Travel Diaries #7: The Atacama Desert

We arrived in the Atacama desert in the dead of night. Thankfully the bright moon gave us enough light to find our way. After spending two nights and one day on a bus we were ready to sleep in a real bed! So we found the closest hostel and crashed for the night.

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The Atacama desert lies in the North of Chile. Made up of salt basins and sand, many say this is the driest desert in the world. As with all deserts temperatures rise rapidly in the day and fall below zero at night. Water is scarce and dust is everywhere.

San Pedro de Atacama is populated by tourists partaking in the many activities that the desert offers. Our first adventure was to Death Valley to sand board down the wind swept dunes late in the afternoon. Strapping into our boards we flew down on untouched lines of sand and hiked the hill to do it all again over and over. A stack cost you nothing but sand in every pocket and every place imaginable. Water was highly sort after in the dry afternoon. After a few hours the dunes and the sun had sucked all our energy and our water was dry. We packed up our boards and head for Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon).

Arriving just before sun down we caught sight of this amazing place. We hiked to the top of the a rock formation and looked down on the valley comparable to the moon. The sun set slowly the colours of this wonderful land turned from orange to red, purple and blue. We sipped pisco and appreciated the beauty of the natural landscape before us.

As the night turned to black we donned the headlamps and set out for the salt caves. As we were lead deeper and deeper into the caves amongst the silence we could hear the salt shifting around us. Screeching and cracking the salt formations were slowly moving and changing around us. We entertained the idea of coming back to the caves tomorrow night to camp but having gone from singlet and shorts to scarfs and jackets in a few hours we thought the below zero temperatures might be unbearable.

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The second adventure took us out to the desert planes. Visiting the salt lakes and the vast open desert. The first lake contained 30% salt and it was impossible to sink. Floating on the surface the salt laced our bodies. The salt blinded us as we returned to land. Next we were able to de salt in lake containing far less salt concentration yet quite a few degrees cooler. Finally we were taken to the middle of nowhere to watch the sun go down, again drinking pisco as it disappeared.

Our last tour in the desert was an early on. Departing at 4.30am we found ourselves in the cold streets of San Pedro de Atacama waiting. At 5.50am we were finally collected and set out for the El Tatio Geyser field. With 80 active geysers this place is the biggest geyser field in the southern hemisphere (third biggest in the world). At 4200m above sea level its the highest geyser field in the world. In the cool morning the steam and hot water pump from the earth and bubbling geysers come to life. The sun rises and the mystic field transforms into a beautiful sight.

We had a chance to bath in the warm thermal pools near by, with small geysers bubbling away at the side. Then we were taken back through the scarce countryside passing flamingos, the cactus valley and small villages along the way.

There are many amazing things to see in the Atacama desert and I have many wonderful memories of this beautiful place.

 
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