Sunday, November 1, 2015

Writing from San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

This is Elise.  The drive from Puno to Tacna was unreal.  We thought the dirt road would connect up to the main highway in a few miles.  It looked that way on the map.  By the time we realized that the road was going to be unpaved and completely isolated, it was too late to turn around.  On one hand, the scenery and unspoiled nature was amazing.  On the other, it was scary to be on a narrow, soft road on our decent from the peaks of the Andes. The sky is difficult to describe.  The air is thin at 15,000 feet.  The clouds seem low enough to touch. There was complete silence when we stopped the car.  We saw flamingos, quail, packs of alpacas with markers in their ears that look like decorative ribbons, and many birds I don't know the name of.  Luckily, there was a gas station half way through.  Luckily, we had water and some food.  There were no bathrooms, we had to pee on the side of the road.  We only saw three other cars in four hours.  I was afraid we would get stuck in the sand.  I wondered how we had gotten there and where we were.  We were out of cell phone reception for hours and in between towns for kilometers.  I felt privileged to see a spectacular road that is in no guidebook but a little confused as to how we had gotten ourselves into another situation that I wasn't sure was safe.  I felt like we would never get out of the mountains and reach the ocean.
 Finally, many hours later, we reach Tacna, then the Peruvian/Chilean border.
The border was the cleanest/most developed border crossing yet.  It also turned out to be a big hassle for us.  The border official at the Peru/Ecuador crossing never put us in the system so they spent one hour trying to figure out what to do with us.  Then Chile made us take everything out of the car and put it through an x-ray machine.  We were unable to change money or buy insurance.  Two days later we are still driving without the car insurance we legally need because it's a holiday weekend and the places that sell it aren't open.
Chile is much more first world than Peru.  There isn't black exhaust fumes coming from every third vehicle.  The traffic moves in an orderly manner without constant horn honking.  The buildings look clean and are fully constructed instead of half built.  There is asphalt where there should be and landscaping where appropriate.  We were so tired by the time we got to Arica we stayed at the first hotel we found and paid way too much.  Dinner at the hotel was quite tasty and very filling.  We are finding that the Chilean portions are so big, we can order two meals and split it between the four of us.  The highways are very nice and there are plenty of places to eat.  Gas stations are few and far between.  We almost ran out of gas twice on the way to San Pedro de Atacama despite filling up every chance we got. 
San Pedro de Atacama is a charming small town in the middle of the desert on the way to Argentina. This is one of those places that is much better than the photographs.  We were surprised to find kids trick-or-treating because I didn't think they did that here.  We roll into town at 7pm on Oct 31 and promptly go out with the kids in their masks to gather candy.  We see a lady in the plaza giving away orange kittens and the kids give me those puppy dog eyes.  They have been begging for a cat for weeks.  We just spent two full days in the car.  The girls have been really good.  I made a completely illogical and impractical decision.  We now have a baby cat named Pumpkin.  How the hell are we going to travel with a kitten?

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