What an amazing thing it is, the Desert! Beautiful despite its dry and unforgiving nature, warm and cold, bright and dark. I really fell in love with Atacama - from the village of San Pedro to the very last rock there - it's beauty itself, saying hello from a dry and high place. The rolling hills of Mongolia and the sinuous flow of the Norwegian fjords had inspired a similar feeling in me: keep the maiden's kisses, the mists of pleasant drinks and the temptations of the virtual worlds - give me the hills, fjords and the desert roads any day, and my pleasure will be infinitely more intense. While the baser, more common pleasures of the world fill one or two of our senses, the pleasure of being in nature oppresses us with beauty: I hear, see, smell, touch, think of and love nature until I can't take it anymore. It elevates us.
Anyway, here's what I did, though my words and other people's photos cannot express anything near to the feeling of BEING there:
I arrived late on a Wednesday, worked, ate and slept. The village is welcoming, cute and clean, though it is expensive. On Thursday I went around the whole place, taking notes of prices and tours offered by the agencies. At last, I decided on a plan for the rest of my days there, which went quite well.
Friday, exploration day 1: Piedras Rojas, Lagunas Altiplánicas and the Parque Natural Los Flamingos. I had never seen such colors in water - I had been impressed with the unique shade of Blue presented by a body of water or another before, but this light green-blue and the salt everywhere make for another unique shade in a body of water... it is quite mesmerizing. Taking a look at the Flamingos was not bad either, though I honestly don't think they're as majestic as people seem to think...
On Saturday, a full day of work and rest, preparing for what was to come the following day: biking around the Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon). This place is just... "out of this world". It is, in fact, called Valley of the Moon because it seems like an unearthly landscape - something you'd see on the Moon itself. To make things more interesting, I rode a bike all the way there to see the sunset, and returned to the village at night - a moonless night, which added to the feeling of being on the moon! As it was not shining in the sky, it was easier for me to pretend I was actually there... On my way there, I consumed some psychedelic substances, which made it even more spectacular... I climbed the highest dunes and went to the best lookouts available, until the park guards kindly told me I had to start going back, as darkness descended. The trip back was an adventure of the kind I never experienced before: going downhill on a mountain bike, in the total darkness of the desert but for a light in my helmet, in a moonless night, in the Valley of the Moon. To make it all perfect, I arrived in town just in time for the astronomic tour. We went to a higher place, ideal for looking at the stars, and there we enjoyed the light of countless galaxies for about 1 hour and a half. Without the moon, in a high altitude place, which is also one of the driest places on Earth, visibility was optimal. For the first time I could really see the heavens, with its moving lights, and all the silly drawings people imagine: the scorpions, hunters, crosses and all the rest. I could clearly see were the skies were divided between North and South, I looked at stars that people from the northern hemispheres have no access to, and wondered about the northern stars I could not see then... By that time, the psychedelics were having a ball, and I'm pretty sure my awe-struck mind enlarged the tiny points of light seen in the telescope: others seemed impressed, but I was marvelled, nay, there are no words for it. I consider this one of the most amazing moments of my entire life: looking at the universe under those circumstances was a pleasure beyond that of the maiden's kiss, the mist of drink, the virtual worlds, the hills, the fjords and the desert roads together. It is unfair, I suppose, to compare these small things to seeing entire galaxies and clouds and worlds dancing brightly around each other... But comparison to other experiences is all I can do to try and explain what it felt like. How I understand you now, Astronomers and Stargazers...
On Monday, to relax, I went for a swim: Laguna Cejar, the "Eyes" of the Salar and the Laguna Tebenquiche. Nothing like cold water on a hot desert day after such a heavy, filling, extraordinary Sunday.
Finally, on Tuesday I went, early in the morning, to the Tatio Geysers, where, again, nature shows that it is beautiful even when it is dangerous and deadly - vocalnoes, hard to breath-altitude and boiling water mixed with all sorts of minerals being thrown upwards make for amazing views and feelings.
A trip I recommend to anyone, adding that I have not seen all the "best of" places available - there are still many incredible spots that I have failed to see due to lack of time and money, with alluring names like "The Valley of Death", "The Rainbow Valley", etc. I am definitely coming back to Atacama sooner or later.