Tuesday, August 17, 2010

San Pedro de Atacama-Valparaiso

In San Pedro the prices are high - there are twice as many tourists in the village as the residents. There were many places to see around, but most of them are far way and you need to either rent a 4x4, or take a tour. We followed an advice of Jonathan, who had been here a week before us, and went for a walk in the Valle de Catarpe, only 7 kms outside of town. The landscape resembled that of a moon, with very little errosion, earth and rocks of different colours and an absolute silence. We pitched a tent in a small valley and climbed the hill just in time to catch the sunset. As soon as the sun went down, the temperature plummeted with it, and we jumped in our sleeping bags minutes later, wearing all our clothes once again.In the morning, we walked back to town, had breakfast, and hitched out in the direction of Calama. We asked the driver to be dropped off on the highway, and as soon as we put our bags down, a bus pulled over for us. It was a big comfortable smooth-riding Pullman, our first hitched bus! The driver Marcello was a happy dude, he served in a Foreign Legion in France some 20 years before, and he was happy to re-tell his war stories to us. He had videos and photos of his army days on his cell-phone, and he showed us his likeness in full gear posing in front of a tank, parachuting out of an airplane and generally having a fabulous time.Little by little, we made our way to La Serena. the going was slow, cold and rainy! It was drizzling in the driest desert in the world! When such a phenomenon occurs, the lifeless sands of the desert get covered by a carpet of tiny violet flower, an incredibly gentle sight!The last ride that took us into La Serena was a truck, with three other travellers in the sleeper. Patricio the driver had a positive outlook on life, he chatted with us the whole time, made funny jokes and hailed every passing truck on his CB radio. He told us that once he gave a lift to fourteen hitch-hikers at once! Half of them rode in the cab and the other half-in the trailer. When the ones in the trailer wanted to stop for a piss, they all jumped on the walls of the trailer. He truly had a big heart, this fellow.
La Serena is a nice quiet town on the coast, it´s streets are wide and clean and the people are, oh, so friendly! Our CS requests here remained unanswered though, so we went to the beach and camped there in the shade of some eucaliptus trees in luxury.
In Chile, you can take a shower at almost any big gas-station. For a $1.5 (sometimes free) you get an immaculately clean, huge changing room and a 15 minutes (sometimes even unlimited) shower with real hot water. A blessing after months of struggling with the problem of keeping clean in Peru and Bolivia!Clean and happy, we continued on the road the next day, and, as we were walking to a good take-off spot, we heard an engine-brake rumbling behind us. Patricio, our driver from two days ago, was doing another trip! We were happy to re-unite with a cheery ¨Rastafaray¨, as he called himself on the CB radio. He was very excited about coming home for the weekend and he could not keep from speeding. He assured us that his fellow ¨collegas¨ out on the road keep an eye out for speed traps and let other trucks know well in advance. Well, there was a trucker out there who did not share the po-si-tive energy of Patricio, he failed to let us know of the police car stationed just behind the curve, and we got pulled over for speeding. The ticket took the smile of Patricio´s face for only a few minutes, and we arrived to La Calera, a turn-off to Valparaiso, in good humour.
It was getting dark as we were walking the streets of this small town, and when we saw a temporary construction hut, we headed straight for it. Juan the foreman was finishing his day, and he invited us to sleep on the bunk-bed found inside the hut. There was also a weekend guard on duty, an old señor, Maestro Ferero, who spent his weekends drinking tea and watching over the site. We had a cup of tea with him and went to sleep. Ten minutes into the night we realized that we made a bad decision crashing inside. The blankets and matresses were full of fleas. Our fifth flea infestation on the trip! Scratching and cursing, we barely slept that night. Anastasia is now even thinking of wearing a flea collar, may be it would dicourage future fleas from jumping on her.
It took a while to get a ride the next morning. The highway to Valpo was just like a highway somewhere in Canada or the States: two lanes each way, on-ramps and a speed limit of 120. At the on-ramp there were lots of prohibiting signs. Having studied them carefully, we did not find any that looked like it could apply to us, and walked past it at peace.It was early Sunday morning, and the traffic was scarse. After a few idle scratchy hours, a small car with a young couple inside pulled over for us and we rode with them into Valparaiso.

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