On the last day of our three day 4×4 tour through southern Bolivia, our guide dropped us off at the Bolivian border patrol to get our exit stamps, before catching a ride into San Pedro de Atacama. Many travelers spoke very highly of San Pedro but after three busy days experiencing nature we decided that we had seen most of what this area had to offer (lagunas, geysers, etc) already.
We found one of the less expensive hostels in town, La Casa del Sol Naciente on Tocopilla 310 (7000 pesos for a private room) and wandered around town to find lunch and an ATM. It turns out there were only two ATMs in town; one didn’t accept our card and the other was charging an $8 fee just to use the machine. We decided it was more cost effective to exchange a few of our US dollars we were saving for the blue market in Argentina for Chilean pesos until we could find a better selection of ATMs.
After exchanging our money we found a little grocery store on Calle Caracoles that sold huge artisanal empanadas. We both indulged in one neopolitana and one with chicken and peppers, which were both very flavorful and satiating. Lisa went around town to negotiate bike prices for the evening so we could ride to Valle de la Luna for sunset (3000 pesos for 4 hours). We took a quick nap at the hostel before heading back into town to pick up our bikes.
While we were testing out our bikes in front of the store, Ryan’s tire popped and we had to change his bike out for a different one. Luckily it happened in front of store instead of when we were riding on the highway. The road was basically flat the whole way to the park and we only had to stop once to check in at the ranger station and pay the entrance fee. We got to the valley in plenty of time for sunset so we checked out a few other spots before climbing to the top of the sand dune.
We wandered around the unique rock formations, before making our way toward the caves. It’s a good thing Lisa has a hard head because she ran into a part of the dark cave that was sticking out (Ryan shouldn’t have let her that off bike helmet!). After that we decided not to go any further in the cave as it was hard to see and you had to maneuver around very small openings. Instead, we hopped on our bikes and proceeded further into the valley.
After viewing an unimpressive field that is supposed to look like a crater (hence the name: valley of the moon), we made our way to the top of the dunes to find a good spot for sunset. As the sun began to make its descent, the weather changed drastically with gusty winds. We soon realize that the sun would be going behind the mountains laid out in front of us, so wouldn’t actually see a sunset, and since it was going to be dark soon, we decided to get our bikes and start riding. On the ride back we had a beautiful sky full of red, orange, pink and purple contrasting with the sand and mountains.
We arrived back in town a little after dark and returned our bikes before making a filling ravioli dinner at our hostel. The next day before catching the bus south, we had an amazing conversation with a guy staying at our hostel who was originally from the east coast of the US. About 6 years ago he moved to the Portland area to get to know some of his family, and after living and working there for over a year, he decided to pack his things and start walking south. He ended up walking all the way to Mexico, and although he didn’t speak any Spanish, he met a family there who offered him a job on their farm. After working at the farm and learning Spanish for almost one year he decided to move on. However, the family had not paid him for any of his work, so when he decided to leave the family gave him a pair of boots, jeans, and a donkey as payment. Yes, a donkey! This donkey soon became his best friend and he traveled with him all the way across Central America and South America until he unexpectedly died in Brazil (he thinks maybe from a snake bite). We’re hoping for he publishes a book about his travels.