Continuing my stories from the desert of San Pedro de Atacama! This is what we did on Friday, our first full day in the desert. Click here to start reading about my San Pedro de Atacama adventure from the start.
After an excellent homemade breakfast courtesy of Incahuasi B&B staff, we piled into the van for a tour of some neighboring pueblitos or tiny towns. First we visited the teensy main plaza of the teensy town Toconao. We visited the teeny church, and I bought an alpaca wool hat from an adorable little old lady in an adorable little shop. Next stop was Socaire, a town of 128 inhabitants. We also visited their church, but it was locked so we could only see the outside and the steeple. We had lunch at the local restaurant; I don’t think it had a name because being the only restaurant it didn’t need a name. Lunch was a yummy chicken and veggie soup and then a main course of beef with rice and carrots with canned peaches for dessert. My favorite was the warm freshly made bread, que rico! As our program director likes to say, guatita llena, corazón contento (full tummy, happy heart).
Our next destination was to visit some high-altitude lagunas, which are extremely salty lakes high in the mountains. Our ears popped as the bus bumped up the steep road until we reached 4,200 meters above sea level. That’s 2.6 miles! It was beautiful, standing on top of the world at the feet of the powerful and majestic mountains while the wild and unbroken wind whipped around us. It was very cold up there, and very quiet but in a forlorn sort of way. The colors were stunning; the lagunas were a vibrant and profound blue that stood out against the marbled reds of the mountains and the yellow tufts of grass. The lagunas are called Miscanti and Miñiques.
It was breathtaking, but not only because of the view. Even just walking a short way between the two lagunas I began to feel the altitude in my chest and in my head. It felt like there was a great weight on my chest, and I couldn’t get my lungs to expand all the way. Imagine putting a really thick rubber band around your chest and then running up and down stairs. I said imagine, don’t try that at home kids! At its worst I started to get that dizzy feeling when you stand up too fast, but by then we had gotten back to the van and once I sat down for a while I felt much better. I can’t imagine how the Incans and Atacameños used to trudge up and down these mountains all the time, often carrying heavy loads!
Our last stop of the day was the Atacamanian Salt Flats. This place was bizarre. The ground all around for miles was encrusted in salt, big thick crystals. The water was very salty and the shallow water was also incrusted with salt as if it were frozen. There were adorable tiny birds skittering around, and flamingos feeding in the shallows. It was an extremely still and peaceful place, with only the gentle splashing of the flamingos feeding and cooing to each other, the crunch of salt underfoot, and the soft breeze.
We had a snack at the visitor’s center and then headed back to Incahuasi for a self-serve dinner and an early bedtime because the next morning we had to get up at 4:30 am.