After arriving in San Pedro de Atacama after our Salt Plains tour our first job was to collectively look for accommodation. The girls went looking for accommodation whilst the boys stood at the bus stop with the bags. Unfortunately the town was rather busy so accommodation wasn't easy to come by, particularly in our price range. Eventually we settled upon a really nice place with lots of outside sitting and gardens areas which was great given the intense heat. After finding our rooms we headed out for lunch and we again found that things were more expensive than expected. The problem we were having is that Bolivia is the cheapest country on our South American itinerary and Chile is one of the most expensive, luckily we were only planning on staying for two nights before leaving for Argentina. Once we had our lunch we all wandered around trying to find and ATM and then started looking at the different tour options that were available. We also had to find a bus out of San Pedro over to Salta in Argentina as they didn't run every day. I had read about a tour where an astronomer takes you out in to the Atacama Desert where there are some of the worlds most powerful telescopes. Having mentioned this tour to Anthony and Maeve they were very interested in doing it too, Maarten and Linda however wanted to do something more active. We went looking for the bus company that goes from San Pedro to Salta but it was shut when we got there. Instead we all went shopping for food to make dinner that evening so we could keep our costs down. Once all the shopping had been done everyone went back to the hostel to relax, I decided to go back in to town and try and find out more about the buses to Salta and also to buy some replacement flip flops for the pair I broke on the Salt Plains tour. I was lucky enough to come across a new bus company that also did the route to Salta and was significantly cheaper than the company we originally wanted to book. Before dinner we all headed down to the bus company and booked our tickets for two days later. We also found out some more about the tours. Maarten and Linda decided to hire some bicycles and go for a ride the following day while Maeve, Anthony, Sue and I decided we would book on to the astronomy tour for the following night. Once everyone had sorted out what they were doing for the next day we headed back to the hostel and six of us piled in to the kitchen to make a spicy pasta with garlic bread. After dinner we reverted to our now established pattern of having a couple of drinks and playing Uno which was getting more and more complicated rules added to it with every passing day.
The next morning Maarten and Linda were up early to go cycling while the rest of us took advantage of the kitchen yet again and made a nice breakfast. After breakfast we headed down to the tour agency to put our name down for the tour beginning at midnight. For the majority of the afternoon we hung around the hostel trying not to spend money. Later in the afternoon we headed out to the butchers shops and bought some steaks for dinner. Maeve was head chef that evening and Maarten and Linda arrived back from their bike ride just in time to enjoy the food. We still had a couple of hours before our tour was due to begin so we again played some more Uno before heading in to town to catch the shuttle bus out to the site. At the site we were greeted by one of the astronomers who took us around about half of the collection of telescopes before handing the English speakers over to her French colleague. He continued to focus the telescopes on moons, planets, solar systems and globular clusters. After a while outside in the cold weather we were taken inside where he sat us down and inspired us all with his knowledge of the solar system coupled with his charismatic passion for his job. We were taken outside again for more explanations of some of the simpler concepts of astronomy and we learnt an awful lot about some of the constellations and the patterns of the sky. Sue also had the opportunity to show off her knowledge by being the only one in the group able to offer up the correct speed of light. We were taken inside again for a question and answer session which was mainly dominated by the question of whether or not Pluto is a planet and also about what is at the edge of the universe. The man was truly inspiring and everyone left that night promising to print of sky maps and purchase a telescope in the future. The tour may have been a little pricey but it was worth every penny as it was such an interesting and educational night. After the tour we arrived back in to San Pedro and quickly went to bed as the following morning we had to be up early for the 10 to 12 hour ride to Salta. The bus to Salta was an absolute disaster; we must have broken down on about five separate occasions before we eventually limped in to a garage to have repairs. The repairs took a fair amount of time but we eventually made it to Salta. The most impressive thing about the journey was that despite all the setbacks we still managed to make it within the 12 hours. The most annoying thing was that the toilet on the bus was blocked so we had to go for long lengths of time feeling desperate. Still, it was great to be in Salta to start our time in Argentina where we planned to spend quite a bit of time. I will update again soon.