27 Jan
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...two travellers in search of the world's wildlife

5 July 2011

Across a dry land

3rd July 2011

Nice to know that travel plans can still go… mostly… to plan.

Yesterday afternoon we picked up a bus in San Pedro which took us (via loathly Calama) to Antofagasta down on the coast. It arrived at 10:30pm so we had booked a hotel in advance over the phone. The guidebook map suggested we could walk to our hotel from the bus station, but it turns out they’ve built a shiny new bus station in Antofagasta. No doubt they were embarassed at having an old-fashioned bus station in the middle of the city, so now they’ve joined all other Chilean cities in putting their shiny new one in the outskirts. Taxi!

When we got to our hotel they had no record of our reservation. Well, given that I only understood one word in five of the other side of the phone conversation perhaps it shouldn’t have been a surprise. I’m sure I recognised “I have reserved a room for you” but I probably missed “next May” or something. Whatever, they happened to have one room left anyway so hurrah. Sleep.

Antofagasta is Chile’s second city and a total dump. Or perhaps it was just suffering Sunday Syndrome, whereby almost any town or city you visit in the Christian world looks like a dump on Sunday with the shops all shuttered and the trash not collected up from Saturday night yet. We visited the ancient city of Syracuse in Sicily on a Sunday and left it feeling exactly the same way. Our Antofagasta hotel didn’t do breakfast, but after twenty minutes walking around the very centre of the city at 10:30am we found exactly one cafe open and a McDonalds.

Only in Chile could I emerge from my breakfast wishing I’d chosen to eat at McDonalds instead.

So we got a taxi to the airport, our plane to Santiago left on time, arrived on time, we hopped on a bus which took us to the Pajaritos terminal on the outskirts of the city and then grabbed a bus to Valparaiso. Once deposited at the bus station in Valpa we found the local 705 bus as directed in the neat set of directions emailed to us by our B&B. The next direction said: get off at the Maria Auxilarius school. Unfortunately the brass plaque with the school’s name on is completely invisible after dark. When we realised we must have overshot we explained to the driver who promptly flagged down a bus travelling the opposite way and got us to hop over, no extra charge.

And thus we arrived at 7:30pm at our lodgings in Valparaiso. Moving bus stations, missing hotel reservations and invisible signs cannot stop us. Just please, no more road blocks.

Did I mention how amazingly barren the Atacama desert is? Probably. But every time we travel across yet more of it I’m astonished all over again. Just try and imagine a strip of land twice as long as the whole of Great Britain, wider than Wales, and consisting of bone-dry sand and rock formed into wide plains and rugged hills where absolutely nothing whatsoever grows or lives. There are parts of the Atacama desert where no rainfall has ever been recorded, ever. And yet ironically if you roll down one of the bleak barren hills and land with a splash, you’ll find the sea straight off these dead shores is full of life. Interesting place.

2 Responses to “Across a dry land”

    • shortclaws says:

      Wow… and typical, we missed it. Although it sounds like missing the actual rain/snow was a good thing, as it’s the display of flowers a few weeks later that was worth seeing. Thanks for filling our blog with comments, Jane!

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