San Pedro and the Atacama Desert

Going from the high-altitude wilds of Bolivia to the adobe and tourist filled pedestrian streets of San Pedro de Atacama Chile was a bit of a shock. Bolivia is ranked 25th of Latin American countries on the human development index, just below El Salvador, while Chile is number one.

The Bolivian immigration building was a small, aging building where the gold toothed policeman stamping our passports tried to wring an extra few Bolivianos from us. Only a few hundred yards away, just over a hill, the Chilean border post is a sparkling new, completely integrated and enclosed building where immigration, aduana, and the agriculture inspectors all work side by side. The building is large enough to contain a mid-sized bus and a couple cars at the same time. They roll incoming vehicles through in batches, closing the doors to the wind and cold to perform inspections and complete paperwork protected from the harsh elements of the altiplano.

They even have a foosball table.

We dropped a few thousand feet of elevation from the border post, and it felt like we’d entered an entirely new world. For me, San Pedro de Atacama was the closest thing to being in the US that I’d experienced since flying out of Texas many months earlier. I’ve never actually been to New Mexico (I’ve actually been to more countries than states at this point) but San Pedro is how I’d imagine an upscale, touristed, mountain town to be there. Adobe construction, a mountain bike rental place on every corner, and an abundance of turquoise jewelry for sale.

The coffee was good, every single restraunt was excellent, and the 65-degree days felt simply scorching after all our time in the high country.

We stayed at our most expensive camp to date- $30/night. Mostly because we wanted nothing more than a hot shower and a place to park the truck, so agreed on a price before really knowing the exchange rate. On the recommendation of our “thing” pushing friends, The Long Cruise, I rented a mountain bike for myself and took advantage of the natural playground just outside town. The Atacama Desert near San Pedro is filled with beautiful, beautiful, buttery singletrack. A level of trails I haven’t had the opportunity to ride on this trip. Intending only a short jaunt, I accidentally rode 20 miles just blasting around on infinite loops, reveling in two wheeled adventure.

We eventually pulled ourselves away from San Pedro and its charms, but not before enjoying a raucous night of karaoke. Taylor made a bunch of new friends, I diligently worked on creating a hangover, and we all enjoyed amateur musical stylings in Spanish, English, and Portugese.

Because we’d been moving so much, we decided to find a camp to post up for a couple days, just to help catch our breath and catch up on some projects that we’d been neglecting. A few miles outside town we spotted a distant tree in the desert, engaged 4-lo, and settled in for some relaxation and outrageous sunsets. I tinkered with the truck, Taylor tinkered with an exciting new project (hint: she's starting a new business), and we both took the opportunity to just settle in and enjoy the view.

Of course, we were still on a timeline. Even though we’d have loved to stay under our Chilean tree for a week, we had to move on. Pushing toward Argentina and our looming flights home.

Luckily, the drive through the desert to the border was every-bit as beautiful as the Lagunas Route. Flamingos and all.