Wednesday 21st March 2007
I am currently in the small, dusty town of San Pedro de Atacama, which is fondly known as the archeological capital of Chile. San Pedro is an oasis located in a valley between the Andes and Domeyco mountain ranges in the II Region in the north of Chile, 2438 metres above sea level, and with approximately 5,000 inhabitants.
The Atacama is the most arid desert in the world, and San Pedro is exactly as you would imagine a town in the middle of the desert to be. The centre of town consists of only a few narrow, dusty streets lined with ancient, crumbling buildings. However, the town posesses a certain character which sets it apart from other tourist towns I have come across in Chile. It has a very prosperous tourist industry, with a good choice of cafes and restaurants (although little nightlife) and agencies offering excursions to sights nearby on every street corner and everywhere you turn!
There is little rain here, as the Andes stop most rainclouds proceeding into the valley. There are parts of this region that have not seen a drop of rain since records began (over 40 years ago) which gives you an idea of just how dry it is here.
I am enjoying a few days of tranquility here. Partly because it is too hot to do very much at all, and partly because with just six weeks of my trip remaining, as soon as I reach Bolivia (in a few days time), I am going to be on a bit of a mission to see the highlights of Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador in just 4 weeks, before I need to be in Quito (Ecuador) for my trip to the Galapagos Islands. So, I am making the most of some r&r time before I leave for Bolivia tomorrow morning.
Yesterday evening, I went on an interesting excursion to see sunset over the Moon Valley, close to San Pedro. On the tour, we also enjoyed a fabulous panoramic view of the area, and went to Death Valley, which was a bit scary as our minibus driver abandoned us there, and we had to walk for about 2kms to the other side. Our tour guide did not know why he had abandoned us, and had left her mobile phone in the minibus! There was talk of being stranded there, being left to the condors, and I was getting some very attractive offers for my half bottle of water, as everyone else had left theirs on the bus!
We also went into some salt caves, where you could see huge salt formations inside on the ceiling of the cave.
In the entire area, you can see lots of different rock and salt formations of different shapes, colours and sizes, and formed of several different minerals (sand, clay, salt, gypsum) which can be seen in layers within the rocks. These shapes are formed by the actions of the strong winds in the region, and the small amount of rainfall, which then turns into salt over time.
At Moon Valley, our final stop - for the sunset, there are some spectacular formations, namely the Amphitheatre, which is similar in outline to the bellows of an organ, and also a huge sand dune, which you can walk across the top of. We climbed up to various high positions, and as the sun set, we watched the whole area turn different shades of brown, orange and pinks. It was quite special.
Went to a restaurant in San Pedro for dinner when we returned, which had a very good band playing some typical Chilean/Peruvian music, with panpipes. In his break, the guitarist came to chat to me, and when I told him I had no plans for the following day, he invited me to spend the day with him on his sheep farm in the hills. Unfortunately, he was a little over the hill, and a few teeth short of a full set (just my luck - why couldn't the young, sexy guy on the drums have dropped by for a chat?!), so I politely declined, bought a CD (they were actually very good!) and agreed to email him from England. Now, had he owned a llama farm, that of course would have been a different matter!
Well, as I said, I am enjoying a day doing nothing but relaxing today. Have visited the very interesting museum in town, and have ventured from cafe to internet place to cafe for most of the day, pausing mid-afternoon for a little siesta. Oh, and I have treated myself to a beautiful silver ring with a Lapiz Azul stone in, which is typical in this area, and was crafted by a lovely Mapuche chap in town.
Tomorrow morning, I leave for my 3-day trip overland to Uyuni, in Bolivia....