We left the veritable lushness and beauty of being at the coast at Vina del Mar and traveled by bus (for 24 hours by the way!) to the dusty town of San Pedro de Atacama. San Pedro (as it is often called) is a rural adobe village in the North of Chile. It is 2436 metres above sea level and is located pretty much in the middle of the Atacama desert. It is the hub for all the excursions and activities in and around the desert and there are plenty. If you want to go into the desert on horseback, sandboard down the dunes, visit the salt flats, view Death Valley and Moon Valley, this is the place to do it all from. We decided that we would rest for a day or two, after the bus ride and then put lots of time into exploring the nearby desert and salt flats etc. So we booked our excursions up front and were flatout for the next 3 days (blogs and photos coming) but now, back to San Pedro.
It is a really quaint little village with just on 2000 inhabitants. It has pretty much all dirt road streets and almost all the buildings in the village are made of straw and mud, adobe in other words. The Church of San Pedro de Atacama is the centre of attraction in town and was declared a national monument in 1951. Instead of nails being used in its contruction, leather strips were used and the buildings walls were made of Adobe and the roof of Chanar and Algarrobo. The ceiling is covered with cactus and mixed with mud and straw. It is an impressive building and it has been amazing to see how mud homes can stand for such a long time. Of course it works pretty well here in the Atacama because the Atacama only has approx 1 mm of rain per annum…
Oh, one other thing, did I mention that there is a Volcano, a few kms from San Pedro called Licancabur? Well, there is and it is 5920m above sea level (that is a little taller than Mt Kilimanjaro) but not very active. The really dangerous volcano is literally just down the road called Lascar Volcano and that one IS active, it is the most active volcano in the whole Andean mountain range. In fact when were on one of our excursion I saw smoke rising from its summit and the tour guide confirmed that indeed it was steam from the volcano, but not to worry as the plume was not vertical, if it is then its a problem. According to all the stats, Lascar is due to have another BIG eruption this year….fantastic!
On our first night here we did an astronomy tour. We went out to an astronomers house in the desert and for about 1 and a half hours he told us about the night sky. The sky out here is amazing because of 3 reasons. First, there is almost no light pollution from any big city and secondly, there is very little to no cloud cover ever and thirdly there is no air pollution. So the stars seem so bright and near you feel like you can almost touch them. After his talk we then went out into the garden and he has about 8 big telescopes set up to view different part of the sky, so we got a really close up view of Saturn, Mars, the Tarantula Nebula in the Magellenic Galaxy, Omega Centauri and a portion of the Milky way. It was an amazing evening and we came back with a renewed respect of our magnificent galaxy and we realized just how small we really are when we look at the scale an size of the universe that God has created, simply astounding.
The next day we went off to the Moon Valley, that post will follow soon!