| Chaxa Lagoon |
Everywhere I looked around the craggy landscape boasted 50 shades of reds and blues alike – fuchsia, scarlet, rose, salmon, aqua, turquoise, periwinkle – enough to exhaust an entire portion of the color wheel. The stars of the particular area fit right in, adding yet another shade. The pink flamingoes were abundant, silencing the few humans around to gawk at them. Per the Tierra Atacama guides, this was a great starting point as it allowed us a chance to acclimate to the 8,000 ft. elevation in the town of San Pedro where most tourists stay. It doesn’t make for a bad sunset, either.
| Puritama Hot Springs |
A literal desert oasis, these eight pools of hot geothermal spring water act as an adult playground. After hiking an incredibly exhausting 3 miles through a flat terrain canyon, our group came upon a red path les(s) traveled and a few rejuvenating natural springs. Needless to say, we didn’t hesitate and jumped right in. On a day filled with hot springs and volcanic views, of course all I could think about was the fate of the poor souls in “Dante’s Peak.” Thankfully, the volcanoes remained dormant and the springs didn’t go beyond a comfortably warm temperature.
| Cejar Lagoon |
Look ma, no hands…
Who needs the Dead Sea when you can float in luxury? Besides, Israel probably isn’t a place to book a plane ticket right about now. This lagoon is so dense with salt, you float! I almost didn’t even notice the freezing cold water I submerged myself in…almost. Tierra Atacama guides went above and beyond by hauling a wheelbarrow out to the lagoon complete with folding table, tablecloth, chairs, sandwiches, beer, sodas, candy and, the most impressive component, a tank of fresh water to pour over our bodies. I was perfectly capable of walking to the showers with the rest of humanity, but Tierra Atacama has service down to an art. That’s what I like to call luxury adventure.
| Moon Valley |
One of the most visited attractions in the desert is also known as a Mars look-a-like. I haven’t left Earth, but I think if I could blast off with Virgin Galactic and land on the Red Planet, I imagine it would look something like this. The ground crunches when you walk here. That’s the hard, craggy salt surface talking to you. The nooks and crannies of rock formations threatened a “127 Hours” experience at every turn. This fact alone had my boyfriend and I testing out our new drone because what better landscape to show off than fake Mars? Put some post production behind it and boom. Mission to Mars complete.
| Death Valley |
After Moon Valley came Death Valley, and we weren’t leaving until the drone flew over it. In order to get a feel for how the drone flies, 10 hours of practice time without a camera is recommended. My boyfriend and I took about 60 seconds in the hotel room before venturing out to these vast landscapes. Damn. I never listen. Ready for round two, we lifted it off the sand, into the sun and over the valley. It was up for maybe two minutes before it went batshit crazy and crashed into the depths below. Oh Death Valley. Oh the irony. Mama said there’d be days like this.
| Sandboarding |
Not entertaining the idea that such an expensive electronic would waste away in the depths of Death Valley, my boyfriend and I decided to kill two birds with one stone (if Death Valley didn’t already accomplish that for us). Because this spot is a sandboarding mecca, we thought we’d hire a private guide to show us how it’s done, as well as to maneuver around the valley and bring our drone back to life. Well, you can’t always get what you want. Long story short, we rented a couple sandboards and had a stranger named Chino drop us off in the middle of nowhere to fend for ourselves. Sure, yeah, I can teach myself how to sail down an extremely high sand dune. Ain’t no thang. Well, thank God for good directions and athletic skills. We weren’t out there for 10 minutes before we found the drone with only one propeller down and a little sand in the motor. The Go Pro was still intact and hey, we got a drone’s eye view of how things went down.
Sandboarding isn’t difficult if you’re mildly athletic. It’s as if snowboarding and surfing had a baby, but without snow or salt water in sight. The steps are simple: strap your feet in, stand up, lean back and go forward. Unlike snowboarding though, there’s no such thing as a sand-lift. The workout lies in climbing up the sand dune! When it was all said and done, we may or may not have left our sand-drenched shoes in Atacama…
| El Tatio Geysers |
At first glance, an uninformed city slicker may mistake natural geysers for smoking steam vents popular on NYC streets. If that’s the case, they need some time in the country. El Tatio Geysers erupt from more than 80 vents into ghost-like plumes that sparkle in the first light of morning, showing off silhouettes from the curious crowds that come to view them. Our wake up call went off at 5:30AM in order to get us there by dawn. I thought that was fine, that I’d sleep in the car. Sleeping is to country roads as worshiping is to hell. You just can’t do it. With puffy-eyes and a little altitude sickness at 14,000 feet, I watched vigorous waterworks and steam crawl various feet into the air. The early bird gets the National Geographic-type photos as well as the frigid temps somewhere below 20 degrees.
We found consolation in our guide’s breakfast feast set up for Tierra Atacama royalty. The fact that they transport ceramic mugs, silverware and plates two hours down what feels like a dirt bike park is an impressive feat in and of itself. Somehow, the magic of avocado toast and hot chocolate suddenly made the feeling come back in my toes and the altitude sickness disappear.