Chilean Endless Silence – Urban desert San Pedro de Atacama is dreamyOctober 20, 2018
- 1 Chilean Endless Silence – Urban Desert San Pedro de Atacama is Dreamy
- 2 View from the hotel on snow peaks and pampas grass
- 3 The Atacama is the driest desert in the world
- 4 By jeep, it goes into the lunar landscape of the Valle de la Luna
- 5 A bath in the hot springs of Puritama
- 6 Flamingos populate the salt lakes south of San Pedro
- 7 Remember the gloomy time of the Pinochet dictatorship
- 8 A worldwide unique place for stargazing
- 9 Tips and information
Chilean Endless Silence – Urban Desert San Pedro de Atacama is Dreamy
After the landing on the moon – the entrance to Bonanza: Already half an hour before the landing in the northern Chilean mining town of Calama, the plane had slid across a huge, wavy surface of sandy reddish brown, speckled with clouds.The subsequent jeep ride into the nearly 100 kilometers away, already existing in pre-Columbian time San Pedro then presents the almost extraterrestrial-seeming landscape at eye level: now stony and bluish-gray, framed by greenish yellow proliferating tufts of grass and the snow-capped Andes peaks far behind on the horizon. And nowhere a single human soul on the seemingly endless plain, 2500 meters above sea level.
But then, without notice: an urban desert oasis called San Pedro de Atacama. Trees, meadows and a river, horses, mud huts and internet cafés, ponchos over the shoulders of locals and restless travelers.
Then a narrow, leading out of the town again Kieselweg, left hand a hacienda with Sperrangelweit open gate wings, a cobbled courtyard with horse boxes and snow-white gekalktem residential tract – just a South American Bonanza. Or are these more the film sets of the “Glorious Seven”?
View from the hotel on snow peaks and pampas grass
The surplus of associations – one could also say: phantasms – has real reasons, of course. Quite by accident, Chile’s 105,000 square-kilometer Atacama Desert releases all these ideas.
“That’s a bit like the famous Jerusalem syndrome, but without the well-known places of worship,” says Juan Pablo as he balances saddle by saddle on horseback. It is logically explainable that the eyes – not used to the gauged force of a gigantic desert landscape – send certain information to the brain in order to integrate everything into the previously known.
As a tribute to the truth, it will also help a little bit, because “Bonanza” is actually a noble desert camp, is officially called “Hotel Explora” and is part of a project that also has branches in Patagonia and Easter Island.
And so not only the eyes, but also the palate are first spoiled by recognition effects – the elemental stranger comes soon enough. Immediately after checking in the postmodern reduced rooms of the ground floor tracts – each with a view of the distant snow peaks and the nearby Pampagras – one is asked to the terrace of the main house.
There are – again with Andenblick – first of all small delicacies served: air-dried ham, the Chilean fresh fish specialty limonenbetupfter Ceviche, sun-ripened oranges, a glass of Sauvignon Blanc or Cabernet from the wine-growing regions in the south of the country.
The Atacama is the driest desert in the world
Gluttony should not be this, so the guests are asked at the beginning, neither the local altitude or the glaring light to underestimate, although fresh wind ensures a pleasant temperature. Also: The Atacama, more than 15 million years old, is the world’s driest desert outside the polar regions.
An hourly refilled water dispenser – sometimes with fresh mint, – sometimes with orange or lemon flavor – is available inside the house, as well as thermoses for the upcoming day or half-day trips, because “Explora” takes the idea of ”exploration” very seriously.
That’s why the wavy main building not only houses the reception and the restaurant, but also preparatory rooms that merge into each other, where the Atacama visitors can put together their tours – individually or in small groups. Previously, a Powerpoint presentation will inform you about the continent’s unique desert, where the Earth is actually the most unearthly because of millions of years of geological dislocation.
Which compares quite well with a “lunar landscape”. The American space agency Nasa is also testing their vehicles and robots in the Atacama Desert.
In addition, there are the 66 mobile parabolic antennas of the international Alma project. The scientists want to capture wavelengths of light from galaxies outside the Milky Way. Although this facility can not be visited, for the famous Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon), the ban on visiting but certainly not.
By jeep, it goes into the lunar landscape of the Valle de la Luna
In general, the Atacama Desert has a lot to offer. There are even flamingos – and many horses that guarantee actual “bonanza feeling” when riding for several hours. Not to mention the narrow oases, in which can be walked along reed-lined waterways.
The most surprising thing about all of this, however, is the calm and friendliness with which the multi-lingual guides, studded in geology as well as in astronomy, present all these tours and gently neutralize approaches to tourist bustle in advance.
So it is not necessary to decide immediately for one of the trips, it is sufficient to get information before dinner, which desert attractions you want to discover the next day.
This straightforward procedure works only because the originating from the region and mostly graduated university guides have a lot of psychological empathy: It turns out that for one of the trips already enough guests are logged in and there is a risk that the visited places in atmosphere lose, the other visitors an alternative made palatable, which is the sweeter, as it goes along with the suggestion, you will now discover something in front of the other fellow travelers.
Our tour leads via jeep into the Valle de la Luna and there to a leisurely walk under red and golden afternoon light. The giant raised rocks are over 40,000 years old and remind us a bit of Toblerone corners.
A bath in the hot springs of Puritama
In the background, lightly shaded by clouds from the Amazon, rises the white tip of the still active volcano Lasca, plus the Andes, over 6000 meters high. Once there, the Incas paid homage to their sun god, today it is already Bolivian territory.
But what are territorial boundaries in the face of the space stillness that surrounds you here! The only sound is one’s own breath and an eternal trickle of sand that also teaches humility. The mineral deposits on the canyon walls glitter like veritable diamonds and are reminiscent of Catalan Gaudí-style ornaments.
Such a terrestrial primal experience is followed by the quasi-maritime counterpart on the following morning: The body glides over the stones, gently ground off by the water, on the edge of the Puritama hot springs. And the best part: the stones are warm.
Which is all the more pleasant, as the way to the springs in this green desert canyon was no easier: over two hours, the descent from the moonscape and the passage along a gurgling watercourse had taken before the dense, often razor-sharp pampas grass gave the view of the idyll ,
The existential experience, in one of the driest deserts in the world under a velvety sky, suddenly romping around in the water, gets even a certain civilizing kick. Because, of course, expecting the bathers when exiting a soft, sky-blue terry robe and a small snack from fresh goat’s cheese as well as drawn in the oasis tomatoes.
On the way back to San Pedro, the Jeep driver gets the information that those sources of Puritama are the preferred destination of honeymooners – so some would come back here after a few years, now with their offspring.
Flamingos populate the salt lakes south of San Pedro
Of course, the landscape can also be enjoyed in a completely different way. When we come back from the Valle de la Luna to the hacienda, not a heavy lunch with a subsequent coma-sleep awaits us, but a dip in the pool. Where we have the choice between three elongated basins, from which gives an impressive view of nature.
Not far from the accommodations, but beyond our sight, we believe we can smell the lush fig trees and listen to the pampa grass swaying in the wind. The property stretches over 17 hectares and is thus geographically anything but an artificial bubble.
However, as far as our Wild West association with the “Glorious Seven” is concerned, it actually becomes real in the afternoon on our trip to the flamingo-populated salt lakes south of San Pedro. So the trail leads first through the 1000-inhabitant village Toconao, whose 1750 built little church with bell tower is like a movie set.
Once, before Christianization by the Spaniards, the locals had paid tribute to their wind and water god. It is therefore not entirely clear whether the wooden and lamahaut device, which is fixed to the ceiling above the altar, should only keep the water out or not serve a hidden spiritual purpose of the indigenous population.
Shortly after the village begins the Antofagasta region with the third largest salt surface in the world. Probably the most aesthetically impressive salt surface is: In the late afternoon light, even the ground lights up, billions of illuminated, wave-like salt crystals. A narrow path with stones leads through this dry salt sea and ends in sight of the lagoons.
There, flamingos of three species step gracefully up and down and dip their filter beaks into the whitish-blue water gently moving from the emerging evening breeze to fish for crustaceans. These have the dye beta-carotene, which in turn require the flamingos to get their plumage pink.
Meanwhile, the setting sun already plunges the mountain range into an unreal orange. A tourist destroys the magical moment with a strange question: what happens to flamingos who lose their pink?
Presumably, the guides have an explanation, but in the backlight, the inquisitive desert visitors have already become razor-sharp drawn silhouettes, and shortly thereafter, in the rapidly dusk, losing their contours – and thus their claim to factual knowledge.
Remember the gloomy time of the Pinochet dictatorship
No, not every question needs an answer. Especially as the desert is reminiscent of the fragile of human existence. So immerse in the headlights cones of Jeeps again and again so-called animitas along the roadside – tiny, dollhouse-like houses, erected in memory of those who were traveling too fast in this winding area and after their accidental death require a temporary home for their disembodied soul.
At dinner then even the most talkative guests at least temporarily a speech break, which is probably due to the culinary delight. To a Chilean red wine, the meat eaters, who are a majority among the guests, served succulent-bloody steaks, enhanced with chancho en piedra, finely chopped tomatoes in vinegar and coriander sauce.
There is Pisco Sour. The cocktail has a pleasant effect; Instead of provoking mass tourism Halligalli, he sharpens the mind on the contrary. It goes without saying that just this evening, a married couple from the capital Santiago de Chile talking about the dark spots of the Atacama Desert, that is to say about the Pinochet dictatorship, when the tortured bodies of murdered opponents of the regime were thrown into remote craters.
Some time ago, documentary filmmaker Patricio Guzmán dedicated this barely-known story to Cannes’ award-winning film Nostalgia of Light.
But this does not remain a politically correct reminiscence of well-to-do travelers. It’s Friday night, a short walk away on the sparkling Plaza San Pedro, the life, and in the surrounding cafes and bars, the suffering past of the country is repeatedly discussed.
Young foreign and domestic travelers ask their peers what they have learned from their parents or grandparents about what happened then. Not least the fact that many answers are in perfect English shows the positive direction in which democratic Chile has developed since the end of the dictatorship: today the country is economically prosperous, politically stable and safe for travelers. Even the Pisco-Sour fraternities with the polyglot Indigenas do not end here in drunkenness, as elsewhere in Latin America, but peaceful and relaxed.
A worldwide unique place for stargazing
The next day then the grand finale: Bonanza meets cosmos. The previous evening, Señor Juan Pablo had asked if he was not interested in a morning ride. But yes, that was our answer.
So now we are riding high on horseback out of the hotel stud again through San Pedro’s alleyways, then across a narrow ford and into an unknown desert area. And this actually reminds of the North American Death Valley. Or is it just the shadows of horse and rider, which quickly become shorter in the rising sunlight, that remind one of long-standing noble westerns? That’s it.
And then suddenly – like a film set – the tiny chapel of San Isidoro rises on a hill, in front of which shepherds stand with their lamas. After Indian or Cowboyart you would then someday have to look heavenward to calculate the time for the return.
But Juan Pablo, whom we jokingly call masters of all secret ways, does not need such hocus-pocus, of course. He leads us home in new, strangely even shorter ways.
In the hotel, the next highlight awaits us, a visit to the observatory. Hardly any other place in the world is as perfect for observing the stars as the Atacama, since here the night sky is not illuminated by artificial light. And so we can finally see the shimmering cross of the south as well as Saturn and Jupiter.
If it sounds not so cheesy, one could almost say: space infinity sinking into human souls; maybe only for a few moments, but unforgettable as long as you stay on earth. But to put it simply: The Atacama is a natural wonder that does not need loud praise.
Tips and information
Getting there: For example with Air France via Paris or with Iberia via Madrid to Santiago; then with LATAM Airlines to Calama.
Accommodation: “Explora Atacama” offers an all-inclusive package with jeep and horseback excursions, 3 nights in a double room from 1750 euros per person, explora.com. “Hotel Pascual Andino”, centrally located in San Pedro de Atacama, double room with breakfast from 165 Euro, pascualandino.com
Information desk: chile.travel/de/
Participation in the trip was supported by Air France and Explora. Our standards of transparency and journalistic independence can be found at axelspringer.de/unabhaengigkeit.
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