Summer Travels Part 1: Chile

Buenos días! It’s been a while since I updated this blog about my life in Chile, but I’m back with a set of blog posts about our summer holidays. Specifically, our 3 weeks of travelling in Chile, Peru and Bolivia – haven’t we been busy?

Rather than just bombarding you all with a 5000 word blog post, I’m going to be splitting up my recount of travelling into three sections, one for each country we visited. Since we’re starting at the beginning (a very good place to start), this post is going to be about our travels in the north of Chile. Here we go!

05/01/19 – 07/01/19 – San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Emily and I got to the airport slightly too early at 3am; our flight was at 6:15am and everyone else arrived at 4:30, so we found a corner to sit and eat biscuits since we also forgot our sandwiches we’d made the night before (rip to that hummus and tomato dream).

Once we actually got on the plane I fell asleep as soon as we were in the air, so while I did miss the mountains looking like islands in a sea of cloud, I was awake to see the Atacama desert for the first time (you could tell which areas had towns from the pockets of greenery surrounding them).

After getting a transfer to San Pedro itself (the airport was in Calama), we checked into our hostel. Hazel, Josh, Will and myself went out to explore the town and find lunch/water, since we couldn’t drink from the taps. Our hostel was about a 20 minute walk from the town centre, which was actually really nice as it was calmer and generally quieter.

First impressions of San Pedro? It was really hot (a bit self-explanatory since we are in the middle of a desert), but because the sun was so harsh the 25°C heat we experienced daily felt like the 35°C heat wave in Santiago.

First exploration of San Pedro de Atacama

The town itself was quite small, but I really liked it. None of the buildings in the centre had more than one floor and they all had wooden signs – even the bank and the phone shop. Once we’d found water and food, we made our way back to the hostel for a late lunch and to rest up a bit before going out again in the evening. We went to a restaurant on the outskirts of town, and the majority of the group decided to try various llama dishes (Emily and I stuck with a salad). I did get to try a bit of Will’s, and while it tasted like game, I don’t think it quite lived up to Will’s comment: “it tastes like how fur smells” (he wasn’t too far off though).

Llama gnocchi, and the first llama photo I sent to my Mum (sorry, Mum)

The next morning, we all went on a walking tour of San Pedro in which we learned more about the Likanatai (the indigenous people of the Atacama desert), the development of the town, and this Belgian priest called Le Paige, who carried out lots of archeological excavations around San Pedro and helped put the town on the international map. It was really fascinating to see how the culture of the Likanatai had influenced the architecture in the town: lots of walls, including those of the cemetery, are topped with triangles which represent Licancabur, the volcano nearby that the indigenous people worshipped as a deity.

In the evening, we went to an observatory in the middle of the desert to go star gazing and learn more about the constellations. To get to the pick up point on the other side of town, we ended up walking through a parade. It was so lively and there were people on stilts with costumes that made them look like they were riding ostriches and flamingos. I thought they were pretty cool… Until one of the guys made the ostrich scream in my face.

Moments before the screaming took place

Star gazing was definitely one of my favourite parts of our time in San Pedro as the night skies in the desert are unbelievable, especially compared to the pollution that hangs over Santiago. While you could see so much without a telescope (we saw a few nebulae), we also had a look at various constellations and stars through telescopes. I think Orion’s nebula and the Pleiades were probably my favourites. After looking through the telescopes, we went and sat in a big circle, drank hot chocolate and pointed out all the constellations – it took a while to get used to the fact that Orion is upside-down because we’re in the Southern Hemisphere, and that we couldn’t see the North Star for the same reason.

The entire evening was a big realisation of how tiny we really are, since most of the stars we observed are much larger than our Sun. This potentially existential crisis-inducing realisation was softened by the fact that Molly and I (but mainly me, if were being honest) couldn’t stop singing the electromagnetic spectrum song from GCSE physics (it has forever been burned into my brain, thank you Mrs Calcutt).

Our walk back to the hostel was also spent stargazing. We ended up getting back at around 1am, which was fine apart from the fact that Emily, Josh and I had to be up at 4am for our trip to the Geysers.

So, at 4am the same day we were up and outside waiting for the minibus to pick us up. The El Tatio geyser field is in the Andes Mountains, and is the third-largest geyser field in the world. I was actually hesitant to go at first, but I’m so glad I did as it was my favourite part of our time in San Pedro.

At this point in the day – around 7am – it was around -5°C, which explains the big coats and hands shoved in pockets. I don’t think before this moment I’d actually experienced temperatures that cold in Chile.

After walking around the field for a while, we stopped back at our bus for breakfast (Chilean scrambled eggs, fresh bread and tea… *chef’s kiss*) before driving over to the hot springs for a quick dip before beginning the drive back to San Pedro.

On the way back, we made various stops at some lagoons and a town called Machucha, where I finally got a photo of a real llama for my mum (above). Below is a photo of the little church in the town, the walk up to which winded me a bit too much (I’m just going to blame it on the altitude).

It had warmed up a lot since the morning, but because of the high altitude it stayed pretty cold. It was stunning though, and the vastness of the Chilean geography we saw that day just continued to amaze me. By the time we got back to San Pedro at around 12:30pm it was 24°C again and pretty much all excess layers were shed. Our transfer back to the airport was at 1pm so we spent the rest of the time in the hostel waiting.

Our rating system for places we came up with was ‘How Many Llamas out of 5?” (This rating system was forgotten by Cusco), but I would give San Pedro a 3.5/5 llamas. I really loved the town and stargazing/El Tatio were incredible experiences, but it was just so touristy: the majority of the shops were either corner stores, gift shops or places to buy tours.

Myself and Molly on bag duty whilst waiting for a transfer to the bus station.

We got to Calama at around 2pm, and since our next bus wasn’t until nearly 10pm, we were a bit tied to the bus station. We all took turns to go out and have a wander around whilst a few people looked after the bags, but it was pretty boring sitting around for nearly 8 hours. I actually managed to write a bit in my travel journal (the first and last time whilst travelling), and we had the company of a few dogs (they both really liked Josh).

Josh was her favourite

Emily accidentally woke her up so as an act of defiance she fell asleep on Emily’s bag when she went to the loo.

08/01/19 – 10/01/19 – Arica, Chile

This bus ride was actually one of the easiest ones, the only downside being we got into Arica, our next stop, at around 5:30am and since we couldn’t check into the flat we were staying in until 1:30pm, we were waiting around again for a while.

Josh, Emily and I went for a walk down to the beach to stop ourselves going crazy. I didn’t really like Arica too much, it just seemed like a stop-over town (for us at least). The beach was pretty, though, and where we were staying was pretty nice. Our flat overlooked a massive sand dune and really made me realise that we were in the desert.

This was our rest stop, pretty much. We spent most of our time here sleeping and eating (as well as hand washing socks and pants) before crossing the border into Peru. Purely based on our time in Arica, I’d have to give it 2/5 llamas, only because we didn’t see too much.

I feel like I should add this photo of me when we left the flat, if only to show that I did triple-bag for the majority of this trip (are you proud, Cic and Bet?):

After leaving the flat on the last day, we split up into two Uber’s to the international bus station. Emily, Josh and I arrived first, and whilst waiting for the others to arrive we met a Mexican English teacher and his Peruvian friend, who were also crossing the border (this becomes relevant later). We took a selfie with them after having a conversation in Spanglish before they left in a colectivo, a taxi that you can share with other people and split the fare. We decided to do the same once Molly, Hazel and Will arrived.

The journey to the boarder was only about 40 minutes, but the actual crossing took just over an hour as we had to be stamped out of Chile and stamped into Peru. We were also scanned to ensure there were no rogue vegetables crossing into Peru with us (there weren’t).

Once in Peru, we were dropped off in Tacna, which was another 40 minute drive. Tacna itself wasn’t too interesting, but then again we did spend our few hours there organising passage to Lima and eating chicken in the bus terminal (it was really good, but thinking about the orange salsa still makes my tongue prickle). Luckily we found a not-dodgy company leaving at 4pm which meant we’d only be waiting for about 2 hours as opposed to 8 (thank goodness).

The bus was pretty comfortable. I sat next to Molly and within 15 minutes of our journey her coke had spilled all over her and me which was… Entertaining. The best part of the journey was the cinnamon and clove tea we drank the next morning; Emily and I are still in the process of working out the sugar:tea ratio, but we’re almost out of tea bags. The worst part was the toilet on the bus, which was slightly horrific (thank goodness for tissues and hand sanitiser!), and walking to and from it whilst on a moving bus was entertaining for everyone apart from the person making the journey. Nevertheless, we made it safely to Lima in the early evening of the next day.

I definitely haven’t seen enough of Chile yet! While San Pedro and Arica were a lot of fun, I still want to see more of the south (telenovelas have shown how beautiful it is). This part of our journey was probably the most relaxing part; we did a lot more in Peru and Bolivia.

I hope you enjoyed this post! the next few updates should be coming soon, but we are starting to go back to school so I’ll have less time to write during the week. I’m really excited to get back into the school routine and seeing all the children again and I can’t wait to update you all about what we’re doing at school. I hope you’re all well, until next time!



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