It was our third day in Chile's Atacama Desert, and it was going to be a full day. My youngest daughter and I were going horseback riding in the desert in the morning, while the other two went hiking. After an energetic start to the day, we'd meet back at the lodge for an early lunch, and go on to enjoy the nearby hot springs.
Things didn't go quite as we'd expected.
Everything started great. We met our guides at the lodge and became acquainted with our horses. After a little practice, we were on our way.
The Atacama desert is as stark and as beautiful from the back of a horse as it was from our hike in the Valley of the Moon, and from the window of a minivan as we drove to the El Tatio geysers. We spent a couple of blissful hours riding and enjoying the wonderful scenery.
But suddenly I realized it was close to lunchtime, and we were still in the middle of the desert. Important fact: at noon in the desert, it is hot. We were hungry, and we'd finished almost all the water we'd brought. I asked one of the guides if we should be thinking of leaving. He looked nervously at the other guide and said, "Actually, we're lost."
We spent the next half hour meandering around, looking in vain for familiar landmarks. (Once you've been in the desert for a few hours, everything looks familiar.) Eventually, the guides found a special shortcut that would lead us home, one which involved us riding along a ridge and galloping down a cliff to reach the bottom. Suffice to say that by the time we made it back to the lodge, it was well past lunchtime, and we were weak in the knees from heat and indignation.
A restorative lunch helped. And so did a trip to the local hot springs, where the first thing I saw was this:
For those of you who deal in Fahrenheit, the equivalent of 33.5 Celsius is about 92 degrees.
It was the perfect antidote for a stressful morning. We swam, we relaxed, we counted our blessings to have found our way back. Although we hadn't spent forty years wandering in the desert, it did, in fact, feel like we'd reached our promised land.