To get to Atacama, the driest desert in the world and a top tourist attraction in Chile, you fly to Calama which is a 2.5 hour flight north of Santiago.
Lonely Planet, which tends to be charitable to just about every nook and cranny in the world, begins its section on Calama: “This place is a shithole.” Don’t hang around, it says. Go straight to San Pedro, the small tourist town near the desert, where adobe covered hotels and restaurants line the sandy streets.
Except Lonely Planet didn’t actually give any info for how to get to San Pedro from Calama. So Steve and I took a taxi from the airport to the bus station — looking out the window of the taxi, the shithole description seemed right, though maybe “poor” would have been the better catch-all. At the bus station, we asked a guy if the bus was going to San Pedro. He said yes and urged us to board right away and pay on the bus. Later we found out why: we paid him directly and didn’t go through the official ticketing station, so he pocketed the money (after first trying to get us to pay him more than the original quote). It didn’t feel great to unknowingly partake in a mini-corruption action, but as Steve said, “We didn’t know what was going on.” (Oh, the rationalizations. To be fair, on many buses in Chile, you do pay once on-board….)
Almost immediately we were on a road with complete nothingness in every direction. Middle of nowhere. Desert. Redness. Dryness. If the bus had broken down, we would have been fucked, especially since I neglected to pack Cliff Bars or nuts which is downright shameful I know. Fortunately, the bus held out OK, and we made it to New Mexico-like San Pedro.
Cute town. A couple thousand inhabitants, some true locals, most tourist-industry implants, and then the tourists themselves who seem to come from all over. About four or five main streets.
As nighttime fell, the stars were coming out and the Hotel Kimal was giving off a good vibe.
We each sat down with our laptops, and OD’d on our respective RSS readers.