The Head Roam Current Project: The Atacama Desert Travelogue

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Atacama Desert Chile Salt Flats

Welcome to the Head Roam Current Project, which in late March 2022, is our Atacama Desert Travelogue.

The Tres Marias, a rock formation in the Atacama Desert in Chile, features 3 figures representing women in Atacama mythology, one standing, one kneeling, one crawling
Tres Marias, a rock formation in the Atacama Desert, crusted over with salt deposits in March, 2019. Photo: Nan Bauer

Here’s a quick guide to what you’ll find in this post; feel free to jump down the page:

The Atacama Desert Travelogue: Why We Went

Steve and I journeyed to the Atacama in 2019. I had read about it in a New York Times 52 Places post back in 2017. Since we were stopping in Chile before and after our 6 weeks in Buenos Aires learning to speak Spanish, we decided it would be a cool place to stop.

Part of the Atacama Desert Travelogue, the photo features a couple, backs to camera and arms around each other, looking into the distance at a sunset.
Steve and I, March 2019, Atacama Desert. Photo: Nan Bauer

Starting with the Atacama Desert Travelogue as my first project posed a particular challenge that I think a lot of travelers may have: I wrote a page of impressions after we arrived at our hotel and before we left for our first excursion to the Valley of the Moon.



I figured I’d get to it soon after we arrived home, when I wasn’t too tired from the day’s activities to write. I never did.

Atacama Desert Travelogue includes this image of vicunas grazing near a lagoon.
Vicuñas graze at Miscanti Lagoon, Atacama Desert, March 2019, photo: Nan Bauer

So I painstakingly went through my photos, dumping the duds, mapping and labelling the others, retouching the best ones, and posting them to a Facebook album dedicated to the Atacama, which I invite you to visit. Like your favorites, and please leave a comment or two.

The Tatio Geysers in the Atacama Desert, Chile, billow skyward, steam columns rising powerfully with an apricot-colored mountain in the background.
Tatio Geysers, Atacama Desert, Chile, March 2019, photo: Nan Bauer

I’ll have an upcoming post on that process. I won’t lie: It requires a block of dedicated time and may inspire a little hair-pulling as well. It’s also very rewarding; Steve and I have had a lot of fun revisiting the trip and comparing notes.

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The Atacama Desert Travelogue: Current Status

I continue to work on the Atacama Desert Travelogue ebook, “Long Shadows in the Late Afternoon: A Journey to the Atacama.” Coming soon to a website near you, i.e., this one.

On the blue waters of a salt flat in the Atacama Desert in Chile, flamingos bend gracefully down to feed on microscopic shrimp in the mineral-rich waters.
Flamingos feeding, Atacama Desert, March 2019, photo: Nan Bauer

As I went through the process of recreating the trip, I realized that there had been things about my approach that bothered me, namely:

  • I didn’t do enough research.
  • Thus, I fell into herd mentality.
  • Additionally, I wasn’t prepared for the challenges of the Atacama’s extreme light, and therefore got a lot of crappy photos with my phone.
  • I didn’t make sure our hotel had a place to look at the stars, which are the best part.

You, my friend, can benefit from my mistakes. Check out the Atacama Desert Travel Tips here.

The Atacama Desert Travelogue: Writing Lesson

How do you write about the parts of a trip that you don’t love?

Don’t get me wrong.

I am deeply grateful for my time in the Atacama.

A group of tourists stand in the shadow of a striated beige, mauve, and gray canyon in the Atacama Desert, Chile.
Valley of Death, Atacama Desert, Chile, March 2019, photo: Nan Bauer

I just wish I’d done some things differently.

So how do I write about my mistakes, the things I didn’t like?

I looked to my travel writing hero, Jan Morris. She spoke in interviews about her affection for Australia, yet her portrait in her essay collection Journeys focuses on warts and wonders equally. Morris has a knack for leaning into dominant impressions of places, a technique to emulate.

In Toconoa, a small town in the Atacama Desert, a wall made of scavenged scrap metal features panels of different mineral colors, rust, dark brown, pale blue, against a deep azure sky
Wall made of scavenged scrap metal, Toconoa, Atacama Desert, Chile, March 2019, photo: Nan Bauer

I’m rewriting my initial draft of the Atacama Desert Travelogue to build a dominant impression. Soon, in the Write category of this site, you’ll find a post highlighting what I’ve learned.

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The Atacama Desert Travelogue: Further Reading on Chile

Finally, I’ve been reading and rereading books on Chile, some by Chilenos. Find the complete list of books by our favorite Chilean authors and about Chile here. If you buy any of them via our links, you help support this site at no extra cost to you, and also support independent booksellers.

Thanks for reading!

Please leave comments, send an email to Nan, and share this post. Take care!

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