More pleasantly surprising than the bus was the road conditions. A very well maintained, tarmac road with wide parking bays to the sides. Just what you want for a bit of reassurance when crossing the Andes.
The road winds North of Salta and then West, tackling several mountain ranges before crossing amazing slat flats (at over 3000 metres) and then eventually crossing into Chile and dropping into the Atacama Desert, the driest place on Earth. Throughout the journey there were towering peaks of approximately 6000 metres in view, some dotted with snow and most showing their volcanic history.
We arrived in Calama, Chile, passing near the world’s biggest copper mine, and found a fairly normal town centre with more stray dogs then we have seen anywhere. We saw our first Chinese restaurant in ages, then another and another – apparently China buys all of the copper so I guess they have attracted businessmen and restaurateurs alike. We had Chinese for dinner and then the next day I tried to find out if the train still ran to Bolivia.
It doesn’t so we took a bus to the coast and visited Antofogasta, second largest city in Chile and ugly as hell on the west side of town but beautiful and modern along the Pacific Coast. We managed to find a TGI Fridays for some truly traditional Chilean fare and then took a night bus to the border with Peru.
Somewhere between Calama and Antofogasta we decided that Macchu Picchu was our must see and that a side trip to Bolivia was a nice to have – so we were heading to Cusco in Peru.
Through bus travel, a border crossing to Peru by taxi and then another bus to Arequipa, we were finding travel in South America to be fairly relaxed and easy to coordinate. We definitely didn’t see much of Chile and it’s people, and what we did see of the country was all desert, right up to the edge of the Pacific Ocean! But then we were about to see a little bit of desert in Peru…………..