San Pedro de Atacama

So having been somewhere within the vastness of the Pacific Ocean, the next destination was the ocean of no water, but instead iodine’s and nitrates; the Atacama desert, officially the driest place on Earth.

My understanding is that in certain areas, not a single drop of rain has ever been recorded. Rather unsurprisingly, not a single plant nor tree in sight. Many talk about Death Valley in the States and many make the wrong assessment and assumption that the hottest place on Earth is the also the driest. Wrong. Infact, the Atacama Desert is 50 times drier than Death Valley. Quite simply, it’s probably at the top of the list of ‘places where you DON’T want to be without water.’

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I had been warned that the town of San Pedro De Atacama from time to time experiences water shortages. As a result, no chances were taken as I arrived with a hefty 6litres of water. Better to be safe than sorry eh? So for a place to exist in the middle of no-where, perhaps you ask yourself “why” is it there and “what” is actually there? Easy answer. Surrounding San Pedro are a variety of beautiful (I really do mean beautiful) geological structures, formations and geysers.

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Whilst scanning the landscape, I couldn’t help but think of the Moon or Mars. Surely this is what it our closet planetary neighbours look like? As it turns out, NASA frequently uses the desert landscape to test its planetary rover vehicles/instruments prior to embarking upon missions to the red planet. Told you so. Furthermore, soil samples taken from Mars have been identified as being surprisingly similar to those taken from the Atacama Desert. In short, my time in the Atacama Desert is the closest I’m ever going to get to being on Mars – I’m certainly not planning on signing up for any galactic quests or exploration anytime soon. In truth, I was perfectly content on experiencing ‘Mars on Earth’, at least in terms of geology and appearance. That’s enough for me.

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Unfortunately, I was quite pressed for time. A 4×4 drive from Chile to Ayuni in Bolivia was fast approaching. One of the main draws near San Pedro is Moon Valley – Valle De La Luna. I wasn’t prepared to miss out on a visually stunning area of stone and sand accompanied with captivating peaks, some of which are volcanic. The name of the valley originates from the similarities of the actual lunar landscape that I touched upon in the previous paragraph. I should have probably have mentioned by now that the Atacama desert is a world class location for star gazing. Get this – the world’s largest astronomical project is based here. Named ‘Alma’, it’s a global collaboration. Now, it is with great sadness that due to a full moon, I was unable to see the night time wonders. The brightness of the moon significantly reduces the quality and the ability to see the great balls of gas millions and billions of light-year’s away.

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The reasons behind the location being such a stargazing hot spot are due to the Atacama’s dryness, lack of humidity, cloud-free skies, high altitude and finally a lack of light pollution. These factors however are not limited to just seeing the stars. As I stood gazing out into the desert, my eyes were enhanced ; as if on steroids. 12 megapixels to 25 such was the difference. Genuinely, It was as though the horizon was further away than normal, all whilst everything before being seen with new, increased clarity. Imagine watching a film on your old school teenage bedroom television and then watching something on the latest Samsung ultra HD. Simply stunning.

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