Whirlwinded Tornado

Yes, I made that up.

Some Volcano at the Park Nacional. The Cheetoh shaped blob is a defect in the camera due to dropping in water. NBD.

When most people arrive in the dry, unforgiving climate of San Pedro de Atacama, they take a day or two to relax and perhaps take in one or two of the available excursions that the little tourist town has to offer: Altiplanico Lagunas/Reserva Nacional de Flamencos, Geiser del Tatio (which starts at 4AM), Sandboarding/Valle de la Muerte, Lagunas Cejar, and star gazing. In 48 hours, we managed to do four out of five of those activities. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Just the day before, we arrived at 6pm after a 10-hour bus journey from Salta, over the Andes, changing altitude more times than my oxygen-deprived, erratic heartbeat can count.
The next morning, all I knew what was involved of the Lagoon park excursion was a viewing of flamingos on a lake. There was much more to the morning trip that lasted from 7am to 3pm than flamingos. In fact, flamingos were only a minor portion of what was seen. However, the problem lies in the fact that I cannot recall a single thing else that I set eyes on before 3pm that day, likely some spectacular lakes and amazing rocks and plenty of salt that I will remember upon uploading photos. After that, the 4pm van took us to the Lagunas Cejar, lakes full of salt that rival the Black Sea. Hoping the water did not match the scorching air temperature, I tentatively stuck my foot into the water only to be relieved by its coolness. The four others that walked to the opposite side of the lake with me lost their apprehension of potentially too-warm water temperature soon after and jumped into the water after me. Jumped is a relative term though; we all slid into the water from the salt beach's edge. As soon as we slid in, we floated like paper boats!

Some Lake at Park Nacional

Our own buoyancy was extremely funny to each of us, giggling and flipping around in the water in poses that would not be possible in less salty waters. Note 1: age range of said group was 27-35. Note 2: it was nearly impossible to do the breaststroke as the water kept pushing my feet up over the surface, rendering my leg power useless in the swim. Doggy-paddling with arms only or kicking your feet up with hands behind your head, however, was an absolute breeze. I could get used to this kind of effortless swimming. Walking out of the water and drying out just a bit left a crust of salt all over the skin and flexing the back felt like old, dry skin. Hair dipped in the water was now white and as crispy as a bail of hay.

We gots sick moves at Lagunas Cejar.

Freezing our butts off.

The next morning's 4am excursion to see the Geiser del Tatio was not a smart move on our part. Again. However, our tour guide, also educated partially in the states, was not only funny but one of the few people who test the massive arena of geysers for formation of new ones. Apparently, the ground in the area such as this one is completely unstable. If the sand/salt is weak due to the formation of a new geyser, the weight of a person can be enough to sink through into a hole holding waters that exceed 135 degrees C. For those that follow the Farenheit scale, water boils at 100 C, to give you some perspective. The awe of the geysers was their sheer size and quantity over the area. The site itself was not as impressive on the morning that we arrived because the temperatures were a bit warm.

The geysers here do not shoot up as they do in Yellowstone; instead, they bubble and boil and spurt scorching waters out. When the hot water meets the cold air, a massive fog covers 10 sqm area. The days prior, it had been cold enough to produce a spectacular sight. The day we arrived lacked the extreme temperatures. However, I did get to witness a couple of pure idiots ignore the rock outline designated the no-go zone (because the ground is unstable and you can fall in, cooking yourself instantly!) and get stupidly close to the lava-like water to take a photo. I did not see them after that.. mostly because I couldn't stand to watch them play with their lives. They probably didn't fall in. I think.


Funny Guide at Geiser Tour using sick knife to explain how geyser form.

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