A few weekends ago, I turned my back on Antofagasta's beaches and headed inland, into the heart of the Atacama desert, for an active vacation in San Pedro de Atacama.
When I was prepping this post, I happened upon an appropriately timely article by Stephen Paul Nash in the New York Times travel section. He expresses the same simultaneous dulling and heightening of the senses that I experienced in the midst of a dust, ubiquitously tan world, but since he does so in a much more poetic manner, I thought I'd share:
"The town’s main thoroughfare, the Caracoles, is closed to cars, with the result that an inviting languor prevails. Narrow dirt streets are flanked tightly by high adobe walls. The walls are taupe, the color of the ubiquitous chusca dust of the enfolding desert, as are the buildings of the little business district, our hotel, and many of a legion of amiable street dogs. But eyes adapt to this kind of seeming uniformity, just as they do to darkness. Slowly, chroma and variation emerge. Occasional flashes of high color — the pigments of flowers, a ragged cobalt sky, an old shirt in a herder’s abandoned hut — can prompt something close to sensory overload"
We spent our first day cruising through the flat, parched landscape on rented bikes:
Along the way, the ground was so dry and cracked in places that it looked more like shards of ceramic than earth.
Stephen Paul Nash: "The Atacama is so dry, in fact, that NASA has chosen it as a research analogue for Mars, testing techniques for how to detect life in a seemingly sterile environment. (There are said to be children who have grown to adulthood there without ever having seen rain.)"
We encountered a woman herding goats:
We eventually made it to the Pukara de Quitor ruins
They were a lot of fun to hike around, although the hilly climb and view from the top was quite literally breathtaking with the thin air at the higher altitude.
Just around the corner, there was a cool arch and face carved into the rock. Between the desolate dessert setting and the feminine face, it reminded me a lot of the laser-eyed sphinxes in The Neverending Story (I feel like I'm outing myself as an 80s baby by making this reference). Luckily, I had enough self confidence to make it past and live to tell the tale.
The opposite side of the face had crumbled away, leaving a profile that was arguably more striking than the original:
The next day was dedicated to valleys. The Valley of the Moon (which is also where I was when I was maniacally jumping on a dangerously high cliff face in this post's first picture):
A hike along the boulders and through the river in Cactus Valley:
According to our guide, these cacti only grow a centimeter or so a year, so this bad boy is quite the grandfather cactus:
And finally, the Valley of Death for a beautiful sunset:
See tomorrow's post for the continuation of this trip: volcanos and geysers and hot springs: oh my!