Blue Doors and Purple Mountains
San Pedro de Atacama Travel Blog› entry 8 of 19 › view all entries
There is no solid reason it took me this long to post this, but I have had a hard time summing up my trip to San Pedro de Atacama. Each year, the program goes on a trip somewhere in Chile, sometimes to Patagonia in the South and sometimes to the Atacama Desert in the North. At first I was bummed to hear we were going to the latter, but this weekend was so nice that I have a completely different view on it. I got pretty choked up on the way back to Santiago. I just felt awful leaving the warm, sunny, clear desert to come back to cold, smoggy, urban Santiago. I think I sound ridiculously trite when I try to describe why I had such an attachment to such a podunky town, so I will just outline our trip and hopefully somewhere in that and the photos I can convey my sappy feelings towards adobe and dust.
I think I first fell in love with the delicious mattresses and sheets at La Casa de Don Tomás. Getting to San Pedro was a ridiculous ordeal and by the time we got to the hotel a fruit palate would have felt great, but the beds were particularly luxurious. Thanks AU. So, the flight: we flew from Santiago to Antofagasta and were supposed to just stay long enough to drop off and pick up passengers. We were soon told we had to disembark for an hour so the mechanics could check out the plane. We did so, to find an airport that could only be described as “a 1980’s southwest themed rec-center” The one restaurant in the place blanched when it saw 25 hungry Americans descending upon it , but managed to prepare 25 fairly mediocre sandwhiches before we got back on the plane.
Next day- we packed into two vans and drove to the town museum, which was really full for a town of 5,000. The guilt-ridden gringo in me was happy to hear that they finally took their mummies off the exhibit at the request of local native groups. The extremely dry and mineral rich area made many natural mummies which had been uncovered over the years, but having them in display for the tourists felt morbid and rude. After that we drove to Aldea de Tulor, which were the ruins of a pre-columbian apartment building. The complex was huge and mostly covered by sand. Next stop of the gringo-mobiles was Pukara de Quitor, which were basically Chile’s version of Mesa Verde. A huge complex of houses built into the hillside.
After lunch all but 4 of us elected to go on the additional trip to the Salar de Atacama, which is the 3rd largest salt flats in the world (after a salar in Bolivia and the Great Salt Lake of Utah) I mostly went because I thought Jessie and Walt wouldn’t speak to me if I didn’t get some pictures of the flamingo colony that lives there.
Almost all of the restaurants in San Pedro take advantage of the town’s miniscule annual rainfall and have open areas in the middle of the restaurant with a firepit out in the open. They also all double as bars, so after your dinner you can take your drink to the steps around the fire pit and sit as long as you like looking at the stars and pretending you are at a campfire. It gets pretty cold the second the sun sets, so the fire is a welcome item. I loved this end to the day activity and also enjoyed the walk back to our hotel which had stretches of pitch dark where the stars were absurdly bright.
The next morning we had to ourselves, so we poked around all 6 blocks of San Pedro. The 25 of us made up about 1/200th of the towns population, so it wasn’t surprising when we ran into each other around every turn. I had heard through the grapevine that the next day’s activities were going to be frigid, so I bought a hat and a pair of gloves made out of brightly dyed alpaca. They are intended to be replacements for the hat I knit Jennie that she lost eventually, but I did get good use out of them the next day. IMPORTANT NOTE: I will be able to buy many more alpaca goods when I am in Peru in December and I have room in my suitcase, so if you want something in particular for Christmas, let me know…
That night we went to Valley of the Moon, which is very appropriately named.
The next morning started at 3:40 AM, a time when most Santiaguinos are thinking about calling it a night. We rolled into our buses with a cup of tea and were told to try to get some sleep right away if possible because the road was going to deteriorate soon.
On the way down the mountain we stopped a couple times for “Natural History Lessons with Marcela” which included looking at a moss relative that is endangered in the area, but used to serve as the primary fuel for pre-historic campfires, and vicunas, which are wild cousins of llamas.
Our last stop was the hotsprings, which were a delicious sight to people who had been in bumpy vans since 4 am. A particularly pleasant surprise for a girl whose only experience with hotsprings involved the persistant smell of rotten eggs was that not all springs are sulfur springs! These hotsprings didn’t smell bad at all and were absolutely perfect. Until I tried to slide down a waterfall and majorly bunged up my left foot and hand… I have enough movement in my foot that I have ruled out breaking it so I am going to avoid complaining about what was probably a sprained baby toe, because frankly that sounds really lame.
The real injuries of the trip came the next day when most of the folks went sand surfing. I had decided I was out of money and stayed back to enjoy our hotel’s shaded patio one last morning, so I missed out on the injury causing mayhem. They ended up taking Marie and Tom to the hospital to get their twisted knee and whacked head, respectively, checked out. Both are alive, but it was a bit of a downer end to the trip.
That aside, it was a wonderful time. Our faculty chaperone, Oriana, is high up in the Chilean Environmental Protection Agency, and was really great to hang out with and get to know outside of school.
I apologize for such a long post, and for its tardiness, but now I am going to go to sleep in my cold little bedroom in smoggy Santiago and dream of fresh air that has the slight scent of dust.
PS- a rambling thought process on humanity: It is magical to me how humans on opposite sides of the world have found similar solutions to common problems. Adobe- for instance, is extremely effective at keeping a shelter warm when it is cold outside and cool when it is hot outside, and almost every desert residing culture has some form of it.
PPS- notice that there are more photos underneith this.