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Published: April 19th 2015
As we were enjoying the wines of Mendoza our next destination, Northern Chile, was experiencing its worst flooding in decades. The Atacama desert is the driest desert in the world and areas in this region were receiving more rain in one day than the total average rainfall it receives in 4 years. As the rain continued unrelenting for several days the flooding intensified, roads were washed out, mines closed and a state of emergency declared, the Atacama was now the wettest desert in the world!
After the weather subsided and normalacy returned we arrived in the little oasis town of San Pedro situated at 2,500m (8,200ft) above sea level. This is one of the oldest settlements in Chile dating back to 1547 when the Spanish established their first mission here. The single-story adobe houses and unpaved streets give this village a Hollywood western feel, you expect a gunslinger to walk out of a saloon at any moment.
The houses are made out of mud and straw which is an ideal building material for the climate, in the scorching daytime temperatures the walls absorb the heat and keep the inside of the structure nice and cool. As the sun sets
San Pedro's mainstreet
We saw tumbleweed but no gunslingers despite several visits to the local saloon.
and the temperature falls (winter months it can reach -15 degrees Celsius at night) the walls cool and release the stored daytime heat into the building thus warming the structure. Perfect, cheap and abundant building material in this climate, one small problem, dirt and straw don't like rain and San Pedro just got approximately 6 years worth in a couple of days. The damage was evident everywhere and the repair and cleanup process was well underway during our visit.
San Pedro is situated in close proximity to an astonishing number of natural attractions: the stunning altiplano, volcanoes, sand dunes, geysers and lagoons kept us very busy during our wonderful stay here.
Another attraction was the night sky, with the Atacama desert having the clearest skies in the world a number of astrological observatories have been setup. We were lucky enough to get a tour and lecture from an astrophysicist and look through the telescopes to see Saturn (and its rings), Jupiter (including a few of its many moons) and very close up viewings of our moon.
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