9 Feb 2012

San Pedro de Atacama - some like it hot and dry...

San Pedro de Atacama is situated in the Atacama salt flats  (22 degrees south of the equator) part of the region known as the Atacama desert and commonly known as the driest place on earth (average rainfall of 1mm a year). Travelling from Lima that means a total of 42 hours on buses and bring your own water.

A settlement or other has been on the sight for a very long time, around the oasis, but its modern vibe is predominantly focussed on tourism as we all flock to see the magical sights, with some mining (copper/lithium) and star gazing thrown in (Llano de Chajnantor Observatory - which is apparently the latest in international technology in looking up).

The sights that we squeezed into a 3 day campaign were:
Valle de la luna - which is one of the driest places on earth as some of it hasn't received any rainfall for hundreds of years. It has also been compared to the surface of Mars and a rover was tested here. Rare shapes carved by the elements are peppered around the vista, abandoned salt mines abandoned, dunes sculpted by the wind, you get the picture... The thing to do is watch the sunset, so we did.

Mineral lakes - There were only 6 of us on this tour for the day + our guide Alex who picked us up at 0645 with tunes already playing. He took us to the salt plains proper to see flamingoes and then 2 other lakes of differing altitudes and settings, all very beautiful. Throughout the entire trip we were accompanied by his own medley of 1980's then 90's tunes, to which he sang gently in the background. Every time we awoke from a moments slumber, there he was singing along...and oh yes the lakes, fab... amazing tones of blue accompanied by grazing guanacos and vicuñas.

The Geysers of El Tatio
The following day saw a 0430 start - excellent - to be driven through the night for 2 hours to 4000 metres above sea level at -7 degrees c (average temperature of our trip so far: 25 degrees c) = shock to the early morning system! 

NB We spent the morning 'discussing' the correct pronunciation of geyser, eventually agreeing that a geyser is what is in front of the camera and a geezer behind it...assuming that the Americans know who Guy Ritchie is...

We were also told the story of the four people that have died in these geysers since they were opened up to tourists in the 90's. The last to cook was a Chilean gentlemen who neatly folded his towel next to the pool and then, wearing no more than his trusty speedos, jumped in. Due to the temperature of the water being upwards of 70 degrees c, his skin promptly peeled off. The other 3 tales were equally gruesome.

And then a final fly by through cactus valley. These babies are amazing, apparently scientists have now measured growth rates of the plant at approx 10mm per year, so 4-5 metre beasts are approx 400+ yrs old, which is why they are now protected to stop people using the 'wood' of the inner core as fuel/building/art.

Some like it hot, it was in every way (other than at 0430!) and dry dry dry...

1 comment:

  1. Hi Ben and Pam,

    Very impressive this landscape. Didn't know that south america had any like this. I would rather think of asia or africa.
    The geysers are very dangerous indeed. Are there no active vulcanoes in the area?

    Enjoy your trip and have fun.

    Greetz, Peter