San Pedro de Atacama
Chile is often called a country of extremes, and for good reason. If leaving from Santiago, you can be in the Andes mountains or the Pacific ocean in two hours. A two-hour flight north deposits you in the driest desert in the world. A two-hour flight south leaves you surrounded by lush greenery. Even Easter Island, a Chilean territory in the middle of the ocean, is accessible by a six-hour flight. I’m yearning to visit all, or at least a few, of Chile’s many wondrous landscapes, and finally got the chance to travel to San Pedro de Atacama, a desert in the north of Chile often called the most arid in the world. IFSA took us on a four-day trip packed with activities, sights, breathtaking scenery (though in hindsight the breathtaking aspect may have just been the altitude), knowledge, and of course, food.
I don’t think I’m going to be able to do the Atacama desert justice in reflecting on this trip. Every day was filled with long drives through seemingly the middle of nowhere, but somehow the desert kept surprising us. We swam in freezing lagoons in the middle of windswept, sandy landscape, soaked in hot springs, scrambled up rocks in a valley filled with multi-colored minerals, watched the sun set over sandy peaks and rocky outcrops, froze our toes watching geysers in the early morning, dined on traditional foods, managed to cook dinner for ourselves, pet llamas, spent hours together in a van sharing cookies and gum, snapped more than enough pictures of the ever-changing scenery, and experienced more temperature changes in one day than any human probably should. I could ramble on about everything we did, the early morning and late night flights to and from Santiago, the huge amount of work I now need to do this week, and so many other things, but what really stands out to me about this trip is the full experience. This might just be a preview of what’s to come when I fly back home, but some of the things I’ve experienced here in Chile just can’t be articulated in writing, speech, or any other art form I’m capable of producing. Photography has become a useful tool for sharing my experience across social media platforms, but what makes my pictures any different from those of any other person who has stood exactly where I have? How can I sum up four entire days of smiles, frustrations, laughs, forced bonding, natural bonding, and empanadas in a way that many people will understand? All I can say is, the Atacama desert is just another part of Chile that I will have in my mind for a long time and one that really needs to be experienced to be understood. This trip helped me continue to understand the importance of going abroad, of being able to take in stunning sights with my own eyes, of meeting new people and experiencing new cultures that are still distinctly Chilean. While I’m still processing the entire experience (it doesn’t help that I arrived back home at 2AM and had to get up hours later to go to class) I can say with certainty that our trip to San Pedro de Atacama was a hodgepodge of once-in-a-lifetime experiences that I will never forget.