Woke at 8am as our bus arrives at the Chile border (thankfully a far less busy route than the Valparaiso to Mendoza one) and go through the rigmarole of passport control: Queue up at one window – stamp stamp stamp – queue at the next window – stamp stamp stamp – bags though the scanner to make sure we don’t bring anything dangerous in (like an apple) and off we go.
Niki starts to get a “head in a vice” type headache and I soon follow suit. Start to think that the crossing might have got quite high and a later search on Google later indicates that we have travelled Paso de Jama, one of the most dangerous roads and that reaches altitudes in excess of 4800m.
We are collected from the bus station (in some extreme heat – always good when you have altitude sickness) by our hostal owner which is nice, and taken to our accommodation which is a 15 minute walk out of town, we get ourselves ready and plan to head into town but 5 minutes of walking in the intense heat coupled with altitude sickness means we retreat back and sleep for a few hours.
Feeling slightly better we take the option of the free hostel bikes to make the journey into town a little easier. A dusty one storey desert town awaits us that is almost totally aimed at the tourist market with every other building being either a tour agency or a shop selling tourist bits and pieces. Our hostel is owned by a tour agency and we have a tour planned for the afternoon (after a life-giving lunch of coke and pizza).
The dessert scenery is spectacular and we start with a visit to Valley de la Luna (Moon Valley) which is one of the most inhospitable places on earth getting less than 100mm of rain a year (we get that in a day in Leeds). NASA and other space agencies reportedly use it to test equipment.
Later we see a large sand dune called ‘the big dune’ (insightful) before heading over to the Valley of Death and Coyote Rock to watch sunset (it should have been called Valley of Mars but there was an issue with the translator and the Belgian who discovered it and the word Mars and Morte were mixed up). You kind of feel like a Star Trek landing party with the scenery looking like something Kirk, Spock and the unfortunate person you’d never seen before (meaning certain death) would beam down to.
Back in town we book a few tours for tomorrow and take a recommendation for dinner a little of the main drag and are pleasantly surprised to find 50% of our tour group and have another wonderful evening chatting, eating and drinking Pisco Sours. In particular we enjoy spending time with Nicole (who is I discover is from Prince George in BC, a place she was amazed to find I have visited) and her new friends Bruno and Juan Carlo from Brazil (with whom language is a slight barrier until football is the topic and suddenly I find I am able to communicate freely).
An E.T. style night-time bike ride back to the accommodation completes yet another wonderful day.