Having had a nice day and night in Salta, I was up early to get on the bus over to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile. I was a disappointed to have missed the seven coloured mountains near Salta, but I’d been reliably informed by one of the guys from my hostel that you saw very similar mountains and more on the bus ride across the Andes. He wasn’t wrong…

Getting a bus all day by yourself on your birthday doesn’t sound like the most fun, but this was like a bus ride organised for a Carlsberg ad – unbelievable. Literally from the moment we left the city the scenery was breathtaking. As promised we drove right through the heart of mountain ranges that popped out of the ground in a whole range of unexpected colours – blue, green, yellow – it really was stunning. I’d only had about 4 hours sleep and I’d intended to try and get some shut eye on the bus, but I was simply too caught up in the views to consider looking away. The bus itself was one of the nicest I’ve been on in South America (which is saying a lot, Argentine and Brazillian buses have mostly been great) and being on the top deck I was getting a great view of everything. Again, I took a load of pretty crappy photos with the phone on my camera, but I’m not able to get them onto my PC – so for now my words will have to to do.

The journey took roughly 10 hours and we were on small mountain roads the whole time – so the scenery never let up. During the course of the journey we went up and through all sorts of different mountain ranges, passed straight through the middle of two salt lakes, stopped to let llamas cross the road and went through some fairly stringent (and odd) border controls.

There were two things that struck me about crossing between Argentina and Chile; one that the the Chileans are super paranoid about what’s coming in and two that there seems to be about 50 miles of ‘no man’s land’ between the two countries. It was bizarre. We went through the formalities at the Argentinian border control station and all got back on the bus – I assumed we’d drive half a mile up the road and meet a similar Chilean outpost, but we just carried on driving and driving and driving until we pulled up in San Pedro de Atacama. We drove for nearly an hour having been stamped out of Argentina, although I’m not quite sure on who’s land we were driving…

When San Pedro appeared in the distance it kind of felt like Mad Max arriving in Vegas. The town appeared on the dusty horizon in just the way you hear people talking about Vegas appearing in the desert, but there were no glitzy casinos or lights to speak of – just dusty little huts and half finished buildings. Getting off the bus it really felt like we’d arriving in some old time frontier town (apart from the fancy double ducker bus full of back packers obviously). The border control was just in a dusty little hut of a building, but it was the tightest I’d been through since arriving here with every bag being opened and checked. This meant that it took ages to get through and to add insult to injury our bus didn’t go any further, the steward just pointing in the direction of a dirt road and telling me that it was a 20 minute walk into town.

The end to the ride definitely scores the ride some minus points, but it’s still the best bus journey I’ve ever had.

Photos courtesy of photoree.com