Going north from Santiago by air, Chile looks like it's made of dusty, worn, maroon-ish velvet, puckered and rucked up to make fabric hills. It's as barren as anything you've ever seen, except from time to time there are places that look like (and could possibly be) giant salt flats, and the odd electric blue lake the sort of colour you might expect from a land filled with copper, as this part of Chile is. Of course the colour may have nothing to do with the copper, but it does look cool.
On one side of of the puckered cloth is the sea, on the other side are snow-capped mountains. It's dramatic in an utterly un-NZ/European fashion.
And then you arrive in Calama, a nondescript mining town stuck in the middle of the desert, but with those snow-capped mountains behind. That's impressionante too. And you get in a bus and drive for a hour or so across greyish, reddish desert until you get to San Pedro de Atacama, a kind-of picturesque adobe brick tourist mecca, which is the base for visiting some amazing country around. Of which more soon.