I’ve been color correcting again, so here are a few more pictures to review from the dry, dry desert of northern Chile, the Atacama.
During my travels there, I took a number of tours, including the more atypical tourist destination of the Chuquicamata mine, near Calama. The world’s largest (by volume) open pit mine, Chuquicamata is buzzing with activity 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 3 work shifts a day. At the time (back in 2004), they told us that each of the giant ore carriers burned 1,000 gallons of gas a day! It’s a good thing for them that there is a lot of money to be made in copper.
Other tours left from the San Pedro de Atacama base – a trip to the Tatio geyser field and several others to areas around the region. The tour for the geysers left at 4:00 AM and involved a van drive in the total darkness of the pre-dawn hours (stars so vivid!) for nearly 2 hours. At around 14 thousand feet above sea level, they are the highest geyser field in the world, and in the top 5 for area/size. We were warned to be careful where we walked – we were allowed to wander just about anywhere over the field in spite of the fact that the surface crust in places could be brittle and breaking through could result in a severe scalding – and also to be careful as we moved around, not to look down suddenly, as the unfamiliar altitude could make one dizzy and liable to pitch forward! The geysers are at their most active in those early dawn hours; once daylight is well upon the mountains they taper off a bit.
The tours also involved a lot of hiking – a “caminata suave” (gentle walk) at times felt more like slogging along as part of the Bataan death march. At altitudes in excess of 12 thousand feet, effort is magnified, and the sandy soil made everything a bit more difficult. At the end of the day we were driven to an area near the town where we would watch the sun set. This involved a hike up a sand dune-like very big hill where for every 2 steps forward you would take, you’d slip back 1 because of the sand. About halfway up I seriously doubted the wisdom of this effort – could any sunset be worth this much torture? – but I was rewarded tenfold for my pains. The sunset over the Licancabur volcano has never been matched since by any that I have seen. I’ve heard that it’s due to the particulate matter in the atmosphere (they mine lithium not too far from there… hmm…), but whatever the case, the colors shifted and grew in intensity with every second. I hated to even blink because when I would, that split second later when I reopened my eyes, the colors would have swirled into a new and even more vivid pattern. I lament that I was neither skilled enough a photographer, nor had a camera capable of capturing the glory of that sunset!