South America | Chile | Atacama Desert | San Pedro de Atacama – San Pedro

South America | Chile | Atacama Desert | San Pedro de Atacama – San Pedro

Friday 4th May

Normally I swear by the Lonely Planet. Like many other people I have met along the way, I clutch my South America on a Shoestring as though my life depends on it. But I guess that even my bible can’t be right all of the time. Not wanting to spend any more money on guided tours, we plan to investigate the desert ourselves (with the assistance of the LP of course).

We set our sights on Pozo Tres, a swimming hole just 3 km out of the village and raved about in the book. It’s a pleasant (very hot) walk out there – not a dog in sight! When we reached the oasis we were all ready for a dip in a cool pool. I don’t know what it is about us and natural pools, but we don’t seem to have much luck!

So, on arrival at this ‘natural’ swimming hole, we are charges $2 for entrance, but we don’t mind…yet. On further exploration, we see that the place looks pretty run down but the pool still looks inviting. We are told that it’s a very warm pool, which does come as something of a disappointment and as it turns out, a total lie!! Not only is the water freezing (good) it hasn’t sen any kind of sanitisation in a good many years (bad). Feet slipping on the slimy tiles, we try not to swallow any of the dead insects or oil-slicked water.

10 minutes later we are out of the pool and are getting our money’s worth on the sun terrace instead. It seems that some entrepreneur decided to cash in on the pool, building a cafe, campsite and furnishing the pool with loungers and changing rooms. Lonely Planet must have been impressed when their book was published last year. I admit that the entrepreneur had a good idea, but the place seems to have been left to wither away and we have been duped again!!

Back in the village, the hotel has filled up and various nationalities have come together to eat drink and be merry. I am as ever embarrassed to only be able to communicate in English, especially when a multi-lingual 3-year old shows up. Must try harder.

Out of practice with drinking, Hector and I end up a little too merry but still go ahead with our plan for a meal on the village’s main street. Hector even leaves some of each course to be thrown away – unheard of and a sure sign that we should call it a day!!

Saturday May 5th

Despite yesterday’s let down, we decide to give the guidebook another go and head out to Pukara de Quitor – a 12th century Inca fortess. The blurb tells us that the ruins sit ‘above the Rio San Pedro, 3km northwest of San Pedro; across the river. Call me naive, but I had kind of expected some kind of bridge! He he he, not as such as my dad would say. For once the gods were smiling on us and the only car of the day passes by as we reached the river. We jump in and are told by the two Chilean women that there are two more river crossings, always submerged.

Thanking them for the lift, we make our way to the ruins, via a gorge with a spectacular view on the Atacama. From the path, the ruins look unimpressive – little more than an abandoned wall. But once you start up the hill, the rest of the fortress becomes visible and it’s quite an inspiring sight. Perhaps not quite Machu Picchu (I’ll let you know next week) but impressive nonetheless.

After a picnic and some pictures at the top of the fortress, we head back and wonder if our luck will still be in with the river crossings. Alas, not a car in sight so through the river it is. Of course, I let Hector go first to check the depth of the water. Across the steeping stones he goes and ends with a flying leap, landing with one foot on the path, one foot in the water and cursing himself for he doesn’t have a spare pair of shoes (yes mum, you told him so!!).

Somewhat late I feel, he takes off his shoes and socks and continues the hike barefoot, leaping from each stone-free part of the path and desperately searching the sand for evidence of other bare-footed hikers. Would it surprise you if I said that he didn’t find any?

The second crossing passes without event, but number 3 is far wider and looks pretty deep. We start to cross and then we start to sink. Walking around in circles to avoid losing a shoe (or in Hector{s case, a foot). Our feet can’t get any wetter though, so it seems right to wade through and hope that the water isn’t waste high.

Out of the corner of my eye I spot a girl I had seen just before the first crossing. She had taken an alternative route and was happily walking with dry boots on. Feeling somewhat foolish, it occurs that the locals must cross the water often and are unlikely to want soaking shoes each time. Still, it was worth it to see Hector leaping leaping around avoided stones on the path and feeling for stones in the water.

The plan for the evening was to join with a Swiss couple and make use of the hotel’s barbecue. They are somewhat more organised though and brought meat from nearby Calama. We can’t find a piece of meat anywhere. This is something of a relief really, since the electricity in San Pedro goes off from midnight to 9 am leaving fridges to go warm. It makes me wonder about the chicken and seafood we ate last night and goes some way to explaining the queasy feeling in my stomach!!

Category : South America | Chile | Atacama Desert | San Pedro de Atacama , Uncategorized