Geysers of El Tatio

Trip Start Jan 08, 2014
Trip End Jan 25, 2014

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Where I stayed
Hostal Houi Chuxko
What I did
El Tatio Antofagasta
Read my review - 5/5 stars
Quebrada de Guatin (big cactus)
Machuca Bofedal

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Thursday, January 16, 2014

Today - it has had its ups and downs - right now I am frustrated again because this hostel has wi-fi but there is no one in the office to give me the key code.  The day started with a down - I woke up to my alarm set at 3:10 am.  Astrid began to object to my getting up so early - she probably said something like why do I need 1 hr and 45 min to get ready and somehow this did not register so I even told her I needed to put on the light to pack up.  When it got to be 3:45 am, I tried to wake her up too, but she objected.  The reason being that we didn't have to leave until 5 am.  Somehow I had completely forgotten that our tour did not leave at the same time as most of the other tours to the geysers.  Oh, I felt so bad.  I tried to go back to sleep - I may have - I don't really know - I am not sure that Astrid really got back to sleep either.  So sorry, Astrid.

We were the first ones picked up - once it was really the right time - and we brought on all our stuff so it could be stored at the tour office and then we could move to our next hostel - closer to the center of town.  We had another full tour group of 18 and once everyone was picked up and our stuff dropped off at the office, we were on our way for the 2 hour drive to the geysers.  Daniel told us that the road was good, but windy and steep, and very bad in some places so that even though Juan Carlos was an excellent driver, it would take a long time.  I did manage to sleep a bit on the ride and woke up once or twice to some interesting bits of road.

Our first stop was one of the geyser fields of El Tatio.  Some geysers were little bubbles in the ground, others had made mounds over the years and spouted steam from them.  It was quite exciting to see all that steam pour out.  Also, nice and warm, since the air temperature was only 4 C.  Daniel said the water was boiling so we shouldn't touch it or fall into it.  There were designated paths that took us from geyser to geyser and Daniel would explain a bit around each one.  Mostly about how old they were and that the pressure from below the ground caused them to spout water and steam.  He pointed out one of the geysers that had made its cone and then broken out of it.  He said that scientists predict that the entire valley will be covered with water from the geysers eventually.

Around the geyser basin there were some very high extinct volcanoes - very striking with their coating of snow.  Daniel said that he hasn't seen snow on them for 10 months and he loves them with their snow covering.  We could also see mounds of the paja brava grass, but here instead of little bristly patches of greenish-yellow grass, the centers were all dark and sort of rotten looking.  Astrid hunted around and found several cacti - mostly a mounded version, but one had reddish buds just about to bloom.  I am trying to think if there was anything else of note.  Oh, yes, we saw a bride and groom walking across the geyser field - he seemed very happy - she looked a bit frozen in her sleeveless gown.  It was not warm and it was quite windy too.  I think it was after the tour of the first geyser field that we had our picnic breakfast.  I couldn't find the powdered milk, so I used the carton of chocolate milk for my coffee:  mochaccino today!!

Then we went to the second geyser field where we saw the oldest geyser (the old geeser geyser - Daniel pronounces geyser like geeser so I told him about our old geesers but he didn't seem that excited about the info).  We may also have seen the biggest geyser here, or that may have been at the first site.  This site also has a thermal pool and Daniel said the water was 28 C so Astrid mentioned that it wasn't that warm and she was not inclined to go in.  When I realized how cold that was, I decided not to go in either.  Daniel mentioned that only the brave would dare to go in.  People seemed to enjoy it - with steam coming out - and when I touched it, it was quite warm - at the end where the geyser water was flowing in.  I really regretted my decision not to go.  Oh, well.  Astrid doesn't think we will encounter any more thermal pools in Bolivia.  We checked out the variety of mineral deposits around the flows, the various plants, and Astrid went hunting for the frogs she saw when she was here last but couldn't find them.  I think I may have seen a few of those tiny shrimp that the flamingos eat, but maybe it was just particles of rock.

On our way back we made quite a few stops, or near stops, to look at various animals - mostly the vicuna.  We saw more than yesterday.  They seem to come to the lower parts of land where probably more moisture collects, but they were also on one rocky hill near the road that seemed to have nothing, but Daniel said there were very tiny plants that they could eat there.  We did see a 3-4 foot circle of vicuna scat  Daniel said that, because it is so cold, they  vicuna congregate in a little circle to produce their little pellets.  We took some photos of a fox that crossed the road.  There were quite a few places with flamingos - they like the saline waters I guess.  Let's see, what did Daniel say that the minerals were - boron, iron, sulfur, lithium, and a few others I think.  There weren't a lot of colors in the deposits - mostly pretty white or tan.  Oh, yesterday, he told us that the odor we smelled was the algae rather than the minerals in the water. 

We stopped briefly at a viewing platform above a bofedal, a boggy area (near Machuca) that had a lot of birdlife, including quite a few Andean flamingos.  Astrid saw ducks, geese, and some nesting coots.  She was disappointed that we did not stop near the nests but farther on where we were quite distant for decent photographs.  It may have been better for the nesting birds that we were far away, though.  I think it may have been around here too that we saw a lot of llamas.  They do look a lot different from the vicuna - they are bigger and seem to have bigger chests and bushy tails and they come in different colors.  The vicuna were hunted almost to extinction, but now they are protected (last 30 years).  In Chile, there is only one community that can take wool from the vicuna and only at a certain time of year so that the vicuna will not freeze to death without their coat.  This place is somewhere north near Areca (?). 

After the boggy area, we made one more stop - hmmm, where was it.  I think it was the town of Machuca where we could take a panorama shot of the distinctive church and some of the buildings.  Maybe there was somewhere else as well because this does not seem that significant or I can't remember what the significance was.

No, actually, we made another stop to visit the giant cardon cactus on a hillside near Guatin.  There were tall grasses here that reminded me of the invasive Pampas grass in the US - very pretty these were.  The soil was quite sandy as we trooped along a track to walk among the giant cacti.  It was fun to see the various shapes and the spines and the old hardened dead wood of the cactus.  You could see how people ended up using them for building materials.  I saw a little lizard just before we left.

We made it back to San Pedro well after 1 pm I think - so it was too late to try to get any stamps. (Hmm, why was that? - must have made sense at the time.)  I think Astrid was hungry too so our first order of business was lunch.  We tried a few places to see what their set menu of the day was and then ended up at a restaurant that was recommended by Astrid's French friends.  I had one of their daily specials - that turned out to be beef soup with some kind of squarish noodles.  It was good and came with a salad.  I joked it would be my last vegetables for awhile since I am so afraid of Bolivia.  Astrid wanted the chicken special and at first they said it was all gone, but when she protested that nothing else appealed to her, they managed to find the last one.  It wasn't a bad meal - and quite filling.  As we were finishing up, we could hear thunder.  Astrid asked someone about rain (here in the desert) and they said that it wouldn't rain.

We decided to pick up our big packs and take them to our new hostel just in case it were to rain so we did that.  I really felt mine - I dragged along way behind Astrid.  Once we got our room, we turned on the lights since the room is kind of dark, only to find out that the electricity was off because of the thunder storm.  Since we had things to accomplish for tomorrow's departure, we headed off - Astrid with her umbrella and I in my raincoat since it was sprinkling by now. 

First we went to the post office - the postman had used up all his stamps that I would need and couldn't put on postage without electricity.   He said he would be there until 6 pm if the electricity came back on.  Then we went to a few money changers until we found an OK rate.  We changed some money into Bolivian currency so that we could pay tomorrow's park fee.  Let's see - what else did we do?   We were thinking a cup of coffee might be nice since there wasn't much else we could do, but we couldn't get coffee without electricity either.   At some point we split because I wanted to come back to the room while I could still see in the daylight and Astrid wanted to check some things.

I went back to the room and started sorting my stuff and readjusting it.  Somehow I put on the bathroom light switch - only to find out that it went on!   I hurriedly put away my valuables and got my money to get to the post office before it closed in fifteen minutes.  Just as I was ready to go out the door, Astrid arrived.  She had walked all the way back to tell me when she found that the electricity was back on.  We walked to the post office with 7 minutes to spare - only to find it closed, of course.  I was rather bummed.  I had been mumbling and grumbling already because it was dark in the room and I had lost my "dress" shoes somewhere along the way...and I don't know what else.  Astrid walked back with me to the Tourist info center where I got a map with the tourist sights on it.  We looked for yesterday's Salar de Talar and couldn't find it so she suggested I go to the tour office to get the info.  I did and the young woman there was very nice and marked it on my new map - even drawing in the route the tour bus took!  This made my mood a bit better. 

By this time - or well before this time (because while it was first raining, Astrid and I were in the room while I finished up writing my post cards), there had been quite a bit of rain and some of the streets had big puddles that needed to be dodged.  I dodged them in my flip-flops but need to wash them out before I can pack them.

Once I got back, I sorted some more, started charging my Lumix battery and phone,  uploaded my photos from the 13th through today and wrote this blog on wordpad since I couldn't get the key code.  I probably won't do any more on the computer tonight but will shower and try to organize my stuff into a smaller number of bags - if I can - we'll see.

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