San Pedro de Awesome

By Caroline, CE Teach in Chile

So San Pedro de Atacama was, to say the least, awesome. As promised, I got to enjoy watching llamas (and their pocket-sized cousins called vicuñas) run free through the hilly country expanses. I can’t quite explain how my newfound fascination with llamas came to be, but I am, in short, slightly obsessed with the wooly beasts. Not only do they have eyelashes that bare no small resemblance to those of Ms. Liza Minnelli, but they also have an air approachability that I have yet to find in any other domesticated livestock. Sure, they have a tendency to spit without warning – but so does my brother and I love him all the same. Basically, I want to bring one home with me and name him Pancho, but I have a feeling that the United States Border Control would have a few things to say about it. Instead, I’m going to load up on winter-wear accessories woven out of llama wool to gift to my friends and family upon my triumphant return to the States in December. If you fall into the “Caroline’s Family and Friends” category, prepare to get llamafied.

While in San Pedro I had the delightful opportunity to wake up at the black hour of 3:30 am in order to take a 2 hour bus ride through some windy, unpaved, and bumpy roads into the middle of the desert. Why would I, notorious avoider of all things that invoke motion sickness, do such a thing? Geysers. Lots and lots of geysers. Although I was intensely regretting this decision as I was praying to the gods of Dramamine on the bus, I’m definitely glad I went. The reason we had to get there so bloody early is because in the early morning the temperature at the park is about 10˚F, which makes the steam from the geysers especially impressive. My only regret is not wearing an additional pair of pants, as my legs decided to lose all feeling about 10 minutes into the tour.

Finally, San Pedro’s last gift to me was the gift of flamingos. We visited the Salar de Atacama (salt flats), which came fully equipped with a couple of lakes full of the little guys. Apparently the shrimpy things that turn our feathered friends the color of bubble gum just love the salty water in this part of the desert. Seeing the flamingos awkwardly fly off into the sunset (which I didn’t previously know they could do, by the way) was a delightful way to end a delightful trip.

When I got back to Iquique on the 17th, I had a boatload of Bicentennial fun waiting for me. As I mentioned in my previous posts, Chileans really know how to throw a party. I was lucky enough to get not just 1, but 3 days of parties with delicious asados (barbeques), wine, and other traditional dishes. We even had a Pictionary throw-down (in which my host-sister and I came out victorious) as well as a Bingo-esque game called Lotería. With about 30 family members of all ages taking part in such festivities, it was definitely a memorable experience. They even introduced me to their time-honored tradition of drunkenly writing and reciting short poems (called payas), which always end in ambiguously dirty double-meanings. Viva Chile!

Thanks to 3 days of channeling my inner Anthony Bourdain and trying new foods that most Americans wouldn’t normally touch, I have spent the last week battling an infection in my intestines (I will let your mind wander with what all that entails). Thanks to some gut-wrenching pains and an inability to eat more than a few crackers and broth, I finally conceded to a doctor’s visit and got to experience the grandeur of Clínica Iquique for the first time. 2 hours and one very uncomfortable test later, I walked away with some antibiotics and a specialized menu of nothing but bland food for the following week. Oh, the price of adventurous eating…

Well, as it is now past my bedtime, I will leave you with the philosophical question of the day:

If a turtle doesn’t have a shell, is he homeless or naked?



P.S. – I’ve added lots of pictures from my trip to San Pedro to my online photo album. You can see them by going to and clicking the album called “San Pedro and Chile’s Bicentennial”. I recommend clicking “Slide Show” to look at all of them with their captions. Enjoy!

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