Sunday, December 14, 2008

San Pedro de Atacama: Great Stuff in the Middle of the Desert - Dec 10-14

San Pedro de Atacama is located, as you might imagine, in the middle of the Atacama desert. More miles of desert before arriving at the town. Along the way, aside from sand, are many open-pit mines. Copper is a major income source for Chile, or at least was until the bottom dropped out of the market due to the current global economic crisis. Also, there seem to be more street dogs here than I´ve seen anywhere... which is why many people also call it San Perro de Atacama (for those who don´t speak Spanish, learn it!)

The first night I rode to the Valley of the Moon at sunset. Hundreds of like-minded people were there to watch the sunset, and we all climbed up the sand dunes for a good view. It was also at moonrise, and it was supposed to be the brightest full moon in 150 years due to the proximity of the moon to earth. As you can see, it was a bright moon, and the land is truly a surreal moonscape. I went back two nights later at 2 am with a group from my hostel after a very successful ¨wine tasting¨ (lots of wine, not much taste), but that´s another story :)

The next day I rode to
LagoChaxa, the the flamingo preserve. Pink, white, grey... seems they´ve preserved all kinds of flamingos (if you´ve never had flamingo preserves on toast... oh, forget it). This lake is actually in the middle of a large salt flat, miles and miles of table condiment in which the brine shrimp that the flamingos feed on grow.

The following late afternoon, after all the tourists busses
had gone, I rode out to Lago Cejar. I had been warned that it was very hard to find the lake, as there are only a couple of tracks through the desert and no road signs. This was very true, but it was hard-packed desert and I had a lot of fun dirt riding through it. Finally arrived at the lake, paid my entrance fee (it might be the middle of absolutely nowhere, but they manage to put up a hut to collect money), and had to rip off my clothes to take a short swim. This is a very salt-laden lake, so you´re supposed to float very well. Also, since it´s in the middle of the desert, I assumed it would be warm. Wrong! I really don´t know how well I would have floated. It was a quick in-freeze-out, then rinse and get dressed. The desert really gets cold and night. On the way back I had another fun ride, despite the fact that couldn´t find the trails. Fortunately, GPS worked fine and I just kept heading in the direction of the town for the planned wine tasting referred to above. No further details to be provided.

On my last day in SP I rode to a set of thermal springs for a swim. Not as hot as I would have liked, but a relaxing day.

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