SAN PEDRO DE ATACAMA

by Mario
Day 16
A day earlier, in the evening, we got to San Pedro de Atacama. Even though we were still on the same desert, the proximity of the Andes meant that the landscape has changed considerably. The monotonous wasteland was replaced with sandy hills, steep climbs and a truly lunar landscape. Our “lemon” could barely manage the tough road conditions, which raised our concerns about the possible exploration of the area around SPdA.But one after another.
We decided to start with a trip to Salar de Atacama, which was located about 50 km south of San Pedro. It is the world’s third largest salt pan, surrounded on one side of the Andes, on the other one with majestic volcanoes, including the most active volcano in Chile – Lascar.
Salt pan makes an electrifying impression. The undulating terrain covered with flecks of salt reflects the light so much that you have to wear glasses (Marianne we had to cover with a cloth, which protected her also from the sun).
The main attraction is the Laguna Chaxa Salar. Everything was to be expected there but we were surprised to see flamingos in the middle of the heat pouring from the sky and the lack of any form of life (except for the tourists :-)), we will meet flamingos there. The birds wade through shallow brackish water, feeding on crustaceans which can survive in such a hostile environment for many years thanks to the evolution. On the lagoon we spent about 40 minutes, after which we went to the next two lagoons – Miscanti and Miniques. A problem related to these places, however, lies in the fact that they are at an altitude of 4300 m above the sea level.
In Poland we visited a travel medicine doctor, who turned out to be very incompetent person. When we asked how high we can climb safely with a child or how much time is needed for acclimatization, she responded with only one sentence: “I do not recommend it” (as she didn’t recommend to travel abroad with a small child, to fly by airplane and to travel by train). The Internet in these matters is not that precise. Some people write about 2500 m above the sea level, some 3500 meters above the sea level, therefore, we decided that if we did not try it, we would never know how high Mania can climb and how her body reacts.
We started slowly to go up from the Lagoon Chaxa (approx. 2300 m) towards Socaire (3500 m). We decided that we will stay there for a while to observe Mania and that we took an opportunity to eat something on the way. We found a small eatery located by the road, where you can choose between two dishes: chicken or turkey. So we took both :-). The meals turned out to be not only very tasty but also extremely cheap (2000 CLP ~ 12 zł per person!). Mania did not show any signs of an altitude sickness, so we made the decision that we will try to continue.
As we drove several hundred meters higher, the landscape has changed dramatically. The mountain sparkled with a dozen shades of browns and reds, the slopes were covered with saffron-straw tufts of grass (Puna), and the colors of stones passed from iron-on Marengo and ocher. All this is very strongly contrasted with the blue sky, white clouds and a black asphalt. We started to feel like we moved to an alternative reality. A fantastic feeling! :-).
But when we reached our lagoon (beau-ti-ful !!!). After a few minutes Mania literally we began to lose her consciousness staying in our arms. It’s probably the right word – she seemed to be absent and we could not awake her. So we started to descend as quickly as possible – this is the only remedy for these symptoms. After a few minutes it was much better. After an hour she was the same as always – she was smiling and she was full of life. We already knew that we could not take Marianka to the geysers of El Tatio which were scheduled for the next day.
In the area SPdA we were again about 5 p.m. Basically we did not want to waste an afternoon, especially as the sun was setting about 9 p.m. We decided that we would go to a place that everyone who was on the Atacama, must see – Valle de la Luna (The Moon Valley). On the way, however, we decided to see the Valle de la Muerte, or The Death Valley. The valley extends across the width of 6 to 15 km, and is long up to 165 km. The name of the valley probably comes from the lack of conditions for the development of any form of life, and getting lost in the narrow corridors of rock results in only one thing – death.
The air in the rock passages was very hot, and the feeling of heat was even more compounded by the lack of any breeze. We decided that we would not stay there long, especially that to see something more out of the rock on the left and rock to the right, we had to climb through slushy sand and sharp rocks.
There were also the humorous elements. Apart from us in the Death Valley was a small group of people, and among them a boy who looked as if he were there against his will and he was trying hard to get out using unconventional ways. He climbed through sand, pressed himself in narrow rock passages and explored every possible gap.  All his feats distinguished in flip-flops that he lost every minute, what comical image :-).
On the way to the Moon Valley, which is located approximately 10 km from the main road leading from Calamy to SPdA we passed by a lot of people on the bicycles. Besides, a guide suggests going there on a bike while this is a very good idea to spend an enjoyable afternoon. However, the faces of the people who we passed, did not suggest that they had known before it was going to be that way.
First of all, the sandy and rocky road is not full of the special views. In fact, around it is just an empty space :-). Despite it was getting dark it was still hot.
The temperature was still high (approx. 28 deg.). We like bikes, but at that time we were glad that we have our lemon :-).
The car also gave us one more advantage in exploring. At times we were completely alone – the first round of package tours has returned to San Pedro, and the other has not come up yet. On the main view point on the “Great Dune” we were practically the only ones. Mania thus had the opportunity to sit alone on the crest of the dune :-). The views are truly majestic, although there are also places that are hardly worth seeing. These certainly may include a rock formation called Tres Marias. You can see it in the photo below. This is the point at the very end of the valley – you have to go rather a long way to reach this place. When we got there we immediately thought it would be hard to come there on a bike and that we would be pretty pissed off seeing these three stumps sticking out of the ground :-).
In many respects it was probably the most intense day of our whole trip. We discussed these views, colors, lagoons and Mania’s altitude sickness till late hours.
The Atacama Desert made a huge impression on us, maybe because we did not accustomed to such landscapes and to such surprising sights. We could not wait for the next day.
Day 17
After our altitude experiences with Mania from the previous day, it was clear that if we want to see the geysers of El Tatio, we will have to see them separately. Although we had a car rented, we decided to take advantage of the services of a travel agency – our hostess and tourist staff convinced us that it was necessary to go by 4 × 4 car. But as we have seen, the road to the geysers may not be as smooth as a highway, but you can safely drive there with a enter car. The tourist agencies take their customers by ordinary buses (like Mercedes Sprinter).
When I left the room, Karo and Mania slept soundly. In fact, the whole San Pedro was still asleep – the tour starts at 4.00 in the morning. Waking up in the middle of the night is not the most interesting thing on vacation :-). In this case, however, it is necessary because the temperature differences at early hours make the geyser steam clearly visible.
The way to El Tatio lasts about an hour. Although the day before I did not feel any discomfort associated with altitude, this time the lack of breakfast and any liquid was a reason why as soon as I opened my eyes (I slept almost all the way), I felt that my whole stomach went to my throat. Somehow I managed to make it to the bus stop in the vicinity of the ticket office for geysers (5000 CLP ~ 30 zł).
The first thing that amazes are the crowds of people who come there. The second thing was the cold. In my case they said it was not bad because it was only -5 degrees. Initially, it was the dusk and cold that my body fought the most. I didn’t feel like running from one hole in the ground to the other, because I just felt bad. But everything has changed  when behind the mountains began to appear the first rays of the sun. At that moment I realized that this early trip is not related only to “the effect of steam,” but most of all to the sunrise. The rising sun gave a lot, above all, it got warmer, it turned out that the sky is blue and the steam coming out of the geysers become the ideal background for photos :-).
Around 8:00 a.m. most of the tours goes way back. I was wondering why our return to San Pedro is scheduled for 12:30. The mystery was quickly solved. On the way back there was a possibility to watch some animals – wild vicuña, breeding llamas and viscachy (a chinchilla mixed with a hare) and many others.
The program includes a visit to the village Machuca, which basically lives only by tourists. The main attraction is the opportunity to try meat from llamas. I suppose most of you is probably indignant: the llama meat?! Karo also made a sour face, as she heard that I took a chance to taste the dishes served. The Llama may be kind and sympathetic, but it is also certainly an animal for breeding, and one of the objectives of the breeding is to provide meat. By the way, a very good and healthy meat, in Europe, reaching a staggering amount of money. The llama shashlik also costs a staggering price of CLP 2,500 ~ 15 zł.
According to the schedule, at 12:30 p.m. I was at our house. I got a little sleepy, but girls were full of life and were raring to explore an another attraction – the hot springs (Termas de Puritama). You need about an hour to get there from San Pedro. The last 400 meters, just behind the ticket office (9000CLP ~ 54 zł / os), are full of real bumps.
Then we thought that we could use the car 4 × 4 :-).
The baths – small lakes – are spread over several levels, each level has a different temperature of the water. The warmest is on the last level with the temperature of 33 ° C. It seemed to us it’s pretty silly that we are going to bathe in the thermal springs, where the temperature is lower than the air temperature. However, the desire to swim with our little girl was stronger than our doubts :-). To our surprise, when we went from one pool to another we felt really cold. It was because of the wind and the altitude (approximately 3200 m) Therefore, we moved Mania between the pools at express pace. On the one hand due to the cold and on the other because of the hot boards, on which you walked. They were so hot that we almost ran after them! 🙂 The only drawback (or advantage :-)) of the baths is the lack of any infrastructure around, except toilets and changing rooms. After about an hour and a half we began to feel hungry. Unfortunately we did not take anything with us – it was 4 p.m. and the last thing that we ate was the breakfast. Only Marianna did not really have to worry about food :-).
In the evening we had to buy something important. On the next day, Karo was supposed to go on a trip to El Tatio and we did not have a breast pump and a bottle. Eight hours without her mum’s milk could be quite challenging for Mania. Eventually we bought modified milk. Was it useful? I will write about it in the next post :-). I have finished this one like it was a good TV series :-).
Day 18
Exploring separately continued. As we mentioned before, this time I (Mario) was in San Pedro soundly sleeping with Mania, and Karo went to see the geysers. My plan for today was to get enough sleep or at least make Marianna sleep as long as possible :-). I think we came up trumps, even though I did not do anything special :-). In fact, I even had to wake up Mania at 9:30 because we would have missed the breakfast. This does not change the fact that the last time she got her mothers’ milk was at 4 a.m.. In case of emergency, I had 2.5 kg of modified milk powder (there weren’t smaller packaging 🙂 – 20000 CLP ~ 120 zł),, which – frankly speaking – we did not want to use because Mania had never tried it. And we managed!
After half a mango-hour walk, now crying somehow lasted until 12:30.
At that time when I was working hard to keep my daughter calm, Karo visited geysers field. She went with another travel agency and the standard of her trip was differed than mine. First of all they didn’t arrive to El Tatio before the sunrise, the tour guide did not have her best mood and after returning to SPdA she left all the tourists on the main square, instead of giving them a ride to their hotels/ hostels.
Our “program” for that day, however, was not over yet. We still did not see the Lagoon Cejar, which is one of the attractions located in  San Pedro neighbourhood. A special place. The turquoise water is amazing contrast with the desert landscape and the blue sky. Standing on the shore of the lagoon, you ask yourself a question: “how is it at all possible that here in this wilderness, in the middle of nothing, the nature plays such an amazing trick?”
On the opposite side of the lagoon Cejar is another attraction, Ojos de Salar. The lake salinity, which is comparable to the salinity of the Dead Sea, attracts tourist to this secluded place, offering a possibility to swim without too much effort :-). We also took advantage of the opportunity. However, the water was so salty and cold that we put Mania in water only to her knees. On the other hand, on the shore there is not even a scrap of shade, and the sun beats down properly Therefore, our bath was very limited because we only got in and got out of the water 🙂 but it was worth it.
It was our last night in San Pedro de Atacama :-(. We were sorry we had to say goodbye to all these beautiful landscapes and to the city itself, which, although it is typical tourist spot on the map of Chile, has something that does not allow to think of it only in terms of “a desert bedroom”.

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