San Pedro de Atacama
San Pedro was iniatially just going to be a stopover to brake the journey up to Peru but we liked it's relaxed atmosphere and ended up staying for a few days. The town is quite small with white washed and adobe buildings and sandy roads. It is in the middle of the dessert and while it's hot and sunny during the day, the temperature plummets at night and you can see the stars and the Milky Way really clearly.
We decided to do a bit of sight seeing while we were here. The Atacama dessert is famous for it's salt flats and it's moon like scenery. (Yes, another Lunar Valley, not very imaginitive with names round here!) As we'd already seen the Lunar Valley in Argentina and are hoping to see the bigger salt flats in Bolivia, we gave those sights a miss. I was however, quite interested in seeing the Geyser field, apparently the highest in the world. Unfortunately, the Geysers are best seen just after sunrise when the temperature difference allows the most activity. Ross was less than enthusiastic about getting up at 3.40 am to see some 'hot puddles'! So after a rather cramped 2 hour minibus ride, we tumbled out at the Geyser site to be confronted by a freezing temperature of minus 10 and an altitude of 4500 metres. The altitude threw us a bit and after my initial eagerness to explore the geysers, I was forced to shuffle along with everyone else slightly breathlessly. To my relief, apparently the geysers weren't bad for hot puddles. I thought they were cool – but may be that's the geographer in me! Some were constantly spouting steam into the air, others were quietly bubbling away in holes in the ground and others had violent intermittent eruptions of steam and jets of boiling water. I found it quite mesmeric watching these natural phenomens just exploding from the earths surface.
At the end of the visit, we had the opportunity to bathe in one of the hot pools, not a bubbling, boiling exploding one though, that would have been silly. Ross and I declined the invitation to abandon clothes at -10 degrees as the thought of getting out and dressed again was too painful. My toes were absolutely freezing though so I did partake of some feet paddling to warm them up which worked a treat and enabled me to gloat at how warm my toes were afterwards. Ross hadn't even been persuaded to part with his shoes and socks and still had cold feet!
I was also keen to see the Flamingoes, just in case they're not where they're supposed to be at the Bolivian salt flats when we get there. This trip was not quite so good. We were first taken to see some cacti, very similar to those we saw in 'the other Lunar Valley'. Then we stopped at a horrible little village to look at its pretty church and then we were finally allowed to see the Flamingoes. It was a shame we couldn't have just cut straight to them but then they couldn't have charged as much money for the trip! It was just about worth it as we got to see 2 different types of Flamingoes, several in flight over us as they landed to feed. We watched them wading as the sun set behind the Andes and lit the mountains in a striking pink and orange glow.