I haven’t set foot in Chile for 19 years, I’ve arrived in Santiago and I’m waiting for my flight with Latam to Calama. I am so excited. Two hours of surfing oceans of air over the Andes. How beautiful it is, today a window seat is worth it to admire the mountain range where the Andean condor spreads its wings, the largest bird in the world and part of the shield of Chile. I can’t help but remember the event that happened in 1972 when an Uruguayan plane carrying football players crashed in the Andes. They even made a movie called “Alive!”
I arrive in Calama, I take out 200,000 pesos from the ATM with the Revolut, it charges me about €10 commission, I book a transfer with Altiplanic Transfer for 26,000 pesos round trip, that I pay with my card, I arrange the day and time for them to pick me up from my hotel 3 hours before my return flight.
The minibus is very comfortable, it takes us an hour to get to San Pedro and a bit longer to get to my hotel, which is the last one (I’m right in the center). I enjoy the arid beauty of the land of sun and copper along the way and find it very relaxing.
We arrive at Hotel Katarpe, it’s June, the lowest season and the night in a double room with ensuite and breakfast is 50,000 pesos. Doña Carmen welcomes me and provides me with plenty of hot water for my teas. Everything is very clean and comfortable, she even brings me a small radiator in case I’m cold. The first thing I do, before I head out, is to put on my hiking boots, more suitable for the dusty streets of the village. Outdoor wear and layers are a must.
Right on the corner next to the hostel is “La sazón del pueblo” where I buy a vegetarian empanada to get some energy after the long trip.
I head to the main street Caracoles where the Atacama Magic office is. I booked my tours on WhatsApp and had to pay them before 18:30. I did not know then that the next day, fully rested, I would get excited about the place and book another one, very easily done by the way. They are very well organized, they leave enough time between tours to go to the hotel or to rest.
I`ve used some of the money I’ve taken out of the cashier, so I’ll exchange some euros to pay for the hotel and have some more cash for the entrance fees. I keep some US dollars as some places accept them. On Calle Caracoles there is a pharmacy on a corner of a street where I find several exchange houses.
San Pedro has a population of about 5000 people, some live here temporarily. It’s a very authentic and beautiful village. Its dusty streets award it with a touch between romantic and hippie. Its four-legged villagers sleep peacefully on sidewalks and driveways and they are all sweethearts, including the mambo king I’ve nicknamed “David Bowie” for his eyes.
These days when I become an Atacameña (local) I talk to artisans and passers-by. They tell me that they are celebrating the festivities of the town, their patron saint is San Antonio, and they take the “copper for a walk”, at first I don’t understand the expression, copper is how they call the instruments such as the tuba, trumpet, etc. that are part of the band that presides over the procession that has just appeared in front of me. It is very colorful, the cholitas with their beautiful dresses dance and go around and I think how fortunate I am.
I visit the main square, where the second oldest church in the country is, white and very beautiful. I chat with the artisans who settle there and they tell me about the herbs they sell. Being a naturopath I like to discover herbs from other parts of the planet, coca leaves are one of the native ones, which together with the chacha coma are used mainly for altitude sickness. I remind myself that San Pedro is over 3000 meters of altitude, in the Atacama Desert, one of the largest and driest deserts in the world.
These are some useful phone numbers. They all have instagram too:
Hostal Katarpe = + 56 9 5193 5312
Atacama Magic Tours = +56 9 3516 8386
Altiplanic Transfer (Carlos Rivas) = + 56 9 4185 3991
My friend Cati whom I met at the airport the day I was leaving recommended “The First Day” by French author Marc Levy, “it’s a very nice book and set part of it in Atacama” she said.
An astrophysicist from London is in Atacama studying the stars and looking for the first sunrise, the first star. A Paris archaeologist is in Ethiopia’s Omo Valley looking for the first man, what they don’t know is that the pendant she wears will arouse many intrigues and will lead them to meet again and live an adventure full of discoveries also touring China, Burma or Germany among other countries. Travel, intrigue and love make a good cocktail for a page turner.