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November 26th 2013
Published: October 4th 2014
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Our last excursion in the Atacama Desert was to the salt flats, and some of the lagoons in the area.

Although the first stop was supposed to be for swimming in Laguna Cejar, there are several species of flamingos living there currently, so we went to Laguna Piedra instead to swim.

This turquoise colored swimming hole has seven times the amount of salt that you find in the sea. The result is that you feel like a cork bobbing in the water. LOL!

The contrast between the very blue water and the white salt shells that have grown on the edges is remarkable. These shells are hard, and sharp, and when you get to the edge and look down there is water underneath them, but they have grown on the surface, and extend into the water.

The surrounding view is magnificent. The Cordillera de los Andes borders this area, and the beautiful volcanoes Licancabur and Lascar are the most prominent. Licancabur is a perfect cone, just beautiful.

I was concerned about jumping in because we had been warned to keep our faces, eyes specially, out of the water, but our guide, Karina, just laughed and told me there was no way I would sink. Indeed! There is no way you cannot float in this water. I delighted in "sitting" in the water, with feet sticking out and hands above my head. It is that buoyant. But once you get on your back, you have trouble turning around later on. Like I said, just a cork bobbing in the water.

We had about an hour to swim here, and the tours bring fresh water to rinse you off when you are finished, because immediately upon drying off you are covered in a layer of salt. It doesn't take very long to dry off in the heat and dry climate. Remember, the Atacama is the most arid place on earth. They had a changing room, if you chose to use it, but it was again a very primitive facility. All the facilities and rest rooms in the attractions are. I chose to leave the bathing suit on, just placed the towel that the hotel had provided on the seat to protect it from any remaining salt, even after being rinsed with fresh water.

Our second stop, which some people used to rinse off the salt from the previous swim, was called Los Ojos del Cejar (the eyes of Cejar). These two holes were artificially made by a Jacques Cousteau expedition a few years back, digging to see how deep they could find water. It was 300 meters deep. The water is some feet below the edge of the hole, and you either have to dive in, or use a few rocks to one side to let yourself in, but that part of the hole is full of people trying to get out. It wasn't easy pulling yourself out of the water by that means, although it was fun watching.

After about half an hour frolicking here, we took off for our last stop at the Laguna Tebenquiche to watch the sunset.

This place was absolutely breathtaking! At first, it looks like a lagoon surrounded by beautiful white sand. Wrong! It is all salt, and the water is barely inches deep, which completely dries off later on in the summer. I walked quite a distance in the water, and it was barely ankle deep, and kept picking up chunks of the salt, just to make sure, and the pure white and shiny stuff crunching under my feet was pure salt.

The tour provided us, for our Happy Sunset Hour, with snacks and Pisco Sours! We made quite merry, specially one particular woman who obviously did not know how to hold her liquor and thought it quite funny to tease a Spanish man about the size of his camara. Yes, she was making implications.

Soon, though, all but the spectacle developing in front of my eyes faded away. The setting sun sharpened some of the colors, whilst it also seemed to blur some of the edges of the Cordillera across the lagoon in the distance. A beautiful rosy fog seemed to envelop the mountains, but Lincancabur still dominated, majestic in its perfection. The white line of the salt across the lagoon turned a vivid pink, and the yellow of the plants behind it became more vivid. I watched, entranced, as mother nature put on an unforgettable show.

I felt awed on the ride back to town. It was a great way to end our exploration of the area. Compared to the other two tours, it was fun and relaxing without a lot of physical demands.

We got back into our room feeling completely exhausted. So much so, that we were trying to talk ourselves into just taking it easy, and partake of the snacks that the hotel had provided us with to make up for us not being able to enjoy the free breakfast they provide because of having to leave the hotel so early. Really, the Terranai Hotel was exceptional in their customer service. The bottled water in Atacama is expensive to buy, but you are advised to take some with you in all the excursions, so they gave us a bottle of water when we got there, and had large water dispensers in the patio for us to refill the bottles as needed.

So, we freshened up and went exploring one more time. The one restaurant we wanted to try was closed, but we stumbled into La Estaka, and decided to give it a try. As it is common here, the hut like entrance opened up to a really cute place, with a nice fire in the back and excellent food, more gourmet than the food we had the night before. Much to our delight, a group of musicians played for a while, in traditional Andino style. They were good. They ended with one of my favorite Andes songs, The Condor Pasa. I was much thrilled.

Then it was time to call it a night. We had another early call the following morning, 6:00 AM, to be able to have breakfast when the restaurant openedn at 7:00, since we were getting picked up at 7:30 for our ride to Calama, and our flight back to Santiago.

I cannot express enough, how privileged I feel to have been able to visit such an amazing place like the Atacama Desert and its wonders. This will remain as one of the most stunning experiences of my life.

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