Day 06 : … and that’s why I decided not to go through Atacama!

Thursday 22 May 2014

You’d have thought the Pan-American highway would be something spectacular- a vast motorway stretching off into the distance.
In fact, it’s nothing more than a dodgy dual-carriageway with bus stops on it. There are also some ‘service areas’ that consist of a ‘pit lane’ where people (generally women) come on to the bus and sell food and drink. This was how I ended up finally sampling the delights of Chilean desserts – four very sweet cakes, mostly involving soft pastry and some kind of toffee/caramel filling. Glorious.

Not much happened today – I had a 7 hour bus ride from Valparaiso to La Serena. It’s actually only a 7 hour bus ride because it stops in Villa Del Mar (10 min after Valparaiso) for about half an hour, and in Coquimbo (10 min before La Serena) for about 15 minutes … The ride itself was very comfortable indeed – much nicer than National Express in the UK – and most of the journey was spent looking out the window at scenery. I was on the wrong side of the coach really, since not only was I on the side with the sea, rather than with the mountains, but also I had the sun in my peripheral vision for much of the journey (when we left Valparaiso I thought it wouldn’t be a problem, until I remembered I was in the Southern Hemisphere and therefore the sun was in the North …), but that said it was quite a spectacular journey, going through remote mountains and past very small villages. It’s also quite evident how dry Chile is; even this far South of the Atacama Desert, the ground was dry and rocky and vegetation often only consisted of cacti and small ground shrubs. People still were farming here, but I’m not quite sure how.

I’m not sure how far it is from Valparaiso to La Serena; I’m guessing a shade over 400km. At one point though, not quite halfway, I saw a sign saying ‘Arica: 1826’. Since it would only get drier and more remote the further North you go, that doesn’t strike me as being the most interesting of days on a coach.

When I booked my hostel a couple of days ago, I expected to be in the centre of La Serena. However the hostel I booked actually owns/runs two hostels, and they told me I was booked into the ‘beach’ hostel (presumably the city centre one was full). The directions they gave were clear and simple, but walking the journey made me feel like it was a bit remote – I had to cross the Pan-American highway and walk down a dirt footpath by some football pitches. Not sure how I’d have felt being a single female doing it in the dark.
The hostel itself … isn’t so much a ‘hostel’ as an owner-occupied forest chalet. The common area and kitchen are basically the living room and kitchen of the owner’s house, although I will say that the kitchen is absolutely huge and I want a house with a kitchen as big as that. Outside there’s a patio area with seats (and a kind of mezzanine area too), a large garden that surrounds the property, and the dorms are in a separate building a short walk away. The whole property is accessed from a large set of wooden doors that open out into a driveway. Bizarre, but pretty cool. It does feel quite remote though, but I haven’t ventured out yet to see what it’s like around.

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