Day 2: Cordillera de la Sal
Our stay in Calama was not too eventful, but that was the point. Our pick up was at 10:30, so we had plenty of time to sleep in, get breakfast, and say goodbye to the Geotel. Our Explora driver was Sebastian who provided some fun facts about the area along the way, including so many Brazilians come to San Pedro de Atacama for vacation that they call it Sao Paulo de Atacama. Also, Sebastian’s playlist, top notch.
When we arrived, we toured the main building and scored an upgrade to a suite. Woo! We settled in for a few minutes, then met with Carlos and Nico, our two guides for the week. They gave us a short presentation about Explora and the area, then we picked our explorations for the week here in Atacama — starting with Cordillera del la Sal (Salt Mountain Range) hike for today. Before leaving, we had time for a very fresh and flavorful lunch and to get ready for the afternoon.
Sebastian drove us to the start of the hike where we walked around a flat area and learned about how you can tell the difference between gypsum and salt, both of which occur naturally in this area. For one, the salt is salty. Also, gypsum is very soft and can be scratched with your fingernail.
We climbed up to a former salt mine with a half dome appearance. The mining of the salt here stopped when they realized there was no iodine in the salt, and it was too expensive to add it. Since we arrived a little before sunset as the temperature was cooling down, we sat down in silence to “listen to the salt,” which we originally thought was a joke, but turns out you can hear the salt contracting.
From there, we walked up a ridge a little further for some good views. We stopped to watch the sunset and a 360 degree view of the area.
For the final leg of the trip, we walked a bit further on the narrow ridge and ran (or shuffled) down a sand dune. We made it back with an incredible amount of sand in our shoes and smiles on our faces.
We got back to the hotel and relaxed at the bar before dinner started. This location’s special pisco sour is made with rica rica, a local herb — so we obviously had to give it a try.
After dinner, we met for an evening stargazing exploration. This part of Chile is a designated Dark Sky area due to its low light pollution, high elevation, and arid conditions. We were clearly able to see many stars and constellations as well as the Milky Way. Plus, an hour long talk about binary stars, red giants, nebula, globular clusters, and black holes. You know, cool astronomy stuff.