Late start, blame it on the comfortable bed! We’re happy to have a laid-back morning, planning to visit the Valle de la Luna later this afternoon.
The Gustave le Paige museum gets a good write-up in all the books so we pay it a visit. It is part of the university of so-and-so. Inside, round a central space, are small corridors with various exhibits about the atacamena culture. It includes a few mummified bodies (including one in a clay pot) and deformed skulls (local concept of beauty and status) – gruesome. And now we’re having coffee in another one of Caracole’s places, Estaka. We can overhear the conversation between two young Americans who are planning to head for Salta, then down to Bariloche and Ushuaia – aah, memories! I walk over and tell them about trout-fishing with Andres through Barruzzi, and the para-gliding – they are interested but money is their prime concern so they probably won’t go for it.
Refreshed and relaxed, it’s time to go and see stuff. Valle de la Muerte sounds suitably intimidating. It’s on a small road off the main Calama-SPdA road. Road doesn’t look too good so we spend a few minutes pondering our next move. Two jeeps go past us so we decide that it’s safe and follow them. A bit further on they are parked in a bend and a group of French tourists, who have obviously just completed a walk, are having some refreshments in the shade provided by overhanging rocks.
We park the car and I check with their guide how far it is to the VdlM – 1 km along this road he says. We start our walk, along the same road, gradually climbing. It is hot and we take it easy. Glad I bought a silly floppy hat – it’s stopping my neck from getting even more burned. Around us are sandy rocks, with chips of what looks like mica embedded throughout. The scenery doesn’t change much and, whilst impressive, doesn’t have any great interest for us. Sand hills, like dunes, on our right. We round several corners but no great “Valle de la Muerte” is revealed and we must have gone well over one kilometre now. We turn back and return. We have walked a lot further than I thought, but at least it is downhill all the way now.
A quick drink in the shade, copying the French group, and we get back in the, very hot, car. We decide to try the Valle de la Luna next. It’s on a road closer to SPdA. At first the road is tarmac but soon turns to rocky lumpy stuff and we’re hobbling along. The road takes us right through the VdlL. It does look impressive and other-worldly, but not stunningly so. En route I help out a German biker who is taking pictures of his bike against this backdrop. [Visions of his holiday snaps showing his bike against various backdrops!]
Earlier Ness walked ahead of the car as scout to check out the road beyond a particularly sandy bit. I make my mark in the valle, in time-honoured fashion. Then we drive on. The best time to visit the valle is at sunset but we are about three hours early and not really that bothered. The road loops round back to the main Calama-SPdA road, a bit further on.
We still have plenty of time and while we’re in this area might as well visit the Tulor ruins. Turning off again, at the same road (VdlL + Tulor), we see some people who are cycling or walking (only a few) – must be mad we say to each other. Pick up two local girls (and their dog, which they had kept well hidden until actually in the car). They’re happy sitting in the back, i.e. the open bit. Drop them off at a small village, a group of adobe houses really, nestling among the green trees and crops. Then we end up stuck behind a herd of cows. Keeping a safe distance we crawl along until they turn off.
A bit further on we come to a few round huts, adobe of course, where we pay the entrance fee, $1500 each. The ruins themselves are mostly covered in sand. A raised walkway provides a viewing platform.You can see the outline of the circular houses, “glued” together. It is windy and we have to hold on to our hats.
Time to head back to SPdA for a late lunch. Intending to have “lite bite” and then return to the hotel to unwind, we try another of the places on Caracoles, can’t remember the name, but it had a tiled corridor leading to an open courtyard at the back. No-one there except the manager doing his sums. Place is buzzing with flies but we’re already committed so just order a water and lemonade, down them, and then go to Adobe next door. Ness went for quesadillas, I had the “lomo a lo pobre” sandwich – thud! Half a cow, a field of onions and eggs later I declared “happeee!” – having also finished the remaining bread with generous helpings of olive oil! All washed down with beers (Ness – Escudo local brew, me – Corona because it comes with a bit of lime). Relax back at the Altiplanico, freshen up, and we’re ready to do it all over again.
Disappointing bit of news is that the Tren Nocturno is not running, due to an accident, so we will have to come up with an alternative. Driving does not appeal now that we have started to respect the distances in this long country.
For our last dinner at SPdA we return to Milagro, where the mood is a lot more mellow. Both opt for the modest fettucine al’fredo but it tastes of not an awful lot. Still, the piccie is going down well.
We have a ridiculously early start tomorrow but the mood tells us otherwise. We have more piccie than is sensible, enjoying the evening and crawl back to our cabin in cruiser basher. Fortunately we packed most of our stuff before coming out and since no-one will be using our cabin tomorrow we don’t have to worry about clearing out at 3.30am! Bed beckons.