Every adventure has an end, and Sunday was the end of our adventures in the desert. But we went out with a bang, or more accurately a splash. I had a bad case of the sniffles for a week afterwards, but boy was it worth it! If you missed the beginning of my adventures in San Pedro de Atacama, you can click here to read from the start.
Once again, we set out for the day wearing bathing suits under our clothes. Our first destination was a salt laguna like the ones we visited on Saturday, except this one was much smaller and much, much deeper. The salt level in the water was around 30%, around the same concentration as the Dead Sea, and absolutely frigid. Why would anyone in their right mind decide to immerse themselves in a freezing, super salty laguna in the middle of the desert? Why, to float of course!
Because of the high salt content, the water in the laguna is denser than regular water, and much denser than the human body. I had heard about people floating with ease in very salty water, but I was still surprised when I got in and found that I didn’t have to swim at all. Once I got used to the freezing temperature, it was an extremely bizarre sensation to float effortlessly supported completely by the water. I could orient myself into a standing position and put both hands over my head and barely get my chin wet.
When we hauled ourselves out, teeth chattering and gasping from cold, we were all covered with a thin crust of salt. Our guide had brought a jug of lukewarm water to rinse off with, and we wrapped ourselves in our towels and headed out again.
Our next stop was called Los Ojos del Salar, or the Eyes of the Salt Flat. These were two lagunas, almost perfectly round, in the middle of the desert. The water level was about ten feet below the ground level above. The mystery of the Ojos de Salar is that they are not as salty as all of the other lagunas, and the source of their water puzzles geologists. I believe that empirical evidence is the best evidence, so I took a hands-on approach to the investigation. By hands-on, I mean we took turns making a running leap off the edge of the desert into the water below. It was cold, as cold as the salt laguna before, but much less salty.
Our final destination was a laguna where our guide assured us we would be able to walk on water. There is a legend that the local Atacameños, warned that the conquistadors were stealing gold from native tribes, buried all of their gold under this laguna. We got out of the van and, with bare feet and rolled up pants, tentatively stepped out onto the laguna. We found we were indeed able to walk easily, supported by the salt in the water.
I may be exaggerating the truth a bit. Shame on you for believing everything on the internet! The truth is that the laguna was only about a half inch deep all the way across, and instead of sand the bottom was made of white salt. The effect was stunning, the shallow water and the pure white bottom reflected the mountains and gave the illusion of walking on water. We had fun in the pleasantly warm water, taking pictures and goofing around.
Back at the hostel, we sadly packed up and headed out to catch our flight back to the hustle, bustle, noise and smog of Santiago. I wanted to breathe in the tranquility and serenity of the desert, absorb it like a sponge for when I feel the stress and anxiety of the world start to overwhelm me. Before I thought the desert was just emptiness and blank sands, I had no idea how refreshing a little emptiness could be!