Termas de Polques, Bolivia
We woke up really early to get to the Sol de Mañana at sunrise, which was so other-worldly and spectacular. And then we continued onto the very-happening Termas de Polques for a dip in the hot springs and breakfast. One of our traveling companions was very upset about not spending the night at the hot springs, which is what many of the groups did, but when we got there this morning, we all agreed that our quiet, more remote evening stay was preferable. The hot springs were a scene. One guy was passing around a bottle of wine at like 9am?! I skipped going into the springs and instead wandered around the area, which was, in keeping with the theme, crazy and like another planet. We ate breakfast and went to one more lagoon (which is green in the afternoons apparently, but hadn’t yet changed when we got there mid-morning), where we picked up an abandoned Frenchman wearing a UCLA sweatshirt who had no idea what UCLA was, and continued onto the Bolivia-Chile border, where our Salt Flat adventure officially ended and we were left to continue onto Atacama. The paved road and clearly-marked road signs started as soon as we entered Chile, and the hour-ish drive to Atacama was all downhill, beginning our much-anticipated descent out of very high altitude. Everything about the transfer to Atacama was unpleasant – from the Israeli guy making out with his Peruvian girlfriend across from us the whole trip, to the seemingly endless customs process with no instructions, and finally our looong (10 minute?) walk to the hotel once we got to Atacama, dragging our bags through the dirt, in the hot sun, wearing dirty clothes. But we dropped our bags at the hotel, got Chilean money, and I bought and immediately changed into shorts (I hadn’t brought any and it was SO HOT) and new sunglasses (ugh, mine broke at the very last leg of our trip in Bolivia, the only bad part of the entire Salt Flat trip), and I suddenly felt like I had a new lease on life. We went to a hip burger truck where they were playing Stairway to Heaven and got overpriced burgers that made us feel like we were in LA (mine had rocket (!!), bleu cheese, caramelized onions, and garlic sauce. I also had my first agua con gas, now that we were at lower altitude and I was a few days off of anti-altitude sickness pills, which for some inexplicable reason made anything carbonated taste horrible. Like, we really weren’t out in the wilderness for so long, but everything in Atacama felt so extravagant and luxurious. The town was adorable, and when we finally got checked into our room/bungalow, that was also perfect and relaxing. We showered (our room has an outdoor shower!), read Harry Potter, and napped, before our evening star gazing excursion. We sat behind an American family of teenage girls who regaled me with their gossip, and then we saw the most amazing stars. The night was so clear and the stars were so bright – it felt like you could reach out and grab them. Our guide was Canadian, which I loved, and he told us so many things… it was fantastic. And the night ended with hot chocolate?! This trip keeps seeming like it can’t get better, and then it does.