Journal 7 - November 4, 2002

San Pedro de Atacama, Chile » Go Back

Journal 7
Jennifer Downie, my old friend and fellow Gaucho, summer of '93 Lake Tahoe roommate, the beautiful and brilliant flight attendant, without whom my trip would have been much more expensive, and certainly less expansive, decided to grace me with her presence and join me for a trip to northern Chile. Before she arrived Manhattan's revenge was still wreaking havoc on my body, so much so that I emailed Jennifer and told her that I'd be too sick to join her, and she should probably consider using her flight privileges to fly somewhere else. Thankfully she didn't give my email a second thought, she flew down to Santiago anyway, spent one day bumping around town with me, thus giving me another day to rest, and the next day we headed north.

San Pedro de Atacama, a beautiful oasis in the Middle of the world's driest desert. So dry that NASA used the desert to test some of its Mars space equipment. What happened during our first night in the driest desert in the world? It rained of course, the first time since June. It didn't rain much, nothing measurable anyway, but you know what clouds mean in the desert. Astonishing sunsets. With the sky ablaze like a four alarm fire we drove into town. Being the eager tourists we were, we couldn't get out of the shuttle fast enough to start clicking away. Brilliant reds, yellows, and oranges lit up the sky and our skin, perfect for pictures and our arrival to the desert pueblo that boasts adobe buildings, great restaurants, and many 'a internet café.

After clicking some 25 pictures of the flaming sky, we made our way into town and began looking for a place to sleep. Hmmm, $7, $6, $5 a night, what would it be? We settled on the Casa Adobe for $5, where the water is hot, and so is the stinking donkey dung. What did we care? Up early, before noon that is, and home late, all we needed was a bed and warm water. Casa Adobe had these.

Our fist adventure took us, along with seemingly every other person in town, to the Valle de la Luna, or Valley of the Moon. The lunar-esque landscape was comprised of various salt formations, canyons, sand dunes, valleys and crevices formed from thousands of years of wind, rain, erosion, and terramotos. We hiked, climbed, and dug our way, literally on all fours at one point, up the sand dunes. Jennifer is a great travel partner, one of the few girls I know who can look at sand dunes and appreciate their true beauty. It was a very special moment for the two of us. Being the gravity junkies we both are, we took one look at the giant dunes and imagined carving down them on boards. Of course if we had had a chance to carve, she would have done it better, faster, and more gracefully than me. The lucky lady hails from Park City, Utah, and gets more days on her snowboard in one season than I've had my whole life. As of yet we haven't rented the sand boards that are available, so we haven't done any carving. We've been too busy touring, trekking, clicking, climbing, and eating.

After another amazing sunset in the Valle de la Luna, which of course gave us the opportunity to take another 25 pictures, we made our way to town and had dinner at Adobe restaurant. Are you noticing a trend here? Casa Adobe, Adobe Restaurant, yes, the brown stone buildings dominate the town, but not every building looks like it is growing straight out of the ground, nor are they all named the adobe-something-or-other. Some are painted white, with beautiful contrasting blue windowsills, and some have colorful Coca-Cola, Nestle, or Kodak signs adorning them.

Our second day we went to the salt flats, the third largest in the world. Lucky me has now been to two of the world's three largest salt flats. How many of you can say that? And where is the second largest? Try Jennifer's neighborhood. Tomorrow we'll be very close to the World's largest salt flat when we go to Bolivia. After visiting the flats we got high. I've been high before, I am from California after all, and as I've mentioned, my favorite ski mountain is Mammoth, which is over 11,000 feet tall.

Santa Barbara's La Cumbre Peak is just a shade under 4000 feet. Any of you who have driven to the top of La Cumbre, or ridden your bikes as I like to do, can appreciate how high 4000 feet is, or maybe Lake Tahoe at about 6200 ft. Then there is the Andes, the tallest mountain range of the Americas, with nearly 100 peaks over 18,000 feet.

After the salt flat we climbed to some altiplanic lagoons that sit at about 14,000 ft., which was tall enough for Park City Jennifer and I to notice the lack of Oxygen. Nothing we couldn't handle, and of course it didn't stop us from hiking around the sapphire blue lagoons complete with Flamingos and a herd of Llamas. The white Llamas and salt deposits created a brilliant contrast against the sapphire lagoons and creamy sky.

Sunday we felt we deserved a break from all the trekking. Vacations can be exhausting; don't you all feel sorry for me? We decided to visit the local, very spectacular hot springs. After a bumpy, dusty hour of being driven up a dirt road to the hot springs, Jennifer and I found ourselves doing the NY speed walk down to the turquoise pools, each complete with a private deck. She and I had our own turquoise pool and deck for our entire visit. There was also another empty pool and deck, this one deep enough to dive in, that we visited between naps and dips in the temperate waters. With the already considerable heat of the day, steaming hot springs would have been too much, so as luck would have it the pools are perfectly warm, slightly cooler than bath water, and each pool has a gushing waterfall cascading into and out of it, thus making the naps that much better. Nothing beats falling asleep to the sound of rushing water.

We'll see what tomorrow and the next day hold. Bolivia, then the Geyser. I have a heap of pictures, but didn't bring my hardware, so I'll include them with the next email.