Frozen in the Desert

For our next field trip, we headed to the Atacama Desert.  I’m not going to lie to you, my expectations weren’t to high for the desert.  It just doesn’t sound very exciting.  When you think of deserts you think of hot and dry.  The Atacama desert is at a very high altitude, at some points up to 14,000 feet, so we were told that breathing would be difficult.  Another strike against the desert.  We were told that one morning we would leave at 04:30 and be in temperatures far below freezing.  Two more strikes.  However, the Atacama turned out to be one of the coolest places that I’ve ever visited.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s no Easter Island, but it is incredible. Like we have in places past, we arrived at the Atacama after the sunset.  This is probably one of the coolest things about this trip because we always wake up with a surprise as to how beautiful our surroundings will be.  The Atacama was no disappointment.  We were surrounded by huge mountains as far as the eye could see. Our first full day there began with a trip to see the salt flats.  The place we went was completely covered in salt.  The ground had a layer of salt over it.  The rocks were made up of salt and the pond were very salty.  So, naturally, I decided to eat a lot of salt rocks and lick the ground as much as possible.  According to our guide, it can be harmful to eat too much of the salt.  However, I’m still doing fine so I guess the six pounds of salt that I consumed that day weren’t too damaging to my health.

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At some points, I severely questioned the amount of salt that I was putting into my body because it started to taste real nasty.  But, it was quite addictive.  Once you lick the ground once, you gotta lick it at least ten more times.

After the salt flats, we had a chance to grab a quick lunch and then we all left to go blokarting.  This is awesome.  We were taken to probably the only place within 100 miles that was completely flat and free of mountains. And that is when the fun began.

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As you can see, a blokart is basically a three wheeled go-kart minus the motor and plus a sail.  Apparently when the wind is really strong, you can get to going upwards of 75 mph.  The first time I did it, Elise and I went in a kart together and it was AWESOME.  I was in charge of the steering and Elise was in charge of the sail.  The tighter you pull the sail, the faster you go.  So, Elise had the sail pulled as tight as possible the entire time.  At some points we were taking turns on one wheel and at other times we were causing dirt to fly in the air behind us.  It was going perfectly until we realized that it was time to stop.  I didn’t know how to stop.  We came charging back to the group going super fast and I had no control over what was happening.  I was completely convinced that we were going to crash into each and every one of them.  So, I started turning the steering wheel as sharp as possible in every direction.  We eventually skidded to a stop in very nice fashion which made me look way more impressive than I actually am.

The next morning we had a free day so a group of us decided that we wanted to go sand boarding.  This is so much fun.  We were given a helmet, snow boots and a snow board.  We were then plagued with the task of having to get ourselves and our boards up a huge sand dune while wearing boots that completely restricted ankle function.  Once we got to the top, we waxed our boards and lined up to go down the hill.  I was a little terrified.  I had absolutely no idea how to go down without face planting.  After finally getting the courage to go, I realized that it was possible to make it all the way down the hill without falling on my face, and it was super bueno. Ten times more fun than blokarting, which is saying something because as I mentioned before, blokarting is AWESOME.  At some points, it was a struggle to unattach myself from the board and at some points I would fall while standing still and at some points I would hop up and down and not be able to move, but once I got going I did not want to stop.

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After an awesome morning, we left to go on a tour of some untouched sand dunes.  They were real pretty.  The sand was perfectly smooth and they were absolutely huge.  If you fell, there was no way that you were going to make it back up, so we had some fun with that.

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After that, we hopped back on a bus so that we could see the sunset.  By this point, we were all incredibly hungry, but also running real low on cash due to the large amounts of unnecessary shopping that had repeatedly taken place.  But, when we arrived to the spot there were huge tables laid out for us covered in fruits and cheeses and empanadas.  And, boy oh boy was it good.  I might have been more excited about the food than I was about watching the sunset, but the sunset was still absolutely beautiful.

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We had an early curfew that night because the next day we had to be ready to leave by 04:30.  This is too insanely early for a normal person to even consider waking up, but it would seem that we are not normal.  We were told the day before that it would be in the low teens so we needed to dress warmly.  The probably with visiting the driest place on earth is that there is very little humidity.  There is nothing colder than a dry 13 degrees.  I have never been so cold in my life.  I had on basically all the clothes that I had packed for this semester and was still unable to warm up.  We spent the time looking at geysers.  8% of all of the world’s geysers are located here, so I guess it’s pretty cool, but the only thing I could think about was how cold and miserable I was.

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It was so cold that at one point Sydney got splashed by boiling water and it instantly froze in her hair.  If you ask me, that is way too cold to even consider being outside.  Simply awful.

After the unbearable cold of the geysers, we hopped into the bus and went to a small town where we ate some llama.  I was a little nervous about it at first, but it is probably the best thing that I have ever eaten.  We ate them in kabob form with onions.  We watched as the man put them together and then grilled them right in front of us.  They were super fresh and hot when we ate them and I am pretty sure that I will never eat anything again that tastes that good.

That night, we emerged back into the cold to go on a star tour.  We went to a place that was completely dark and had a perfect view of the stars.  At first, we listened as our guide described all of the different constellations that were visible from where we were standing.  It is strange because all of the stars that we usually see at home are located completely different in Chile and we can see ten times more stars than I have ever seen before.  The second part of the tour gave us the chance to look through super expensive telescopes and get up close views of the different stars and of different planets.  I even got an up close view of Saturn which was absolutely remarkable.

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The next day, we went on a tour of Rainbow Valley.  This place was surrounded by mountains of all different colors.  There was one that we came across that was completely green.  We were served lunch in the middle of all the mountains which was completely awesome.  After lunch was over, 4 of us decided that we wanted to go explore before we had to leave.  We started walking around exploring all the different mountains.  We ended up getting to a spot that was completely surrounded by mountains.  We weren’t able to hear anything anything anywhere around us because the mountains blocked every bit of sound.  We came across one clay mountain that was huge and I decided that it would be a ton of fun to climb.  We all began to climb up, which may not have been the best of ideas because it was impossible to tell which parts of the clay were sturdy and which parts would break away in your hand.  We had a few close calls and I was pretty certain that Alex was going to die at one point.  But, we made it and it was ton of fun and the view from the top was pretty cool.

That same day, we went on a tour of petroglyphs around the area.  Petroglyphs are just drawings carved into the stone.  A lot of them were of people or llamas and some were of random things that I could not decipher.

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I’m about 94% sure that the petroglyph behind me is not the same thing that is on my shirt, but it is the closest that we could find, so I’m going to go with it.

After those tours, it was time for us to leave the Atacama.  I always hate leaving the places that we visit because who knows if I will ever get the chance to go back there again.

2 new words: Saturn = Saturno and frozen = congelado; cultural observation: There are many places in the Atacama, such as the sand dunes, that have remained untouched for many years.   This shows the huge appreciation that the people of the Atacama have for their lands.

Flight Count: 10

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