Are We Sure We Aren’t In Outer Space?

This was a very early morning with us awaking at 4:15 a.m., throwing on some clothes, grabbing our day packs, and patiently waiting in the lobby for Vive Atacama to show up to bring us to the Geysers del Tatio, a 1.5 hour drive north of San Pedro. The bus arrived and we piled in hoping to fall asleep quickly and we did despite Doug needing to tuck his knees to his chest due to the wheel-well.

We woke up when we were just about arriving at the park for the geysers. We were once again surrounded by barren, rocky landscape nestled within the surrounding mountains. We arrived, had our guide, Klaus, pay our entrance fees, took some quick photos, and were once again off in the bus towards the very active steam vents. Also, it was cold. Very, very cold. The two of us were wearing jeans, 3 layers on top, a hat, gloves, and a buff and were still very, very cold. It seems that at 4200 meters, just as the sun is rising, can be awfully chilly. Luckily we weren’t out at the steam vents too long. Klaus gave a very basic introduction in both Spanish and English to the formation of the area (which neither of us retained – I blame the early morning) before we set about taking picture after picture of rising steam. We were warned not to get too close to the steam for warmth though, not because it would burn, but because the residual water would then freeze on our clothes and the closest hospital was in Calama, 1.5 hours away. Every so often we would hear new bubbling from one of the vents as they started to geyser, making for a very exciting 1 or 2 minutes while the water reached waist high and splashed the surrounding area. We know, it’s no Old Faithful, but it still offered a bit of contrast to the bubbling mud we’d seen and the “geysers” back in New Zealand.

Early morning geysers.
Early morning geysers.
It is so cold!
It is so cold!
Doug and a steam vent.
Doug and a steam vent.
The machine on the left was placed there to try to purify the water for use. Instead it blew up and now just sits there.
The machine on the left was placed there to try to purify the water for use. Instead it blew up and now just sits there.
The steam was very large in some spots.
The steam was very large in some spots.
It's going off!
It’s going off!

After 20 minutes of this we sat around and ate more of the unexciting free breakfast of bread, cheese, spreads, and tea before hopping back in the bus for the rest of our tour. Neither of us remembered what else was included in the tour so we went along without expectations. The first stop was to the nearby hot pool where we had 30 minutes to soak or walk around. Doug had not packed his bathing suit, so we walked around waiting for the 3 surrounding geysers to do something. They chose to not cooperate. Instead we pulled up a rock wall and watched the other tourists come and go. We greatly appreciated the prevalence of leg warmers and the presence of a women straight out of the 80s with bedazzled white crinkle coat and a Candy Land purple gum drop hat.

Back in the bus, we continued on stopping for a 25 minute walk (which could have been 10 minutes) along a lake spotted by vicunas and various birds then for another 20 minutes in the town of Machuca where people could purchase llama skewers or empanadas, use the bathroom, or visit the church on the hill. We chose the latter and both agreed that they’ve included these unnecessary stops to justify the price and/or the drive out to the geysers. We also agreed that Klaus wasn’t the best guide. Being engineers, we want everything timely and organized and Klaus was neither of these. Instead he let people roam and mill about all they wanted and the information he provided was lacking a lot of detail. Also, we could not figure out his jokes for the life of us, but this is most likely due to the language barrier. It was 11:50 before we left Machuca and we were supposed to be back in town at noon. That most certainly wasn’t going to happen.

Hello, vicuna!
Hello, vicuna!
Cute green parakeets.
Cute green parakeets.
Church in Machuca
Church in Machuca
Chilean flag flying
Chilean flag flying

When we did finally make it back at 12:45, we chose to go back to the hostel rather than grab some lunch like we had previously intended. This was because it was Lynn’s mom’s birthday and they had a Hangouts date to catch up. It was a pleasant hour hearing about their recent trip to wet Florida, the snow that is currently pounding them, and our upcoming reunion in Aruba. Only 1 month away!

At 2 p.m. we left the hostel to finally get some lunch, choosing a patio restaurant we’d passed a few times. The food and drinks came quickly (two sandwiches again drenched in hot sauce) but the check was taking forever. We can’t really blame them though because the server had 20 tables he was handling on his own. Instead of waiting any longer, we just walked up to the bar and paid there.

By this time it was 3:50 p.m., so we checked-in for our 4 p.m. Valle de la Luna tour with Vive Atacama. We were very happy to see that Pedro, not Klaus, would be our guide (Klaus was, in fact, leading the second group). A quick 15 minutes away we were greeted with a once again impressively barren landscape of scraggly spotted-white cliffs. Our first trek was through a salt cave that water had carved through. We particularly enjoyed the clear and smooth salt crystals that had formed. The group then hiked up a ridge overlooking the Moon Valley, surprised by the pristine sand dunes, layered cliffs, and salt-crusted landscape in front of us. Absolutely no life seems to grow here. We did another hike through the remains of the salt mine followed by a brief stop at a rock formation that was supposed to resemble three Marias, but we beg to differ. This entire 3 hours we managed to drink our way through both of our water bottles, still feeling very parched. Thankfully we had a brief stop at a snack bar where we bought two large gatorades and a large water, making us feel infinitely better before heading to the last stop of the evening: an overlook of the San Pedro de Atacama desert while the sun set. It was quite lovely view, though not as stunning at Uluru, and luckily neither of us fell off the nearby cliffs. Also, Pedro was infinitely better than Klaus, providing direction, time constraints, and heaps of information. So, thank you, Pedro.

Salty cliffs
Salty cliffs
Apparently Blink 182 is also on our tour.
Apparently Blink 182 is also on our tour.
And we're off!
And we’re off!
Scaling the ridges
Scaling the ridges
Smooth salt
Smooth salt
Some people can't read.
Some people can’t read.
Sand, sand everywhere.
Sand, sand everywhere.
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This is just layers and layers of hardened lava and salt.
Quite the ridge we hiked.
Quite the ridge we hiked.
Doug overlooking Moon Valley
Doug overlooking Moon Valley
The landscape of Moon Valley
The landscape of Moon Valley
The three Marias supposedly. We see (from left to right) a lady letting her hair fly in the wind, a lady blocking something from falling on her head, and a hippo.
The three Marias supposedly. We see (from left to right) a lady letting her hair fly in the wind, a lady blocking something from falling on her head, and a hippo.
The dinosaur formation and Doug attempting to copy it. He really just looks like he's about to sneeze.
The dinosaur formation and Doug attempting to copy it. He really just looks like he’s about to sneeze.
Sunset over Valle de la Luna Park.
Sunset over Valle de la Luna Park.
Until tomorrow, sun!
Until tomorrow, sun!
Sunset lighting up the volcano across the desert.
Sunset lighting up the volcano across the desert.

Back in town we grabbed some very uninspiring and overpriced dinner of salad, a mediocre warm beer, and a odd mojito before heading to the hostel hoping for our first reasonable amount of sleep in the past few days.

Daily Walking Mileage: 6.5

Fun Facts:

  • The Geysers del Tatio are more active in morning due to the cold air. This is why we had to wake up so, so early.
  • Vicuna can run up to 45 km/hr which, according to Klaus, makes them puma fast food.
  • Salt mining stopped at Valle de la Luna because all agreed that the process needed to extract, refine, and transport was far more expensive than harvesting salt from ocean water.

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