July 2010


I have a habit of talking to touts who approach me in a foreign country.  I mean, if someone asks me a question my first instinct is to answer it.  Pat has to keep reminding me that this isn’t always the best or safest thing to do . . . especially in a dodgy bus station in South America.

My natural inclination to be helpful and friendly bit me in the ass while we were in Arica, Chile.  We had just finished a 10-hour bus ride from San Pedro de Atacama and I was tired and fuzzy headed.  While Pat was buying tickets for the next leg of the bus journey I was standing guard over our bags.  A woman walked up and asked me where the bathroom was and, while I was being the helpful American, her partner in crime lifted one of our small bags.

By the time we realized the bag was missing it was long gone.  I suspect the thief was very disappointed when he cracked open the bag, though.  I seriously doubt he’ll be able to off-load a book of partially completed New York Times Crosswords, two blow-up neck pillows, and a 2-year old Irish cell phone.

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We traveled to the driest desert in the world not because we wanted to see it, but because we needed to leave Argentina and didn’t want to go to Bolivia.  Even though we knew nothing about San Pedro de Atacama or the surrounding area, I am glad we opted for the Chilean desert experience.

We arrived in San Pedro (de Atacama) after an 8 ½ hour bus ride from Salta, Argentina.  Once we were settled in our hostel we headed in to town to see what options were available for getting out into the desert.  We knew that we would need to book a tour and had heard good things about Cactus Tour, so we found their office in town and arranged to see the flamingos in the salt flats and then head up to about 12,000 feet to see some Andean Lakes.

We weren’t disappointed.  We arrived at the salt flats just as the sun was peeking out over the mountains.

Desert Sunrise

Morning light shining on the salt flats

We were the first group to arrive at Laguna Chaxa, and the flamingos were in close proximity to the pathways.

Chilean Flamingo at Lago Chaxa

Chilean Flamingos at Lago Chaxa

I felt bad for the group coming after us, because the flamingos had all flown to a much more distant lake by the time we had finished our alfresco breakfast and piled back in the van.

Flamingos in flight

For the next leg of our journey our van chugged its way up to 12,000 feet and several mountain lakes.

Miscanti Lagoon

There was a small herd of vicuñas grazing nearby.

It was all incredibly beautiful, but between the high altitude and persistent wind it was very cold.

Pat and Amy in Atacama

That evening back in town we saw a beautiful sunset.

Sunset in San Pedro de Atacama

The evening light on the mountains turned the drab brown vistas into something quite dramatic.

Sunset in San Pedro de Atacama

Later that night we climbed back on a bus and headed for the Peruvian border and then on to Arequipa, which entailed 30 hours on buses, petty theft in Arica, Chile, and a very bizarre border crossing.  We were wrecked by the end of the journey, but glad to be in Arequipa.