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Published: June 23rd 2017
Geo: -22.9058, -68.1951
We pulled into the Chilean version of a wild west town, San Pedro de Atacama, without incident but given the late hour, the saloons would have to wait. We were staying in a hostel so it was almost inevitable that the drunken kiddies would keep us up even later- we were just starting to drift off when IT happened. The earth moved... and kept moving. A massive earthquake (magnitude 8.2) struck near Iquique some 500 kms from where we were but it sure seemed more like it 500 metres. We have both experienced earthquakes before but this was more like an amusement park ride gone bad. The drunken kiddies were huddled in the courtyard promising to never drink again. And despite the numerous times I have made the earth more for DH, I had never made things fall over, doors crash, and light fixtures swing wildly, so she immediately started cobbling together an earthquake survival kit (which apparently includes numerous chocolate bars and facial moisturizer). The kit was more inspired than I would have thought since notable earthquakes struck on the following two nights (one a 7.2 magnitude), and although of lessor magnitude, the epicentre kept getting closer (just
in this area of Chile there were apparently 21 earthquakes in one week greater than 5.0 magnitude). Earthquakes are nothing new to Chile and, much like the good citizens of New Zealand, Chileans have learned to take them in stride. The next day we saw gov't officials taking credit for stringent building standards which contributed to the relatively low death toll, but as I looked around at the slap-and-tickle construction technique of our hostel, I suspect blind luck was closer to the point.
Hard on the heels of the fires in Valparaiso, we're somewhat convinced that the gods of destruction are a little upset with Chile (Bolivians living in San Pedro suggested that karma was in play since the area being most affected was annexed by Chile in the 1880's cutting off Bolivia's access to the Pacific).
During the earthquake free daylight hours we explored the local geography with enthusiasm. The Atacama desert is the driest in the world- we were told that there are sections of the desert that haven't seen rain in over 400 years (our friends in Vancouver might claim they haven't had 400 minutes rain-free). Recently a team of researchers 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. Owing to its otherworldly appearance, the Atacama has been used as a location for filming various Mars and Moon scenes. In addition to conspiracy theories that suggest that the U.S. filmed the moon landing here (the Valle de la Luna in particular), the region is actually being used by NASA to test instruments for future Mars missions.
While in San Pedro de Atacama, we also managed to arrange our cross-country journey into Bolivia which is no mean feat. There are numerous operators to choose from but apparently you have to focus on those niggling options- a 4x4 with an engine that actually functions most of the time, 4 inflated tires (not including the spare) with some evidence of treads, brakes that don't involve throwing an anchor out the window, and a driver that isn't blasted on Bolivian hooch most of the time. The trip will take us from San Pedro in Chile to Uyunni in Bolivia across a road-free and relatively harsh and barren terrain including the big geographic Wow- the Salt Flats.
Tot: 3.1s; Tpl: 0.066s; cc: 15; qc: 46; dbt: 0.0704s; 2; m:saturn w:www (220.127.116.11); sld: 2;
; mem: 1.4mb