Surreal stop in San Pedro marks end of journey

As we prepared to see Chile after two months away from “home,” Nora and I were like giddy school girls about to see our crush for the first time since summer break. Then within minutes of crossing the border, we overheard the immigration officers say the ubiquitous Chilean phrase “Sipo, weon.” Ah, home at last. No more strange looks because we speak Spanish riddled with words that only exist in Chile. No more unpaved roads. No more toilets that don’t flush. No more soup with chicken feet. Home.

We entered Chile in San Pedro de Atacama, the driest desert on the planet.  And all I remember is pure exhaustion.

After spending three 12-hour days four-wheelin’ through Bolivia’s desert, we didn’t even stop for a nap or a shower before touring San Pedro’s famous Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley). We hiked around a bit and then up the dunes for a panoramic view of the salt-covered valley.

It all looked so surreal. The bold red rocks stand uncompromising. But right beside them are the monumental hills of sand, so vulnerable the wind could change it all in one fell swoop.

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Snow in the driest desert on Earth? Nope, salt.

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San Pedro de Atacama.

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Valle de la Luna, or The Moon Valley

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Sand dunes.

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Sand dunes as the sun starts to set.

Although I don’t feel like I appreciated the Atacama as much as I should have because all I could think about was a hot shower and my bed, it was a nice last stop to my two-month backpacking venture. For our last night, we shared dinner and drinks with new friends Jack and Charlotte, who came with us to Chile after we met in Bolivia.

And then it was just — over.

It felt surreal to know that after two months of spending the night on long bus rides and meeting new people and visiting ancient ruins and waking up in dorm rooms and milking cows and swimming in the Amazon and taking cold showers and tasting new foods and chasing waterfalls and hiking up mountain sides and seeing wonders of the world, it was now — over. Everything — different. Just like the big dunes of tiny grains of sand, a gust of wind can change an entire scene.

One last bus ride, just 23 hours, and I’d be back in reality.