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Full Circle

Day 175: San Pedro de Atacama

Atacama Desert, Chile 
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Crossing the Atacama Desert.
Michael Palin - Full CircleAt fourteen thousand feet ice forms on the inside of the windscreen. At fourteen thousand seven hundred feet I am at the highest point I've ever reached on the planet. I ask Nigel, who has been everywhere, if he's ever been seriously affected by altitude sickness. 'Oh yes,' he replies breezily, 'after two or three days above fourteen thousand feet your face and hands swell up.'

All in all, I'm glad to get to the geysers in one piece. They are worth getting up for. From a distance the columns of steam rise from a bowl in amongst the mountains like smoke from hundreds of encampment fires. We can get close, but not too close. The surface of this thermal lake is a fragile crust and recently two tourists have fallen through into the boiling water beneath. One, they say, was never found.

At seven forty-five the sun breaks over the rim of the mountains, backlighting the spray from the bubbling earth. It is still well below zero and the steam immediately condenses and freezes into tiny particles which glitter and sparkle as they catch the light. It is a wonderful show.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 175
  • Country/sea: Chile
  • Place: San Pedro de Atacama
  • Book page no: 231

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