Monday, March 31, 2008

We woke up between 7 and 8 in the morning - pretty good for the first morning. There was a huge showerhead in the tub - very relaxing. We went over to the lodge to have breakfast. Then we got ready for our trip, Cornisas, which was scheduled to leave at 10. Apparently the German couple had done some more research, and decided to go elsewhere, but we were with Marissa and Ed and a Brazilian lady named Vera. We never learned our guide's name, unfortunately.

We headed out northwest from San Pedro for about 15 minutes. We started looking out over the salt range and some sand dunes, with the snow-capped Andes in the background - very picturesque. We headed out on the ridge, looking down over San Pedro and the salt range. We saw some people down in the bowl, apparently sandboarding some of the dunes. After walking down a ways we got to do something very fun.


We came down the major sand dune, probably 100 meters tall. Our feet were completely in the sand, and it was best to keep our heels dug in to prevent falling.

There were a bunch of people in some race that were doing the same thing - we got some pictures and video of them as well. In the middle we stopped for a bit - there was a nice view - then went down again. At the bottom we walked through one of the valleys in the salt range, then got picked up by our van. Just before we left we saw the organizers for the race was called Race The Planet. Most of the people sounded Australian, which doesn't seem that odd actually.

We came back and had lunch - well, Crystal had lunch and Justin starved. After that, Crystal slept and Justin checked in on North Carolina in the NCAA tournament. We left for our afternoon excursion named Kari a little after 4 pm. We found out our guide in the morning was Rene (a guy). We found this out from our afternoon guide, Ani. There were no other guests, just us and Ani.

We started out near where we started this morning, but this time we went generally southeast instead of northwest. We were on a tall ridge above a sand dune, with a large flat bed at the bottom. We walked around the ridge for about 20-30 minutes. After that we walked down the sand dunes (not nearly as steep or as fun this time) to the bottom. At the bottom, we were in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by mountains and ridges on all sides.

We eventually entered the salt range and started walking through canyons formed by runoff over millions of years. The canyon kept getting deeper and deeper the longer we walked, with the walls reaching at least 100 feet above us by the end. The walls were a combination of clay and gypsum and salt, with salt being more prominent in certain locations. It reminded us a bit of the Choco Canyon stage on Mario Kart 64. In two places we had to carefully step down 8-10 foot cliffs, which was difficult for Justin with the size of his feet. There was a sizeable cave we walked around at one point.


Near the end there was a salt "river," where the salt was concentrated in a couple places and actually looked like snow. The walls cracked loudly in many places, from differing expansions due to heat and cooling. We got to the end at the perfect time, since the sunlight on the Andes turned them pink.

We got back around 7pm, loaded all of our photos and checked them out to see what we had done. We spoke with Chris about what to do the next day. We told him that we had planned out the next two days, subject to veto. Tomorrow we wanted to do Salar de Tara, a salt flat well to the east. The next day we wanted to climb Cerro Toco (18,000 feet) in the morning and go to Valle de la Luna in the afternoon.

He did veto. Cerro Toco needed a "warm up," and Salar de Tara did not fit the bill. So after going back and forth a bit, we ended up deciding to go to Copa Coya tomorrow to warm up for hiking at elevation - it is 6.5 miles at around 14,000 feet. On Wednesday we planned to do Cerro Toco in the morning, and either Valle de la Luna or Laguna Chaxa in the afternoon. He recommended against drinking tomorrow, which would be tough since it would be our 8th wedding anniversary

At 8:30 we headed over to dinner, and had filets with risotto. Crystal had the chocolate raspberry cake for dessert. Justin had already had that, so he just had a bunch of water to help hydrate. We came back and got cleaned up for the long day, then went to sleep.