We survived our 2 nights in Calama or ’Calamity’ as our friends named it after losing an iPhone. We actually stayed in the same apartment but were super careful not to leave anything. It seems that forgetting an item in a hotel room is like leaving a tip for the cleaners. Only a few days ago Mo left a fleece and socks in Hotel Magia in Uyuni, we went back to ask and were told to return in an hour. Only later we discovered the fleece had several ‘personal’ items in the pockets as it had no doubt been keeping someone else warm! Still, good outcome as we’d had a dispute about the already expensive bill which they’d tried to double! The socks were ’thrown away’, we returned the favour with their ‘pawn’ on a USB drive. (post script – missing socks found in Mo’s dirty washing bag!).
For a booming mining town the Calama centre is pretty strange. In search of a new camera I look high and low walking past many clothes shops, hair dressers, ophthalmologists, dentists and corner shops. I eventually find out there is a mall nearby, just like the UK – more dying high streets, not helped by the miserable shop assistants that must be accelerating the trend.
Calama Mall could have been anywhere, beautifully done and a temple to spending money on ’stuff’. Something I am pleased to say we have broken the habit of, at least while we are having to carry everything we own on our backs. A pleasant break from our consumerist society, not something any of us seem to miss. They even have special kids restrooms which Lara is very chuffed with.
There are however some necessities when travelling and near the top of the list is a camera. In fact we have two, his and hers Sony HX20v compacts (same batteries, chargers etc. plus at our advanced age less to learn). They take superb pictures, some 8000 to date, but like many cameras have succumbed to dust which has got onto the sensors. Black dots and smudges are less than ideal on your memories of a lifetime. In the UK a simple warranty repair via Amazon but not here. So they will go back with Oma to get repaired and we need to buy a new camera as we can’t face splashing out on two! We find one, just £30 more than Amazon, good news.
We sadly miss the monster trucks (4 metre wheels) at Chuquicamata, the world’s largest copper mine as it is fully booked for days and take the comfy bus to San Pedro de Atacama across one of the driest deserts in the world. We hadn’t planned on the Chilean summer holidays which last until the end of February that means everywhere is busy. Some things are just not in the guidebooks.
Sandra, the hostal owner, collects us in her 4WD and in a few minutes we are settled into our apartment. It is nicely done with ’cave art’ on the mud walls; with the friendly reception you can see why it has excellent reviews. We are once again reunited with Oma after our altitude induced separation.
Mo and I leave Oma to look after BZL and walk the 15 minutes into the town. It has certainly changed from the sleepy, dusty desert town I experienced over 20 years ago with a handful of other travellers. Today there are 5* hotels and every building is a hostal, restaurant or tour agency, only the church and dust remains. A bit like Machu Picchu it is very much on the tourist trail only in prosperous Chile so the prices seem extortionate, we won’t stay longer than needed!
After checking on tours out to the Tatio Geysers, Valley of the Moon etc. and finding just enough availability to squeeze us in we plot our escape. The next bus to Salta, Argentina is in 4 days so we head back to book the tours at Cosmo Andina where they have been super helpful which is when it got interesting…
BANG!! That was a big explosion or we hope thunder as the wind has started to pick up and the weather is changing. The bang coincides with the electricity going off which is ominous although we later find out it is turned off during storms, they can’t have much confidence in their wiring!
’No problem, come back in a couple of hours when the electricity is on again’.
Rain drops are falling and we have no waterproofs. But sure that a few drops will dry quickly and knowing we need to return soon with Oma’s passport to confirm the bus, we set off and make it to the small shop near our hostal only a bit damp before the heavens truly open.
Bored with standing around I dash back to our apartment to find that it is not that watertight. First some dribbles start down the walls and from the door frames, then it starts to come under the door:
No panic, it’s only water but it just keeps coming:
Luckily there is a power cut but I have visions of it coming on again as we are wading around so we get Sandra to turn off the electricity supply.
We are not the only room affected! We later learn that many other hostels are flooded and a 5* resort had to get all their guests to pack up and leave their bedrooms, we feel almost lucky!
The rain stops and Mo and I return to town to pay for buses and tours but the power is still off so we settle for a pizza in the only restaurant open in town, a cosy, candlelit dinner for 2.
We are now all crammed in another room but no more rain and we get a good night’s sleep. Sandra lays on a superb breakfast, you can’t beat homemade bread, and we head into town. It turns out that the annual rainfall here is 21mm and 33mm fell last night alone in just 1 hour which is unheard of. The last heavy rainfall was in 2000 and the town has expanded massively including building on an old riverbed that water ’never’ flows down. These lucky people have a foot of mud in their kitchens!
Sandra is not alone in not investing in a decent roof or drainage, plenty of restaurants etc. have been drenched and muddy stains are all over computers and TVs.
The road from Calama we took that morning is washed away and the Andean pass to Argentina is shut from snow. Looks like transport will be a nightmare and we may get caught in the knock on effects.
Luckily we make some new friends:
A ’Red Alert’ has closed all parks so no tours for a couple of days and more rain is expected tonight. We may well save a lot of money and have an excuse to return on another trip.