Cosmopolitan (UK)

“I finally learned how to switch off from life back home”

- Fiona Hayward

“No Instagram Story could capture what we were looking at”

The hire-company walls were vibrantly decorated with collages

of bohemian wanderers, casually hanging out of their huge four-wheel drives. Despite being insecure 21-yearolds, we desperatel­y tried to project the aura of confident and free-spirited travellers, the type the owner usually encountere­d. In reality, the road trip we’d impulsivel­y booked, as part of our six months away, started to feel like a really stupid idea. We were handed an “emergency” brick phone, as there’d be no Wi-Fi or signal in the Atacama Desert, Chile… a small detail of this seven-day excursion we’d naively not considered.

Suddenly, being disconnect­ed from 3G and life as I knew it felt daunting; there’d be no Google Maps if we lost our way, or YouTube tutorials on how to change a tyre. While we weren’t inexperien­ced travellers, we’d never been far from a Wi-Fi hotspot. Our phones had been an extra arm, helping us research and navigate our every move, and our social feeds were filled with idyllic snaps of places we’d visited. Even at night we’d find ourselves scrolling through content and catching up with any news or gossip from back home. We were thousands of miles away in South America, but we’d never truly shut off.

Despite reservatio­ns, we exchanged

cash for our new home… a brashly decorated NYC-sheriff truck. Setting off from the little oasis town of San Pedro, leaving the dusty streets behind, our inhibition­s were soon forgotten. The hours spent driving flew by like minutes as we were greeted with curious rock formations, salt flats and hot springs; the relentless orange contrastin­g against the piercing blue sky. With no other vehicles or sign of life for miles, the vast lunar landscape felt as though we were driving on Mars. One night we parked up by Salar de Atacama, the largest salt flat in Chile. We cooked pasta and spent the evening talking, regularly stopping to breathe in our beautiful surroundin­gs. Camping together on the rooftop tent, we all awoke around 4am and climbed down the ladder for a communal wee. Landing on the salt-encrusted earth, we were rendered speechless; the stars were like nothing we’d ever seen. The night sky of the Atacama is considered among the clearest in the world, free of almost all ambient night-time light. As we squatted, we gazed up, mouths agape. We were tiny insignific­ant humans in an entire galaxy. No photo would ever do this justice, no Instagram Story could capture what we were looking at. For the first time in a long time, we weren’t watching through our phones — as cheesy as it sounds, we were really living in the moment and the rest of the excursion continued in this same conscious vein.

It’s so rare these days to even go to a social occasion without someone being distracted by an

alert on their phone, or a need to share content online. While we had a camera to take pictures, the whole experience of being cut off from the internet was a liberating and refreshing reminder of what’s truly important.

 ??  ?? Golden-hour guru, Laguna Miscanti
Golden-hour guru, Laguna Miscanti
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 ??  ?? At Salar de Atacama
At Salar de Atacama
 ??  ?? Valle de la Luna AKA guilt-free rocky road
Valle de la Luna AKA guilt-free rocky road
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