In the interior of Region II, Calama is the commercial centre for the world's largest open pit copper mine at nearby Chuquicamata and claims to be Chile's highest-altitude city. The starting point for visits to historic and archeological sites such as the Atacameno village of Chiu Chiu and the Pukara de Lasana, the oases of San Pedro de Atacama and Toconao and the natural wonders of the El Taito geysers and Valle de la Luna.
11 Dec 2001 - Calama, ChileThis has the look and feel of a modern city with only a few oldish buildings amongst the spread of relatively recent buildings. We arrived here from Santiago by bus after a 24 hour journey. This wasn't as bad as it sounds though. Coach travel is very cheap here; the coaches are of a high standard and you get the opportunity to view a lot of the country. From the larger cities to the small quiet towns, we got to see some of the real Chile.
When we arrived we immediately hired a 4x4 for a trip into the desert to see some of the sites. These were the Valle de la Luna, El Taito geysers and the Reserva Nacional Los Flamencos. These places are situated around San Pedro so are detailed in the San Pedro section.
Before leaving Calama to San Pedro we loaded on food in the local supermarket and bought a lot of water - didn't want to be stuck in the desert without water in the case of a breakdown. This is advisable as the road to San Pedro is straight through the arid, harsh desert and seeing other divers isn't something that happens very often. On our journey it was disturbing to see crosses and shrines dotted along the road. These symbolised deaths resulting from road accidents. Although these shrines exist all over Chile, it was disturbing to see them on the empty, straight desert roads. I can only guess that the drivers must have fallen asleep at the wheel - something I know about.
On our return from San Pedro we spent a couple of days in Calama just looking around and taking siesta breaks in the church square. We went out one night and were struck by the lack of females - not that we were looking of course. It seemed that only the men go out. After drinking at a few bars we came to the conclusion that the bars were full of miners spending their hard earned money saved from weeks of work without an opportunity to spend it. Then again, the bars we frequented were rough looking places but finding anything other than this was nigh impossible.
While here Adam decided that he wanted a hair cut. With the huge choice available but with none actually looking any better then the next place Adam gambled and lost. He came out with a short back and sides - literally. Anything on top was left long and you try explaining what you want done when you can't speak Spanish. We knew something was wrong when the salon manager came over and started debating Adam's hair with the stylist - a word I use very loosely. I wouldn't recommend a hair cut here unless you want the look of a 15 year old school boy.
By the way, the hotel we stayed in was named the Hotel El Loa and provided us with a comfortable, clean room with hot water. For the equivalent of £8 a day you can't ask for any more if on a budget.