Chile Day 6: Geysers, Emergencies, and Stargazing

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We started our day way earlier than any other day, waking up between 4:45 and 5:00 a.m. That’s because the best time to see the Tatio Geysers is at sunrise, which means we had to be up before the sun.

We left our hotel at around 5:30 a.m., way before dawn. As we made our way out to the bus, I looked up and saw a jaw-dropping amount of stars and even the Milky Way. It was beautiful.

Anyway, there was no time for stargazing – that was to come at a later time – so we hopped into the bus and made our way up to the Tatio Geysers, which are at an altitude of about 4,300 meters above sea level. Jess gave me a few pills of her Diamox, which is used to prevent altitude sickness, so that I could actually enjoy the sights rather than sit in the bus to avoid exerting myself like yesterday at the lagoons.

We napped during most of the ride, but as we neared the geysers, a passenger yelled out to stop the bus and called for help. His girlfriend (wife?) had passed out in her seat and wasn’t breathing. Jess, our guide, and I reacted quickly. Luckily, reacting to this sort of situation is like second nature to Jess and I, with both of us being nurses, and our guide is trained with basic first aid and life support, as well. However, it’s really difficult to give out instructions or ask questions when you don’t speak the same language.

The bus was also very cramped. We had to try to haul her out of her seat and onto the aisle floor in case we had to start CPR. She wasn’t terribly heavy but the cramped space and shuffle of surrounding passengers made it much more difficult. To our relief, though, the woman started to rouse once we got her out of her seat.

It was very very lucky for her. According to our guide, the nearest hospital was 2 hours away from where we were at the time. Doing effective CPR on ground level in optimal conditions (I.e. in a hospital with all its medical equipment, life saving drugs, and medical personnel) is difficult enough with a slim chance of meaningful recovery, and “codes”, as we call them, rarely go on past an hour or so (at least in my experience). The thought of attempting something as exerting as CPR at high altitude in a cramped bus with no access to medical equipment save for a small canister of oxygen (which we couldn’t even get to work) for 2 hours sounded impossible to me, even if we taught the other passengers how to do it.

We had her lay down with her feet up in the back seat while we finished our journey to the geysers. Once we got to the geysers, we stuck around to learn a little from our tour guide and then had the opportunity to take some pictures.

The Tatio Geysers.

There are many geysers around the area and they spout columns of steam everywhere. They are best observed at sunrise, since the hot moisture condenses in the cold air. It was certainly crisp, probably a few degrees below 0 degrees Celsius, so I needed to layer up beneath the spring coat I brought to Chile with me. However, we were probably the comfiest people amongst our tour group, and definitely a lot more comfortable than the man from Florida or the couple from Australia. When we had left home, it was about -40 degrees Celsius, so anything close to 0 degrees is just fine by us. In fact, it was actually rather refreshing after burning in the summer Chilean heat the past few days. I was also really grateful for Jess’s Diamox. While I could still feel the thinness of the air, I could walk around without feeling sick.

We took some pictures, ate a quick and simple breakfast, then headed back down the mountain. There was supposed to be another stop further on but since we had an unwell passenger, everyone felt it best to skip it and get to a lower altitude and back to town, where there are at least medical facilities available, just in case. Fortunately, she did ok during the trip back, although she still did not feel well. At least she was conscious and talking.

We did a couple of quick roadside stops to observe some animals, including llamas and flamingos. Otherwise, we kept moving on and got back to San Pedro by 11:00 a.m.

vicuña, the wild cousin of the llama.

Once we got to our hotel, we pretty much dropped off to sleep and napped until about 3:00 p.m. Alana and Jess left to go sandboarding while I stuck around the hotel to do some laundry, shower, and relax (and start typing up this entry, haha).

We met up again in the evening and left at 9:30 p.m. to join up with a star gazing tour. The Atacama Desert is a prime location for stargazing and astronomical research due to the lack of light pollution (no big cities around here), aridity (very little cloud cover), and high altitude. It really is gorgeous and I attempted to take some photos with my point and shoot camera and without a tripod. I’ll have to see how they turned out when I upload them to my computer at home.

In any case, I learned a lot from our guide, who is from Belgium. We got to look through some telescopes to view various objects in the night sky, like the craters of the moon, a nebula, some galaxies, and Jupiter with a few of its moons. It was really fun, especially since the southern hemisphere has different stars than the northern hemisphere. I learned a bunch of constellations when I was a kid but a few of them here are completely new to me.

So that was pretty much our day! Tomorrow, we head to the opposite end of the country and have another very early start…

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