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Published: July 23rd 2016
CHILE...the Atacama Desert & Death Valley Blues.
When one leaves cocaine country one expects suspicious eyes.
When it's a border post from Bolivia into Chile we kinda expect it'd be like the border passes between Argentina and Chile in Patagonia with a couple of kilometres of no-mans land between Customs checks...Chile Chico, Paso Robales, Cerro Castillo for example.
Leaving Heaven at Hito Cajon in Bolivia we expected an exit fee and a frisk or two...but not so. Took our immigration slips and stamped our passports without looking at them!
Our squat Bolivian guide and driver, Geneth and Valerio replaced by the tall statuesque ponytailed Nico and the spunky Cynthia.
Then 47 kms downhill to San Pedro de Atacama...4,480m to 2,600m...the World's longest skateboard track I reckon...no flats...just downhill.
No Customs until San Pedro de Atacama!!! And I could not get a decent answer as to why.
So I kept looking around as there were miles and miles where drug mules could scamper into the Chilean landscape I reckoned...no sign of life and I still can't understand why.
Then we reach the Customs check and they gave us the 100 times over...virtually
stripped the van...checked our socks and lingerie...checked our passports good & proper.
Welcome to northern Chile...welcome back to the country we called "the World's Most Beautiful Country" after 4WDing down the Andes in and out of Argentina and Chile.
Could northern Chile match southern Chile in exotica?
The answer is "YES"...but at that stage we had no idea how or why.
****** The Valley of the Moon
5 days of no other tourists in the Salar of Bolivia was like a private picnic...not even any flies.
But even on a private tour there are some places where you are tadpoles in a pond of tourists. Staying in San Pedro de Atacama it's a given. Now we are in the Atacama Desert the pilgrimage of tourists are heading to the Valley of the Moon...for the sunset. As this is the driest place on the planet I wonder how the sunset will be if there are no clouds. Never rains means never clouds in my reckoning. Time to find out.
We were ready a 4:00pm but at 4:30 a cool cat entered the hotel asking for David. His name was Marko...and he
proved to be a cool cat indeed!
"I am sorry I am late," he says. "I was booked to take a large group of tourists but Nico told me to leave them and look after you. Are you ready to go?"
His smile would make fathers fear for their daughters. Probably better he is with us, I thought!
First stop was a brown clay canyon with sides encrusted with large salt crystals and streams of salt as if they had trickled out of the clay and lashings of salt as if spread by the creator with an artist's knife. There were spikes and concertinas in the clay and even an ancient limestone cave. Marko explained the geological history and climbed up here and there with Denise but I've gotta admit I heard little of this as I was lagging behind just happy to be there.
Every now and then our solitude would be cut by groups of tourists of 20 or more...like swarms of fish squirming in a ball...stopping for a lecture then rolling forward again.
The sun cuts through the canyon like a BBQ turned up high. If late afternoon
is like this...what'll it be like tomorrow?
The canyon was OK but I'm itching for the Valley of the Moon...and what a surprise it turned out to be.
Further down the road to hills covered in snow.
But it was not snow but salt!
A valley of hills and outcrops heavily dusted or drenched with shimmering white salt...a snow topped volcano as backdrop...a massive red rock sheer faced wall curling up ahead...the odd cyclist climbing the steep road...a silence you'd expect in the desert...a scene so unlike what I had expected...my spirit jumping with delight.
There was a massive dune of brown sand with a line of bodies reminding us of Tuaregs on camels lining the tops of sand dunes in the Sahara...no thanks...been there done that...nothing to prove here...reckon the view would be spectacular but I reckon it's stunning down here!
Further down were the Three Marias...a delicate rock formation cordoned off so tourists could stand in a marked area to take photos and not disturb the fragile formations. The road ended there as well with a barricade to ensure no one ventured further.
But I've heard recently the three Marias are
The Three Marias
Valley of the Moon
Some selfish tourists climbed on them and they broke.
Reminds me of the Taliban blowing up those giant twin stone buddhas in Afghanistan..."selfish" does not really describe it.
****** Death Valley
The Valley of the Moon was aptly named...desolate and desolate some more. But while it never rains there...it was swarming with life...swarming with tourists as the only form of life I could see.
But there was no sunset to see there either...maybe the wrong angles due to time of year...so into the 4WD for a surprise from Marko we hear.
And then we heard it.
Marko flicks on some Chilean music for us to hear. Turn it up we scream...yep...a bit more.
"You like Blues?" he asks, fiddling through his collection to find the best Blues...Chilean Blues...kindred souls meeting...grooving along like only aficionados can do...a language that breaks cultural barriers...the love of the Blues.
Then he turns off the highway and climbs a dry goat track that tosses us around till we reach a high flat narrow plateau...some 4WDs up here but he drives past them onto a narrow shelf of rock that drops away
sharply on three sides.
Heart racing...apprehension...my stomach about to scream. Stops one metre from the edge. My chest heaving...my jaw dropping.
"Sorry" he says with a laugh, then parks nearby.
Welcome to Death Valley.
Didn't know there was one in Chile...but Death Valley it is...aptly named.
The wind was roaring up there so as I'm not comfortable with heights it added to the experience somewhat. So I got onto wider ground where younger souls took selfies...hair streaming...taking photos of themselves rather than the view.
And the view was astounding. Cliffs surrounding pyramids of rocks rippling down there like a dragon's back...life impossible down there...no soil...no water...just death if you were down in that.
****** Coyote Stone
Into the 4WD and Marko introduces us to Memphis de Bluesera...Pappo...Argentinian Blues...now we're soaring. Every time I hear their Blues it reminds me of Death Valley. Just the right grooves to head off to see the sunset. And all the tourists in northern Chile were heading there too.
And most were already there...a narrow plateau overlooking another area like Death Valley but clear views to the west...Coyote Stone.
There were so
many vehicles up there I wondered if we'd get a place to park but Marko seemed to know where to go, so soon we were among the throng of sunset seekers.
For Sunset over the Salar under the watchful gaze of Volcan Thunupa it was just us.
But at Coyote Stone there were hundreds...sitting on the edges of the cliffs or on protruding rock ledges...legs hanging down...or posing like dare devils...crowds jostling with tripods...selfie sticks...all waiting for the sun to go down.
And go down it did...not with a bang...not even with a whimper...just a yellow glow as it disappeared behind the horizon...the crowd then dispersing to their cars...some anxious to go.
But we were in no hurry...the volcano to the East warm with a pink glow...collared by clouds...smiling on the only life in these parts...swarms of tourists dispersing below.
Relax & Enjoy,
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