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Published: June 16th 2017
At 5,916 meters, or over 19,000 feet, Lican Cabur has the highest eco system in the world. Lying in the crater is a lake with live crustaceons, says Phillipe, our marine biologist guide. And with snow and ice all around, it doesn't freeze, showing that even though the volcano has been inactive for many, many years, there is still a heat source warming the lake.
Geo: -22.9058, -68.1951
Again I'm without words to describe the scene before me.
The Atacama desert is the driest in the world. Arizona's is the wettest.
You look at this forever expanse and first glance tells you this is unlike ANYTHING you've seen before. Flat, barren, bereft for as far as you can see in every direction.
But look again. It rained torrents earlier this month. Their Bolivian winter brought deluges that crashed down the mountains and washed out roads, homes, anything it it's path.
But now there are tiny green sprouts on the plano and if you look really, really closely you'll even see wildflowers. Nothing like the Beartooth's spring display, but they're there.
This part of the Atacama gets it's weather from the east, not from the west--from Bolivia and the Atlantic ocean. Rain drenches the Amazon rainforest then slams against the wall of the Andes mountains and sometimes--not often--it slides over the top and into the basin of San Pedro de Atacama.
Anyone who has the chance to see this and doesn't do it needs to be declared legally loco.
The Atacama has an unheard of diversity. Bleak featureless expances as far as you can
During the festival Pago a la Tierra, where the people pay back the earth for it's bounties, these guys are dressed up like beautiful flowers. This one was very curious.
see, Bryce canyon type hoodoos, wetlands, vicuñas, llamas and pumas and snow capped volcanoes in every direction.
But no cactus. Not enough rain for cactus. Weird, huh? Well okay, we saw one type of cactus--a rounded mound that looked like a dead animal. But nothing tall and elegant like we see around Phoenix.
The little village of San Pedro de Atacama is growing faster than it's resources, but it's become such a popular tourist destination there's no stopping it. As such, it's developed an ugly sprawl with everything the same color--the homes, streets, stores, everything. Even the cool cobbled streets are hard to see beneath the dust that's everywhere.
But you forget all that as you venture out of town into the desert. This place is such a treasure. The next morning Phillipe, Bob & I headed out in his 4 wheel drive to the national flamingo park. I wanted flamingos and Phillipe said Tara was the place, but it was further than the crowded tourist stops closer to town. They had all had so many tourists they'd chased all the flamingos away.
Tara was guaranteed to have lots--and boy did it. Thousands.
Phillipe is an incredibly intelligent guide passionate about
Lican Cabur and Juriques (broken top)
Juriques is 5,700 meters and appears from this angle to dwarf it's neighbor who's actually 216 meters higher. Juriques is called the red mountain for all the iron in the soil.
the Atacama. His love of the place is infectious. With a hobby of mountain climbing --he's climbed 15 of Chile's volcanos-- and his background in marine biology, he's an encyclopedia behind the wheel.
You climb Lican Cabur from the Bolivian side, he says. It's a higher start and there's no mines.
The Chilean side is still ringed with military mines from the most recent war with Bolivia.
In the crater on top is a lake with live crustaceans. It's the only body of water around here that doesn't freeze, so there must be a heat source deep in the mountain, even though it's been inactive forever--makes it the highest ecosystem in the world, he says--5,916 meters. That's 19,409 feet.
The name comes from the old language and means mountain of the people, the spirit protecting San Pedro de Atacama. This original language has all but died out--only a few words remain.
This flat desert they call their pampa, a word we'd associated with lush cattle grazing lands of the fertile central valley, not this barren gravel pit. It's hard to find grass here, except for now there are tiny spikes of green poking up from the rare deluge earlier this month.
Above 4,000 meters
Wetlands in the desert
At over 4,000 meters (over 12,000 feet), this wetland freezes in July and August.
there's a yellowish tufty grass--that's how you know you're beginning to climb.
This whole area used to be Bolivia and north of here was Peru. But they broke the treaty the three countries had and attacked Chile.
They lost; Chile won and now Bolivia still has no sea access. They're still pissed and are trying to get it back. But Phillipe says, How do you tell the fishermen of Arica we're giving their ocean to Peru? Or tell the businesses who've invested in us we're giving their mines to Bolivia? These companies don't want to do business with Bolivia. Bolivia's complicated.
And so the conflict continues.
We stop the car alongside some llamas with colorful tufts of yarn decorating their fur. The people had just held their festival, Pago a la Tierra to celebrate the earth's bounty and had decorated them all up to make them beautiful like flowers.
It consisted of coca leaves and alcohol and giving back to the earth and then the translation got a little fuzzy.
We loved our day--the crazy drive across the caldera--impossibly flat until we'd mount a ridge and plung headfirst down a steep embankment and shoot up out on top of the other side.
Whooooo! That was
Mt. Pili reflected in Laguna Diamenta (Diamond lagoon), a man made lake left over from the road construction.
Great day! Great friends, great scenery. One of those days you carry with you always.
A glimpse at the Atacama.
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