We sat through the dodgy food and in-flight movies to arrive in Chile ten hours later, flying over the mountains and desert to touch down in Santiago.
We spent a few days in Santiago to get used to the time change. Santiago has a strong European feel to it reminiscent of Spain, not just because of the language. We spent a few nights here getting used to the time change and the South American latino culture before spending a few nights in a nearby town called Valparaiso. Nothing to say about this place other than it is notorious for pick pockets as we found out when Servane got rolled.
Back in Santiago we hopped on a 5 day tour heading to the north of Chile, going all the way past the Andes through the Atacama desert stopping just before Bolivia. From then on we spent the next week driving through the desert with about eight other people from around the globe all squeezed into a minibus.
The tour involved a lot of driving through small villages and desert with nothing but sand and mountains to look at. One notable stop was at the Pinguino de Humboldt National Reserve where we jumped on a boat to do an island tour to Isla Damas and Isla Choros. A wildlife reserve known for animals like the dolphins we saw in the waters, the sea lions on the rocks, the pelicans and eagles and the penguins scrambling to get out of the water.
We then spent the next day in Bahia Inglesa in the heart of the desert. We set up camp for two nights and all had a big barbecue and had a few more ‘Piscos’ which is Chiles national drink, a sprit similar to Pernod. We realised we may have had too many as we didn’t wake up the next morning until we all felt our cabin shaking and realized it was an earthquake, a regular occurrence in Chile apparently. We soon found out it wasn’t going to be the last one we would witness.
We stopped at the cemetery in the middle of the desert which is the only thing that remains of the old nitrate mining town close by and we passed the ‘Mano del Desierto’ or the hand in the desert, a sculpture made by a Chilean artist apparently to give the long distance drivers a reason to stop.
After spending a night in Antofagasta, a sprawling city in the middle of the desert we arrived at the Atacama Salt Flat after visiting the train cemetery on the way, and then another natural reserve to see the flamingos.
On our last day of the tour we paid a visit to the Salt Caves and Moon Valley which were pretty impressive.
We spent our last few days in Chile in the town of San Pedro. A small but traditional town with dust roads and short whitewash houses. We decided to do some horse riding around the desert close by before leaving for Bolivia.