6th Jun 2012
Cerca San Pedro de Atacama: El Tatio Geysers y Valle de la Luna
Getting up at way before the crack of dawn is easy if you spent almost the entire day before asleep. My alarm woke me up at 3:55. Theoretically, I would be picked up at 4AM but seriously doubted it. There was another female in my dorm going too. I woke her up.
At 4:05, contacts were in and my pick-up was here. The Brazilian chica was not ready. He said, no problem and left to pick up other people. We were the first and last stop. The ride to the El Tatio Geysers was about 1.5 hours away. Alan, our guide told us to nap.
I was wide awake but zoned out. The guy next to me popped some coca leaves in his mouth. Chewing coca leaves or drinking the tea helps prevent or alleviate altitude sickness. He was also performing alternate nose breathing. This amused me since I was practicing another technique, retentions, trying to increase my lung capacity.
Seeing the steaming landscape ahead I knew we had arrived prior to Edwardo, the driver, stopping the van and Alan waking everyone up. We had to leave the comfort of the warm van to pay the fee to get into the park. Alan informed us that is was -15C outside and we were now at 4200 meters. I was questioning what sane person gets up early to deal with these sorts of conditions? I guess I am insane in the membrane!
This field of approximately 80 geysers this is the largest field in the Southern Hemisphere and 3rd largest in world after Yellowstone (Clara, another shout-out to your hood). The geysers do not spew there load very high, they mainly just bubble like a simmering stew. People come here in the morning because the temperature makes the steam more visible. Kind of like when you were a kid and pretended to smoke on cold mornings.
The sight of the steaming geysers all around was mystical, magical and peaceful. It was crazy to see that small streams of extremely hot water 80C could quickly turn to ice. It was colder than cold. My toes and fingers were also in danger of turning into ice cubes.
After 30 minutes, breakfast was set up picnic style outside of the van. Edwardo and Alan poured hot chocolate for anyone who wanted it. I grabbed mine and drank a bit. I spotted the Nescafe and hot water thermos. I decided to have a mocha. There was bread, jam, butter and cheese. Bread and cheese for me. Even though I had not eaten since 1:30 the previous day, I was having a hard time eating. It took me 20 minutes to finish my small piece of bread with one slice of cheese since I had to take tiny bites.
Most of us had retreated into the van to eat. The heater helped a little but I still could not feel my toes. I was in pain. The next stop was the geothermal spring. We had the option to jump in. I had brought my bathing suit but decided it would stay inside my cozy little bag. No way in hell was I exposing any skin. No frostbite for me. Thanks. I wandered around the other paths through the geyser field trying to stomp some sensation back to my feet.
Once the sun popped up over the volcanos, it immediately started to warm up. I was thankful for my black jacket that greedily absorbed the sun’s rays. Beside’s my Brasilian roommate, there was a couple from Brasil. The female was miserable. She told me that is she would have known it would have been this cold, “I. WOULD. NOT. HAVE. COME!” Her boyfriend laughed and said she was dead serious!
We made a pitstop at Machuca. It was a ghost town. Alan said that there are only 14 families that live here and most of the time there are only 5. Of those remaining: one stands post to collect money for the toilet. Since I think my urine was frozen, I passed. 2 women were in the kitchen cooking up empanadas and boiling water for coffee or tea. I bought a mate coca to help with the altitude. Another female manned the grill outside cooking up llama kabobs. My curious nature was not curious enough to give those a try. Lastly, there was a man whose purpose was to hang out with the other guides.
On the way back, we made another brief stop to hike up a hill to check out a big cactus. There were little cactus shrubs that you had to step over. I tripped and almost face planted into one. That would have been no bueno! Alan pointed out some other shrubs that could be used as medicine for those with diabetes or VD.
We made it back to San Pedro de Atacama by noon. The chick at reception was trying to nail me down for another night. She told me checkout was at 11AM. I told her, “Mi cama esta vacio. Que es la problema?” I left to check on the bus ticket situation. Yesterday, I was too tired to inquire. There was a bus headed this evening to Arica scheduled to arrive at 6AM.
I returned and told her that I was leaving tonight. We talked for a while mainly about crazy men. I tried to convince her that Chilean men were actually pretty good guys compared with my encounters with other South American men. I was excited to be hanging out with my buddy Alex soon. Not only would we have a blast as always but he would also provide a buffer for me. But knowing Alex, he would probably find a Bolivian midget and tell him I was interested just to see me deal with the situation.
After an expensive but totally worth it vegetarian lunch and a shower, it was time for my second excursion to the Valle de la Luna. the other day I was able to see the full moon up close and personal. Today, I was going to be able to walk on it. I was wearing 3 pairs of socks and 3 pair of pants to prepare me for post sundown temperatures. However, now it was fucking hot! I ended up leaving a pile of clothes in the van for my trek.
The trek felt more like I was walking on Mars than on the moon. Regardless, it still felt like another planet and the views were astonishing. My guide shared with us his extensive geological knowledge of the area. I was just wanting to go off and explore since his explanations were more on the dry side.
People told me that sunset would rock my socks off. Since I was wearing 3 pairs un my lesbo boots, this would be a difficult feat. Plus, I have seen so many epic sunsets. The sunset was a unique experience it did not blow me off the cliffs. Thankfully because it would have been a 30 meter drop.
Once back, I took a quick shower and made my way to the bus station. The moon had not risen yet and I was able to finally see an absolutely gorgeous starry night. Today I saw the sun both rise and set. Now, instead of reading my book until I boarded the bus, I gleefully gazed at the starry night.
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