You book a tour and (as instructed) rush up at 6.30am in the dark and desert cold and stand outside the hostel waiting. And one and a half chilly hours later all that has happened is it's got a bit lighter and a small woolly black dog (one of many that roam cheerfully around San Pedro de Atacama) has been quietly and messily sent to his next life by a passing van. And then your bus arrives and you head out of town, through the backstreets.
But then you mysteriously turn around and head back again - twice - so that at 9.30am you once again pass the end of the street you left three hours before. And you stop guiltily for mediocre scrambled eggs in a village that was probably nice before it became the stopping place for tourist buses like yours. (Though it has got a nice church, which you photograph like a good tourist).
And an enthusiastic guide tells you heaps of fascinating stuff about the geology of the desert, except it's almost incomprehensible in English and all the Chilean tourists are asleep, so no one's listening to the Spanish.
But you do see some vicunas, like small, tough llamas that can survive in desert conditions - super-hot during the day in summer and super-cold (like minus 30) at night in winter.
And then suddenly you climb up and up and up and you have to stop being a vile disgruntled gringo wondering about the insanity of taking an organised tour. Because what you see from then on is just so AMAZING!
Must go. Geoff's itching to go and get dinner. More in the next post...