Have you ever heard about the breathtaking Chilean landscapes? Maybe, you were acquainted with Patagonia... but that's in the south. Easter Island? That's in the Pacific. Have you heard of Atacama desert? Well, that's the one we happened to visit with our Gap Year Abroad and High School Abroad students!
Atacama desert is known as the "driest desert in the world". We learned that the title was given due to the fact that atmospheric humidity is very, ver low −there are areas were no rain has fallen in hundreds of years! Thus, the green palette is rather narrow, but wait to see all the varieties of reds, oranges, violets, and browns that the human eye can take! On our arrival day, we were lucky to watch the sunset on Mars Valley. From top of a cliff, we watch the extention of the desert, the Salt Mountain Chain, and Licancabur volcano go from bright, warm colors, until the cold and windy night was all above us.
Also, San Pedro is kind of high (7,896 feet above sea level), but one of the highest areas is in El Tatio geyser field −about 14,170 ft above sea level! It is totally worth the visit! In El Tatio we saw the vapor columns coming out of the boiling water spots. You would be amazed by the weird sulphuric smell, and the extreme microorganisms that live in the borders of each water pond. Later, we kind of got a taste of what being an extreme microorganism is like, as we bathed in one of the natural hot springs! Worth mentioning, on our way to El Tatio, we made eye contact with flamingos and vicuñas (llama's cousin).
Even about the height, none of us got altitude sickness as we had previously met with Atacameño people, who tought us how to overcome altitude by chewing coca leaves. We also had the chance to learn about their sustainable farming practices, and we were also introduced to their art in a pottery and music workshop. Along these lines, we visited Kezala gorge, where we regarded the local flora and fauna through the eyes of ancient Atacameño communities, who left behind beautiful and telling petroglyph art. Not only we looked for prehistoric snakes, pumas, and llamas in the stones, but we also learned how to recognize these images in the stars, when we were tought how to read the southern sky around a fireplace, in the middle of the desert, sharing hot chocolate!
Other than that, well, let's say we biked accross the Devil's gorge up to the Salt mountain chain, we visited the area of the Atacama salt flat where flamingos nest, we hit stores in San Pedro de Atacama village, we navigated the thousand old lava caves, and we ate tons of delicious food made of local ingredients (quinoa, algarrobo and chañar sweets, etc).
I can only say that we got back home dirty, tired, but happier than ever!