The third morning of the trip was tough. Though we had gone to bed around 9pm to be ready for 3:30am breakfast and our 4am departure, the cold had kept me up all night. I barely slept a wink - I can't sleep if I am cold. It was freezing! We had a quick breakfast at 3:30 and left the hostel around 4am. The ride was dark and cold. I tried to sleep in the car, but again it was too cold to sleep. After driving for close to an hour, we stopped at the amazing steam geysers at "Sol de Manana (morning sun)." It was so cold outside, but I could not miss a chance to see them up close. I got out and the first thing that hit me was the overpowering stench of sulphur. It really smelled like some giant monster had farted - really badly. The view was amazing though.
We then hopped back into the car and continued to "Laguna verde" - The Green Lagoon. The lagoon gets its remarkable color fom the high levels of lead, sulphur and calcium carbonate....in short...don't try swimming or drinking water from this pretty lagoon. The best part of the trip was when we finally got to the natural hot baths. In the middle of the freezing desert, there were nice jacuzzis:-) All natural. It was the best feeling getting into that hot water. Everyone sighed with relief once they were in. At first we were the only people there given it was so early. 20 or so minutes later, lots of other tourists descended on us. This didn't change the magic of the moment though. I was sitting in this hot water looking all around me and I could see volcanic mountains in the desert and miles and miles of nothingness blurred by the steam rising out of the hot water. It was surreal. After half an hour in the hot baths, the driver said we needed to leave. Those of us who were going on to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile needed to catch our 10am bus.
Leaving Bolivia was dramatic. We got to the bus at the border around 9am and thought we had lots of time. For some reason, the driver of the bus to San Pedro was hurrying us. None of us was amused. Such panic mode is what results in luggage being left behind....and we had a full hour. We never understood what the rush was about. At the border, we had to go to the Bolivian customs and get our documents stamped. The driver was still following us speaking in rapid Spanish. As I was waiting in line, an American couple approached me and asked if I could give them some Bolivianos for them to pay their entry into Bolivia, in exchange for dollars. I was a bit suspicious - wondering why they didn't change money before until they told me about the earthquake in Chile. I had no idea there had been an earthquake in Chile, when we were in the desert. He told me that they had left under such hurried circumstances and couldn't find any travel bureaus. I changed some money for him. The driver came again with his rapid fire Spanish and panic mode tendencies and I was really getting irritated. He was also harrasing one of the other girls I had been in the desert with. She had a traditional Bolivian mask and it had a bit of animal fur, and he was insisting she leaves it behind as she wouldn't be allowed to get through Chilean customs with it. She stood her ground and said she would keep it and declare it on entry into Chile.
In an hour we finally got to Chilean customs. It was a very serious process - thorough scrutiny of passports, all suitcases offloaded and scanned etc. When the customs official saw my passport, he called his colleague over to look at it. They said it was the first Kenyan passport they had seen. A few people in our bus had some bags of coca leaves and the rest of us had coca tea. We were allowed to declare and get into the country with our coca tea, but not the coca leaves. The girl with the mask was also allowed to get in with her mask. Five minutes after clearing with customs we were dropped off somewhere in the middle of the desert town of San Pedro de Atacama. I had directions to my hostel from the main bus terminal, but had no idea where we had been dropped off. It was definitely not a bus terminal.
I was eventually able to walk around with my backpack, find the main bus terminal, book my ticket out of San Pedro to Santiago that was depart in two days, and get to my hostel.I got to my hostel and it was a desert oasis. The name was Hostal Mamatierra, and it was just perfect! Beautiful, clean, had hot water 24 hours a day, wifi, really friendly staff, friendly travelers etc. My first course of action was to take a really really really long hot shower. It felt so good after not having been clean for a while. The next thing was to find out where I could do laundry. I took my laundry into a place in town - the town center was 10 minutes walk away. I am very liberal in my use of the word "town". It was a few streets with shops and restaurants, but after the desert this felt like New York. I then went to a restaurant that had a decent offer for a 3 course meal. I had salmon. I was quite pleased with it. Chile's strong economy has been credited a lot to its export of salmon, wine and berries. That salmon was amazing! I had my lunch with a really great beer from Patagonia that tasted like chocolate.
The one thing I had done before leaving the hostel was to get on wifi and upload around 20-30 pictures from the salt flats and desert. That was my saving grace. As I was having my lunch, my phone crashed. It is a touch screen and the keypad stopped working. I couldn't unlock the screen. Within minutes, the phone started pressing its own buttons. This went on for half an hour then it went on VOK/KBC mode - those rainbow colored lines across the screen reminiscent of Kenyan TV circa 1980s. Then the screen went completely white - repeat. I think it has something to do with that dodgy solar connection from the desert. Thankfully I have a camera with me and a samsung tab (that I was able to hack whatsapp on....so life continues.)
I got back to the hostel and met my roommates. They were two friendly Californians who were in town for a friend's wedding. They invited me to join them and their friends for dinner/drinks. It was nice. We got back to the room, and were getting ready for bed when another earthquake happened. I had no idea what was going on.The room was shaking like a boat. I thought I had drank too much at dinner. Thankfully my roommates knew what to do. We all got out of the room and joined the other people in the hostel courtyard. After a few minutes, the world stopped rocking. I slept really well that night in my warm room with all the comforts I could ask for.