We Are High and Dry

We like the Alto Atacama so much that we have spent more than half of our time lounging around the resort rather than taking advantage of the excursions available to us daily.*

The staff seem . . . dismayed is too strong a word, perhaps bemused is better . . . by our lack of activity. I wonder if they will be singing ballads about The Lazy Americans** for years after we depart.

We roused ourselves on Sunday to undertake a “medium difficulty hike” into the Ckari Gorge and are very glad we did. Though we have no regrets about previous and future lounging!

This gorge is located in the Salt Mountains on one side of the Valley of the Moon.

We look down into the Ckari Gorge

In case you are wondering how big this landscape is, there are people in the photograph directly above. I don’t mean the shadows. Look at the three dots in a horizontal line at the bottom of the upper third of this photo. Those specks are people.

Natural erosion is constantly changing these mountains, which are composed of soft and fragile materials: gypsum, clay, and salt. The erosion is largely caused by rain, which does occur — mostly during the summer months (December, January) when the “Bolivian Winter” passes through. I am not sure if the Bolivian Winter is the French Toast of the Atacama or its Canadian Doubles. I do wonder what the Bolivians call this weather pattern.

Inside the canyon; the Directrice is the figure in white and blue

How many bad ideas can one woman execute in a single morning?

Knowing how soft and fragile these mountains are, one must ask whether it is smart to stand inside of this tunnel taking photos. It was fine!

This hike was among the highlights of the trip. We were advised in advance that it was a poor choice for anyone suffering from vertigo or a fear of heights because the descent into the gorge was by a path that dropped off on one side. It was fine!

The guide also mentioned “rock-climbing” by which I thought he meant “scampering over rocks like a billy-goat.” Since scampering is a particular talent of mine, I was unconcerned, but he actually meant “descending a 15 foot wall by finding hand- and foot-holds in natural stone.” It was fine!

Through the tunnel, walking cross a bed of salt

And another Proof of Life, if you are willing to take my word that this photo was snapped on April 8th in the Ckari Gorge.

Despite slathering my self with SPF55, I failed to cover the skin under my eyebrows — which I thought was protected by my sunglasses and hat. The wily sun found these vulnerable spots and I have the strangest, tiniest sunburns — smaller than a thumb-nail. Beware the desert sun, mis amigos.

The Photographer hands the camera to The Guide

Now back to dresses.

This one is a little different. It’s a shirtdress, intentionally cut full.

The Photographer did not like it when I showed it to him in Washington D.C., but gave it rave reviews in the desert.

Context is everything

Fatima and I agreed that this dress — the opposite of va-voomilicious — has a certain nonchalant chic. Very English Patient, I think.

Graphic high-low hem
It’s somewhere on the shirtdress-caftan-burkha continuum

Here you can see the dramatic profile of the hem and the equally — nay, more — dramatic sleeves. Fun, right? Interesting!

Not your grandmother’s shirtdress

The llamas resisted all of my appeals to come closer. They had no interest in the details of the dress, or me.

Very hard to gauge the llamas’ reaction

Dress = small-scale boondoggle

But you’ll come closer when I call, won’t you?

Come closer, she crooned. See the beautiful pin-tucking around the neckline.

I bought this dress on sale and found that even in the smallest size it was much too big. I brought it to Fatima and in a classic example of scope-creep, spent the equivalent of the sale discount on alterations. Sometimes things go that way.


Here is evidence of my continued efforts to evade the sun — an old hat and scarf you’ve seen before.

Favorite hat; favored scarf

Back to the Gorge! You be the judge. I look very covered up, don’t I? You can’t even see my eyebrows. And yet . . .

Nevertheless, I loved the desert. It’s beautiful and harsh, open and enveloping, and — to a person who grew up in the green of New England — the most foreign landscape imaginable.

Proof of Best Efforts in Sun Protection for Mother

Dress: Teija*** from MatchesFashion.com; Hat: Pistil; Scarf: Eileen Fisher; Shoes: Rebecca Minkoff

* Cannot say enough good things about the Alto Atacama. It’s a beautiful spot with wonderfully attentive staff, delicious food, and beautiful amenities.

** The Photographer vehemently disputes any characterization of our stay as “lazy.” He feels we were plenty active, despite being at 8,000 feet in the driest desert in the world.

*** If you are 5’7″ or taller, the XS may fit you perfectly. There are also many other shirtdresses and blouses on sale that look intriguing to me.

8 thoughts on “We Are High and Dry

  1. The Photographer here. We went down that path ourselves (the one with the tiny, tiny people in the first photo.) I had three thoughts: first, this looks like Dune; second, if we were on Mars it would be such a drag to walk a landscape like this in spacesuits; and third, you know those cartoons that show gasping survivors crossing a desert on hands and knees? This is that desert.

    The rock formations were amazing, on large scales and small. There were sheets of gypsum and crystals of salt everywhere. You can pick up a slice of gypsum, brush the sand off it, and look through its translucence. And we saw a tiny lizard, an event so unusual the guide leapt to photograph it with his phone. It was amazing to see anything living at all in that barren landscape covered in salt. And if you see one species, you know there have to be more. It has to eat something, and it has to be eaten by something. The guide said he had seen an owl once, and showed us a little pile of owl barf (they regurgitate the bones of what they eat.) Life is amazingly tenacious. But even knowing and seeing this, I can’t help seeing the Atacama as a place where life has mostly given up. On most of the planet, life is everywhere in abundance. Go a thousand miles to the east, you’re in the jungle. But here: silence and emptiness.

    Or mostly silence. The guide asked us to stand still for a few minutes and just listen. I heard little sounds that sounded like water dripping. The guide said we were hearing the cracking sounds of the rock as it expanded and contracted in the sun. So the desert does have its own vitalities and soundscapes. But they are so, so spare.

  2. You’re on vacation, it’s OK to lounge around!
    Back to the baggage check issue – one reason I can’t travel light is that when I’m on vacation I’ve got time to fuss around with outfits. Time to try and look thought out. If I don’t have all my stuff I can’t do that.

  3. After clicking through on your resort — spring for the star gazing!

    The best thing we did while in Hawaii was go on a trip to a star gazing site. I would do it again in a heartbeat! Seeing the red light that’s from the dawn of time; it’s amazing and unless it’s your passion worth the time and price of a guide who can point it all out to you.

  4. We did stargaze! One reason we picked the Atacama is that it has some of the best stargazing in the world. It’s the clear air and the altitude. It was so funny and odd to see familiar constellations like Leo and Orion upside down (think about it and you’ll see why.) And I finally saw Alpha Centauri, the Lower Magellanic Cluster, Canopus, and the Southern Cross with my own eyes. Tory saw two shooting stars. Unfortunately there was still some light pollution from the resort itself, but at one point the power went out, it went TOTALLY DARK, and I dashed out. I got to see a truly dark sky for about 12 seconds before the lights came back on. Now we’re in Valparaiso!

  5. Oh wow — to hear the sound of rock expanding and contracting. So humbling and awe inspiring! Thank you for sharing these experiences.

  6. I’m loving my vicarious journey thanks to you both. It truly does resemble another space in time. Any chance of hearing about your menu at this wonderful place. Just enjoy some lounging and enjoy such wonders.

  7. I am fascinated and loving Michael’s commentary as much as the pictures. Good planets are hard to find and we humans are so fortunate to have this one with it’s amazing beauty and variety.

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