The desert – Team DeCorso loves the desert! But even we desert lovers are tiring of the thousands of miles of desert we are traveling through. It is very, very hot here. We are also at a mere 9,000 feet elevation but the sun is brutal and Chile is missing ozone. And plants. And water.
Drinking red wine while hiking through an Andean salt lake gives you a headache.
Our destination: San Pedro de Atacama. People told us that it is touristy and they were all right. The salar, the lagoons, the rock formations are meh+. Not too bad. You can swim in a salt lagoon and then emerge badly needing a shower (and more red wine). But when the sun goes down and the candles and lanterns light up the town, it is very pretty. A full moon and a sky full of stars makes for some pretty wonderful camping. We even got a date night in!
We were faced with a big, monumental decision. We were sitting on the border of Argentina and Bolivia. One straight (one could say almost vertical) drive up the mountain and we would be in Argentina heading towards Uruguay. We sat one night and watched the trucks from Uruguay and Paraguay drive down the hill. We could see the lights of the trucks and watched them snake down a nearly vertical hill. The road northeast would take us to the southwest Bolivian circuit, back up into the high altiplano. Some destinations are above 16,000 feet and after spending the last month on the high altiplano, we were happy to be at the low elevation of 8,000 feet where water boiled at a reasonable temperature and we did not wake up in the middle of the night unable to breathe. The road south was over 1000 miles of desert on the way to Santiago. We left the decision up to Ryan. It’s his trip. For awhile, we were certainly heading to Argentina. There are several other overland travelers ahead of us with blogs and they all love Argentina! We were headed that way until I mentioned to Ryan that all the overlander folks love Argentina because of the meat. The seven stages of grief followed as Ryan worked through the truth of this fact. Blogs were visited and phrases such as “meat coma” and “meatapalooza” were bantered around. Next, we turned our sights on Bolivia but none of us could stand the thought of more time on the altiplano. We are just not an altiplano family. So we headed south – Calama, Antofagasto, La Serena… more than 1000 miles to Santiago. And then another 1000 miles to Puerto Montt. And we are still not to Tierra del Fuego. We are passed the vernal equinox, too and days are getting shorter and colder.
The good news is that Chile did get cheaper the farther south we travel. The bad news is that it is miles and miles and miles of desert with crosses marking terrible car accidents every few miles. The car accident markers range from simple crosses to elaborate shrines with LED lights and posters of the deceased people. Some have water for thirsty travelers. Many of these crash sites have people sadly sitting there. On the way south from Atacama, we saw an accident and a dead body.
Chile gas stations are all inside towns, requiring us to drive inside to get gas. We spent the night in Calama and went shopping at a mall, a real mall with a food court. We were so shocked at the food court that we could only walk around it several times wondering at all the amazing things – fountain sodas, ice, ice cream and there was no manjar to be found. We needed to go grocery shopping and the store at the mall was Hyper Lider (aka Walmart). We steeled ourselves for this but it was not to be as carts are a competitive venture and we could not procure a cart. Hyper Lider was unnaturally, crazily busy with lines winding to the back of the store and 45 check out lines open. We missed the mercado and the old cholita ladies with the cocoa leaves pasted to their faces. We left Calama on Good Friday, a day that was clearly a mine holiday and headed toward Antofagasto.