Seeing San Pedro de Atacama on FOUR wheels.

San Pedro de Atacama Travel Blog

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We are such geeks.
Had a terrible night a Casa de Don Thomas (my least favorite hotel of the trip thus far), and were up at 6am for a fantastic breakfast. What do they do to the scrambled eggs? Delicious. It's La Casa's saving grace.

Then we were ready for our 4-wheelin' adventure. Or, as they call them here, our "moto" adventure. We walked to the rental area on the edge of town, and our guide was ready to go. We were disappointed to see the machines were only 125HP - how will THAT get us up sand dunes!??

To our amusement and bewilderment, the guide (I couldn't understand his name, sorry. I should have written it down because he ended up being a real sweetheart) was wearing a rather prissy looking equestrian helmet, and offered us the same. It didn't look like it would be a suitable barrier between, say, my head and a rock.
Ready for speed and off road adventure!
We opted for some rather ill-fitting but more sturdy "real" helmets. All of this occured within the confines of a severe language barrier. Our Spanish, and his English, were non existent, so there was a lot of pantomiming (and, consequently, giggling).

We said "flamenco" to indicate that we wanted to see the flamingo reserve. He apparently didn't catch that. We rode along the highway for awhile, then pulled off to visit a big cross perched on a hill. I took the opportunity to bring up the "flamencos" again, and the salt lake (in English) and he started talking about the flamingos and the salt lake (in Spanish). Pantomime wasn't going to save us here, so we went back to Point A and found a lady to translate for us. Turns out 4-wheelers aren't allowed in the flamingo reserve (ok, makes sense).
Even the signs are picturesque in San Pedro.

So back on the road to some alternate destination. Our guide drove really, really slow. BORING! But we got to the Valley of the Moon, and the scenery was fantastic, and we even went "off road" a bit to climb a dune. I drove over every rock and hill I could find along the way, and I think he then understood that we were more aventureous girls who like to drive fast and look death in the face (so to speak) on our Motos!

So, we ended up in Death Valley - a gorgeous canyon and surrounding sand dunes. We did some more off-roading on our underpowered toys and although it wasn't an extreme challenge like we had in Utah, it was a lot of good pure fun. Our guide was a delight (and didn't complain when he had to push us out of the sand each time we overestimated the machines), and we found ourselves communicating, finally, with just our huge grins.
Finally, some off road adventure.

After a few hours we arrived at Quitor. We explored a cave, saw some faces carved in stone, and wondered what we were supposed to be doing there. Finally we found the "town" (for those with a good imagination it is a miniature, rough, less stunning Macchu Picchu). We climbed around, which was totally exhausting (it's the altitude, really!), then we went back to our motos to go back to the rental ranch.

We were completely FILTHY from our excursion. We actually left a layer of mud in the shower. Now THAT, my friend, is the sign of a great day!

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After our 4-wheelin' excursion and subsequent dirt-removal operations, we found our hosts Mario and Leo in the lobby, ready to go. It's nice to have this service! Mario brought all the stuff to the plane while Lisa, Leo, and I went to Cafe Kunna for lunch. This place is great, and I highly recommend it. Leo had the quinoa salad, while Lisa and I shared a rather heavy vegetarian lasagne and canneloni. (Of course it was heavy: lasagne for lunch!??). Through some miscommunication, the canneloni was served with chunks of ham, which we just picked out rather than send back. It was all completely delicious.

From there, a stop for water supplies, then a taxi to the airport. Lisa's turn to fly!

Turns out the runway was much longer than it seemed when I was landing on it the other day - about 5,000 feet.
We have the only plane at th airport.
Mario showed Lisa a special take off technique for high altitude flying, and i will share it with you my lucky reader:  apply FULL power, no flaps, build speed. Then after building some speed, apply 10 degrees of flaps for lift. Interesting! Well, it is if you are a pilot. Really.

From there it was a steady climb to 13,500 with what felt like a LOT of nose-up attitude. I felt nervous. I prefer to be the pilot over the passenger, frankly. We then climbed to 14,500 where we stayed awhile. 30 minutes? 40 minutes? We were without oxygen... and outside of FAA regs. I started to feel paranoid about the altitude, then I started to get the tingly fingers I get when I am hyperventilating (although I never recognize it as such when it happens). Finally, inexplicably, I could not stop from crying.
Flying high at 14,500.
No one noticed. After 10 minutes or so, I finally spoke up with a pathetic, "Lisa? Um, I can't breath!"  Really, my breaths did not seem to yield any oxygen whatsoever. Or so it felt in my paranoid state.

Lisa looked back and there was great concern scrawled across her face. She then grabbed the yoke with both hands and dive bombed! It's hilarious now,  but it was all very dramatic at the time. Even after we lost some altitude (we were well clear of the mountains I might add, so there was no danger of a "loss of separation" with the ground) I had a bad headache and felt generally crappy. The flight was really not that much fun.

Because of a reroute to lower altitude and massive headwinds on the way TO San Pedro (there was no fuel on the field there so we took off with a partial tank), we had fuel concerns. Again: happy to have the experts with us!  So we went a bit out of our way to refuel at Atacama airport before continuing to Vicuna. I should have flown that second leg, but I felt awful, so Lisa, good sport, took it even though she was pretty tired too.

Lucky Lisa. After a very long a challenging day, she then was blessed with a difficult, sunset-in-the-eyes, short-field landing as I lollygagged in the back and offered up "helpful tips."  Oh, what a good friend she is to put up with me!
We are such geeks.
We are such geeks.
Ready for speed and off road adven…
Ready for speed and off road adve…
Even the signs are picturesque in …
Even the signs are picturesque in…
Finally, some off road adventure.
Finally, some off road adventure.
We have the only plane at th airpo…
We have the only plane at th airp…
Flying high at 14,500.
Flying high at 14,500.
Not all that happy with the altitu…
Not all that happy with the altit…