21.04.2007 - 23.04.2007 20 °C
From Pisco Elqui we travelled straight to Copiapo'. Literally ‘straight’, given that the bus from Pisco Elqui took longer than usual to get down to La Serena bus termina, despite racing with another bus to get there (who gets there first starts back up the valley first, and who goes first picks up the most passengers, who pay money). They crawled for the first stretch of the valley looking for passengers, then, when the bus that was following got close, they started zooming down the valley in formula one style. By then, however, we had lost a lot of time and we were risking missing the bus. When we told them this, they rushed to the terminal even faster and deposited us right next to the Copiapo’ bus, handing over our luggage to the next operator. So that was cool.
Copiapo’ is the worst town we have visited so far. If anybody is planning to stay there, even because passing through, DON'T! We tried to reserve a night over the phone and only managed to find somewhere after 6 attempts. When we finally got there, at Residencial Rodriguez, they had not actually reserved the room and did not have a double for us (fortunately - the place was reeking). So we checked across the road at Ben Bow (where it was supposed to be full) and found that half of the 30 odd rooms were actually available?! Took one and paid for 2 nights, thinking we were going to stay there for a while since we were going to visit both the coast and the interior from there. While Gregory was sitting down in the main Plaza playing chess with the locals and losing badly, I did a reconnaissance tour of the place and discovered that the trips that we wanted to do in the interior to Parque Nacional Nevado de Tres Cruces cost £60 EACH FOR THE DAY!! Same to go up to the Pan de Azucar from there, absolutely bloody ridiculous. On top of this and the town looking pathetic and not seeing anywhere nice where to eat, the room stunk of cigarette really badly and the residencial did not appear too safe either – long, impersonal corridor with flimsy door lock. Really bad vibe about everything and unaffordable trips. So I took courage and went back to the owner and explained that the tours in town were too bloody expensive and we could not do them and therefore we wanted to leave the next day – and so could we have our money back... He did actually refund the second night and so, after a very exciting meal at SchopDog, a Chilean fast food, the next morning we were off to Caldera.
Caldera is a small port village that is used as a base to visit la Bahia Inglesa, supposedly too expensive to stay at. That was a great decision. We got there early in the day, got the cheapest residencial on the main town square - which actually was a lot better than the Ben Bow back in Copiapo’, dropped our stuff and off we went to Bahia Inglesa. It is actually really pretty like in the pictures, only it is not summer any more and the water is 15 degrees… Not cold enough to deter Gregory, determined to swim at whatever cost (back in Pisco Elqui the swimming pool was less than 15 degrees and full of leaves and insects and he still went in and got bitten everywhere…). We actually both bathed for some 20 minutes and then enjoyed a coffee at the fairly new Dome Café before heading back to Caldera. The Dome Café’ looks like the domes of the Eden Project in Cornwall (a lot smaller obviously) and offers 3 small room-domes at decent prices, by the way, so this is a good place to stay next time!
Next morning we went to Chanaral, about 1 hour north of Caldera, which is the base town for the Pan de Azucar, a national park on the coast with beautiful beaches. We booked a taxi to the park with Hector, the guy at the Sutivan Residencial where we were going to stay in Chanaral, so when we got there off we went to the park. Unfortunately the weather was terrible – it never rains, but the weather can still be quite cloudy – so we missed out on the beautiful golden colours that the sun brings. All the same, it was worth going, it is really beautiful and we saw lots of pelicans and decaying cactuses. The cactuses along the coast are getting eaten up by some sort of bug that, combined with the sea mist, eats them out till they disintegrate. Not a pretty sight, though on the whole the park is stunning.
Hector at the Sutivan Residential is a lovely old man with lots of time and good will to help out with anything - recommended.
From Chanaral we left for San Pedro de Atacama on a 10-hour direct bus, which was 2 hours late and got us there in the late evening.
Copiapo´ disused train station
Pan de Azucar
Our lunch at the Caleta de Pan de Azucar