Well, it’s only been an entire year and a half since the above picture was taken, so naturally, it’s time to finally get this Jet Lag Journal under way. After spending a few days in Buenos Aires, Argentina, I convinced Elizabeth that Atacama (or properly known as San Pedro de Atacama) was the perfect way to end our South American adventure, and that there’s really no other place on Earth like it, so naturally, she was easily persuaded by powers.
Atacama had intrigued me for years after visiting Chile/Patagonia and hearing about this ‘driest desert on Earth’, and I was determined to go. And it did not disappoint. Next to Patagonia, the trip was just as life transformative and memorable.
This is the typical view from the bus window that you take for roughly an hour or two from the airport to Atacama proper (the length of your bus trip basically is determined by how many stops/passengers there are). Do you notice the color of the sand? Pink! That’s right–Atacama is also known as the pink desert because of the color of the salt that you find amongst it salt flats. Tidbit to know: Our NYC streets are actually salted in the Winter by this very same salt, carried and shipped all the way up the continent to keep us from falling and slipping and housed in Red Hook waiting for those icy temps. The view might not look like much here, but trust me, its breathtaking in its own serene and calm way.
Above is a shot of our hostel’s courtyard and right outside our front door. That’s right, I said hostel. Hostal La Ruca to be exact.There was no extravagant boutique for these two ladies while we visited. I took a recommendation from a friend who had stayed here previously, and it really fit the bill. There weren’t any frills but that was ok–we had 3 nights to spend there, and were there to really rest our heads and take showers (although, the hot water heater wasn’t turned on for the first 2 days we were there sadly). We a complimentary typical South American breakfast, La Ruca gave us everything we needed.
Looking into our hostal hut complete with 2 twin beds. The hostal was also very helpful in setting up some of our tours/activities which was an added bonus and I recommend you find a place that will help you organize your pick-ups/drop-offs right from your hostal.
After our first day spending grabbing lunch (the restaurants are actually really quite amazing in Atacama, I was struck very surprised and well, grateful) and walking a small but quaint strip of artisan shops, we ventured to the international astrological site that resides in Atacama. Since its elevation and its remoteness, Atacama has the clearest skies in the world and its why astrologists travel from all over to do research in the desert here. There’s not many photos because I couldn’t take a ton at night that would come out well. But above, is just one of ten telescopes, we got to look through–one of the largest in the world is here. And it was fascinating to see Mars through these high-powered tools. The typical starry night was a sight for these sore eyes.
The next day we were off early for a road trip with a guide (and 2 other couples, one French and the other Brazilian, if my memory serves me correctly). Here was another breath taking view out the window as we traveled and bumped along in our guide’s jeep.
There’s nothing for miles and miles and I loved it. To try and describe or explain the vistas and the air is like trying to explain a dream after you wake up. The sensory sights are all there, but the words are hard to come by. Here’s my best attempt: With continuous crystal and pastel colors in sight all day long, and clear stark air to be inhaled all day long, your mind and body literally start to shift. And they start to shift toward the acceptance of what you can’t control: nature. I became so acutely aware of a bigger power beyond me, that I simultaneously became eternally grateful for being able to experience the sights and wonders that kept evolving my way. Life and its previous NYC concerns and troubles seemed to melt away and really not matter.
Here’s Elizabeth grasping at the salt you walk over and hear crunch beneath your boots–I couldn’t believe that its some of the same kind of salt that they sell at Whole Foods for like $10 a pop. You know Chilean salt? Mmm, delicious on those American fries.
So another sight you must see in Atacama and was our next stop on the tour, was Los Flamencos National Reserve. It covers an area of 180,000 acres, and is composed of the Tara Salt Flat–a natural destination that the hundreds of flamingo colonies migrate to every season to mate and nest for reproduction.
There they all were just hanging out for us to watch them as we devoured our lunch. Provided by the tour guide/company, the lunch was simple but delicious (it probably also helped that I was starving and didn’t get a proper breakfast since we started out so early in the morning). Concocted and arranged in the trunk of our jeep, we chowed down on chicken, white rice, tomatoes and avocado. Like I said, simple, but glorious.
The little growing wildlife that we did find on this day trip was so hyper-intense in color it was practically neon. Among all the rock pillars and salt flats are also sand dunes that you can also explore and ‘ski’ or ‘sand board’ down, which we didn’t get to do, alas.
This last photo is one of the images that comes to mind when I think ‘Atacama’ and how I like to remember the place. So serene, so raw, so pure, so up front, and so heavenly. Heaven really is a place on Earth! Stay tuned for our Part Dos coming up with llamas, geysers, and natural water holes, and more!