Last weekend, a group of friends and I decided to travel to San Pedro de Atacama, a popular town located in the most arid desert in the world. After our eleven-hour journey north, we settled into our hostel and then booked our tours for the weekend. The next day we toured Valle de la Luna, or Valley of the Moon, a rocky yet beautiful region of the Atacama Desert. We walked through small caves and through rock structures as our tour guide informed us that the similarities between the region and Mars have prompted many scientists to test rovers there prior to sending them to space. The tour concluded with one of the most beautiful, if not the most beautiful, sunsets I have ever seen over the valley.
Other sights we saw included Laguna Verde, which consisted of about two hours of an off-the-map tour in a small van. In near 30-degree weather, we enjoyed a warm breakfast overlooking the lagoon and the surrounding mountains. During this breakfast, my friends and I had the chat with our new friend Che, a recently retired Argentinian who decided to travel following this milestone. He joked that just as students travel the world for months just after their graduation, he has chosen to do the same. I really enjoyed hearing about his interesting life and decisions, especially since he did not speak much English. Our conversation with Che, as well as our tour guide Christian, made the cold much more bearable.
Following our time in the cold, we went out to Sal de Atacama, an enormous salt flat lodged in between ranges of mountains. The view was honestly one of the coolest I had ever seen, and as we wandered around the flats, we were able to see flamingos in their natural habitats in the lagoons. We later got the chance to swim in Laguna Cejar, a small yet highly salty lagoon in the desert similar to the Dead Sea. Of course, it was less salty, but it was really fun to test our buoyancy in the middle of the desert.
Unfortunately, two of our tours were canceled during the weekend. Overcast skies prevented us from embarking on the highly anticipated star tour, especially due to the popular notion that Atacama is the best place to see the stars in the entire world, while piles of snow catalyzed the cancelation of our geysers tour. Although we all were really looking forward to these tours, we still made the most of our time in San Pedro, and I look back at it as one of the best weekends of my life. Beyond the natural, indescribable beauty of the region, the people on the trip––both those with whom I arrived and those I met in travel––definitely made the experience for me. My friends and I had so much fun meeting people from all over the world; I can now say that I have new friends from the Netherlands, Australia, and Bolivia, among many others. Everyone we met had such unique reasons for traveling, yet we were all united by a common purpose to further explore the world. Additionally, staying in hostels definitely helped me improve my linguistic abilities, through merely engaging with the staff as well as partaking in late-night fireside conversations with native Spanish speakers. For anyone reading, I would completely recommend staying at a hostel in order to garner the most authentic, eye-opening experience possible.