San Pedro de Atacama, Chile (Second Visit)
I was also overdue for a haircut. The last one I had was in Moshi, Tanzania, more than three months ago, and things were looking pretty shaggy up there. The barber I found was a friendly, talkative woman who spoke no English. With my limited Spanish the best guidance I could provide was, “No largo, no corto. Medio.” (Not long, not short. Medium.)
My barber was eager to talk about the morning’s big news: Osama bin Laden had been killed. She asked why the U.S. buried him at sea and why it had been done so quickly. As we talked, several other women gathered around to hear the Americano clarify his country’s strange behavior. If you ever want a good reminder that you lack a solid command of the Spanish language, try using it to explain the likely thought process behind Osama bin Laden’s burial to a group of women in a Santiago barber shop.
I decided that from Santiago I would return to San Pedro de Atacama and then cross over to Bolivia on a three-day tour of Salar de Uyuni (the world’s largest salt flat) and the surrounding altiplano. It had taken Marie and me just a couple of hours to fly to San Pedro, but this time I chose to endure the 23-hour bus ride so I could check out the countryside in northern Chile.
It was the longest bus ride of my life, but the time passed quickly and on Wednesday afternoon I found myself in the Atacama Desert again. San Pedro wouldn’t be nearly as much fun without Marie, but I didn’t plan to stay long. After finding a hotel I went right to a tour agency and booked an Uyuni trip that started in two days.
That still left me with some time in San Pedro and I couldn’t resist repeating the tour Marie and I had enjoyed most: an afternoon visit to Laguna Cejar, Los Ojos de Salar, and Laguna Tebenquiche. The only other people in my group were a friendly but quiet Swiss husband and wife, and our guide was a Bolivian named Hernán. “¿Como el conquistador?” I asked.
Hernán made a face and waved his hands. “It is not a good name,” he said in Spanish. “I like my nickname better. My friends call me ‘Chino’ because I look Chinese.”
Laguna Cejar was colder than I remembered. But what a unique feeling to be suspended, effortlessly, in the highly saline water. I imagined I was in space, weightless in zero gravity. After floating happily for a half hour I walked over to nearby Laguna Piedra for some photos.