The only reason we were in San Pedro de Atacama is that the alternatives sounded worse.
Atacama exists to serve the people who come from all over the world to bike, hike and otherwise explore the driest place on earth. It is a tourist mecca like Aguas Calientes is for Machu Picchu. All reviews I read of the town were negative and even a crummy hotel in Atacama costs an arm and a leg. But it's the first Chilean town you hit coming over the Andes from Purmamarca, Argentina, and, I thought, how bad could it be?
Then the bus entered Atacama and I realized we'd made a mistake. This isn't a town, it's some other town's dump. I got off the bus at the bus station and found nothing marked, no street signs, no addresses, just a maze of dusty streets populated by other bus riders wandering zombie-like looking for directions. I wondered if I could go back to the bus and ask if they'd take me back, let me ride to the next stop, Calama.
But we kept walking, determined to find some redeeming value in this horrid place. I pulled out my phone and called Canada, not for an RCMP airlift home but to add a roaming data plan so I could pull a map to find my hotel.
And suddenly the town is OK, in fact better than OK. Soon I found the main square, streets with names, cute restaurants, excursion companies, bike rentals, hidden markets, and lots of people young and not so young speaking different languages and dressed in outdoorsy attire having a good time. And my opinion of Atacama changed. This is a cool place unlike any I've visited. I like it here. Weird, eh?