Home to the driest landscapes on earth, to the famed project ALMA, some of the highest salt plains, Atacama is alluring. After having hiked in the wet and green southern Patagonia, Atacama’s contrast was hard to pass by. Hence, I left for Santiago from Valparaiso. I had booked a last minute return flight from Santiago to Calama. I arrived at the airport only to learn that my flight was never booked with the airlines(SKY) – since the booking agency Antiplano had never transferred the money to them. In any case, it being the 1st of January, not many people were flying, so I purchased a last minute itinerary with SKY airlines
“Despite the attempts to distribute the traffic to the nearby villages of Toconao and Socaire, they are nothing but sleepy little villages, with most people still earning their livelihood working in the mining industry”
When I arrived in San Pedro, the sheer number of tourists walking the streets of San Pedro was overwhelming – with aa lot of them flying in from Brazil.
With so many people with varied interests, it is never too difficult to find a group interested in doing exactly what you are looking for – if you are looking for off the beaten path trips outside San Pedro, you have plenty of choices. Salara de Tara, an interesting salt flat southward of San Pedro is one such place – cutting across some really high Andean range, sometimes as high as 5,000 m., passing through really interesting geography – a series of volcanoes, some sacred, some active, and some rather non-descript. The paved tar seems to meet an abrupt end, but you still see tire marks leading into oblivion.Some serious off-roading begins soon – sometimes over sand, and at others over volcanic rocks. Those who were asleep were wide awake by now. The famed ‘salars’ start to emerge in the distance, the blues and the whites providing a much desired contrast in the landscape. The landscape starts to get more and more dramatic with rock protrusions as tall as 100 m. interspersed across the relatively flat valley.
Mt. Laskar looms large for most part of the journey.
Some of the rock formations have managed to be bestowed with appellations like Neruda, based of course on the uncanny resemblance with facial features. If there is cone thing which is common across cultures, that unites us humankind rather than divide us, it has to be our ability to find human presence in the most desolate of places – from finding Roosevelt and Washington in the Antelope canyon to Vietnamese gods amidst a labyrinth of stalactites in a sea cave. Every time I am left in awe.
The back breaking journey continues on for another hour before we arrive at Salar de Tara. A vast salar, home to an increasing population of flamingoes sits against a backdrop of the fiery Andes. The rock formations surrounding the Salar never cease to strike. Explore the area at your own leisure – this still isn’t a place where you would see tourists descending in scores. Conservation efforts have been commendable so far – especially since the area comes under the Los Flamencos National Reserve. So, if you are looking for an offbeat Chilean adventure, give this a try on your visit to the wonderful Atacama desert.