The driest place on earth

We are very lucky, we travel around the world for work. It is not always as glamorous as it sounds because it brings a fair deal of responsibilities but basically, we do not have to pay to travel, still a pretty sweet deal. Also, we get to go to places that we probably wouldn’t have seen on our own, pretty thrilling! The Atacama Desert is one of those places. Can you believe this is the driest place on the planet and we spent about a month there? It sure was not on my bucket list of places to visit in my life, but I’m so glade I got to go and see it for myself.

First of all, the landscape makes you feel like you are on the moon; very dusty, grey and red coloured rocks, blue sky everyday, no clouds. One of the most unique place on earth I have ever seen or even imagined! Also, almost no animals to be seen around, few birds but we did not even see ants, so much the soil is dead and unlikely to wildlife. This rough landscape and habitat is for sure very beautiful and special in it’s emptiness although we did see some lamas, so there is some wildlife around.

Secondly, we had to rapidly learn how to survive the harsh climate. Only an hour outside in the sun without protection or water could be very dangerous, even waiting for a cab on the street around noon was painful. Hat, sunscreen and lots of water everywhere we went! Also, we tried to perform all exteriors ramp and logistics tasks early in the morning, so we could hide inside during the day.

The climate is not the only thing to be careful with. I learned the hard way how you can get sick. It never happened to me before and I thought that I traveled enough in my life to know how to be careful and not to get sick, but I was totally wrong. I broke one of my rule; do not eat seafood, if not on the seashore. Well I got sick for about 5 days and ended up needing to go the clinic twice where they only gave my an IV and painkillers the first time. And a few days later, as I was not getting better, they finally gave me antibiotics to fight the bacteria. Sadly enough, my belly stayed pretty sensitive for the rest of the trip and I had to be extra careful with everything I was ingesting. But it is part of the deal and I guess it could have happened at home too.

The people in Chile are very social and helpful. Everyday we tried to communicate with our very poor Spanish with people at the airport, at the market, or at the stores and everyone was very patient. I was a bit surprise how so few people spoke only a little bit of English even at the medical clinic. I guess English is rarely used as a day-to-day language in much of the world. We used the google translate app quite often to be honest. Next time in South America I must make a point of practicing my Spanish and getting better at it.

Finally, my recommendations for those who would one day end up in that part of the world, you must visit San Pedro de Atacama. Everyone locally told us that is was the place to go! Very touristic area but I totally understand why! It is along a volcanic mountain chain, is has many parks and salted lagunas and the number of outdoors activities is countless. We enjoyed a day in town and it was clearly not enough time to see anything at all. We choose to go swimming in a laguna, the most extreme experience of my life! Not because it was scary, but because I never thought something like this was possible. We swam in an bottomless pit (it felt like it was deep enough to reach the other side of the planet), the water was cool on the surface but boiling hot 5 feet below (at the toes) and it was so salty, we were floating with no effort and after, during our walk back, the leftover salt on our skin was cracking at every step! I rinsed under the park showers for like 10 minutes; so much I felt the need to de-salinize myself.

We also spent a day at the beach in Antofagasta, on the Pacific coast. Beautiful wild beaches just outside of town, no services but so many people spend their day there it seems. People bring their tents, lunch, sun cream and just spend the day in the water. It was a lot of fun to relax, play in the waves and get taste of another Chilean city.

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