92 – San Pedro de Atacama (Chapter 2)

…Atacama adventure continues.

Day 4 – Valle Arcoiris, the Rainbow Valley

We stop on the way in Yerbas Buenas, which – contrary to its name – is not a marijuana dispatching joint, but a site of ancient petroglyphs. It used to be a crossing on the trade route from the Amazons, where people would rest and unwind by drawing things on the rocks. The petroglyphs we can admire nowadays are about 400 years old (we know this because some of the drawings represent dogs, who came with the Spaniards), but allegedly the tradition goes back thousands of years, only the oldest petroglyphs did not make it to this day due to erosion. Still, I am impressed that our ancestors were sensible enough to scratch lamas into the stone surface, and not male genitalia as you’d expect. Then again, maybe they were Welsh and homesick.

Valle Arcoiris is truly rainbow-like. There layers of red, orange (iron), white (salt), violet (cobalt) and green (atacamite, a mineral indigenous to the area). It opens to a beautiful and unusually green valley, where lamas and vicuñas hang around a little stream of salt water. Don’t ask me how they manage to drink it, but they probably don’t have much choice.

Day 5 – Gaysers del Tatio

Pick up at 5 am, and I am grumpy. It takes about forever to get to over 4000 m, where one of the largest geothermal sites in the world lies. We take narrow mountain roads used by tourists in the day and narco traficants at night, and when we get there, it’s minus 7. The whole thing is a bit of an anticlimax, especially if you have seen a real geyser before (again, no double entendre here). Little puffs of hot water no higher than 20 cm and mainly vapour. Which is the whole reason why people need to be there at sunrise, because once the sun warms the air, the vapour stops condensing and the whole spectacle is even less impressive. There is a pool of hot thermal water where brave individuals can swim, but come on guys, we’re talking negative air temperatures. Even my bespoke masochism has limits.

On our way back to San Pedro we stop at a little lagoon called Vado Putana, where many different species of water birds nest.

Day 6 – Salar del Tara

The trip to the furthest salt flat takes the entire day. We drive for hours through Mars-like landscape with no vegetation whatsoever, except for an occasional bundle of some kind of hard and spiky yellow grass that vicuñas like. I’m not sure how much they actually like it, but they certainly cannot be picky a round here. Diet based on dry grass and salty water. What a miserable existence. We go into almost 4800 meters and enter a beautiful desert with some resemblance to Monument Valley, which opens onto a beautiful lagoon that reflects snowy peaks of nearby Argentina and I guess is normally full of flamingos, but right now there are only three. Maybe all other flamingos nest somewhere else, and these three had an argument with the respective Mrs Flamingos and retired to sulk over here.

Last day is spent in town just chilling, because I am leaving for Bolivia on the following day and want to rest before spending three days crammed in the undoubtedly uncomfortable jeep.

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