Back to World Tour Page or Chile 3: Southern Patagonia.

Thurs 2nd. Antofagasta, Chile.

After a mere 20 hour coach ride into the parched north from Santiago, check into another eccentric hostel, this one run by a grumpy old man who keeps a vast number of parakeets and a tiny white dog which wraps itself amorously round my ankle at the least opportunity. I say 'isn't he adorable', and the owner sighs 'Ahhhh, Si.' with a look which says 'stupid foreigner, can't you see he's trying to hump your foot?'

Go for a wander along the 'sea front', which is mostly a strip of wasteland between the city and the sea. Trying to find a shortcut back I get lost in entirely the wrong area of town, sticking out like a sore Gringo. After a few minutes, I'm forced to admit that walking confidently and purposefully, ignoring the stares and trusting to my sense of direction is getting me nowhere, and I have to stop to look at a map, and end up walking confidently and purposefully right back the way I came.

The avenue I make my eventual escape along is named after Arturo Prat, the great Chilean admiral - Av. A. Prat seems somehow appropriate...

Fri 3rd. San Pedro De Atacama, Chile.

On the bus, hearing more English, I screw up my courage again, and get talking to Erin, Sandy and Mimi from Vancouver. They seem unfazed by having an unshaven stranger strike up a conversation, and we get a couple of rooms together in the dusty desert town of San Pedro.

San Pedro De Atacama.

Sat 4th. San Pedro De Atacama, Chile.

Now, it may strike some people as a little eccentric to take diving mask, fins and snorkel on a ride out to swim in thermal springs in the desert, but I've got the damn things with me so I'm going to use them one way or another. Besides, the water is lovely, and I get to teach Erin to duck dive.

L-R: Erin, Sandy, Mimi.

We have hired mountain bikes to camp and watch the sunrise in the desert. Sensible people driving past in cars boggle at the sight of three dusty, sweaty, crazy Canucks and one dusty, sweaty, crazy Brit cycling through the unrelenting heat of the world's most arid and lifeless desert. It's hard work, but we get to the Valle De La Luna just in time to catch the sunset, watch the sensible people leave to drive back to San Pedro, set up the tent and the girls rustle up a miraculous meal on a tiny primus under the brilliant desert stars.

Sun 5th. Atacama Desert, Chile.

The alarm goes off at 6, and we head up to the top of an escarpment fringed by giant dunes to watch the sunrise. There is total solitude and silence, no cars, no people, no birds singing, no animals rustling, not even plants growing as light and colour slowly floods over the cold grey desert, and the sun burns through the morning mist over the Andes in a wave of yellow heat.

The girls have decided they want a photo of the three of them nude (but in discreete 'Birth of Venus' poses) on top of a giant dune. Lucky me, I get to take the picture (no peeking, mind) thinking 'Nobody is EVER going to belive this!'

...My chances of getting a copy are low...

On to Bolivia 1: Salar De Uyuni.

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