Our flight into Calama landed safely on time and the speed of baggage reclaim put Milan airport to shame.
We joined a queue at the Europcar desk where, to my surprise, I spotted an Avis desk next door. Why on earth couldn’t Avis offer me a car online?
The Europcar girl tried to charge an additional premium for Chris to drive. Already paid love. Get on with it. Eventually we collect a Peugeot 301. I hate French cars!
I advise Chris to check mirrors and lights before departing. He proceeds to check the Bluetooth and line up some choons. A bit of Noah and the Whale in the world’s driest place has an irony.
As he swings out of the parking space to drive on the right for the first time ever a let out a high pitch shriek as he gets mighty close to taking out a pick up truck parked opposite. He composes himself, reverses, and then drives on.
We successfully exit the airport car park and Chris then decides it’s time to adjust those mirrors. Offline Google Maps picks up our route and within a few minutes we’re on our side of the two way road to San Pedro and our hotel some ninety minutes away.
We pass a number of roadside shrines to those killed driving this highway. And while the 100kmh road is generally quiet there were a couple of awkward overtaking manoeuvres to pass trucks doing less than half that.
Eventually we reached our hotel. Basic, large room. Comfortable. With electricity and 24/7 tea and coffee in the shared kitchen. Also very remote. The owner’s two dogs, Blanco and Negro welcome us and we squeeze our car onto the narrow driveway.
After settling in it’s dusk. We head the two miles into town and abandon the car in a rare roadside parking space and head down a narrow dusty road. This is third world, Chris tells me. We wander into a square which seems a little more paved and there’s a church and some shops. Street wifi too!
Getting the two miles from hotel to town was petrifying. Cyclist in the dark. No lights. No reflectors. No thought that riding three abreast in darkness on a single track road might ge an issue. Pedestrians similarly exiting the darkness only as our headlights hit them. Chris take it easy!
We carry on our on foot exploration and discover a criss-crossing of narrow roads with single rise buildings along them. The road surface appears to be mud but there are pavements. Cars few and far between.
Tourist tat shops. An indoor market comprising of tourist tat shops and a hot dog stand. We grab a local delicacy of cheesy hot dog, chips and a Coke. £3 each. Lots of little stalls, most of which accept all major credit cards. Back outside to find numerous tour shops organising trips to the local attractions. And balloon rides over the desert. Then we find the food district.
It’s a remarkable place. Home for now to thousands of chilled out backpackers. Average age early twenties. The occasional mini-market selling breakfast cereals, breads, crisps and female sanitary items from spaces no bigger than than a large car!
We get lost in the similar looking streets before finally getting back to the car with 6 litres of water. The local supply gas a high arsenic level! Back to the hotel and Chris sets up his camera on the night sky. The Milky Way clear for all to see. The stunning number of stars perhaps exceeding what we’ve seen previously in Death Valley.
Awe inspiring stuff from a place that would make a good home for the modern hippy.