Driving, Hiking, and Climbing in the Desert-PART 2

Trip Start Aug 26, 2007
Trip End Jan 05, 2008

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Friday, August 31, 2007

In my last entry, I shared my adventure with Moon Valley and the challenging, yet rewarding climb to the top. Once there, I tried not to think about the inevitable - the descent! Instead, I enjoyed catching my breath, which took a few minutes, Iīm afraid to admit, and focused on the most majestic sunset I ever laid my eyes on. Maybe it was being at such a high altitude (approx 3,000 meters, donīt quote me), or maybe it was natureīs gift to the desert, but the colors present seemed unreal. Blues, pinks, creams all making way for a star-lit sky that would be the envy of any planet. Once the splendor of the event passed, it was back to reality. How in the world was I going to find the energy and breath to descend, after such an exhausting climb? Could it get worse than having to descend that dune?? YES! In order to get down, we had to RUN down the Dune. Now, I donīt know if youīve ever run in the sand, but itīs only slightly less tricky than climbing in it. Luckily, I wasnīt the only one worried about the feat that lay ahead. Richard assured us that it was easier than it looked. If we didnīt run, it would be more difficult as our sneakers would fill with sand making each step extremely heavy. After a few minutes, he ran down the sand dune as a demonstration. A few minutes later, the others ran down, including Denisa. At that point, there was nothing left but to brace myself and go for it! I honestly donīt remember it, I was running on adrenaline at that point. We were at a high altitude and my only goal was to NOT stop for fear of sinking in the sand, though I doubt that would have happend.

At the bottom, I felt relief and excitement, especially once it hit me that all of the strenuos events were finally over. I emptied my sneakers of at least two pounds of sand and to this day I find sand in them every now and again--a souvenir of an incredible experience!

After a shower and a short nap, I decided to go into the town. It was an adventure, because it was a 20-25 minute walk and the first half was a dark, unlit path. The front desk staff gave me a big lantern and sent me on my way. What struck me the most was how unafraid I was. A few years ago, I would have been terrified or skipped the walk all together. Instead, I used my large flashlight to light the path and told myself I could wack somebody over the head with it if I bumped into any trouble!

It turned into such a nice, relaxing walk and all of the desert sounds were soothing in the night. The flow of the miniscule river that runs through the town, dogs barking in the distance, and the sound of ruffling in the bushes. The latter was a bit discomforting, but I tried to ignore it and keep walking! Once in the town, I enjoyed a delicious dinner and got to know so many people there. More to come on that later.

I enjoyed a morning walk through the beautiful hotel grounds. The place is spectacular and really fits in with the town quite well. The architecture is pure desert adobe living with inner ceilings lined with straw, unpaved brown roads and desert plant-life as a backdrop to a beautiful setting. That morning, I was getting ready to go to the Geysers of Tatio, which would put me at a much higher altitude. I drank the recommended cup of Coca Tea, which was deliciously addicting and brought some aspirin and chocolate with me just in case. From what Iīd heard, eating chocolate helps with altitude (my kind of place!!)

One of the benefits of traveling off season, aside from price, is how small the tours are, which allows for such an intimate experience of these natural wonders. The guide taking me to the Geysers, Daniel, had only 1 other passenger. Enrico, was an Italian photo-journalist whom I had met the day before on the hike of Moon Valley. He was on an adventure like mine, but much longer. He had been traveling the world for over six months, most recently, spending 4 months living in and traveling in all of Brazil. He was staying at Hostels and recommended a good one from his travels in Argentina. He was a great tour buddy and we enjoyed the Geysers immensely and also swapped cameras for the you take my picture and Iīll take yours bit. The morning drive to the Geysers was slightly terrifying. It was extremely bumpy and unpaved, not to mention narrow and winding. Make sure not to look down at all the cliffs and ravines that the 4x4 could have possibly forked over on!! However, I had full confidence in Daniel, who was a native to the Atacama desert and knew how to handle those roads. He did share that every year, tourists rent their own vehicle and a subset of those drive too fast and too carelessly for those dangerous desert roads and flip over and die. Alrighty then. Glad to hear we are not a subset of those tourists!

We finally arrived, about two hours later and WOW. The Geysers were like nothing Iīve ever seen before (I feel like I keep saying that, but itīs true!) The water, steam, and vapor spouting from craters in the ground was impressive. I have a bad memory for geology and am sorry to say I didnīt take very good notes on this particular hike, but Daniel explained that these natural wonders had something to do with the weather, the altitude, volcanic lava, and sulfer. For those of you that are looking for very accurate and specific geological and historical detail, I recommend you check out Wikepedia online, for those of you that are looking for semi-accurate, but ambitiously amusing commentary, read on to my travel blog!!

What I can tell you is that it was freezing. The temperature was some Celcius degrees below Zero. YIKES. The vapor from the Geysers is extremely hot and dangerous. We were warned to stay within 200 meters in order to protect our safety. We walked around to the different Geysers, just staring and photographing them in awe. One of the Geysers, the only one in the park with accurate timing, errupted every 90 seconds for 10 seconds. It was truly a site to behold. Another Geyser of interest was a huge one called the "Geyser de la Muerte." It was called the Geyser of Death, because since itīs discovery in the 1930s, two people have actually fallen in and died of severe burns. Even though all are warned from getting too close, one year an Italian tourist, looking to get a front row pic, slipped and fell in and another year, a Spanish tourist did the same thing. Every now and again I would see stubborn tourists getting too close and would throw them disapproving looks.

The Geyser grounds also included thermal waters of a pleasant temperature. We also went to a place called Puritama, which is a beautiful natural park full of thermal water springs and pools. Also worth noting, at each attraction we were fed very well. At the thermal springs of Puritama, park grounds-keepers walked around with platters of salmon and cheese! Mind you, the entrance to most of these attractions, guides included, is the equivalent of $3-$10 max. A complete bargain for the spectacular experience you are receiving.

As is usual, I have to run off to my next adventure in a few minutes. There are still 2 days of desert stay left to talk about, including my side trip to the Green and White Lagoons in Bolivia and my slightly less fearless night walk to the town of San Pedro the following evening. I am heading to my next top secret destination. Hereīs an easy hint: Evita Peron.
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