There is fun in traveling. There is no fun in flying to and back, no matter the plane, the seat or the upgrade. Leaving Phoenix today and changing planes in Atlanta, my arrival in Santiago, Chile is a mere 25 hours of discomfort, but a guy's got to do what a guy's got to do
The Atacama Desert is a plateau in South America, covering a 1,000-kilometre strip of land on the Pacific coast, west of the Andes mountains. It is the driest non-polar desert in the world. Wikipedia
After arriving in Santiago, Chile, and since my room in the hotel was not ready, our group walked the city center to familiarize ourselves with the landmarks. Later following a dinner, started with the traditional Chilean drink, the pisco sour (or 2) we returned to the hotel to prepare for the next day - our flight of 2 hours to Calama, we met our driver and explored various landmarks on our way to San Pedro de Atacama, our base for the next 3 days.
The road from Calama travels through the driest desert on Earth. Although only at 9000 feet, the altitude takes time to get used to, so a slow pace and drinking lots of water ruled the day. Our first stop was to view petroglyphs, ancient drawings of the “atacamaenos”(people of Atacama), similar but much older than those we see in the American Southwest. Following that short trek, we then visited Rainbow Valley, where the many colors of rock are the results of volcanos and the variety of minerals. The greens, blacks, browns & reds make this a very spectacular view. Also of interest were the herds of commercial Llamas next to the highway, and the treat of seeing its’ relative the wild Guanaco (pronounced wanaca). After a very late lunch, arriving at our hotel, it was time for a well deserved rest so we could face tomorrow.
After breakfast we walked the streets of San Pedro, a small community of some 2000 persons. The dusty streets lined with Spanish influenced buildings, are home to many hostels, trekking companies and restaurants, seemingly to be home to mainly young adventurers, the local residents and we, a handful of seniors. A virtual oasis in this desert, the lush greenery with small farms is a stark contrast to the surrounding area. Later today we drive to Toconao and Laguna Chaxa to see the sunset, and walk the salt flats to view the famous flamingos feasting on the brine shrimp in the shallow pools. Watching the moonrise over the Andes was as good as it gets. How insignificant we are in this land of so many contrasts.
Our last full day in Atacama. A leisurely walk once more around the town visiting local artisans, a lunch of empanadas and then off again, this time to visit the Valley of the Moon. The landscape is beyond words, so stark and barren, with the land filed with salt and semi precious metals laid down millions of years ago by the upheaval of the earth, A trip to an overlook to watch the sun set, and enjoy a glass of wine and then back to our hotel. Tomorrow we fly back to Santiago and then onward to the next part of our trip - Brazil; the Amazon and the Pantanal.