I set off in the morning for an adventure to Rainbow Valley, while Ellen rested her sore foot. My group was quite small, just 8 of us, including a very lovely Swiss mother and her grown son. Barbara, the mother, was very talkative, describing herself as a ‘happy retired lady’. She told me that she used to help her dentist hubby when he first opened his practice, though she had no experience as a dental assistant, and she thought every day of divorce during this time, haha! She said when he got a real assistant and she could just do the books, it was much better. When I commented to her that Swiss chocolate is very delicious, she said ‘It’s ok.’!!! A real card, that one.
Our guide was rather talkative, which is always nice. When they are a hand talker and also your driver however…sometimes a bit scary! No, truth be told, I’ve had considerably scarier rides, any city bus at all that I rode in China, for instance. We also picked up a hitchhiker along the way, an older man, who it was translated to me, as an itinerant worker, had been walking for 8 hours to find work.
Yerbas Buenas is a 7000 year old large amalgamation of rocks/large rock formation. It was originally a place to stay for travellers and now is simply notable for its beautiful petroglyphs. There are many drawings here, many of which tell a story about the times past. They are simply fascinating to look at.
Our guide delighted in telling us about some of the local plant life as well. The ricarica, good for breastfeeding and digestion, and the pingopingo, from the Ephedrina family, known as the ‘Atacama Viagra’ but good for urinary infection too. Apparently this is no where near as strong as the Chinese strain of the plant, and you should select the fourth section up from where the leaf meets the main stem, as it has the highest concentration of the effective substance in it. He also pointed out a cactus, whose flowers are high in Vitamin C, and were therefore eaten and used to keep scurvy away. This cactus is fondly called ‘the mother-in-law cactus’!
Valle Arcoiris: Rainbow Valley
Our next stop was just a short ways down the road. Rainbow Valley, as it is known for the myriad of colour found in the rock, is an estimated 240 million yrs old. Our guide told us that it was originally formed from a magma chamber. The various colours are due to the different minerals in the rock and dirt. We also visited a rock formation that was very reminiscent of Antelope Canyon in Arizona, or the grand entrance to Petra in Jordan, albeit in miniature.
Our guide provided us with a snack and we took the opportunity to get to know our group mates a bit better and get into some deep discussion with our guide. He was telling us about how the president of Chile is really ‘just a puppet’ for the 8 families that essentially own all of Chile (business, land, etc). He said that he was originally an architect, but to practice as an architect in Santiago, he would have to work for one of the major companies and just continue to feed into the wealth of the major players. He didn’t want to do this, and so decided to move his family to San Pedro de Atacama, and go as ‘off the grid’ as he could. He said that they power their home with solar panels, don’t have a tv, buy local/organic, send their daughter to an alternate playgroup rather than a government run preschool, and do whatever else they can to make their money count as their vote. I loved this, as it is how I want to live and try to live, and it’s fascinating to see this feeling mirrored on the other side of the world.
Afternoon: Moon Valley
Our afternoon tour was considerably bigger with a whole busload of people, though we did get to know a lovely Irish couple, who had lived in Vancouver for a few months. It’s truly a small world.
Our first stop was the 3 Marias, although now technically known as the 2 1/2 Marias. It was originally also used as a resting place. The reason they are now the 2 1/2 Marias is because a few years back a tourist stood on one of them and broke it off. We asked what had happened to the tourist who broke it, thinking it would have been a huge fine and deportation for sure, but he received only a 100 dollar fine!
We climbed up a steep slope to the to top of Achachas, a sand dune/rock formation. What a beautiful 360 view! Our very funny guide Simon told us volcano story about the two brother volcanoes Licancabur and Juriques, who stand side by side. Licancabur is the ‘perfect’ volcano, with symmetrically sloped conical sides. Juriques, on the other hand, appears to have been lopped off in the middle, and to the other side of Juriques is an empty spot, exactly mirrored across the valley with a ‘female’ volcano, Quimal. Quimal was supposedly Licancabur’s girlfriend/fiancee, originally located on the same side of the valley as the other two. When Juriques began flirting with her, the father volcano down the valley, Laskar, erupted in anger and chopped Juriques’ head off and moved Quimal across the valley from the boys. A cautionary tale on the dangers of promiscuity to be sure!
After a quick exploration of a cave, studded with mineral crystals, we headed back to town for a well deserved rest!
Tips for exploring San Pedro de Atacama region:
1. Light layers.
2. Good footwear.
3. Water. Lots.
4. SPF 60.
5. Headlamp for exploring caves.
6. Scarf for when the wind is throwing sand in your hair and eyes and also for when it gets cold at sunset.
7. Snack although there are empanadas and water at the main entrance of Moon Valley if needed. I don’t think other destinations like the lagunas and Valle Arcoiris have snacks though.
8. Travel with a locally owned/eco-conscious tour company