Instead of Trick-or-Treating this Halloween we took a family vacation to the Atacama Desert in Northern Chile. It is said to be the driest place in the world. Our hotel, Explora Atacama, offered many different hikes, horseback rides, bike rides, etc.
When we arrived at the Calama domestic airport, instead of going out through the jetway, the opened the stairs off the plane. We had truly just landed in the middle of the desert. The Santiago airport is rather impressive compared to the one in Calama. I can’t imagine having the job to advertise for the Calama airport, “Welcome to the Calama not-so-international-airport, where you can fly to places like Santiago, Santiago, and Santiago.” Really. I looked at the departure board and there were no flights to anywhere but Santiago.
We got in a van with a Brazilian couple speaking Portugese and drove to our hotel which took about an hour. My dad tried to do a call on the trip to the hotel and got disconnected twelve times in seven minutes. There was obviously no cell reception in the desert. Looking out the window, my mom said, “those mountains look like a bunch of volcanoes.” We later found out that those mountains were a chain of volcanoes, and a few of them were active.(yikes!)
Once we got to the hotel, we departed on our first excursion. The van took us to a small town. We noticed that the roofs were only sticks and dried grass. I guess it is because they don’t get any rain there so they don’t need a roof to keep the rain out. Our guide said he wanted to show us some llamas. He led us to a small door in the wall. We opened the door and there were a few people standing with three llamas. The baby one liked me.:)
We got back in the van and the guide took us to the Salt Flats. At first I thought it was a bunch of rocks. I asked the guide why they were so weirdly shaped. He explained that because the salt flats were so old the salt had formed itself in big shapes. The salt flats, the largest in Chile, are home to the Las Flamencos National Reserve and hundreds of Flamingos.
The next morning we set off on our second excursion to the Valle de Muerte. Our guide said they called it the Valley of Death by accident. The Frenchman who named it had meant to call it “Mars” after the planet but his accent on the Spanish was misunderstood and therefore “Muerte.” This was my favorite excursion. First we hiked up for about an hour. My mom kept telling us to stay to the right of her because on the left was a giant cliff.
We got up to the top and the guide informed us that we were going to go down. I wasn’t sure if he meant we were going to walk down the sand dune or if he meant that we had to hike all the way back. Then he took off running down the sand dune.
Running in the sand dunes was hard because of the elevation. Atacama is at 7500 feet high which is even higher than Lake Tahoe where my grandparents live.
In the afternoon, we did the Cactus hike. It was a very different hike from any of the other hikes. There were multiple times where we had to cross the river. We also climbed over many rocks.
We found a lizard! I like Lizards!
We walked into a canyon and followed the river for about two hours.
Then we began to climb up out of the canyon. Jack got ahead of most of the group on this hike. He did really well.
The next day was the official “Madie day” of the trip even though it was my dad’s birthday. In the morning we went horseback riding.
Mom and Jack had gone back to the stables because Jack could barely breathe (he is allergic to horses). After a while of walking our guide explained to Dad and I how we could get our horses to trot. All we had to do is bounce up and down on our horses, giving it a little bit of a beat to trot to. It was really fun.
The next excursion we did was a mountain bike ride to a salty lake similar to the Dead Sea. We could float in the water when we got there. When we were deciding which excursion to do, and they suggested this one, we actually said that Jack wasn’t the strongest bike rider but they said he’d have no problem with it. When we were getting ready to start biking the guide admitted that he didn’t have a bike small enough to fit Jack. Jack ended up having to ride in the van. When we began to ride, mom asked the guide how many kids did this excursion. “Not very many” he replied. We had a feeling this was not going to be an easy bike ride.
The ride was 18 kilometers. We had no idea it would be that long. It was really, really hard. By the time we got to the salt lake, I was absolutely ready to pass out pooped. But the swimming was fun, even though the salt really burned our sunburns.
The last excursion we did was probably the prettiest. First we walked across a field of salt – very different from our first experience with salt flats.
When we reached the bottom of the canyon, the salt began to look less like salt and more like frosting on a cake or snow. Our guide said we had to be very careful not to damage any of the salt so that the next people who came and did the hike could experience it like we did.
Okay, so sure I’m a little disappointed that we didn’t get to celebrate halloween, but the desert was even better!