Here we are in La Serena, following the 17 hour bus ride.Luckily for us, the Chilean bus system is much more luxurious than that of Bolivia, Ecuador and even Peru.We were treated to a comfortable and spacious "salon-cama": a seat we could actually fall asleep in!
As Aaron started to describe in the last blog, we spent a nice and relaxing week in San Pedro de Atacama: the tourist´s mecca of Chile, besides Torres del Paine of course. The first full day there, we rented a couple of mountain bikes and took off for a 7-hour loop through the Valle de la Muerte and then onto the Valle de la Luna.The route was so serene that on many of the side tracks, one could forget that anyone else even existed.On the first portion of the route, we had a chance to see some people testing out sand boarding - an activity that, after watching for a couple of minutes, Aaron and I decided was not for us.Scorching sun, lots of drag from the sand, and a sweaty body, all amounted to what seemed like a recipe for a nice rug burn to us (aka a tourist trap)!Right after giggling a bit at the misfortune of the sand boarders, we got a little taste of karma: 40 minutes of walking our bikes up a very sandy hill!From there we were off to Valle de la Luna, a place we would be lucky to revisit in a couple of days.
On day two, we were off again on the bike, although a little later and a little more tired than the day before!This time we planned a shorter route: past the Pukara ruins and then on up the hill through Quebrada Del Diablo to the túnel and back down again. We only had one small hiccup that day where we had to carry our bikes across the river bed.Again, we were blessed with incredible and surreal views, including one spot that appeared to be a true oasis in the middle of all of the desert.
Day three was the day of the tourist…two guided tours in one day!Our day started at 4am with a 2 hour ride out to the Geysers del Tatio.Here we arrived in time for sunrise so we could witness all of the steam rising from the multitude of geysers.The site was overrun with tourists.Before the sun rose, if you looked back down the road, all you could see was a long line from tour van headlights, stretching as far as you could see.With memories of Yellowstone, paired with the crowds, these geysers did not impress initially.However, by the time we had reached the larger of the geysers and the natural hot spring baths, the sun had melted away the clouds, and the result was amazing.While Aaron braved the "hot" springs (with about 50 other tourists…oh yeah, and it was freezing cold out…), I ventured off to check out the main geysers.The views were picture perfect: steam rising off a spouting geyser, with a backdrop of snow capped mountain ranges, beautiful open paramo, and clear blue skies.The ride back to San Pedro was equally enchanting.On the way we saw several groups of vicuñas grazing in the open paramo, flamingos hanging out in the high elevation watering holes, and of course, constant views of the snow-capped volcanos/moutains.
That night, we headed out on tour number two to the Valle de la Luna.Although the tour was really no more than a glorified cab ride, we were happy to have had the chance to revisit some of the places we had seen on our bike ride a couple of days earlier.At one point, our "tour guide" dropped us all off at the top of Valle de la Muerte, asked if we had water, told us he´d pick us up in 20 minutes, and then drove off.The whole episode was so strange that it left all of us looking at each other wondering if this was some sort of sick joke…leave the gringos in the middle of the desert with a liter of water and see if they make it back to town!Luckily, he did return for us, and we did get to see a view of the Cordillera de la Sal that we didn´t see before - the shadows from the afternoon sun added so much to the depth of the craggy peaks and dunes.
The finale of the tour was a short hike up Duna Grande in the Valle de la Luna.Here, we were to watch the sunset.Little did we know what a treat we were in for.Sitting on the top of the dune, we had a panoramic view of Duna Grande, the natural amphitheater, and the surrounding mountain ranges.As the sun set, the light show began with the constant changing of colors and shadows on the landscape and we were even treated to a rainbow.The whole scene was just too perfect to believe!Upon leaving, the views from the bus made us long to stay another week or more to play around in the surreal landscape.Maybe we'll just have to go on a road trip when we get back to visit Moab, Arches, and the other great cities and parks we have in the west that are so similar.