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    South by South America Tour – Chile Part 24

    Friday, September 13, 2019
    San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

    The tour guide Nicholas spins a DJ set at breakfast as steam flies out of his neck. Just kidding, he's cooking eggs. El Tatio geyser field, Andes Mountains, Chile.
    The tour guide Nicholas spins a DJ set at breakfast as steam flies out of his neck. Just kidding, he’s cooking eggs. El Tatio geyser field, Andes Mountains, Chile.

    A nearby hill warmly accepts some sunlight at El Tatio geyser field, Andes Mountains, Chile.
    A nearby hill warmly accepts some sunlight at El Tatio geyser field, Andes Mountains, Chile.

    Sunrise at El Tatio geyser field, Andes Mountains, Chile.
    Sunrise at El Tatio geyser field, Andes Mountains, Chile.

    I woke up super early this morning at 3:00 am to go on another tour with the Lithium Aventura tour operator. I thought their van was supposed to pick me up at the Hostel Sonchek at 4:00 am, but after waiting outside in the cold, empty streets for 40 minutes, I became concerned and had the front desk clerk call Lithium. They said my pickup was scheduled between 5:00 am – 5:40 am, not 4:00 am. D’oh! My mistake. Finally, a few minutes after 5:00 am, the van showed up and the driver / guide, Nicholas from Santiago, gave me a warm welcome. After picking up all of the other passengers, we headed up into the mountains. Oh, and apparently, Nicholas works for a different tour operator, which means Lithium didn’t have enough passengers to fill up a van, so they combined.

    A geyser cone at El Tatio geyser field, Andes Mountains, Chile.
    A geyser cone at El Tatio geyser field, Andes Mountains, Chile.

    Swimmers feel the contrast of hot water and freezing cold air at El Tatio geyser field, Andes Mountains, Chile.
    Swimmers feel the contrast of hot water and freezing cold air at El Tatio geyser field, Andes Mountains, Chile.

    Some guys and a geyser at El Tatio geyser field, Andes Mountains, Chile.
    Some guys and a geyser at El Tatio geyser field, Andes Mountains, Chile.

    For the first part of the 90-minute journey, the road was paved, but eventually the smooth surface gave way to bumpy, ripple-filled dirt and gravel. Oh, and to add to the challenge, the road is very curvy, too. As the elevation increased, so did the cold. I also felt a bit of a tummy ache. Brandishing a headset with his voice amplified through the van’s stereo speakers, a very animated and funny Nicholas supplied us with plenty of info on our upcoming activities. It seems like he really enjoys his job! Finally, just before dawn, we pulled into the parking lot of El Tatio.

    Some more guys and a geyser at El Tatio geyser field, Andes Mountains, Chile.
    Some more guys and a geyser at El Tatio geyser field, Andes Mountains, Chile.

    A geothermal pool at El Tatio geyser field, Andes Mountains, Chile.
    A geothermal pool at El Tatio geyser field, Andes Mountains, Chile.

    Another geothermal pool at El Tatio geyser field, Andes Mountains, Chile.
    Another geothermal pool at El Tatio geyser field, Andes Mountains, Chile.

    “El Tatio is a geyser field located at 14,170 feet above mean sea level in the Andes Mountains of northern Chile. Various etymologies have been proposed for the name El Tatio, which might mean “oven” or “grandfather.” It is the third-largest geyser field in the world and the largest in the southern hemisphere. El Tatio lies at the western foot of a series of stratovolcanoes, which run along the border between Chile and Bolivia. This series of volcanoes is part of the Central Volcanic Zone, one of several volcanic belts in the Andes; there are no recorded historical eruptions at the Tatio volcanoes. El Tatio is also part of the Altiplano–Puna Volcanic Complex (APVC), a system of large calderas and associated ignimbrites, which have been the sources of super-eruptions. Some of these calderas may be the source of heat for the El Tatio geothermal system.

    A steaming geyser at El Tatio geyser field, Andes Mountains, Chile.
    A steaming geyser at El Tatio geyser field, Andes Mountains, Chile.

    A sunlit hillside at El Tatio geyser field, Andes Mountains, Chile.
    A sunlit hillside at El Tatio geyser field, Andes Mountains, Chile.

    A rugged landscape in the Andes Mountains, Chile.
    A rugged landscape in the Andes Mountains, Chile.

    “El Tatio is a geothermal field with many geysers, hot springs, and associated sinter deposits. These hot springs eventually form the Rio Salado, a major tributary of the Rio Loa, and a major source of arsenic pollution in the river. The vents are sites of populations of extremophile micro-organisms and have been studied as analogs for the early Earth and possible past life on Mars. The field is a major tourism destination in northern Chile. It was prospected over the last century for the potential of geothermal power production, but development efforts were discontinued after a major incident in 2009 in which a drilling well blew out, creating a massive steam column.”—Wikipedia

    A group of very social bipedal mammals congregates at a scenic overlook in the Andes Mountains, Chile.
    A group of very social bipedal mammals congregates at a scenic overlook in the Andes Mountains, Chile.

    A man makes llama meat skewers in the village of Machuca in the Andes Mountains, Chile.
    A man makes llama meat skewers in the village of Machuca in the Andes Mountains, Chile.

    The gate in front of a tiny church in the village of Machuca in the Andes Mountains, Chile.
    The gate in front of a tiny church in the village of Machuca in the Andes Mountains, Chile.

    As we stepped outside the van, the literal 32 degree freezing cold felt brutal. Even though I was wearing a long sleeve shirt, pants and a jacket, with an extra layer in the form of a merino wool shirt and long johns, I was still shivering. My arms and legs were actually shaking as Nicholas gave us a rundown on the geology of the geyser field. I wish I would have brought a scarf. At least he was nice enough to loan me some gloves. As Nicholas’ speech ended, he cut us loose to explore the geyser fields on our own. Some people even stripped down into swimsuits and took a dip in a nearby geothermal pool. I didn’t bring a pair of swim trunks, so I decided to skip that one. It was really pleasant experience to check out the myriad colors and textures on the ground, the edges of the pools, the geyser cones, and the surrounding landscapes.

    A tiny church in the village of Machuca in the Andes Mountains, Chile.
    A tiny church in the village of Machuca in the Andes Mountains, Chile.

    A small stone house in the village of Machuca in the Andes Mountains, Chile.
    A small stone house in the village of Machuca in the Andes Mountains, Chile.

    Around 9:30 am, we headed back to the van, where Nicholas had set up a table and prepared us a deluxe breakfast consisting of scrambled eggs, bread, cheese, cookies, coffee, tea and cocoa! It was awesome—especially considering the fact that I didn’t even know breakfast was included with this tour. Next, we all piled back into the van and hit the road. After a short while, we made a brief stop at a scenic overlook to check out a majestic, snowy mountain range, then headed downhill again to a tiny village called Machuca, home to a dozen or so residents who live in thatched roof adobe houses with a picturesque little wooden church. Also in evidence were a few tiny shops selling artisenal wares and a cafe where you can order a delicious cheese empanada and a skewer of llama meat. A little bit past 12:00 noon, we arrived back in San Pedro, where the always energetic and spirited Nicholas gave me a big hug as we climbed out of the van—the perfect ending to an awesome tour of El Tatio.

    Words and photos ©2019 Arcane Candy.

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