I returned from what is considered spring break in Argentina on early Sunday morning. For some time, my friends and I had been torn between traveling to northern Argentina or northern Chile for the week we have off. In the end, we opted for northern Chile, though I cannot tell you more clearly what made us reach this decision. We booked our flight for September 18 from Buenos Aires to Santiago and then Santiago to a small desert town called Calama. From Calama, we would take a one and a half hour bus to the even smaller desert town of San Pedro de Atacama.
San Pedro de Atacama is situated in the Atacama Desert, or the driest place on Earth. The town overlooks numerous volcanos, but the Licancabur volcano dominates over each. Every morning, I woke up to a beautiful view of the rugged, mountain landscape. In every corner of town, this backdrop was visible and stunning. At night, because of the lack of light and general pollution, the stars were breathtakingly present. I was able to clusters of the Milky Way, and often times, we would chose to sit out in the patio of the hostel and just journal.
Our hostel was called Talar, and during our stay there, my friends and I found a new host mom or “hostel mom” of sorts. Her name was Jessica, and she owned the hostel. She was so kind to us in the days we were in town -- made sure to ask how our days went, quick to give suggestions on how to be safe and also prepared us for each of our excursions, and a lot more. Having her as our go-to person added to what was already an amazing trip.
The first day, we rented bikes to Pukara de Quitor, a pre-Columbian fortress that is around 3 kilometers outside of town. None of us had rode a bike in a long time and that too on unpaved, rocky roads. Of course, we did get lost and started to head toward the direction of Calama. After asking locals for directions, we finally made our way to the archaeological ruins and rested at the top of the fortress. That evening, we toured Valle de la Luna or Moon Valley, a landscape that resembles that of the Moon. It was by far one of the most gorgeous places I have been. Watching the sunset at Valle de la Luna is one to remember, and the shades of pink and purple the mountains took on cannot be described in words.
The next day, we sand boarded. I have never even snow boarded, so I was filled with anxiety as we drove into the Valle de la Muerte or Death Valley to reach the sand dune. The directions being given were horribly vague, so my anxiety reached new levels as we began to climb the sand dune. The instructors suggested to go down diagonally in order to move at a moderate speed. Even though I tried my best to board in a diagonal, I always ended in a straight line down, jetting past people who were on their way up. The speed was exhilarating and then frightening, so I would make myself fall to come to a stop. I did not think I would enjoy it as much as I did, and the striking, jagged landscape characteristic to the Valle de la Muerte made for epic pictures.
The rest of our trip was a mix of hikes out to surrounding places in town or tours to specific locations like Geysers del Tatio, Puritama Hot Springs, and many more. Yes, a person could probably see San Pedro de Atacama in two to three days. But, staying for the week made for a relaxing retreat from city life and also made me really grow attached to this small town. It felt nice to have a place that we vacationed at start feeling familiar and like another home almost. From buying groceries at the markets to make lunches and dinners, having the staff recognize us at the restaurant we always chose to dine at, or even having people on the streets start smiling at us because they saw us the day before -- it was all centering and peaceful.