“Have you ever tried to enter the long black branches of other lives —
tried to imagine what the crisp fringes, full of honey, hanging
from the branches of the young locust trees, in early morning, feel like?
Do you think this world was only an entertainment for you?
Never to enter the sea and notice how the water divides
with perfect courtesy, to let you in!
Never to lie down on the grass, as though you were the grass!
Never to leap to the air as you open your wings over the dark acorn of your heart!
No wonder we hear, in your mournful voice, the complaint
that something is missing from your life…”
– Mary Oliver
When one considers the desert, what usually comes to mind are sand dunes and scorching temperatures. The driest non-polar desert in the world, however, is not known for an undulating sea of sand.
In fact, Chile’s Atacama Desert is a place where the topography varies from colorful lagoons in the Altiplanic highlands to moon-like rock and, if you are lucky, you might even get to see snow. (2017 saw the first snow in the desert in 15 years.) Sandwiched between two mountain ranges—the Andes and the Cordillera Domeyko—the Atacama Desert offers stunning views and unparalleled opportunities for adventure as well as relaxation and reflection.
On our first morning at The Explora Atacama, we were introduced to our tour guide (who would graciously be everything from our teacher to styling assistant over the next 4 days), Jose. Jose led the way to our first exploration: Valle de la Luna. The Moon Valley, thusly named for its resemblance to lunar terrain, is a sprawling landmass of stone and sand formations wrought by wind and water, and is perhaps Atacama’s most iconic of Atacama’s landscapes.
Within Moon Valley’s narrow salt caves, within the ancient rock, I found out that Jose was not always a full time Explorer. In fact, 10 months before, he had quit his job as a lawyer in Santiago for a big multinational corporation, with little more of a plan besides seeking out a metier that brought him fulfillment beyond the pecuniary. “I used to have pictures of the outdoors in my office,” he intimated, “now this is his office”.
A magnificent and amoebic office it is indeed. That morning standing in a narrow passage way that cut through vertiginous jagged salt rock, the poetry of existence was all the more apparent. It felt as though the universe had engineered this meeting with Jose, as if to goad us both on our goals which are, while not identical, not dissimilar. We both just want to dance in caves and scale mountains, I suppose (even if I demand a glass of champers or two along the way).
I emerged from the caves filled with light, as it were. From inside the earth, I was now on top of the world, scaling the heights of Moon Valley. I’ll never forget where I was when news reached me that Rafael Nadal had just won his 10th French Open title: I was on the moon.
“…Well, there is time left —
fields everywhere invite you into them.
And who will care, who will chide you if you wander away
from wherever you are, to look for your soul?”
– Mary Oliver
What I Wore: Custom poplin dress by Uhlalaland on Etsy; Issey Miyake Madam T worn
as headwrap; straw hat from Keta, Ghana
All Photos by Colby Blount