No this is not a drill, so suit up, brush up on your Deutsch and prepare for a lot of schadenfreude. I’m not joking, they are literally everywhere! I’ve yet to be in a place/hostel/tour where there aren’t any Germans. I mean there was about 9 of them in my tiny hostel in San Pedro alone, out of the 15 or so total guests residing there. Case and point. At this rate, I think my German is progressing more rapidly than my Spanish and I’m pretty sure there are more Germans here than in Germany itself. Not that I really mind of course, the Germans are actually a pretty easy-going lot and their English is generally better than most UK citizens anyway. And, I have to say, they are the most courteous of travellers; friendly, polite, mindful of other travellers and great to party with. They aren’t cliquey and elitist like the French or travel in close knit packs like the Isrealis (I’m generalising I know), and they will always speak English even if the ratio of Germans to foreigners is 9:1 (that said, they often underestimate just how much German I can understand…muahahaha).
All in all the Germans are a good bunch to travel with, and I’ve had a lot of friendly banter with them over the last weeks.
I’m not writing a separate entry on Valparaiso, as I think the pictures do it more justice than I can do in words. I loved it though and met some more awesome people, with whom I took all the touristy photos. Ahh yeah.
But I move on to San Pedro De Atacama, a charming but tiny town in the middle of the Atacama Desert in Northern Chile. It’s full of dust coloured, low rise clay houses adorned with bright and colourful murals. They line the narrow and sand covered streets and open out to reveal cosy courtyards with open fires in the evening. It’s a picture postcard town and were it not for the absence of camels, you’d think you were in the middle east. This is my last stop in Chile, and my god what a country of contrasts this has proven to be. From the lush green vegetation and majestic peaks in the south to the surreal desert landscapes of the north it has never stopped to amaze me at every turn.
Straight off the airport I ran over to two European looking guys who were getting a taxi into town (as a lone traveller I have to pounce on people in these situations, like what am I going to do, pay for a cab by myself??). I mean half of the plane was headed to San Pedro, but most were paying for an expensive private transfer. Very un-traveller like. Instead we shared a cab to Calama town and hailed a local micro (mini bus) headed for San Pedro like pros; all round for £5 rather than the £15 it would have cost for the private transfer. Boom.
Oh and the guys, as you might have guessed, were German. In the hostel, unsurprisingly, were more Germans. Ok maybe I’m lying a little, 2 were actually Austrian. You get the point.
But more importantly – San Pedro is just totally awesome! It’s completely dominated by back-packers, turning it into a micro community of travellers who all know each other. Give it 2 days and you’ll practically recognise everyone in the street; you can’t venture out without bumping into someone you met on your tour or in the bar the night before. It’s a great vibe and means that wherever you end up; a bar, a restaurant or your hostel you inevitably collect a large group of people to hang out with. As a town, I think San Pedro is the most sociable I have been in.
I won’t go into great detail about what I saw there, partly because the photos do it justice better than I can in words and partly because I doubt you are interested in the many piles of rocks or lakes I saw. Instead, I’m sure you’d much rather hear about my other adventures in San pedro. It starts, like most stories do, on the very night I arrived…
By all accounts an unassuming night, preceded by some mediocre food in a touristy restaurant full of Saga travellers. I had ventured out with my 2 new German amigos in the hope of tracking down where the party was at, but were about to call quits on the nights after checking a few other ‘bars’ with no atmosphere. We weren’t rating San Pedro by this point; the place is very tightly controlled and drinking only establishments are banned. After years of out of control desert parties and the chaos and destruction that follow I guess the town decided to try and curb excess drinking. But then, we heard music thumping out of an open door at the far end of a little side street and decided to investigate. Bingo! A tiny little bar tucked away with an incredible African Caribbean vibe. A DJ was playing house alongside a dreadlocked folk artist on his drums and panpipes, we were served by supercool tattooed waiters (most also sporting dreadlocks) and we all had to sit down to maintain the pretence this wasn’t a bar, but somehow it all worked. 5 Pisco sours later we had bonded and having the time of our lives; we were drunk, we were happy and loving life like only travellers can, appreciating these kind of perfect moments. By this point most people had gotten up from the tables and we were all dancing enthusiastically around the cramped space to the music, and the pisco sours were flowing.
Then at 12:34 the music stopped abruptly and the house lights came on. We all looked around in confusion at each other, squinting in the brightness and looking slightly sheepish in the harsh light of our surroundings. We were herded out on the spot without so much as an apology or explanation and found ourselves on the street with the other revellers facing a shut door. Welcome to San Pedro mis amigos! (this is due to the strict noise/alcohol laws mentioned before, and the police had come to warn the bar to shut it down)
Despite the epic hangover of the next day (yes I made the rookie mistake of getting drunk on my first night at altitude and paid for it heavily the next day by vomming for the entire morning) it was to be the theme of my stay here; jam packed activities during the day and seeking out the nightlife in the evening. There’s always a great night to be had if you know where to look – and what better way to cure a hangover than to explore the incredible sights of the Valley de La Luna, the Piedras Rojos, the schools of flamingos, the Atacama salt flats and the crystal-clear salt lakes at the foot of incredible mountains and active volcanos.
Heres a summary of my other adventures in San Pedro
- Got persuaded into mountain biking 40km through the scorching desert, on the world most uncomfortable bike
- Nearly killed some Italian and Asian tourists after not being fed for 7 hours…
- Spent the most bizarre day with a very bad Ukrainian tour guide and a bus full of Brazilians we think were gay
- Stranded in the middle of the Valley de La Luna caves with a guy who had dislocated his shoulder (ouch) and without any medically trained people around – eek (He manned up and walked back to the bus though – respect
- Caught up on my German. I mean, where there is like 9 of them what else can you do?
We had quite a following by our last night, and what better way to see out our stay in San Pedro than an anniversary party at the hostel?? There was some DJ’s coming from Santiago, the whole crew was together (shout out to my San Pedro homies Andrea, Claudia, Claudio, Daniel, Thomas and Chris) and I was headed for Uyuni at 6am the next day. Oh wait…
Regardless of that, we spent the night dancing like nobody was watching, drinking like there was no consequences and even indulging in a bit of ‘stargazing’ (Southern Cross anyone??). I managed to get about 3 hours of sleep, but I regret nothing. It’s been an epic adventure San Pedro, loved it from start to finish. You will always have a special place in my heart.
oh, and the photos are here: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10155503824968347.1073741875.509373346&type=1&l=73ff078bc2