Monday the 21th of April 2003 – Day 62
I see two fans died yesterday (Sunday) at a Soccer match which involved River Plate fans (the team I went to see while in Buenos Aires). A good background to trouble in the game in Argentina can be found at this site . Other news from Argentina include the the elections and more economic woes.
I decided to take it easy after yesterdays rafting. The town has a great buzz but altitude is 1,200m so some people may get nose bleeds. I changed my ticket from Santiago to New Zealand to June 16th (an extra 3 weeks). I did some surfing (1 P per hour) here and went by Gondola to the mountain overlooking Salta. It costs 8P return. I also went to the bus station to inquire about buses to San Pedro de Atacama. I found out that the bus only goes Tuesday and Friday for 21 US or 63 P. I decided to book there and then. Even thought I wanted to stay in this excellent town a few more days, I decided to go now and come back when I am returning to catch my flight from Santiago. I was sorry to book my the ticket as I was booked in to go paragliding (60 P) tomorrow. There were 6 Irish people travelling solo staying in the hostel that night iincluding James from Dublin and Andy from Longford.
Tuesday the 22th of April 2003 – Day 63
The hostel management woke me at 6.00am. There were 5 others from the hostel taking this bus. Its a route nearly taken exclusively taken by tourists as San Pedro only has a population of 2,800 so has no great person or trade links with Salta. The bus left on time at 7.00am. Beside me was Paul from Australia, and in front us us was Arron from the US and Anthony from Australia. Rob Cotter, from Waterford, Ireland was a few rows up. All had been at the hostel. The 12 hour journey was hard with bad roads all the day. We drove over the Andes through what was basically desert and salt flats. This route is not passable during the winter.
The village of San Pedro de Atacama, located at 2,450 meters above sea level, near the north side of the great salt deposit of Atacama (the biggest of the country), is perhaps one of the places in Chile which offers the widest number of attractions.
The village is located in one of the many oasis originated by the ‘Bolivian winter’, in the driest desert of the world: the Atacama Desert. That’s why it is even more incredible to find, in the middle of it, a place with really exuberating vegetation, formed by cha?ar trees, carob trees, and capsicums.
San Pedro is located at the foothills of the Andean cordillera, which reaches 6,100 meters high in this area. As soon as we arrived, the five of us visited various hotels in the town centre, deciding on the Residential Chiloe at 5,000 Cp per night. The town was dark when we arrived, but it is a very small village with few resources. Many of the services (restaurants, agencies) are directed squarely at tourists. As soon as we has left our bags, we decided to book a tour for the next day and get something to eat. We decided to visit the local Geysers with the San Pedro Atacama. The cost was 10,000 CP (including breakfast) each. No banks, ATM´s por even open money exchanges in the town. Very hard to change money. Make sure to bring Chilean Pesos with you.
The Atacama desert of Chile is a virtually rainless plateau made up of salt basins (salares), sand, and lava flows, extending from the Andes mountains to the Pacific Ocean.
The average width (east-and-west) is less than 160 kilometers (100 miles) but it extends from the Peruvian border 1000 kilometers (600 miles) south to the Bolivian Altiplano. The mountains nearest the ocean are the Pacific coastal range, with an average elevation of 800 meters (2500 feet). The Cordillera Domeyko, a range of foothills of the Andes Mountains, lies east.
The Atacama Desert is the driest desert of the globe (except perhaps for the McMurdo Dry Valleys in Antartica) and it is virtually sterile because it is blocked from moisture on both sides by the Andes mountains and by coastal mountains. The average rainfall in Antofagasta per annum is just 3mm per year, and there was a period of time where no rain fell there for 40 years. The Atacama is 15 million years old and 50 times more arid than California’s Death Valley. The driest part of the Atacama is an area called the ‘double rain shadow.’ In 2003 a team of researchers published a report in Science magazine titled “Mars-like Soils in the Atacama Desert, Chile, and the Dry Limit of Microbial Life” in which they duplicated the tests used by the Viking 1 and Viking 2 Mars landers to detect life, and were unable to detect any signs in Atacama Desert soil. The region may be unique on Earth in this regard.
The Atacama has rich deposits of copper and other minerals, and the world’s largest natural supply of sodium nitrate, which was mined on a large scale until the early 1940s. The Atacama border dispute between Chile and Bolivia began in the 1800s over these resources.
The Atacama is inhabited, though sparsely populated. The Pan-American Highway runs through the Atacama, and in the center of the desert, at an altitude of some 2000 meters, is the village of San Pedro de Atacama. Its church is recent, having been erected by the Spanish in 1577, but archeological evidence indicates that the San Pedro area was the center of a Paleolithic civilization that built rock fortresses on the steep mountains encircling the valley. The Escondida Mine is also located within the Atacama.