

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Early in the morning, before I left San Pedro, I walked the streets of the small town, taking some pictures before the turists woke up. The main picture of this post is one of those streets. They all look pretty much the same. It’s like a small grid of streets. This early in the morning they are almost empty, with most stores and travel agencies still closed. In the afternoon there are so many people outside that it’s difficult to drive on those streets.

And now I’m in Arica, just to spend the night. When arriving into town, there’s a sign that says “Arica, the city of eternal spring”. Looking at today’s weather, it sure looks like it may be true. Tomorrow I leave towards Lauca National Park, again to the high lands :)

 


 

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The picture features the Moon Valley and my travel mate for the day, Eléonore.

Today was a more relaxed day. I decided to stay close to San Pedro, visiting the nearby attractions. I’m also writing this earlier because I’ll be at Moon Valley again this evening to watch the sunset and I’ll return to the hotel a bit late. It’s also my last day in this region. I decided to go to the Moon Valley this morning and go back there later. The reason is simple. In the morning, the place is pretty much empty. I was there with just a few other people, including my unexpected new friend. More about that later. It was a great time to take pictures of the place. The late afternoon is when everybody goes there. It’s pretty much an invasion of tour buses and vans. Good to watch the sunset but not much else. And earlier in the afternoon, I visited a few other places around town.

Um daqueles marcos simbólicos :)
Um daqueles marcos simbólicos :)

Now the story about my new friend. The Moon Valley park opens at 9:30 so I got there a few minutes early, bought my ticket and waited in the car for them to open the gate. So I was there, waiting, when a young woman comes in my direction and asks me if I can take her to the end of the road (some 7 miles away) and then she would come back walking. Why not? So there we went. The first car in the park that day. We got to the end of the road and she realised that it would be a difficult walk to go all the way back to the park entrance. We ended up visiting the place together and then she returned to San Pedro with me. She is French, from the island of Reunion, a small french island in the Indian Ocean, close to Madagascar. Altough she is french, she did speak perfect spanish and with my mix of Portuguese and Spanish, we ended up understanding eachother pretty well. As I usually say, travelling alone doesn’t really mean travelling alone :)

As I said, tomorrow I’ll be moving to a different region. I’ll be taking some pictures of San Pedro before I leave in the morning and then I’ll drive north, to the city of Arica, almost on the border with Peru. The objective is to visit the Lauca National Park, which is very beautiful as well.

See you tomorrow.

 


 

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What a day! This is “my car” posing close to the most beautiful lagoon in the world. Ok, maybe it’s not the most beautiful…but it is one of the most amazing places I had the pleasure to visit in all my travel adventures. And the best part…I was there for 90 minutes and didn’t see a single person. Most people don’t go to places that are located outside their confiort zone, due to the distance or difficult roads. It was a day dedicated to lagoons. I visited a few and pictures will come later.

I saw a funny sign when driving through a very small town called Peine. It said something like “We don’t have too many kids in Peine. Drive safely”. It’s different for sure :).

And yet another altitude record for me. I wont try to go higher anymore. Pretty soon I’ll have to ask God if I can go higher! :D I really didn’t know that one day I would be in such high altitudes. And I don’t think I’ll ever beat them.

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And since it’s becoming a tradition to have something weird happening to me on every trip, this time I was caught on private property by the security of the place :). It’s one of those things that are funny after the fact but when it happens, it’s awkward. Let’s see if I can explain. Very close to San Pedro, there’s an astronomic observatory called ALMA. The property is big…I mean dozens of square miles, up in the mountains. I was driving around as usual, looking for nice pictures. I see a pickup truck approaching me and the driver asks me to stop. He tells me that I’m inside private property, which I had no idea. I immediately appologize, of course…but at the same time I was thinking…if it’s private, why the hell the roads are not closed?? It seems that I entered the place through a secundary road and didn’t notice. It’s true that the road was awful and they probably thought nobody would try to drive on it. Anyway, I was escorted by the security to the main entrance…probably some 20 miles away from the place where I got stopped. Once again, and even if it was my bad, they were very nice and did tell me right away not to worry about it. Just another story to tell in the future :).

Everything said for today. This was a long day! See ya.

 


 

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Day 2 in the desert! I chose this picture because it’s related to the story of the day…and please forgive me for the quality of the pictures I’ll be posting along the way. Only when I get home I’ll have the time to choose and edit the “real” pictures of the trip. Anyway…it’s possible to see a bit of a green lagoon on the picture. Its name is Laguna Verde and it’s a very beautiful place. So why didn’t I take decent pictures of it? Well, between me and the lagoon, there was a border! Yes…I was driving along the border with Bolivia and the lagoon was on the Bolivian side. Since I can’t cross borders with my rental car, there wasn’t much I could do that didn’t require to enter a country without proper authorization :).

Thtat’s one of the curiosities of this region. Today I drove some 100 miles and reached the border with Argentina. I can back north and got just a handful of miles away from Bolivia…and in a few days I will be very close to Peru.

And today I reached new highs once again, as you can see on the picture below. And once again, the headaches were present. The problem is that San Pedro de Atacama is “just” 2400 meters high and driving to the surounding areas, it’s easy to climb another 2000 meters in just a few miles. It’s incredible how a person gets tired in these altitudes. Today I climbed a small hill to take a few pictures and I was so tired that it seemed like I was coming back from climbing the Everest! It’s hard to breathe.

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San Pedro de Atacama has some two thousand people living there but together with the ammount of turists that come to visit, it’s even hard to drive around town in the afternoons. The streets are full of people. I have to go there early in the morning to take some pictures before the town wakes up. Not that it has a lot of interest to me…but just to show the place.

See you tomorrow.

 


 

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First full day in Chile. The picture I’m posting today gives a good idea about the landscape around me. Yesterday evening, when I finally opened my travel bag, I saw that one of my shirts was gone. A soccer shirt. I bought it in Lisbon just before I left so I didn’t even wear it once. It’s incredible the ammount of thieves working in airports. I would love to know if it happened in the U.S., in Chile or even in Portugal. It’s the second time something like that happened to me and both times with soccer shirts. The first time was in Egypt, a long time ago. It was one of my first trips. I better leave my soccer shirts at home the next time. Oh well…it’s something I can control so there’s nothing I can do.

The day started with the drive from Calama to San Pedro de Atacama. Around 70 miles of a very quiet trip. The road is good, not much traffic and it’s pretty much straight for most of the time. The car is working fine for now. The engine is really weak when it comes to power and that it’s quite noticeble when the road goes upwards. There’s a good side though …I wont spend a lot of money in gas. Today I drove 250 miles in total. It’s not that much compared to other trips in the past but part of the day was quite difficult. The altitude sickness kicked in and I got some serius headaches. And as you can see on the image, when I say altitude, I really mean altitude :). And it’s difficult to realise how high we are, since San Pedro is located in a big flat area. Right now I’m feeling ok, so I hope my body is finally adapted. The same happened to me in Puno, when I was in Peru a few years ago.

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My first impressions are very positive. It’s a different place, a desert with some very unique characteristics, very different from other deserts I visited in the past. The pictures I’ll post the next few days will speak for themselves. Roads are in very good condition, even the dirt roads. Not many turists around and that was a surprise to me. The ones I found were in organized tours. I didn’t see many like myself, driving rental cars. But I did see a french RV! Who’s crazy enough to put an RV in a ship and bring it to South America?? I’m sure they will be travelling around for a few months, it’s the only way to justify it.

My day ended a bit earlier than usual because my lodge here in San Pedro is in the middle of nowhere and even with GPS, it would be harder to find at night. Really difficult to find. If San Pedro is the end of the world, my lodge is in the end of the world of the end of the world :). I’ll be back tomorrow.

 


 

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34 hours. That’s the time it took me from the airport in Lisbon to the moment I got into this hotel room in Calama. It’s not easy. And yes, I know I do this because I want and that I’m lucky for being able to do it…but believe me…this long flights are a pain, even more so when my trips are short and I know I’ll have to do it again in a few days. Oh well.

As I said, I’m in Calama. Calama is a city with no interest at all. It exists due to the mining activity in the region. Being the closest airport to San Pedro de Atacama, is the port of entry for most people visiting the Atacama Desert. As I knew I would be really tired once I finally got here, I decided to stay here the first night and drive the 70 miles to San Pedro tomorrow morning. The pick up of my rental car was…interesting. I was hoping for a Toyota pickup truck, the car Budget had as example on their website…but instead, they gave me a Mahindra! Yes…it’s a pickup as well…but it’s Indian made. I didn’t even know they made trucks…and it’s kinda old. I just hope everything goes well with it. As they say, it’s not the looks but the inside, right? :) Let’s hope so. There will be pictures of it later.

And that’s it for today. The photo I’m posting today is of one of the most beautiful approaches in the world, in my opinion. The landing in Santiago, Chile, seen from a Boeing 787 Dreamliner. The big windows help to enjoy the ladscape even more. The reflections don’t help but it’s the best I have for today :).

 


 

 

It’s been awhile since I was in Chile. 12 years to be exact. Chile is yet another of those countries deserving a second visit. Its geography means that the landscape in the south, where I was in 2004, is completely different from the north, where I’m going this time. The south is green, cold, humid. The north is desert. And the Atacama Desert has a very unique landscape.

So tomorrow I’m leaving again, hoping for a smooth trip. It will be a long one, from Lisbon to Calama, with stops in NY, Houston and Santiago.

 

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