We were finally able to leave Salta via the Paso de Jama to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile. It took over a week for the authorities to re-open the road after one of the worst landslides in 38 years. It was awful to see the devastation the landslide caused, there were walls of mud everywhere and we saw houses that were either completely destroyed or still half buried in mud.
We made a quick stop in Pumarmarca and we were able to see the hill of seven colours. Yay!
Then we just climbed and climbed on what seemed like endless switchbacks (72 of them) until we reached the altiplano and the Salinas Grandes.
I started getting a headache before arriving at the border and I knew it was from the altitude. We had been traveling at a height of over 4,000 meters for a while. We arrived at the Chile border control and the line was huge. We must have sat there for 3 hours or more and if added to the time that we had already been traveling at high altitude, this was not a good scenario. There was an ambulance going back and forth alongside the long line of vehicles, probably giving oxygen to those suffering with altitude sickness. In hindsight I probably should have asked for a hit of oxygen but at that point I had no idea how bad I would feel later on. Our bus was finally called to the front and we cleared customs and immigration.
Then we continued to climb to 4,810 meters and I was feeling really bad, my head was pounding to the point that I couldn’t move or open my eyes. We were driving so high that the bus really felt like it was straining and we felt an odd sensation that neither one of us can really put into words – it just felt really eerie. No one could see out of the bus because it was snowing and sleeting so hard and the winds were wild. Then finally we started going down and when we got close to San Pedro de Atacama the bus stopped, there was literally a river crossing the highway – probably from all that wet snow and sleet we had experienced higher up. The bus driver took a chance and drove slowly through the river and we arrived in San Pedro de Atacama safely.
After checking in to our Airbnb place, I went to bed and Gord went out to buy coca tea for me to help with my altitude sickness. I drank a LOT of tea that night and by morning I was feeling better. Unfortunately due to all the stormy weather, most of the attractions in the area were not reachable because of road closures. We hung out for a couple of days to see if the weather would improve but no such luck. Our plan was to take a 3 day tour from San Pedro de Atacama to Uyuni, Bolivia and that’s how we were going to get to Bolivia. After talking to some of the tour operators, we found out that they had closed the border due to the weather. Also San Pedro de Atacama was having other serious problems, there were electricity outages and most places were not able to get water (our airbnb had a water tank so we were okay). A change of plans was in order for us! That evening we decided to make our way to Santiago along the coast and then fly to Bolivia.
The next morning we headed to the bus station and waited for our bus to take us to Caldera, a popular beach town some 10 hours away. As we were waiting, a guy walks in, throws down his pack and says “I f***ing hate it here, there’s no water and I haven’t pooped for two days!” He couldn’t get on that bus fast enough!!
The views of the beautiful Atacama desert on our way south were great and then finally I was at sea level.
It’s too bad that we had to change our plans but everything happens for a reason, right?
Where we stayed: Airbnb 👍
Written by: Tammy Hermann…Live~Love~Travel