Paso de Jama to San Pedro de Atacama - big trip - diary - argentina - april 2003

Going up

Corrugated roads...

...lead to Brasilian bikers downfall

Tuesday 22 April

The Paso de Jama is a dusty track which crosses high altitude salt flats with volcanoes dotted about in the distance. Alongside one of these dry lakes we came upon two Brasilian bikers, one of whom had fallen off on the badly corrugated road. No damage was done though and we left them to collect their panniers together and went ahead to inform the other 13 of them. We thought the landy was slow but we were cruising along much more quickly and comfortably than these guys on their big BMWs.

Aduana at...

...Paso de Jama

Salty scenery

At the aduana we were smoothly processed and even managed a bit of a laugh with the poor guys stuck there in a hut at 4050 metres. Crossing the line into Chile the terrible road suddenly changed into perfect tarmac and we buzzed along admiring the many salt lakes with big flamingoes and encircling multi-coloured mountains.

High altitude lake

Needle rock

Cool colours

There are lots of tracks going off into the sandy desert to various hidden natural wonders, we followed some which led to big towering rocks sticking out of the sand. The scenery was spectacular as we climbed to well over 4500m, occasionally having to use first gear uphill as the landy gasped for air on the steep road.

The descent started off fast as we hacked down at 90kmh but the brakes didn't like it so we had to slow down to a crawl and go down in second! Ah well, no rush.

Vicuñas in front of red hills

The road is paved on the Chile side...

...but not in San Pedro

We arrived in San Pedro de Atacama in the dark and woke up the relevant dozing customs guys to do our paperwork before going into the seemingly deliberately unpaved village. The main streets are a gringo tourist heaven/hell depending on your point of view. Trendy adobe restaurants serve expensive meals beside tour shops offering trips to the geysers and salt lakes. Our guidebook laughably states that there is no food, water or fuel in San Pedro. Nevertheless, we managed to fill the landy tank and all the jerry cans, and eat and drink too.

Tomorrow we will go to the geysers at El Tatio, a few kms from the Bolivian border and at 4500m. Meanwhile its time to escape San Pedro with its groups of pre-university teenagers and unwashed hippies to camp in the Atacama desert, beats a hostel anyday!

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