If all of this had started two hours later, it would be absolute perfection.
But, it doesn’t.
Instead, it is barely 7 in the AM, and I am so freezing cold, I essentially sit out the first half of our excursion, the final one in a string of Atacama discoveries. The tour lady said to dress warmly, but my scarf, fleece, windbreaker, yoga pants, and thick socks are no match for what 21°F / 6°C feels like at 14,000 feet during dawn’s early hours.
By some small miracle, Graham and I rouse ourselves from the bunk bed we share in time to catch the tour bus at 4:20 AM–itself 20 minutes late, each of those minutes an eternity at this ungodly hour–as a party next door promises to rage through sunrise, they and us clearly on different, opposite schedules, Chileans definitely not dissuaded by the obligatory midnight curfew in this desert town.
Now, here we are, me darting out to see the geysers pre-dawn in short bursts of tolerable shakes, careful not to fall into boiling pits of liquid, for we cannot see and there are no markers, and after our 1.5 hour ride out to this geyser field in a heatless bus, Graham and I stitched together in a mandatory cuddle session that does little to exchange, or maintain, heat, we are frozen Popsicle tourons.
Everyone else is more hardcore than me on this early morning, for despite the shock to the system that are these frigid degrees, they stay outdoors through it all, whereas I seek comfort in our plush bus seats, hopeful to feel my toes and fingers once more.
We hear that if you’ve seen Old Faithful, the Geysers del Tatio are a tease, but I don’t wholly agree. Old Faithful is majestic in its grandeur and height, but we compare apples and oranges–the Tatio Geysers are a field of volcanic activity, these pools of boiling liquid impressive in their own way.
Which, for me, is once the sun rises, for truth be told, I really don’t get this whole drive-out-to-Timbuktu-at-the-wee-hours-to-barely-discern-geysers-in-twilight. Someone tells us that the tour companies bring us here this early to keep the crowds appeased, too chilled to the bone to riot against the humdrum views.
I beg to differ, for these steam vents are quite beautiful, the gurgle emerging from the depths of this cracked earth’s folds impressive, and once more, it’s maybe just the execution that’s a bit hasty.
At least the sun does what it does every morning, and now, I follow its rays from geyser to geyser, our van having moved to another field up the road, the destination of our geothermal pools, should anyone be nuts enough to disrobe in this deathly air and plunge into barely lukewarm bath water.
Now, touring the geysers is quite pleasant, and I stick my face in the steam to inhale the warmth and feel my skin tingle alive with moisture and heat, my cheeks happy to turn from ice pink to steam red. The sulfur vapor softens my skin and shocks me awake with its acrid odor, almost pleasantly repugnant when coupled with the warm embrace that is the rising sun.
Yes, indeed, I agree with my earlier assessment: it would be much, much better to start the day a few hours later, geysers seen at sunrise, long past dawn’s icy hand.