The little village San Pedro de Atacama is situated on the edge of the driest desert in the world – The Atacama Desert.
You’ll know it by the dusty streets, the houses of clay and sand and water (the so-called adobe) and the lack of illumination in the evenings. Yes, in San Pedro everybody carries a torch after dark. Being practically in the desert, we are presented with only two possible states – melting in the sun or shivering from the cold. It is hard to dress in different style than onion, with many layers. In the mornings no matter how many clothes you have on, you always feel cold, but under the sun even going naked or hiding under the shade of the houses won’t keep you from boiling.
The romantic side of the desert attracts many tourists.
The locals to dogs to tourists ratio is 1:2:4. Despite always carrying 6-liter water bottles around, the people happily stroll in the evenings between the many cozy restaurants, travel agencies, merchants and musicians on the streets. The most authentic feel the streets without asphalt, which are full of crazy drivers of vans and buses. The dogs walk around tirelessly and sometimes a horse passes by for a change. It is incredibly difficult to remain untouched by the sand and the dust even after a short walk, especially if there is wind. After the second day there everyone gets used to chewing sand constantly and go buy themselves a llama wool pullover. The shops of San Pedro sell more woolen goods than souvenirs and water.
|The street with the lamps|
The rain in these kinds of places is something between a forbidden word and a delusion of people who had too much to drink at an altitude of 2400 m.
However, we must have been very lucky because rain graced us with its presence twice. The first time it was several raindrops in the Valley of the Moon. The second time it started as sandstorm on the top of a dune for sandboarding and continued as mud on the road back to San Pedro. In the village itself it was pouring. The people don’t have umbrellas and the drivers have no practice in avoiding the deeper puddles. That means that the streets were filled with people covered in mud from head to toe. The problem with the short houses that couldn’t offer shade, now transformed itself into lack of shelter from the rain. This is what it means to be caught unprepared by the rain. This time of year rain is not expected, except for one or two days in June and July. The locals call this occurrence Bolivian winter. The true danger of the rain is that if it continues long enough, it could flood all the roads from San Pedro and leave the people and the dogs cut off from the rest of the world.
Obviously, the rain didn’t cause that much of a problem, even our laundry managed to dry within an hour after it stopped pouring. San Pedro is a good home base when visiting several natural wonders close-by. If you combine a desert with high altitude something interesting is sure to happen. We are slowly but surely headed towards the main and possibly the only local means of living – the tourism.
One of the most famous activities around San Pedro is stargazing.
Chile has an amazing clear sky and many telescopes from all over the world are positioned there. We don’t think that the best place to watch the stars is the only observatory around San Pedro. Most of the tourists seem to be of that opinion and that causes the fees for the telescopes to be very high, even though you can find telescopes of the same caliber around La Serena and the sky is one and the same. In San Pedro it could be even worse, since around the small village the sky tends to be cloudy during the whole of January and half of February.
We didn’t regret it at all that we decided to enjoy the stars before coming here. If you decide to go stargazing near San Pedro, book a night in advance and take into consideration the possibility of a cloudy sky. If you are interested in real telescopes, there are some very interesting ones near San Pedro. One of them is ALMA, the biggest radio telescope in the world. Sadly it is not open to the general public. The Very Large Telescope (yes, that is its real name) is expensive even for astronomers who pay a 5-digit sum for several hours. Its facilities are open for enthusiasts during the day on Sundays. Everybody can take a tour and see for free the telescopes from the outside or so we were told, but the trip takes 2 hours.
After you enjoy the quaint little desert village, let yourself be charmed by the natural wonders of the area!
This article was brought to you in English by Marta Petrova.
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