A day of rest, feast of St Mary

San Pedro de Atacama Travel Blog

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It was kinda a coincidence that it was sunday and we had absolutely nothing planned for the day.
We got up late had our usual Pachamama breakfast and headed into the centre of town. The plan was to take a stroll to the museum, get some ice creams and then some jogos when it got really hot.
We walked past the church and realised that there were some sort of celebrations something about a feast day for St Mary's.
Anyways we walked on to the museo arquelogico padre le paige. In the 50's I think, a padre sent to the region started collecting artifacts from the region. In fact he not ony dug up settlements but also graves and collected the artifacts and preserved them. This included mummies which were well preserved due to the aridity of the region.
When he passed on the artifacts were passed on the the safe keeping of the Catholic University which set up this museum to house the artifacts. The mummies originally on display were taken down last year at the urging of the local community.
The museum is organised like a star with each limb describing a period in the history of the atacama desert.
amazingly, this place used to have much more water. but a severe drought long ago led to the drying out of the lakes of the region forming the salt planes or 'salar'.
The inhabitants were alternately ruled by different groups including the inca's and finally the spanish. What really piqued our interest was the fact that there was quite a large amount of hallucinogens used in region. Unfortunately we didn't get to try any. the closest we got to that was the coca leaves that are commonly chewed to help cope with altitude sickness.
That evening as we strolled around town we noticed a commotion coming from near the church. As we approached we realised that it was music. It was a procession to celebrate St Mary but with a distinctly local twist.
The procession was led by men dressed as birds and other creatures. While other men were brandishing swords. Every once in awhile the animals would turn around and bow to the flag bearers of the procession.
That night as we passed the church again there was a really poignant scene. While a service was going on inside the church, there was a solemn dance going on outside. An old man and an old woman flanked by the sword bearers danced a simple dance to the accompaniment of a solo guitarist. And every so often they would stop and bow deeply the statue of Mary. It was simple yet so heart felt. It was impossible to turn away from the sight. I just stood transfixed. The passion of that simple dance just overwhelmed me.

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