Top geyser

Written by Jane Harris No Gravatar

After Valparaiso a nine hour bus trip took us to the seaside town of La Serena, followed a day or two later by a seventeen hour bus trip to San Pedro de Atacama.

The small village of San Pedro de Atacama is pleasant …very pleasant. Sitting in the middle of the driest desert on earth and comprising only a few streets and one small square, its location near to a number of sites of geological interest have made it something of a magnet for travellers both Chilean and foreign. A wealth of hostels and cafés are housed in whitewashed adobe buildings adorned by carefully cultivated cacti. A local market sells a range of traditional Chilean handicrafts (apparently made in Nepal of all places) while an overpriced North Face store promises to meet the every need of those setting out on the three day onward journey across the Uyuni salt flats into Bolivia. If Disney did desert oasis they would do it a bit like San Pedro de Atacama.

But despite the contrivances heaped upon this small village the Atacama desert itself is very real. The final part of our journey here took us across mile upon mile of stone, sand and little else. But it is that very lack of of features that made even the most subtle changes remarkable as we set out to explore the local area. On our first night here we hired bikes and cycled 15km to the rocky Valle de la Luna where a steep climb took us to a ridge from which vast sand dunes shelved steeply away from us. As we cycled back to the town, the setting sun cloaked distant volcanic peaks in beautiful pinks and reds.

The following morning, Easter morning, we were up at 03.45 to catch a bus to the El Tatio geysers – apparently the fourth biggest geysers the world. The geo-thermal area of which they are part covers approximately 3.86 square miles of the Atacama and also comprises hot springs, boiling mud pools and fumaroles. Turning up just before dawn meant that the the steam of the geysers was at its most visible but it was also bitterly cold. We were 4,300 metres high and the thermometer on the bus read minus six. A much anticipated opportunity to thaw our feet in the warmth of a thermal pool resulted only in the agonising sting of chilblains.

On the way back from El Tatio the the vistas of the altiplano (high plains) were punctuated occasionally by hardy shrubs, herds of llamas and the occasional rhea (a large flightless bird) but all too quickly they reverted to nothing more than stone and sand.

One Response to “Top geyser”

  1. JeffNo Gravatar says:

    Love the pictures of the mountains in the background. Amazing view!

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