Our first excursion with our guide in San Pedro de Atacama was a hike through a trail in Valle de la Luna, Valley of the Moon. We not only viewed the dramatic rocky landscapes, but also a large sand dune.
The kids of course wanted to sand board, recalling their experience sledding sand at Great Sand Dunes National Park in the US. No activities of the sort were allowed here.
A few interesting lessons on the hike. Our guide has spent significant time hiking in Chile and Bolivia, where peaks often crest 20,000 feet.
Hiking techniques: The taught me several techniques related to small, evenly paced steps, standing on the skeleton at rest to relieve muscles, and timing breaks when hiking at higher elevation. I’m aware of some of the techniques because they come naturally, having been learned out of necessity when hiking thousands of miles. However, I’d never heard them named or explained why they’re effective techniques. This is most likely because most of my hiking has been at lower elevations in the eastern US. The techniques are learned and used here in Chile because at the higher elevation, oxygen is scarce. These techniques are not about comfort and convenience, but they can be the difference between success and failure.
Total silence: We also had a moment in the Valle de La Luna to experience total silence. For the kids, this would be their first time hearing nothing, no birds, cars, voices, insects, branches, leaves. In the middle of the valley, we paused for 30 seconds without making a move or sound. It’s an eery and unsettling experience, hearing nothing. The kids enjoyed the awkward quiet so much they eventually laughed to break the silence.
You can’t feel the air: At last, in this place with 3% humidity, the driest place on earth. We learned that you can wave your hand without feeling the air. In higher humidity and lower elevation, you can wave your arm back and forth, and you can feel the air on your skin. In the Atacama desert, there is no such sensation. You wave your hand back and forth, and there’s no resistance. No wind tickling arm hair. No pushing the air.