December 18 - "The driest place on Earth"
Yesterday we flew north from Santiago on a LanChile flight. We landed briefly in the city of La Serena and as we came down there, we descended through clouds and, and as is often the case when you fly in Chile, we had a view of the Pacific Coast to the west.
All travels are north / south in this long, narrow country and the Andes are never far to the east, just as the ocean is never far to the west. The geographical diversity of Chile is remarkable, however. We took off from La Serena and in only 30 minutes of flying we were coming into Copiapo, at the southern edge of the Atacama Desert, which is usually considered to be the driest place on earth.
Visually, the dryness of the Atacama is unlike anything looking at deserts in North America can prepare you for. It is stark and pure, devoid of any plant, shrub or cactus. Copiapo is in an oasis valley that is a brilliant green from the air, but after you land the brown hills and the desert seem close as you walk around the town.
Bernardo Guarachi met us here in Copiapo. Bernardo has been preparing our vehicles and equipment. We will depart today with two 4-wheel drive vehicles for our journey across the Atacama and up the lower slopes of the massive Ojos del Salado. The glaciers and rarified high mountain air that lie above us seem a world away. In the next eight days we will attempt to reach the top of Ojos, the second highest point in the Western Hemisphere and certainly one of the most distinctive and obscure of the world's big mountains.
It has been some time since I have felt so excited about seeing new landscape and terrain. This area is truly unique, really different. They cannot come daily, but we will try to get photos sent back as often as we can showing you this wild and beautiful landscape. Stay tuned!