Friday, March 3, 2017

Day 11: San Pedro de Atacama

Day 11:  San Pedro de Atacama
Say what?
Weather:  Very pleasant, mid 60s most of the day, no rain

Quotes of the Day:  I’ve sat in the back of the van myself
Road washout on the way to the lagoon

Answer of the Day: If this is the driest place on earth, how come there are puddles in the street? The answer is that the Atacama Desert is huge, over 200 sq kilometers and that in certain spots (who knows exactly how many) the Andes and the Pacific Ocean currents keep any moisture from hitting the ground. Since there are puddles all around San Pedro, this is not one of those spots

Our room is at the far end

Note: this next section of “what does it mean to THB…” is a comparison of the modern, highly upscale style of accommodation we’re in now vs. the more small city or rural style (and very nice!) places we’ve been staying in for the last week, not a comparison of Argentina vs Chile

The guides seeking their guests at 9am

What does it mean to be at an all-inclusive fancy place like Tierra Atacama? They provide a number of outings, and you work out a schedule during your first few hours for the days you’re staying here. You may share a guide with up to 6 other guests. THB and DB will be doing two-a-days for the three full days, and a very early visit to the geysers (5am departure) our last morning before heading to the airport mid-afternoon. See today’s report below on how that went for our first two tours.

THB tried to put the chocolate thing through the rotating toaster; not a good idea!

All meals are included (and so far, the food is excellent), as is alcohol as long as you don’t order some top shelf drink or a fancy bottle of wine. So, our pisco sours are included (and served up in less than a minute), and DB loves the Chilean Sauvignon Blanc and THB has Carmenere (the Malbec of Chile?). BTW: today is Thursday, the one day a week THB takes his methotextrate and thus is an alcohol free day.

We decide to send some items out to be laundered: you call the desk and someone shows up in under 3 minutes to pick up the bag. The price is similar or less than what we would pay in E-ville (a luxury, of course!). The laundry is back in under 24 hours, nicely folded.

In the room, the wifi is as good or better than in E-ville (though this afternoon it slowed down for a short while, and only with Yahoo). There are ledges everywhere (a THB fetish) and a working, functional desk, tucked behind the closet so THB is not disturbing DB while computing away at odd times. We get two electronic doorkeys, way easier to use than the large convent-style keys we’ve been using after leaving Santiago.

There’s an outdoor shower with a privacy screen (on top of an indoor tub/shower combo). Why? Who knows…it does lend the place a feel of like being on safari; when we were in S. Africa, DB locked herself out when using the outdoor shower; in that case, it was the only shower and the giraffes got a kick out her yelling to be rescued! It is also great for sun-drying the few items we washed ourselves (underwear, socks and tee-shirts for most part).

There is no nespresso-like machine in the room, nor a mini-bar. There are: washcloths, a ceiling fan on top of a/c (so we turned off a/c and slept with fan on low, very nice), and a rainbird shower head.

Breakfast buffet is excellent: two types of plain yogurt, very good croissants (probably made by the same bakery that is supplying the rolls at lunch and French bread at dinner), good melon, nice choice of cereals and accouterments.

Our first tour of the day is with Natalia, a young Russian guide, to the Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon). Along with us is one other couple, he’s from Zurich originally and she is Ecuadorian, both speak fine English (better than Natalia: she’s a freelancer for when Russians are staying at one of hotels in San Pedro, which isn’t all that often). 

They are on a 6 month sabbatical. 

We are in one of the several Tierra vans, and at least one other group from the hotel is on the same excursion, on a slightly different schedule than us (and probably not an English speaking group; many guests this week are from Brazil on Carnaval break).

Stark cliffs and dark dunes with a lot of white salt-infected ground cover makes for an exotic setting. THB does the walking just fine; first on the road and then up to a vista point, a total of around 50 minutes. Not bad considering, and THB also did 6.5 minutes of the 7 minutes calisthenics program before breakfast.

Excellent squid "onion rings" salad

The first excursion ends a bit after noon and lunch is at 1pm. THB and DB both order a fish dish that turns out to be something like swordfish (slightly overcooked) on top of a healthy portion of shrimp and tomato and onion topping (except it is under the fish). We both enjoy the accompaniment, and it does complement the fish. Dessert is exotic: DB has blue cheese ice cream with coconut and THB has raspberry sorbet with ginger…chunks of ginger! Each of us very happy…


We're seeing juvenile Flamenco Andino (Andean Flamingoes), not old enough to be totally pink

The short walk out to see the birds up close

THB manages to catch a group mid-flight, if only he new how to zoom in on blogspot!

The second excursion of the day is off to a lagoon to see flamingoes, a stop in a town between the lagoon and Tierra to see an old church with separate bell tower, and a third stop for a snack.  On the second excursion of the day THB was not near as spry, which didn’t matter much because there was almost no walking. Nicholas is a youngish 40 year old Argentinian that has lived for quite a while in Chile, and he does a very nice job of explaining things at the first two stops and then chatting with us over the snacks.
Toconao is the town we tour; other than the church (and a food truck!?) this is a very poor village of small adobe houses 

Separate bell tower

Door of cardon wood

Church now maintained by nuns living in adjacent convent, a priest comes for Mass only on rare occasions

Along with us are two couples, a late 30s couple from Germany and a pair of Brits closer in age to us who live in West Witton, Leybourn, Wexley. Mr. Brit is very verbose about how great it is that the Brexit passed, time to join up the northern European Anglo-Saxons in a trade union, and thought Obama did nothing in his 8 years. THB explained that Barry’s predecessor did manage to put the USA into two wars and a great recession and that maybe “doing nothing” actually looked pretty good.
Es lo mismo coche
The big problema: we have the same van as in the morning, and while THB and DB sat in the second row in the morning, this time we’re in the third row. The driving is much longer in the afternoon, much less time on the ground. The van is so noisy in the third row THB just wanders off because he can’t hear Nicholas. Nobody rotates seats between stops. On the way back, the Germans, in the front row, basically get Nicholas all to themselves.

When we return to Tierra, THB sits down with one of the managers, Paula (sp?), and suggests gently that a) she sit in the 3rd row on an excursion in the van we were in to see what that was like, b) consider using headsets so that everyone can hear the guide, which would work well on the ground as well, and c) encourage the guides to rotate the guests in the van when there are six or eight on the excursion (apparently they can even sit 8 in the van by putting in an extra seat).
No rainbow tonight, just a gorgeous sunset; the hotel is oriented with views to the west (volcanoes) and you pretty much have to fight your way out the huge front door to get a shot like this

Dinner tonight is salad and pasta for both of us, and the raspberry (not strawberry) and ginger ice cream. We sit between the Brits and the Swiss-Eucadorian couples. We find out that Mr Brit's favorite US singers are Fats Domno and Roy Orbosion, further confirming the being-stuck-in-the-50s mentality. 

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