Thursday, April 23, 2009

Into Thin Air- Tha Atacama Desert

San Pedro de Atacama is the main jumping-off point to expore the Atacama desert in North Eastern Chile. From La Serena we travelled 18 hours (with 1 bus change). The small village of San Pedro de Atacama is also at at Altitude of 2500 metres. We could feel the air change throughout the bus ride(which went up over 3500 metres) and when we disembarked our ankles were the size of oranges- indeed, we had cankles!! The Atacama desert is surrounded by a mountain range on all sides made up of both active and in-active volcanoes.

Day 1:
On our first full day we decided to take a tour to The Del Tiato Geysers. The geysers are most visible in the morning, so we boarded a small van at 4:30AM and headed to the sight.
It took a couple of hours by dirt road to reach the geysers, and by 6:30AM it had warmed up to -13 degrees celcius. The geysers are located at approximately 4320 metres elevation above sea level. ( FYI - By lunch-time it had warmed up to 28 degrees).

There were thermal pools at the geyser site which was a good way to warm up and relax.

Our tour guide to the geysers that day was amazing - he didn´t stop talking for 8 hours straight, switching back and forth between spanish and english seamlessly. In addition to seeing the geysers, we also had lots of opportunities to view native wildlife. Vicuna´s (close relative to the llama) were feeding on grasses at the higher altitudes. Hidden amongst the rocks in several locations were Vizcacha, which appear to be a cross between a squirrel and a rabbit. They are about the size of a large squirrel and look like a rabbit with a squrrels tail. We tried on several occasions to get photos but they are both quick and well-camoflaged and evaded us every time.

Day 2:

We rented bicycles and sand-boards and headed out for the day to give sand-boarding a try.

The landscape was dry, moon-like, and breath-taking(literally)!
When we arrived at the site there were some other trekkers and locals there also giving sandboarding a try.

Sand-boarding is not as easy as you might think. We were using home-made wooden boards that needed to be waxed each time. The wax would only last for about five metres at which point, if you where not leaning back, you would be propelled forward over the board and down the hill.
You may not be able to see in this pictures but our rental bikes were TREK bicycles. They are the best bikes we have rented thus far on the trip and handled off-road very well!!! See the fun-fact for more details on TREK bicycles.
We ditched the sandboards at lunch time and headed the opposite way out of town to and area known as devil´s caynon. Devil´s caynon provided us with a sweet single track for mountain-biking.
The trail crossed streams and at times even went into the hillside.

Day 3:
On our third day we joined another small tour and headed out in the atacama desert for some fun. Our first stop Laguna Cejas, a small salt lake for a swim. The lake was approximately 85% saline, which meant that we could float effortlessly in it. You could not sink to the bottom if you tried!
After the salt lake, we headed back out in the desert for a couple of hours until we came upon a couple of large potholes filled with water. There are a number of rumours about the depth of the potholes. Some guides claim it is more than 800 metres deep, while others suggest it is only 75 metres. In any case, Chris decided it was deep enough to jump in too.
From the potholes we headed to the saltflats to catch the sunset. There was a small skiff of water over the salt-flats which can give the allusion of walking on water in pictures.
Fun Fact: Chris´uncles own bicycle stores in Toronto and Barrie. If you are shopping for a bicycle or just looking for a good website with useful informatation check out:

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