San Pedro de Atacama, Chile


"Ah Filipinas!", the Chilean immigration officer exclaims as he looks at my passport and eyes me discerningly. Everyone else in front of me at the Chilean border control has just taken less than a minute of formality check and here I was, feeling uncomfortable and embarrassed, holding up people behind me as the sole officer looks for another colleague who in turn makes some calls and all I can hear was the chatter about "pasaporte, Filipinas, Nueva York". OK, I get it, this guy really wants to make sure I'm not entering Chile with some fake documents.


I kind of expected this reception as the consul officer in New York gave me another piece of paper to hand over besides the stamp already on my passport. To make matters light on my side, I asked the immigration officer if there was any Filipino before me entering this remote corner of Chile. "Si", he answered as I hear that triumphant thump the moment the officer hits my passport with his stamp. OK then, I'm definitely not the first Pinoy to set foot here. But I'm glad to finally be able to go out of this control post and out of customs where my backpack was hastily checked by a female agent.



At the Argentinian immigration control much earlier, I was also worried about not having any exit card with me. I've entered Argentina via Puerto Iguazu where no card was ever issued at all, unlike arriving passengers at the big airport in Buenos Aires. Anne had warned me about this which had me calling Monica at the Argentinian consulate in New York to verify whether I'd be in trouble for not having any exit card. "Don't worry, just tell them they did not give you", was Monica's reassuring answer on the phone. As I handed my passport to the Argentinian immigration officer at their small wind-swept office, I was merely given the exit card to fill and I was free to go! Why oh why did I have to worry so much?

The dusty small town of San Pedro de Atacama has a certain charm that immediately catches up with me the moment I stepped off the bus. Our group has been on the bus for 10 long hours from Salta and we´re definitely exhausted and yet, here I was getting excited about knowing more about this town that sits on the edge of the Atacama desert, one of the world's driest places.


The town is a cluster of adobe houses, very walkable as one goes through the unpaved main street of Caracoles. In the distance, the cone-shaped 5,916-meter high Mt. Licancabur looms beautifully. An interesting sight here is the 17th-century Iglesia San Pedro which has bleached white adobe walls, creaking floorboards and cacti wood for beams. There´s a bewildering array of activities to do for the truly active and a lot of travel agencies vying for your money but for the moment, I'm settling down first into our rustic abode here at Hotel Takha Takha.


Our room, with adobe walls of course and painted with a lama, is small but spotlessly clean.There's no heating but there's running water at least. The windows swing out to the front yard which has a vegetable garden next to it and a couple of parked RV vehicles. My roommate Gary comes back after wandering around Caracoles with this huge empanadas, nothing like those diminutive ones we had in Salta. Surprisingly, they were good and of course, very filling.

San Pedro´s elevation of 2,400 meters above sea level is way above that of Salta and so some members in our group have started to feel the effects of altitude sickness: headaches, dizziness, lethargy. Thankfully, I´ve started on Diamox I was prescribed with. I´ve learned my lesson from last year´s trip to Peru. It doesn´t help that San Pedro is also very dry, having little or no rainfall at all, making throats dry and easy to irritate. Daytime temperature at this time still hovers between 77-86 degrees Fahrenheit but once the sun dips below the horizon, it gets really very cold.

Just before going out for dinner at Cafe Adobe (known for its crackling bonfire), Anna booked everyone on the different activities available for tomorrow. I opted for sandboarding - I find that exciting never mind if I never did that or even did snowboarding before. A holiday for me is all about exploring both the known and the unknown. Sandboarding is alien so I might as well try learning it.

1 comment:

  1. The first photo is complete representation of Chilean countryside. I can see the vineyard where the grapes were being harvested to make a premium Chilean wine.


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