Sunday, April 5, 2009

It's the driest place on Earth

Really? I do kind of want to know how exactly they keep track of these things. Well, the Sahara desert has had 3cm of rain in the past century, while the Atacama has had 2.75 - driest place on Earth! Ok, it's probably a little more scientific than that... Either way, the Atacama desert is where I headed after Santiago. I didn't have much of a plan starting out, so I just took a bus to the town of Antafagasta and figured I'd find my way from there. What I found in Antofagasta was a Radisson on the beach, one hostel, which was booked for the next week solid, and not a lot of tourists...

On to Plan B: Pachamamabybus is a tour company that does bus tours starting from Santiago and heading up to San Pedro de Atacama. They had left Santiago a few days ago, but I knew they were scheduled to be in Antofagasta that day, so after 20 frustrating minutes trying to figure out how to make a long distance phone call from a Chilean pay phone, I had learned that the bus had not left Antofagasta yet, and they'd be more than happy to come pick me up for the ride to San Pedro, so all of a sudden, I had all kinds of plans for the Atacama desert.

Our first stop was at a monument (a.k.a. rock) marking the Tropic of Capricorn. I spent some time trying to decide what exactly the significance of the Tropic of Capricorn might be, but my answers weren't terribly scientific

So instead I climbed on top of the rock for a picture

Next stop: Baquedano, home of a railway museum/graveyard

Some of these trains are over 100 years old, but it's so dry here, that there's absolutely no rust or decomposition

And now we entered Salar de Atacama - the Atacama Salt Flat, the 3rd biggest salt flat in the world, behind the Salt Lake in Utah and the one right across the border in Bolivia

In the middle of the Salt Flat, there's a few lagoons, where all the wildlife congregates. Specifically, three different types of flamingoes

The next day, we were in San Pedro and headed out to the nearby Valle de Luna (Moon Valley because, well, it doesn't look like anything you'd normally see on Earth). This is either a broken heart or the face of T-Rex... Also, that's not snow around it - that's actually salt

And pretty soon we were treated to a spectacular sunset. The nearby mountains are all salt formations, while the ones in the back are the Andes

Next on the agenda: rent bikes and sandboards, ride out to Valle de Muerte (Death Valley - funny story: it was actually called the March Valley, but the Spanish words for March and Death are quite similar, and the Frenchman who named it March valley didn't pronounce the word correctly... so Death Valley was born) and go sandboarding. Sandboarding is basically snowboarding on sand. Except you have a much smaller board and a lot more traction. I miss snowboarding...

And then at 3:52AM this morning, my alarm went off, so I could roll out of bed, pull on all the layers of clothing I had in my bag, and go off on a tour of the El Tatio Geysers, which lie at an elevation of 4300m, making them the highest geyser field in the world. We got their for sunrise at 6AM. Temperature at 6AM at elevation of 4300m: about -8 Celsius. Temperature in San Pedro when we got back in time for lunch? Probaby around +32 Celsius...

All the geysers steam. Some send little spurts of boling hot water up too. Nothing quite as impressive as Old Faithful in Yellowstone, I hear...

And that is the end of my Atacama adventure as tonight I'm getting on a bus to Arica, right on the Peruvian border, where I plan to spend a few more days before crossing over and heading for Cusco and Machu Pichu. Maybe I'll even see a cloud one of these days - such things do not happen in the Atacama.


Olivia said...

What an adventure! I'm glad things are falling into place, like with the tour company coming to pick you up. How's your Spanish?

Alex said...

hablo castallano un poco ahora!