Parque Nacional Lauca
Up here we see the most water we’ve seen, lake Chungará sits at the base of two volcanos, Parinacota the grandest at 6350m. This is just rude, just rude. A salty altiplano lake with crusty white and yellow trim supports flamingos, ducks and god knows how many other birds enclosed by a stellar mountain range that look like a drop in movie set, it’s just; rude.
Atacama Desert – Salt Plains
As we pull up the first thing that strikes us is the harshness of this place; the sun punishes everything not in shade which is everything and all about a scarred plain of crusty salted scree stretches as far as the eye can see. And it does stretch as far as the eye can see, the north-south dimension of the Salar de Atacama (salt plains) is more than 300km and apparently the curvature of the earth can be seen in the geological lines marking the mountains all around.
Atacama Desert – Geysers
All around there are holes in the ground bubbling and frothing with hot water pushing bursts of steam and boiling water into the air. Very close beneath us there’s volcanic activity with molten lava colliding with cold water, the extremes of the Atacama in plain view. Despite the scarred landscape and magnitude of natural power right before us this place doesn’t intimidate, it feels quite serene.
Atacama Desert – Valle de Luna
As we journey around this valley we can see nothing but two things; there’s rocks and there’s rocks which have been ground into sand. Where we’ve become quite accustomed to a meagre but ever present life all around, the barren starkness of this burnt jagged region offers simple beauty in singularity. And beauty it is, that much is indisputable. We’d had a preview of the lunar or Martian landscape before but this is the real show, no wonder cinema make scenes on Mars here. Scalding sun, violent geology, scarred red sand and massive sand dunes with perfect complexion transport and visitor to either the Moon or Mars, I can’t quite tell which one.
Atacama – Altiplano Lakes
And there are the lakes in all their glory. It seems a little too impossible to be true, on the plains the barest puddle clings to survival yet 2000m higher there’s large lakes of glorious blue; is the world upside down here? And they’re beautiful, the genuine vision of an oasis. The surrounding mountains are bereft of trees, only some have a neat consistent mat of hardy grass tufts painting entire slopes in a golden tone, art in bold shapes. The simplicity and smoothness of the mountain shapes combined with the magnitude gives every vista a feeling of minimalist art and architecture, grand abstract shapes with no clutter to mar the grander message.
There’s what we saw of the Atacama, do you have a favourite?