New country. I think this country has a bit more cash than Bolivia. We cross the border and after about a kilometer we are on a brand new paved road. The shaking ends.
San Pedro de Atacama is a large town, most of it is fairly new. The character is distinctly different than that of a Bolivian town. The building type is not so indiginous. I cannot put my finger on it but the second we start our walk through town we know we are no longer in Bolivia.
This town in particular exists for the tourist industry. Literally every second shop is a tour agent. It is also obvious the target group is young people. 80% of the other 1/2 of the shops are bars. The final 20% are tourist trinket shops. You have to get off main street if you want to find a corner store or a pharmacy.
Today we are to tour a bit around this area and see the Chile side of the Atacama Desert. Yesterday we passed the line that divides the altiplano and the desert. The difference is subtle but the desert is definately barren. Not sandy and duneish like the image of a typical desert but flat and gravelly and completely barrren of flora. The smoothish terrain is as far as you can see. The desert looks the same on the Chile side of the border but is at a much lower altitude.
As I said San Pedro has grown on the tourist industry. This morning we leave the hotel at 5am, destination the Geisers del Tatio. Us and 50 other tour cars, vans and buses in a convoy on a gravel road in the dark. There were so many people at the geysers you could not get a photo of the bubbling water without a tourist in the foreground. OK but not stunning.
Onward to a small village of folks that raise llamas. Damned if I can remember the name of it but it is a place I would not send people to. First of all, the entire troupe of tourists is in a 20 building village at the same time and second, the village has been entirely updated for those tourists. I was not the slightest bit interested in the place.
We have travelled across the entire width of southern Bolivia and I enjoyed every minute. So far Chile has not impressed me one bit. It is however a big country and there is a lot more to cover so I have to keep an open mind. I will see what the next few days bring as we travel to Santiago.