Today we crossed the Andes into North West Argentina.
It’s sad to leave Chile. We’ve had such a special time here and can thoroughly recommend it as a holiday destination. There are outstanding sites to visit, the people are genuinely friendly and you feel so safe. What is there not to like?
Likewise, San Pedro de Atacama has been a great base for the past five days. We will miss the little shop that sold amazing avocados, the bands in the main square, the full moon over the desert and our charming hostel where we spent very lazy afternoons.
For £15 we hired a couple of mountain bikes and headed out of San Pedro. Taking the road northwest into Quebrada del Diablo (Devil’s Gorge), we were on our own in what the LonelyPlanet guide calls “a serpentine single track that mountain bikers dream of”.
The gorge was a joy to explore with overhangs, high peaks and very narrow gaps.
We were out for about four hours – and on the way back had cute Llamas for company.
Ringed by the Bolivian Andes, San Pedro de Atacama is the perfect back-packer stop in the Atacama Desert. With temperatures hitting the high 30s, we have a relaxing courtyard hostel as our base for the next few days.
This evening we took a short mini-bus trip into the Valley of the Moon and Death Valley; a landscape of salt and clay shaped by water and wind over millions of years. The beauty defies superlatives.
For the past five nights we’ve been staying at hostels along Iquique’s historic main street. It’s now pedestrianised; the sort of place where you feel instantly at home.
Dating from 1880-1920, the American Georgian-style buildings built by the wealthy owners of the Nitrate factories are made of imported Oregon pine wood. A long way to ship it but there are certainly no trees here.
To one side of the street there’s an attractive boardwalk; today perfect for skateboarders. Unfortunately, whilst we have been here, the tram hasn’t been working.
Last night, in one of the street’s many cafes, Roger had his first ever PiscoSour.
Last night we were introduced to traditional Spanish Tuna singing; withgroups from Peru, Bolivia and Chile taking part in the 32nd festival in Iquique’s main square.
Originally Tuna groups were penniless 13th century Spanish students out to gain a few pesos or court some pretty Spanish signorita. Today it’s all about keeping the tradition alive, and the evening had a similar feel to a gathering of English Morris Dancers out for a beer, a sense of comradeship and fun.
Main instruments accompanying the singers on stage were bandurrinas, lutes, guitars and tambourines. And we are glad to say we saw one female group performing.
A short bus ride from Iquique are two UNESCO world heritage ghost towns – the Nitrate factories of Humberstone and Santa Laura. We had the eerily preserved schools, theatres, workshops, swimming pools, power rooms etc etc pretty well all to ourselves.
In the first half of the 20th century ‘Chilean Nitrate’ was the in-demand fertiliser for crops all around the world. But then air sourced Nitrates came along and these plants in the desert couldn’t compete any more; both closed in 1960.
As examples of our ability to create working communities in the most extreme environments, its great to see these sites listed, but UNESCO views their status as still endangered.
It took us 36 hours to go by plane and then bus from the south to the north of Chile. It was not without drama – the bus broke down in the night and we were all stranded in the middle of nowhere until a replacement bus could be called out.
The fun, touristy town of Iquique is our base for the next few days. After hours of the empty Atacaman desert it’s frankly amazing to find here a booming city of over 1/4m people.
Temperatures have rocketed up, shorts have replaced our hiking clothes, and for the first time in Chile/Argentina we took a siesta.