We are still due and want to see the Brit Overlanding family for Christmas but have a little time and we want to visit the Northern Chilean and Bolivian highlands.
So as we got our new tire we shot off from Iquique and with a little backtrack we headed back up north on the PanAm. From there we are tending to head East through the desert visiting a few places we heard of from other travellers, our books don’t really cover these places nor our maps so we were taking a bit of a risk to find them but the places sounded fascinating and were so happy to be back on the road again.
Our first night was in the desert where we found a weird open-air, desert church thing next to a canyon. We parked up between this church and the canyon and had a wonderful peaceful, dark, starry night. The next morning, surprisingly the police found us. They were actually very friendly and turned out they were just curious. They pointed us the right direction towards the place we wanted to go and after we asked if this was a church they told us that it was more like a sacrifice place. But they were very easy and open about it!
After a few miles down the paved road we turned off to a dirt road and drove all day through ever-changing scenery from dry desert to highland pasture with llamas and alpacas grazing. At the end of the day we found ourselves a spot next to a small brook. We suddenly found ourselves at nearly 4000m so got some high altitude issues.
The next morning we both were so tired due to the lack of sleep. As we were backing out we got stuck and spent the next couple of hours digging and jacking up Burt.
We finally got ourselves out and faced a 4-5 hours journey through beautiful highland dirt roads to the National Reserve we were aiming to get to at the end of the day.
Amazingly we found the hot mud place we heard about. (from another traveller who has been but had no idea to show us on the map) This absurd place was an ancient seabed with salt deposit left behind, surrounded by high mountains and at the far end a large pool of rich with minerals hot water. This place also is home of the wonderful James Flamingos and the highland mammals the vicuñas.
This area was also reserve of the vicuñas and had an entrance. Though it was free we had to register at the rangers’ office. They told us where we find the hot mud and gave us permission to camp there.
The area of the hot pool was breathtaking. A large pool of bubbling hot (60C), turquoise water, from where the water created a meandering way through the salty flatland. We parked up and stayed for 2 full days.
Although the recommended time to stay in the water was 15 minutes we just couldn’t come out for 2 hours. We packed our faces and bodies with rich healing mud, sat and enjoyed the water watching the sun setting behind the hills. And did this the next morning then the evening again, then the following morning. It was just wonderful. All our stuff stank of sulphur for days!
We saw 4 tourists coming down to visit this place but only stopping for 15 minutes for a few snaps they the place was our again.
On our second day when we were quiet and still a vicuña family came over to the pool and bathe in the hot water. It was very special to see them so close chilling out. It was so special that we didn’t even bother take the cameras out, we just sat and watched them for hours.
The nights were almost frighteningly quiet, dark and lonely. The wind picked up at the early hours of the evening and howling till very late which added to the spookiness. Though I have never seen a clearer night sky before with zillions of stars that sparkled so bright. It was magical.
On our third day it felt right to leave and after a quick dip we packed up and headed South over the hills and through the desert towards Bolivia.
We didn’t expect to cross the border the same day but it just happened.