This is wild, wacky and beautiful country around here. I just arrived in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile late this afternoon, and I feel like I've landed on another planet. It's a tiny, dusty, frontier town in the middle of the Atacama desert -- the driest in the world -- that looks like the Wild, Wild West, gaucho style. The sky now, at about 8:00 at night, is unbelievably dark and full of stars, as there is no other outpost of civilization for a hundred miles in any direction. Calling San Pedro "civilization" is a bit of a stretch in itself -- I feel like I've landed on the edge of the world.
The bus ride from Salta is stunning, taking you high up through the mountains -- at the highest point, the road hits an altitude of about 4,500 metres. This was too much for some of the passengers, who were nauseous, dizzy and close to fainting, but the bus crew came prepared with oxygen tanks and were able to avert any major health crises. (Fortunately I was fine; this bodes well for a successful trip later to Machu Picchu if I can cope well with altitude!)