I cannonball into the desert oasis, blue water framed by white crust rim, sage brush foreground and volcano backdrop, and like a trampoline, the salt water lake catches my fall, sodium solution so thick, I feel as if I am trying to plunge into bouncy water.
Counter to what has happened every single other time I bomb my way into a pool of liquid, the water brakes my fall, stopping me mid-jump, shoulders and head still exposed.
This is insane.
The buoyancy of this little pond defies all sense of logic, its 40% salinity almost as salty as the Dead Sea: Graham tries desperately to submerge, pushing himself down with all of his might, and he barely succeeds in getting head deep, water quick to expel him back to shoulder level. It insists on flipping us belly-side up, forcing us to forego the feet down wade we are all so familiar and comfortable with for a backside pancake.
We bob like corks in a bowl of water, and it is ridiculous.
Graham and I and our new friend Ty from Tennessee try again and again to challenge physics, senses unconvinced that this is our new reality, the watery equivalent to bouncing in zero gravity. The water is so salty that it dries on our skin like a thick paste, quick to sting our eyes and dry our skin to itchiness, a most interesting experience.
We are at our first Atacama Desert excursion over the next few days–Laguna Cejar our introduction to this crazy landscape known as the driest place on earth, incredibly close to the sun at an average altitude of 10,000 feet, rock and mineral clustered all over the landscape like crunchy snow.
This morning, Graham and I are on a mission to find a new place to crash–our hostel is full, we find, and price for price, we end up somewhere significantly less plush, our $12 per night per person fee exorbitant given the rusty bunk beds, crammed dorms and hodgepodge common area and bathroom–and to figure out what the hell one does in the desert here, for, comparatively, Utah’s Moab and Arches and Canyonlands feel like a rainforest in contrast to the complete and total lack of moisture in the Atacama, air leeching moisture from skin, eyeballs, lips, mouth and more, body unable to keep up with the total lack of humidity no matter how much water we drink or lotion I pour over my skin.
It’s amazing life even thrives here, let alone a city of human beings.
We opt against a super tempting four-day excursion to Bolivia–vagueness about how exactly one obtains a visa into the high-alpine country and realization that our guide speaks solamente español breaking the camel’s back–for a package deal of four local excursions over three days for a bargain of CP$67,000 with World White Tours, preferring to exhaust our Atacama experience and contemplate a Bolivian foray another time.
So, now, here we are, excursion número uno, the Atacama’s Laguna Cejar, and swimming in this mini salt sea is freaking wild.