Well I've survived an action packed 1.5 days here in San Pedro de Atacama. Chile is much more expensive than Bolivia (where you could get a nice meal for 2 pounds) and is about about 3/4 western prices, so doing 3 activities here has cost me a small fortune. The currency is also annoying me - its practically 1,000 Chilean pesos per pound, so we're constantly using huge denominations, and nobody in any shops ever has any change!
The first activity I opted for was to go rock climbing, something which I´ve only ever done before on a small artificial wall. We were driven through the desert half an hour south to a village by a desert oasis, where we then took a short walk down into a dry river canyon with steep sided cliffs either side. The cliff we were to attempt to conquer was 16m high, though nobody ever gets anywhere near the top. Our tour guide Joaquin, who had done climbing in this place before, attempted to show us how it was done, but he only made it about 7m up if that. I was one of the last to go and shot up the first bit, but having reached about m I got totally stuck. It was very hard on your arms and legs, and we had little to grip onto other than a small crack in a very bare rock face. I took a break and swang about a bit on my harness, before having a couple more attempts at getting higher and pretty much failing. I made about the average height, which really looked a bit lame! First time climber Katie then went and shot way up above everyone else, and humilated us all! She only has small feet but it was very impressive. They then made me be the first to attempt the hardest route, which was ridiculously hard. I literally climbed 3 feet as there was nothing to get hold of. The guide attempted to hoist me up but succeeded only in giving me a massively painful wedgie from the harness and I had to give up. Megan and Thomas found it equally as difficult, but Katie again showed us how it was done, zooming up about 6m! It was an enjoyable morning despite my lack of success. I won´t be rushing back to rock climbing though as I prefer easier activities!
In the afternoon, following a short rest, we then took the most popular tour in San Pedro, the 42km west trip to the Valle de la Luna, or Valley of the Moon, so named because of its lunar like landscape. Our first stop was a horrifically windy viewpoint over the Valley of Death, where I had a scare with my camera after some sand got in the shutter. I soon fixed it though and got some good photos. We then drove into the Moon Valley itself, stopping to view some interesting rock formations and then going for a walk down a salt canyon and through a short cave. The star attraction of the valley though is to ascend the largest sand dune and admire how the sunset changes the colour of the landscape as it progresses. It was beautiful to watch, and we stayed up the dune till around 6.45pm when darkness descended.
This morning though has to be the wackiest and scariest activity I have undertook all trip though. With many of the group going mountain biking on the flat plains around here, I decided to do something different and go with the girls horse riding through the desert to the Valley of Death, which we had overlooked previously. Obviously I have never ridden a horse and was a tad apprehensive, especially when the Spanish speaking guide gave me a large male horse who was just 4 years old. The start was relatively gentle, and the horses were not at all spooked by the many stray dogs fighting at our feet as we left the town. One alsation even followed us the whole way and they didn´t even blink. However, as we got onto the tracks nearby my horse randomly became apprehensive and the guide had to wrestle with it for fully 60 seconds, which was a long time for me as I was tossed and spun all over the place. I was absolutely terrified following this episode, which really was close to flinging me off completely. We cantered on into the valley itself, which was very windy and very sandy (not a good combinaton) but also very beautiful. The guide then informed us that the horses like to go fast at this point, which I really wasn't happy about. Mine bolted off really fast and I was bounced repeatedly about 1 foot off the saddle for about 400m before I managed to slow the crazy beast now. I really did not want to get back on the horse following our rest at the 1.5 hour halfway point, but it had to be done. I was especially nervous having seen the guides horse hyperventilate during the break, apparently down to it panicking about the new shoes it had got that morning. The way back was slightly different and I think my horse was tired as it lagged behind the rest. This was especially unpleasent since the guide repeatedly had to come back and give my horse a small whip, causing it to gallop off for a hundred yards or so in order to catch up with the others. I was very angry with the beast by the time we arrived back in San Pedro, but also very grateful to be alive!
This evening we set off on our longest night bus so far, leaving behind the Atacama Desert and the Andes in order to arrive back down at sea level in the resort town of La Serena. I can´t wait to see the sea again! The bus leaves at 7pm and arrives at 1pm the next day. Not pleasant!