A Day in Chile
By Paul Wilkerson, Comprehensive Geology Major
If you google search the Atacama Desert I’m sure one word will come to your mind, desolation. Being the driest desert on Earth, it’s a natural reaction. Nestled away in a corner of the Atacama is San Pedro De Atacama. San Pedro is a veritable oasis. Local water sources allow trees and crops to grow and for a town of around ten thousand to survive in such a harsh environment.
Our typical morning begins around seven. The sun is just cresting the volcanic mountain range to our west, roosters can be heard, and faint sounds of a town waking up are all you hear. The seven of us staying in our room get up and dressed as quietly as possible so as not to wake our eighth companion, which rotated depending on the length of their stay. (We had roommates from Morocco, Malta, and the UK just during our first week) After our morning routine, and when we have the time, it’s off to the French bakery for breakfast. A croissant and a double espresso and we are ready to face the day.
On this particular day, we had some free time before our daily expedition. This meant it would be a good day to do a little souvenir shopping and town exploration. San Pedro is a lesson in dichotomy. Dirt streets meet mall quality shops and restaurants. You’re also never far away from a stray dog is San Pedro, giving it its nickname of “San Perro”. Oddly enough the dogs are very friendly and seem well taken care of despite their homelessness. Several shops and open air markets later we’ve just about run out of free time.
A mad dash to the hostel to grab our gear and it’s off to the hot springs, or aguas termales. Around 50 km northwest of town is a rather nondescript canyon composed of ignimbrites and other volcanic rocks. At the floor of this valley lies a series of cascading, geothermally heated, pools of water that are a popular spot for tourists and locals alike. Known as Puritama Springs, it is a 500 meter hike down 80 meters to the canyon floor. The five of us spend a relaxing afternoon lounging in the pools before promptly being chilled to the bone as we raced for the changing rooms after the sun dropped below the lip of the canyon.
Upon our return to the hostel we see many familiar faces. The benefit of a hostel over traditional hotels is the mélange of people you meet. There is a common area that is always full of people. Within our first week we had met people from no less than ten different nations. In spite of our language barriers we made friends and exchanged opinions and thoughts on each other’s counties. This is the added benefit to study away programs. Not only are you furthering your education, but your exposing yourself to a whole new culture, or multiple cultures in our case, new languages, new ideas and ways of thinking, and new outlooks on the world. Needless to say a day in Chile for us was a study in expanding our horizons.