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  • DATE: 24-11-2020
  • PLACE: Chile





san Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Giselle from Buenos Aires, Argentina

My days in the highest desert in the world in our passage through San Pedro de Atacama, Chile. Desert, a town of 2,500 inhabitants, full stop. San Pedro de Atacama did not give us the best of welcomes, and we crossed the Andes to get to know it. After a journey of 515 km, covered in 10 hours, we finally reached nowhere.

San Pedro de Atacama. 

Desert, a town of 2,500 inhabitants, full stop.

San Pedro de Atacama did not give us the best of welcomes, and we crossed the Andes to get to know it. After a journey of 515 km, covered in 10 hours, we finally reached nowhere. After being searched at the border, the bus brought us closer to what would be the town and left. Under my feet: dirt, dust, sand. Around me: the wind and some adventurers.

They say that by asking you get to Rome, so it couldn’t be very difficult to get to the town. We went there and after several recommendations we found a residential complex that, like the rest of the lodgings in the place, had no heating, no running water, or light at night. But it seemed nice and the price suited us. Multiple pitfalls awaited us.

Electricity a few hours a day (ironically enabled while there was sunlight), water scarcity (to be expected in the middle of the desert), thermal amplitude never before experienced (25 C ° daytime and –20 ° C at night), little money and no ATM for 100 km radius. Beyond the hostile panorama, San Pedro gave us warm days and nights in which stars rained because there was not enough room in the sky. Lagoons, volcanoes, salt flats, geysers, streams. Given the conditions to the traveler with a thirst for new experiences, everything sounds attractive and although the town is tiny, it is crowded with travel agencies with various proposals.

Extreme nature and the Tatio geyser

The first day we got up at 3.30 in the morning, we put on all the coat we had, and in the dark we went to the door of the lodge to wait for the truck that would come to pick us up.

The internal thermometer did not fail, it was cold, the temperature was close to 25 degrees below zero. Dawn was waiting. The road was gravel, winding, and my stomach felt it. After almost two hours, we arrived at the geothermal field of the Tatio Geysers. We paid the entrance to the National Park and the cold seemed to slap us.

We could only walk on the marked trails since these boiling water sources did not warn when they were going to unleash their fury. We began to tour the place when the sun was not yet our company and the steam made the landscape even more mysterious. We spread out breakfast on some stones. The most requested was coca tea given that the height (4,320 meters) in combination with the low temperatures made several of us sick.

Some brave people dared to bathe in a natural pool of thermal water that is around 30 ° C, when those of us who watched from the outside were at –15 ° C. A small group of Madrilenians gave each other courage singing sevillanas and my Spanish friends tried to hide under the stones because of the embarrassment they felt and in turn were proud that they were the only ones who carried their joy everywhere. The place is fairy tale.

Extremes are felt in everything. In the silence that is absolute, in the force of the water, in the rigidity of the earth, in the climate with its radical changes, in the uninhabitable of those latitudes. It is in these cases where one realizes the immensity of the world, how small his life is compared to the life that surrounds us and how lucky he is to be able to see, feel and live these experiences.

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The first day we arrived in Chile, dizzy from the trip and the altitude, we dedicated ourselves to finding accommodation, listening to advice on what to do in the following days and hiring excursions. We were struck by one that said ‘Sandboarding in Death Valley under the stars’.

It was a night expedition to practice that sport.

Due to my inexperience on the subject and the fact that I did not have much strength left while I was recovering from an intoxication, I suggested doing the day trip.

We asked at a hostel and they told us that in two days there was a possibility of doing it so we hired there. From San Pedro you only travel two kilometers to the Sal mountain range: a kind of foothills that later became the majestic Andes mountain range. The landscape becomes more and more imposing and strange. We arrived at the Valley of Death, baptized in this way because of its gigantic dunes with narrow sand edges, and we lowered our boards.

Our experience in board sports was nil but after some recommendations, several falls and lots of laughs, we took back beautiful memories of that afternoon. As the sun was retreating we went through the Valley of the Moon to watch the sunset.

This lunar-like landscape gave us the feeling of walking on our satellite but without the lack of gravity. The sunset is indescribable. Orange, brown and violet colors are entering the mountain range with its innumerable peaks and volcanoes.

We all stood on the edge of the dune, and in silence, we saw how the sun left us. To end a hectic day, our guide began to run, pushed us and holding hands we ran down the dune, almost rolling from the acceleration, playing like when we were children.

Kurt Cobain, live!!

Second night in San Pedro. We’re going for something that makes us warm up. We decided on the bar ‘El Milagro’, we looked for a table near the stove. In this little town it is common for bars and restaurants to have a kind of gallery and for the center of the room to be open to the sky so that the flames of those huge bonfires used for heating do not burn the ceiling.

Sitting in front of the fire, looking at it as if it were the first man to discover it, we spot a boy in his 20s, identical to the late leader of Nirvana. That night was an illusion. A group of Chilean teenagers who were on a study trip sat at our table, and among laughter we taught each other turns and accents of the ‘dialect’ of our respective countries.

The situation caught the attention of almost everyone, and so we were joined by the Peruvian waiter who ended up sitting with us at the table together with the guide from the previous day’s excursion with his friends. But suddenly ‘Kurt’ had disappeared. The next day, a little dizzy from the night before, we went on our sand boarding excursion. When the driver of the van that would take us got out, we couldn’t believe it. He introduced himself as Alejandro, he was about 27 years old, he was blond, shoulder-length hair, unkempt and a very Cobain-like air.

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The Altiplanic Lagoons

A lot of coincidence ‘seeing Kurt Cobain’ on consecutive days and in two different people. For the third day we chose the excursion to the Altiplanic Lagoons, they are water mirrors with the edge painted with salt, a bluish green color and at more than 5,000 meters height. They picked us up with a van and little by little we collected the rest of the crew. ‘Only one is missing’, we would finally leave according to the guide’s words. We stopped at a hotel on the outskirts and Andrew went up.

A pale, skinny Englishman with a huge smile. Would your last name be Cobain? I mean, because his face is identical to Kurt’s! The third resemblance in three days! It turned out that Andrew spoke Spanish very well, that he had lived in Barcelona for several years, where he worked as an English teacher, leaving his profession as an archaeologist postponed, he was super nice but an English gentleman, and in turn so equal and so different from other doubles we had run into on the way.

We just needed to hear it, and since wishes are orders, that same night while we were having dinner, with the voice of Michael Buble, ‘Smells like teen spirit’ was playing suddenly. Perhaps our adolescent spirit was really felt and apparently, it had not gone unnoticed.

The important thing is not to have no problems

‘The important thing is not not to have problems, but to have them and to be able to overcome them’

If I wanted a challenge, I can’t find a better example than this trip. My departure was in doubt, we got intoxicated, we lost some buses, one of my friends injured her foot while sandboarding and the closest doctor to San Pedro was 100 km away, we spent a whole night awake and isolated trying to communicate with Spain because we had the suspicion that one of the crew members of the Spainair flight that had an accident was an acquaintance of my friend, and things kept happening …

The last day in town we wanted to do something to change our spirits but we no longer had much money. So we decided on the excursion to Laguna Cejar, which was one of the most accessible. When we went to withdraw money from the only ATM in town, in the middle of the transaction the power went out and it kept half the money and our card. Not only that, but now it would remain in disuse until they came to repair it, that is, the following Monday …. We cursed in several languages, we made the corresponding claims to the bank in Chile and Spain but nothing. So we left with our bad humor to find an agency where we could pay with a card, we bought the tour and we went to eat (some leftovers). At the appointed time we met at the agency and left for the Laguna.

Salt lagoon. Farewell to San Pedro

This oasis is a source of salt water, the water on its surface is icy but underneath it is extremely pleasant since at its bottom the lagoon has a geyser that is responsible for making it a natural heated pool. We were in the middle of August and the night before the temperature had been around -20 ° C, now it would be about 20 ° C. When entering the sensation is rare, first you feel the cold but as we submerge we begin to feel the heat and the force of the water brings us up! It is a phenomenon that occurs due to the amount of salt in the water, it is 4 times more salty than sea water and is something similar to what occurs in the Dead Sea.

After bathing we went to see Los Ojos del Salar. Two water mirrors that are located next to each other. Round, perfect and in the middle of nowhere. The evening found us in another lagoon depopulated with tourists, with a pink sky orange and tasting ‘piscola’, a mixture of coca-cola with pisco, a typical brandy whose origin is disputed between Chile and Peru. The night found us having salmon for a poor dinner, who has nothing for poor, next to a campfire, surrounded by new friends.

To say goodbye to this wonderful place, and to make us forget all our bad humor, the Peruvian took us to a ‘clandestine’ party (in San Pedro at 12 at night the police pass by and close all the bars, restaurants and everything that give signs of life). Live Altiplano music and everyone ecstatic dancing around the fire as if they were at a rave in New York.

I take the best memories of this trip, especially for the company and the new friends.

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