Monday, June 1, 2015

Thursday, May 28, 2015: San Pedro to Geisers de Tatio

Well, a 4:30 am alarm is way too early, but for special events we will do it!!  Plus as yesterday, it was very chilly.  We say over and over again, “Thank You” to our host in Santiago for sending heavy coats with us. San Pedro is at the elevation of 2400 meters (7800ft) thus it is cold in winter and perfect temperatures in the summer.  This morning we basically drove straight up to an elevation of 4320 meters (14,200 ft) - to a geothermal basin the size of approximately 2 miles x 2 miles.  This basin is at the base of the peaks in the Andes Mountains.  The drive this morning was totally in the dark, as we needed to arrive there near day break (7:45am). The last part was driven on snowy roads, but chains were not required today. Actually the road has been closed the last 4 days, so we were lucky. This area is also a National Park.  It is great the Government is preserving these areas.

This geothermal basin has 40 geysers & 70 fumaroles. None of them erupt as high as Old Faithful – they are more steam vents with steam going 30 ft into the air, but several did erupt water into the air.  You can hear the hissing, groans, grumbles & spitting of the geysers and steam vents.  At daybreak due to the temperatures of cold river water hitting the hot magma deep in the earth they are the most visible. Actually it was amazing how that by 9:30 only a few of them were letting off any steam at all – not sure we totally understood the whole concept, as in Yellowstone they are more continuous.  But we now know why it was important for us to get up so early!

By the time we arrived at de Tatio, the temperature was down to 10 degrees and the ground was mostly covered with snow.  It was COLD!! We walked around the walkways viewing the geyser, while a breakfast was prepared for us (outside) – scrambled eggs and all! 

Sun Rise over the Geiser Basin

Silhouettes of people walking among the geisers
However after walking around for a while, I, Rachel realized I was not feeling the best. I drank some water which tasted wonderful. I realized I was dehydrated, so I continued to drink water.  I only had a couple of sips of coffee for breakfast and sat in the van (warmest location) the rest of the time, sipping water.  When our guide realized I was not feeling well he dug out his first aid kit and the finger blood oxygen sensor.  I had to first remove my nail polish, which I chipped off.  Wow! My blood oxygen level was only in the mid to upper 60’s, sometimes in the lower 70’s (normal is in the 90’s) and my heart rate was high.  No wonder I was feeling the way I was.  Interestingly, I did not have a headache which is often associated with high altitude sickness. 

A friendly Fox looking for food

Boiling water at a Geiser

Our Drive back to San Pedro

One of Chile's Active Volcano

Finally (hours later) we were on our way “down to earth”, but before descending very far we stopped at an Inca village (set up for tourist).  Someone on the tour gave me some orange juice to drink, which I thought may be good for me – I only had a few sips.  I did not feel strong enough to walk around the village.  Cal bought a kabob of lama meat & onions for himself and then brought one for me.  I only had a ½ bite when I realized “this was not going to end well”!  Thank goodness we were stopped so I was able to get relief outside without making everyone wait for me.  “What a relief it was”!  But I lost the orange juice and a lot of the water that I had consumed.  I could tell I was dehydrated by the veins in my hands.  I kept drinking water and once back at our lodge I had a cup of hot tea before a badly needed nap.  My body had been working overtime all morning. By the time I am writing this I am back to normal. Needing to go to the bathroom is a good feeling after being dehydrated. 

Now back to the geysers – at sunrise it was a beautiful sight, the sun shining through all this steam.  We were surprised how they would allow people to walk around them - on pathways.  As soon as the sun rises, the air temperature rises. You make sure to stand in the sun, as it definitely warms you up and the inside of the vehicle warms up quickly.  At one location they had built a swimming area so people could spend time in the hot thermal water. (This is when our guide realized I was not well – I walked around a little bit, but was not necessarily walking in a straight line.) Some of the younger persons on our tour did jump into the thermal pool (we were told to bring swimwear along), and they especially loved to take photos in their swim wear with snow in the background!! 
Church at Machuca

Machuca Village

House with Satellite dish - DirectTv

Lama Kabob

Well this is our last night in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.  We have found three very nice restaurants in town, each has had a fireplace in the center to take off the night chill. 

Road to San Padro
Tomorrow we have one more tour on the way to the airport back in Calama.  What an interesting area – you think you are at the “end of the world” and you almost are!!!  You are definitely on “top of the world” at this elevation.  This is definitely “adventure traveling”.  In this “out of the way place”, we have seen lots of backpackers, and the nationalities (languages) visiting here are very diverse. Restaurant staff and tour guides have to know several languages and are called upon to help different situations.

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