Our Saturday morning starts with a pick-up by our bright red tour bus, destination–breakfast overlooking the flamingos at Laguna Chaxa, another of the Atacama’s many salt flats.
Here, Chilean flamingos stand like ovals of pale pink plumes atop their toothpick legs, faces buried in the shallow mineral water as they hunt for their colorant, algae.
We learn that this otherworldly landscape of moon rocks and cascades of mineral rock is not the result of evaporation but of a chemical reaction between the water and the salt, latest transformations slick and smooth coats atop the more rugged salt rocks. This panorama, then, is less a testament to the sun’s harshness than to an atomic reaction, hydrogen, oxygen, sodium protons and neutrons dancing their magic.
It is like Yellowstone’s mineral pools of steaming water, rocks colored by slick smooth deposits. Only, we are in Chile, not Wyoming, and the emblematic animal is the pale pink bird, not the woolly mammoth bovine, and around us, Andean altiplanos and cordilleras surround us in this super dry, super chilly, early morning moonscape.