The Atacama is the driest desert in the world. There are sections where a single drop of rain has never been recorded. This is not a difficult concept to grasp as you walk through the streets of San Pedro de Atacama with an eyefull of dust and a lungfull of sand. (Yes, I made up those words.) The 30 degree swing between sun and shade forces you to walk in the 2 inches of shade cast by the constant string of clay buildings. It’s harsh but beautiful.
We took a tour of the Valle de Luna, led by the Chilleno Johnny Depp. Not kidding ladies. We launched ourselves barefoot down giant sand dunes that swallowed our legs to the knee. We watched the sun set orange and pink past the spine of a mountain.
And then we camped in our tiny little tents to the blaring sound of pan flutes and partying, waking up after a good two hours of sleep to embark on another tour. This tour took us to a higher altitude where the temperature was milder but the air was thinner. We walked around one of only 5 geyser fields in the entire world (pat me on the back, I’ve been to three) and soaked in a hot spring warmed by the crazy volcanic action below.
On the vertebrae jarring bus ride back to town we saw llama, alpaca and flamingos then stopped for goat cheese empanadas in Machuca (population:6). Extreme climates make for some stunning scenery and the altiplano was no exception. But extracting the sand from inside my ears with a nice hot shower in a cooler location is sounding really good right now.