I took a bus from purmamarca in argentina to san pedro de atacama in chile. The bus passes through one of the highest passes at 4300 meters (now that is high, air is thin and my left ear closed for next few days). The small desert town made of mud bricks, red stone and some very vibrant use colors had a very calming feel to it. The town is itself at 2500 meters and I took trips every day to 4300 meters or above. It is surrounded by high volcanoes, highest one at 6880 meters (thats higher that himalayan base camp). The fun is that you can be at the top in just few hours (probably the only place on earth where you can climb a volcano higher than kilimanjaro in 5 hours or less). Well I did not attempted it, I had a headace at just 4700 meters (just putting in perspective mount marcy highest peak in north east united sates is just 2000 meters).
The place is very unique, has amazing diversity of geography and microclimates--- dryiest desert, one of only four geysers in the world, salt lake like dead sea, amazing orange and yellow colored sulphur lakes where flamingos breeds (altiplano lanscape, andeas flats, one of the highest places on earth outside tibet). I made three major trips, one to the geysers, to the salt lakes and flats and high lakes and crazy landscape (i will explain that).
My first trip was to geyser El tatio, 4 am in the morning when the tempreture difference is extreme enough to see dazzling water jets. Well had an interesting experience, the agency must have told me but I forgot that these geysers where at 4500 meters or so and it will be -5 to -7 degree centrigade (14 -17 faren) during early hours. Every one was in warm layers and I was in sandals shorts and a thin jacket. I had to go out off the van and watch these amazing water eruptions, I tried warming my toes near the hotspring but didnt work (damn water is too hot), a fellow traveler gave me a pair of cotton socks. After nearly two hours, I was shaking, my teeth chattering but the dazzling display of early morning light kept me busy at the camera. The breakfast was of some help but I reached a point when I was no longer able warm my fingers and toes, to my relief there was a natural hotwater spring not far away. I just jumped, it took good half an hour to get blood running back. Well taking a dip in highest hotwater spring in the world became just more interesting. I heard in background " thats the crazy guy in shorts" (not by choice).
Next trip I took was to salt flats and salt lakes to see the sunset. We first went to this salt lake just like dead sea, its impossible to drown, I felt like an water bottle (Amazing feeling). The trip ended in these salt flats (dried salt beds, hard and crystalline and very flat) where you almost loose perspective of distance a wired feeling. Setting sun bright yellow on pure white background (flames), turning to orange (an experience of amazing beauty). These salts flats where very remote and our guide and driver had taken us in a 4x4 on a very bumpy ride.
Next day early in morning (this time I was covered) we went to an altitude of 4700 meters and lanscape was like a desert but instead of sand it was fine soft volcanic rock. The landscape was studded with these isolated huge rocks (millions of years a ago when these volcanos were active they produced two types of rocks soft and hard, over the years the soft rock turned sand and hard one took all type of shapes). We also visted the these brightly covered sulphurs lakes with flamingos and heard of lamas running around. Having lunch in middle to this lanscape (with red wine and coffee) was an experince to beat. All the mountains and rocks had red and orange hues.
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