Struggling to calibrate my dragging body sensations of altitude (compounded by an incredibly early start to my day!), I rallied my thoughts to acknowledge just ‘where’ in the world I was currently travelling. I was on a bus in far northern Chile; only a few kilometres away was Bolivia! This was not a time to feel feeble and to close my eyes to the world outside. As we bounced along dusty, rutted roads I began to take notice of the landscape outside.
I had a few moments of doubt as to what I had let myself in for, as I arose in the dark before 4am on my first full day in San Pedro de Atacama. My little hotel was out on a dusty road at the edge of town and the rickety corrugated iron gate looked like it would not budge. A mild, unwarranted, travel-fear induced panic came upon me as I fumbled in the pitch black with my torch. With a bit of slow breathing and logical thought, I was soon out onto the ‘street’ ridiculously early. Panic over. I was soon joined by other folk as we all wondered why we were doing this. Two minibuses came and went (along with 45 minutes) before one finally arrived with my name on their list. I could have slept for another hour!!
The beginning of my recent, incredible journey through Sth America saw me landing on the edge of the Atacama Desert in far northern Chile on the border of Bolivia. The greatest physical challenge here is altitude. This is the commencement of nearly 3 weeks above 2400m. My first point of call was the vivacious little town of San Pedro de Atacama which sits at a healthy 2408m above sea level, overshadowed by Volcan Licancabur and surrounded by red dirt. What a place to adjust?!
The start of a journey into the unknown, especially as a solo traveller is always a little easier if one can arrive in the new place and feel a sense of connection. Reflecting on the beginnings of my recent trip to Sth America, I got off to one of those starts! Right from the landing in Chile, all set to head north into the highest desert of the world and across into the wilds of the Bolivian south-west, I felt at ease.
At the age of 52, I have just returned from a trip that felt like the biggest I have done for a very long time. I took myself from the Chilean Atacama across into Bolivia to trail across the desert and the salt flats up to the highest capital in the world, La Paz. From there I ‘turned left’ and headed for Lake Titicaca into Peru and the Sacred Valley of the Incas. Machu Picchu was a life goal. Unable to resist the relative proximity, I tacked on an 8-day cruise through the West, Central & Eastern islands of the Galapagos archipelago; stopping in Quito on the way.