In traveling, a companion, in life, compassion. -Haruki Murakami
My love for San Pedro de Atacama started before I even arrived. Shortly after leaving Salta we cruised through the Argentinian salt flats for a free tour of sorts before making our ascent over the Andes. I saw my first llama somewhere around hour five and my level of excitement was definitely inappropriate, especially since it only increased with each new llama spotted. I passed ten hours contented, gazing out the window while counting cacti and listening to music, feeling grateful and absolutely enamored with this big beautiful world we live in.
Eventually I arrived in the little oasis of San Pedro de Atacama, set up purely for tourists in the middle of the driest desert in the world. I think Dali would have enjoyed the vibe, and this suspicion was confirmed when I checked into my favorite hostel of the trip so far. My days were filled with trips to see the bizarre landscapes, lakes, flamingos and vicuñas found in the middle of the vast sandy nothing, and at night I always made sure to look at the stars. Because the climate is so dry and blah blah blah science, the stars shone the brightest I have ever seen them. Usually I get excited just to find Orion’s belt, but here I could see Orion so clearly that he looked like he was wearing a shirt.
My favorite day of the four I spent in SPA started with me feeling desiccated and sand-blasted after attending an all night fiesta in the middle of the desert. Eventually, I managed to pry myself out of the hammock to make the trip out to Laguna Cejas with my new Japanese, Swiss and Colombian hostel friends. Made up of 40% salt (that’s more than the Dead Sea!), you slide into the water and basically just continue sitting on top of it, like you’re wearing permanent floaties. As soon as you emerge, any water on your body quickly evaporates, leaving behind trails of salt. Afterwards we went to the nearest source of fresh water to rinse off, two perfect circles found in the middle of a sandy plain, called the Eyes of the Desert. The day ended watching the sunset at the Salar de Atacama, which I still maintain is the best sunset of my life thus far. The entire ‘lake’ is a shallow 1 inch pool of water, providing a white canvas that stretches out to the hulking volcanoes in the distance. As the sun set we drank pisco sours and the whole lake lit up pink and it really was pure magic.
After another 10 hour jaunt I am in Iquique, a little beach town on the northern coast. Iquique! It’s pretty fun to say, try it. While the beach isn’t the best, there are fresh juice stands every few blocks, I can see the ocean from the hostel and the sound of crashing waves lulls me to sleep at night. No complaints to be had.
Mañana, a Peru!