San Pedro de Atacama, final destination

Finally we arrive in San Pedro de Atacama. The town itself is the textbook example of tourist town; with a population of around 2500 people, and an influx of who knows how many tourists annually, the commercial focus in town is pretty clear; the main street, Caracoles, is lined by three types of stores. The tour agencies, the cafés and the thrift shops, which all carry the same sweaters and mittens. Oh, and the Wicked office of course, with Nico, sunglasses and straw hat, pumping rock music on to the street (more on this guy later).

We picked up a few maps of the region at the tourist office, and decided to check out the sunset in the Valle de la Luna, valley of the moon, an excursion pretty much mandatory in San Pedro. With the not too detailed tourist map, and a vague idea of having passed a relevant sign on the main road we headed out, about an hour before sunset.

We could see some signs of the flooding, with ponds a few places along the main road, but the dirt road heading out to Valle de la Luna seemed to be okay, in any case, not nearly as bad as the ripio in Argentinian Patagonia, instead a good, packed, dirt road. After a few kilometers though, there were clear signs of damage where small rivers had gouged the road, but still quite passable. 18 km later, we were kind of wondering where all the tourists were. There should be busloads of them, plus hordes of cyclists. Were we even on the right road? Shouldn’t there be some signage at least? Contemplating whether we should turn around (the sun was setting, and we couldn’t really see any thing remotely resembling a tourist trap), suddenly Ramone lost all traction and we were floating in the most perfect brownie-crust like mud. Lacking modern base line safety measures, like anti lock brakes, there was nothing to do but sit still for the ride. It ended after about 40 meters in mud at least 20 cm deep. Shit. Sheeet. The next 20 minutes can be summed up as Lars digging mud and pushing Ramone, while yelling “more gas, more gaaaas, don’t kill it!” (which I did, and didn’t). However, Ramone was going nowhere, and neither were we. Again the thought emerged; where are the tour buses? Where *are* we? Or, I knew exactly where we were, just not the position of any relevant landmarks. Also, I was pretty sure we had lost cellular coverage about 11 km back.

There wasn’t much to do then but go to bed and plan for an early start tomorrow; jogging back to cell signal to call the Wicked office for help. And the irony is just a few hours earlier that day I had complained about too much sitting still in the car and how it’s time to get some exercise (a half marathon in the desert was not what I was picturing). Oh, and the sunset? Was too preoccupied with mud to pay attention to it.