San Pedro de Atacama - El Tatio, Chile
We are in the Tropics and it is Minus 15 degrees Celsius. My god it feels shockingly cold up here at 4300 metres. This is the world's third largest geyser field and the highest on the planet.
We set off at 4am to make it here for the apocalyptic looking sunrise; steam spiralling up into the thin air from dozens and dozens of bubbling geysers. I've spent plenty of years living in and visiting some extremely cold places but strolling around this geyser field at 6am with the temperature still only pushing towards minus ten, feels particularly testing.
But it is well worth the discomfort. There is something intangibly primeval about El Tatio. Americans terribly overuse the word 'awesome' but that is certainly an apt seven-letter description of these geyser fields.
On the route back we pass an active volcano, smoke billowing into the azure sky. We also spot our first vicuna - an alpha male and five females. Sounds brilliant but can you imagine what it would be like living with five women?
Other memorable tit bits on the road back to SPDA include some weird wetlands, and a green rabbit, almost perfectly camouflaged from us in the desert terrain.
Back in SPDA, an afternoon of chilling turns into a day of preparing for tomorrow's 4WD three-day trip to Bolivia. Withdrawing money, changing currencies and getting ripped off by the locals, organising meals, buying water and toilet paper, Bolivian currency for permits, USD for Katya's visa, packing warm stuff and before you know it the chill part of the day has gone.
Late on, we wander around SPDA's cool streets. It's pricey, a gringo trap and a bit faux-naff but somehow it is still a cool and enjoyable place to hang out for a day or two, particularly as at 2500 metres it does allow for some minimal acclimatisation. Well, it cannot fail to be a decent place to base yourself, with the world-class backdrop and a dozen or more epic adventures that can be had from here.
Street dogs are chilling by the fire place in the town's only beer bar. I have really enjoyed my month in Chile but I won't miss its dogs when we depart tomorrow.