Atacama Desert, Chile

Life on the Edges of the Atacama Desert


Salt Islands
A sequence of salt plates in a reddish and very saline corner of Laguna Verde.
a thorny life
A thorny cactus juts out from the parched landscape of the Atacama Desert.
cardon, or cactus
Cactus detached from a gentle slope of the Atacama Desert.
Cardones vs Mountain
Mountain stands on the edge of a plain covered with cardones.
Flamingos Route
Flamingos fly over the Salar de Tara towards the imminent Argentine border.
altiplano caribbean
The idyllic setting of Lagoa Verde, located in the middle of the Andean altiplano, on the eastern edge of the Atacama Desert and called the Atacamenian Caribbean by native guides.
Licancabur Volcano
The reddish volcano of Licancabur, 5.916 meters of altitude.
desert spinner
Native woman spins while waiting for a ride.
attacking woman
Atacama woman in colorful costumes typical of the region.
Tufa Island
End of a salt flat located on an Andean plateau on the edge of the Atacama Desert.
Tufa and island
A cardon stands in the middle of a salt lake in the Andean Altiplano.
sea ​​of ​​salt bushes
Shrubs and moss compete for the soil with the salt around a salt flat at the western end of the Andean mountain range.
Vicuna family
Vicuña and chicks roam a plain of the Andean altiplano, their natural habitat.
street life
Residents and visitors meet on one of the pueblo's several adobe streets.
When you least expect it, the driest place in the world reveals new extraterrestrial scenarios on a frontier between the inhospitable and the welcoming, the sterile and the fertile that the natives are used to crossing.

No other country is so diverse from top to bottom.

In such a way that Chileans are amused to tell that, after having created most of South America, already fed up with the task, God took what was left - bits of desert, mountain, valley, glacier, rainforest - and created Chile, in a hurry, so that, at last, it can rest.

After exploring the PN Torres del Paine, the Chilean fjords of Patagonia in a freighter turned into cruise and having climbed to the top of the Villarica volcano, in the province of Araucania, it was time for a new radical change, in terms of area and landscape. Was still recovering from the hard Villarrica's rise we departed from Pucón.

As we approach Norte Grande, the region that stretches from the Peruvian border to the Chañaral is dominated by the Atacama Desert and the gray desolation there that, according to legend, God created there.

NASA and the Choice of the Only Lifeless Place on Earth. The Atacama

In 2003, an international team of scientists, mostly belonging to NASA and the American Carnegie Mellon University, moved from weapons and luggage to these parts.

In a short time, it started to Life in the Atacama, a thorough field research program aimed at perfecting new robotic vehicles for the astrobiological mission Spirit.

The first planet to host the Spirit and the rover namesake it was Mars, in January 2004. Seven months later, Chris McKay, a NASA geologist, justified the choice of the Atacama Desert to prepare the mission to a reporter: “You can go to Antarctica, the Arctic, any other the desert we've been in, take a sample of soil that will find bacteria… this is the only place in the Terra where we really crossed the threshold and found no life…”

Salt islands, Life on the edge, Atacama Desert, Chile

A sequence of salt plates in a reddish and very saline corner of Laguna Verde.

In visual terms, if there are sites comparable to what we know and imagine about the red planet, the Atacama Desert has to be one of them.

The adjective of its landscapes as extraterrestrials occurs all the time to those who visit it. Among so many scenarios worthy of other worlds, just think of the ocher tones of the Valleys of the Moon and Death to arrive at a Martian imaginary.

And the Prolific Life of the Atacama Desert

And despite the adverse conditions, more than a million people live in the Atacama Desert pockets. Thanks to its raw materials, the regions to which it belongs – El Norte Chico and El Norte Grande – were and are responsible for the surge and recent consolidation of the Chilean economy.

In the XNUMXth century, the first explorations of Chile's famous nitrate attracted thousands of workers, until the invention of artificial alternatives.

Atacama woman, Life on the edge, Atacama Desert, Chile

Atacama woman in colorful costumes typical of the region.

Today, nitrates have been replaced by the mining of copper, silver, gold and iron, which the Atacama Desert and its surroundings provide in abundance.

Unsurprisingly, improvised villages grew out of nowhere, giving rise to new infrastructure and opportunities. Among those that already existed: Arica, Iquique, Antofagasta and São Pedro de Atacama.

San Pedro evolved to exploit another highly profitable resource in Chile, tourism.

Street Life, San Pedro Atacama, Chile

Residents and visitors meet on one of the pueblo's several adobe streets.

The Geological Eccentricity of the Atacama Desert

Extended for 1000 km, along southern Peru and northern Chile, the Atacama Desert has well-marked longitudinal boundaries. To the west, the Pacific Ocean; in the opposite direction, the Andes mountain range.

It extends over a narrow, gray and dusty coastal shelf. Soon, it rises until pampas, inhospitable plains that plunge into prehistoric river gorges covered with mineral sediments from the Andes.

The plains, in turn, give way to the Altiplano

In this pre-mountain range, countless salaries, salt ponds and geothermal fields that advertise hills and volcanoes snowy and imposing. These are the cases of Toco, Licancábur, Putana or Águas Calientes, almost all of them close to 6.000 meters in altitude.

Licancabur Volcano, Life on the Edge, Atacama Desert, Chile

The reddish volcano of Licancabur, 5.916 meters of altitude.

On the other side of the mountainous horizon, the territory is Bolivian or, further south, Argentinean.

The central part of the Atacama Desert is considered the driest place on Earth.

There, in certain specific areas of “absolute desert”, it was never possible to register rain. In others, less central, rainfall is measured in millimeters per decade.

The meteorological and climatic context of this remote desert is as mysterious as it is easy to explain.

Thorny Life, Life on the Edge, Atacama Desert, Chile

A thorny cactus juts out from the parched landscape of the Atacama Desert.

And the Climatic Constraints that Keep the Atacama Desert Arid

At these latitudes, the Humboldt Current, named after the Prussian naturalist Alexander von Humboldt, runs through South America. The upward current has contradictory effects.

Its waters, which come from Antarctica and the ocean floor, are as cold as they are nutritious, make it a Class 1 marine ecosystem (>300gC/m2-yr), the most productive in the world, from which about 20% of all comes from. the fish caught from the face of the Earth.

At the same time, the Humboldt current is responsible for cooling the air over the coastal zone of southern Peru and Chile. Feeds a high pressure core. And it blocks the formation and displacement to land of clouds favorable to precipitation.

Vicunas, Life on the edge, Atacama Desert, Chile

Vicuña and chicks roam a plain of the Andean altiplano, their natural habitat.

Along the coast, the camanchaca, a dense fog that reigns during the local winter, from June to October. A few kilometers further inland, Chile's coastal range halts the advance of the fog. From the Pacific, the Atacama Desert receives only dryness.

On the opposite side, the Andes mountain range prevents the passage of clouds laden with moisture from the east, from the basin of the Amazonas and the rest of the interior of South America. The higher mountains capture this moisture, condense it and generate rain or snow, depending on the time of year.

Overhead and to the west, only a barren wind passes.

Water from the Andes: the thaw that gives life to the driest of the deserts

The miracle of life in the Atacama Desert is produced on high. When the tropical sun, poorly filtered by the fine atmosphere, melts the snow that crowns the Andean peaks, it fills the aquifers that form at the foot of the mountains.

This gives rise to an oasis. What blessed São Pedro de Atacama, for example.

To the south and west of San Pedro, the Los Flamencos National Reserve includes seven geographically independent sectors, each with its unique setting. The Salar de Atacama, in particular, gives us an unmistakable idea of ​​the contrast that rules the desert.

Salar, Life on the edge, Atacama Desert, Chile

End of a salt flat located on an Andean plateau on the edge of the Atacama Desert.

When the endless white salt scene starts to seem like absolute desolation, we find Laguna Chaxa.

Nature surprises us again, this time, in the pink tones of the thousands of flamingos that occupy it.

At sunset, the Salar de Atacama there is resplendent with color. In addition to the permanent arrival of flamingos to the lagoon, to the west, the Andean horizon contrasts more than ever with the endless white of the salt.

Flamingos Route, Atacama Desert, Chile

Flamingos fly over the Salar de Tara towards the imminent Argentine border.

For the shortest distance they are, the perfect and reddish cones of the Licancábur volcano and the Toco hill stand out from the horizon. If we turn our gaze to the south, we catch a glimpse of the mountain range stretching out of sight, a few hundred kilometers onwards, already Argentina.

We inspect the map. It is at these latitudes, above and below the Tropic of Capricorn, that the very thin Chile reaches its maximum width. This is due to an unlikely extension of the border to the west that incorporated a substantial part of the mountain range.

An Extraterrestrial Stronghold at the Limits of Life on Earth

When we explored this kind of geographic addendum, we found it dotted by salt flats and lakes in the Altiplano with Caribbean colored water.

Altiplano Lagoon, Life on the edge, Atacama Desert, Chile

The idyllic setting of Lagoa Verde, located in the middle of the Andean altiplano, on the eastern edge of the Atacama Desert and called the Atacamenian Caribbean by native guides.

Leaving San Pedro de Atacama, we pass the fortress of Quitor. We are faced with the most displaced of the sectors of PN Los Flamencos.

Even aware that the South Americans use the term Vale da Lua to name any surface sculpted by torrents of water, wind and other erosive agents, when exploring that inhospitable vastness, we ended up admitting that the name does it justice.

60 million years ago, the Andes had completed its ascent to 6.000 meters and most of southern Chile was covered in glaciers. This region continued under the ocean. This submersion justifies the abundance of salt fields.

Tufa and island, Life on the edge, Atacama Desert, Chile

A cardon stands in the middle of a salt lake in the Andean Altiplano.

In a wide area of ​​eccentric geology, there are cinnamon-colored dunes, ocher mountain miniatures in which the elements have carved sharp edges and endless little “steps”.

These elevations face tight canyons such as the Quebrada de Kachi. Or to windswept valleys, split by heat and aridity, here and there, awash in saltpeter.

In certain areas, the potassium nitrate cover becomes so dense that it seems more like a heavy snow has fallen there. The sun is scorching, the humidity touches zero.

We advance towards Panamericana and the Pacific.

We crossed the local Death Valley, far less scorching than the Death Valley on the California-Nevada border. This part of the Cordillera de Domeyko and also the Loa river, which has the effect of deceiving those who pass through it when the liquid illusion vanishes in the face of the merciless aridity of the landscape.

Cardones vs Mountain, Life on the edge, Atacama Desert, Chile

Mountain stands on the edge of a plain covered with cardones.

As we head deeper into the Atacama, the Andes are left behind. Fresh water proves to be an eternally postponed mirage. Without technological subterfuges, survival hangs by a thread. Death is eternalized. Such logic has surprising expressions.

When, in 1985, archaeologists found several hundred mummies along the Chilean coast, they found it difficult to believe in their state of preservation and in the objects that accompanied them.

Os tombs they had been under the sun of the Atacama Desert for more than half a millennium. During that time, extreme dryness canceled out the bacteria and prevented decomposition.

It preserved the spiritual legacy of a people who beat the odds and got used to paying the price of living on the edge.

Easter Island, Chile

The Take-off and Fall of the Bird-Man Cult

Until the XNUMXth century, the natives of Easter Island they carved and worshiped great stone gods. All of a sudden, they started to drop their moai. The veneration of tanatu manu, a half-human, half-sacred leader, decreed after a dramatic competition for an egg.
El Tatio, Chile

El Tatio Geysers - Between the Ice and the Heat of the Atacama

Surrounded by supreme volcanoes, the geothermal field of El Tatio, in the Atacama Desert it appears as a Dantesque mirage of sulfur and steam at an icy 4200 m altitude. Its geysers and fumaroles attract hordes of travelers.
damaraland, Namíbia

Namibia On the Rocks

Hundreds of kilometers north of Swakopmund, many more of Sossuvlei's iconic dunes, Damaraland is home to deserts interspersed with red rocky hills, the young nation's highest mountain and ancient rock art. the settlers South Africans they named this region after the Damara, one of the Namibian ethnic groups. Only these and other inhabitants prove that it remains on Earth.
Dunhuang, China

An Oasis in the China of the Sands

Thousands of kilometers west of Beijing, the Great Wall has its western end and the China and other. An unexpected splash of vegetable green breaks up the arid expanse all around. Announces Dunhuang, formerly crucial outpost on the Silk Road, today an intriguing city at the base of Asia's largest sand dunes.
PN Torres del Paine, Chile

The Most Dramatic Patagonia

Nowhere is the southernmost reaches of South America so breathtaking as the Paine Mountains. There, a natural fort of granite colossi surrounded by lakes and glaciers protrudes from the pampa and submits to the whims of meteorology and light.
Salta and Jujuy, Argentina

Through the Highlands of Deep Argentina

A tour through the provinces of Salta and Jujuy takes us to discover a country with no sign of the pampas. Vanished in the Andean vastness, these ends of the Northwest of Argentina have also been lost in time.
Rapa Nui - Easter Island, Chile

Under the Moais Watchful Eye

Rapa Nui was discovered by Europeans on Easter Day 1722. But if the Christian name Easter Island makes sense, the civilization that colonized it by observant moais remains shrouded in mystery.
Death Valley, USA

The Hottest Place Resurrection

Since 1921, Al Aziziyah, in Libya, was considered the hottest place on the planet. But the controversy surrounding the 58th measured there meant that, 99 years later, the title was returned to Death Valley.
San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

São Pedro de Atacama: an Adobe Life in the Most Arid of Deserts

The Spanish conquerors had departed and the convoy diverted the cattle and nitrate caravans. San Pedro regained peace but a horde of outsiders discovering South America invaded the pueblo.
Robinson Crusoe Island, Chile

Alexander Selkirk: in the Skin of the True Robinson Crusoe

The main island of the Juan Fernández archipelago was home to pirates and treasures. His story was made up of adventures like that of Alexander Selkirk, the abandoned sailor who inspired Dafoe's novel
Puerto Natales-Puerto Montt, Chile

Cruise on board a Freighter

After a long begging of backpackers, the Chilean company NAVIMAG decided to admit them on board. Since then, many travelers have explored the Patagonian canals, side by side with containers and livestock.
Villarrica Volcano, Chile

Ascent to the Villarrica Volcano Crater, in Full Activity

Pucón abuses nature's trust and thrives at the foot of the Villarrica mountain. We follow this bad example along icy trails and conquer the crater of one of the most active volcanoes in South America.
Amboseli National Park, Mount Kilimanjaro, Normatior Hill
Safari
Amboseli National Park, Kenya

A Gift from the Kilimanjaro

The first European to venture into these Masai haunts was stunned by what he found. And even today, large herds of elephants and other herbivores roam the pastures irrigated by the snow of Africa's biggest mountain.
Aurora lights up the Pisang Valley, Nepal.
Annapurna (circuit)
Annapurna Circuit: 3rd- Upper Pisang, Nepal,

An Unexpected Snowy Aurora

At the first glimmers of light, the sight of the white mantle that had covered the village during the night dazzles us. With one of the toughest walks on the Annapurna Circuit ahead of us, we postponed the match as much as possible. Annoyed, we left Upper Pisang towards Ngawal when the last snow faded.
Architecture & Design
napier, New Zealand

Back to the 30s – Old-Fashioned Car Tour

In a city rebuilt in Art Deco and with an atmosphere of the "crazy years" and beyond, the adequate means of transportation are the elegant classic automobiles of that era. In Napier, they are everywhere.
Boats on ice, Hailuoto Island, Finland.
Adventure
Hailuoto, Finland

A Refuge in the Gulf of Bothnia

During winter, the island of Hailuoto is connected to the rest of Finland by the country's longest ice road. Most of its 986 inhabitants esteem, above all, the distance that the island grants them.
shadow of success
Ceremonies and Festivities
Champoton, Mexico

Rodeo Under Sombreros

Champoton, in Campeche, hosts a fair honored by the Virgén de La Concepción. O rodeo Mexican under local sombreros reveals the elegance and skill of the region's cowboys.
View from Pico Verde to Praia Grande, São Vicente, Cape Verde
Cities
São Vicente, Cape Verde

The Volcanic Arid Wonder of Soncente

A return to São Vicente reveals an aridity as dazzling as it is inhospitable. Those who visit it are surprised by the grandeur and geological eccentricity of the fourth smallest island in Cape Verde.
Obese resident of Tupola Tapaau, a small island in Western Samoa.
Meal
Tonga, Western Samoa, Polynesia

XXL Pacific

For centuries, the natives of the Polynesian islands subsisted on land and sea. Until the intrusion of colonial powers and the subsequent introduction of fatty pieces of meat, fast food and sugary drinks have spawned a plague of diabetes and obesity. Today, while much of Tonga's national GDP, Western Samoa and neighbors is wasted on these “western poisons”, fishermen barely manage to sell their fish.
the projectionist
Culture
Sainte-Luce, Martinique

The Nostalgic Projectionist

From 1954 to 1983, Gérard Pierre screened many of the famous films arriving in Martinique. 30 years after the closing of the room in which he worked, it was still difficult for this nostalgic native to change his reel.
Swimming, Western Australia, Aussie Style, Sun rising in the eyes
Sport
Busselton, Australia

2000 meters in Aussie Style

In 1853, Busselton was equipped with one of the longest pontoons in the world. World. When the structure collapsed, the residents decided to turn the problem around. Since 1996 they have been doing it every year. Swimming.
Aswan, Egypt, Nile River meets Black Africa, Elephantine Island
Traveling
Aswan, Egypt

Where the Nile Welcomes the Black Africa

1200km upstream of its delta, the Nile is no longer navigable. The last of the great Egyptian cities marks the fusion between Arab and Nubian territory. Since its origins in Lake Victoria, the river has given life to countless African peoples with dark complexions.
Resident of Nzulezu, Ghana
Ethnic
Nzulezu, Ghana

A Village Afloat in Ghana

We depart from the seaside resort of Busua, to the far west of the Atlantic coast of Ghana. At Beyin, we veered north towards Lake Amansuri. There we find Nzulezu, one of the oldest and most genuine lake settlements in West Africa.
ice tunnel, black gold route, Valdez, Alaska, USA
Got2Globe Photo Portfolio
Got2Globe Portfolio

Sensations vs Impressions

tarsio, bohol, philippines, out of this world
History
Bohol, Philippines

Other-wordly Philippines

The Philippine archipelago spans 300.000 km² of the Pacific Ocean. Part of the Visayas sub-archipelago, Bohol is home to small alien-looking primates and the extraterrestrial hills of the Chocolate Hills.
Friends in Little Venice, Mykonos
Islands
Mykonos, Greece

The Greek Island Where the World Celebrates Summer

During the 1960th century Mykonos was once just a poor island, but by XNUMX Cycladic winds of change transformed it. First, at the main gay shelter in the Mediterranean. Then, at the crowded, cosmopolitan and bohemian vanity fair that we find when we visit.
Horses under a snow, Iceland Never Ending Snow Island Fire
Winter White
Husavik a Myvatn, Iceland

Endless Snow on the Island of Fire

When, in mid-May, Iceland already enjoys some sun warmth but the cold and snow persist, the inhabitants give in to an intriguing summer anxiety.
Visitors to Ernest Hemingway's Home, Key West, Florida, United States
Literature
Key West, United States

Hemingway's Caribbean Playground

Effusive as ever, Ernest Hemingway called Key West "the best place I've ever been...". In the tropical depths of the contiguous US, he found evasion and crazy, drunken fun. And the inspiration to write with intensity to match.
Table Mountain view from Waterfront, Cape Town, South Africa.
Nature
Table Mountain, South Africa

At the Adamastor Monster Table

From the earliest times of the Discoveries to the present, Table Mountain has always stood out above the South African immensity South African and the surrounding ocean. The centuries passed and Cape Town expanded at his feet. The capetonians and the visiting outsiders got used to contemplating, ascending and venerating this imposing and mythical plateau.
Sheki, Autumn in the Caucasus, Azerbaijan, Autumn Homes
Autumn
Sheki, Azerbaijan

autumn in the caucasus

Lost among the snowy mountains that separate Europe from Asia, Sheki is one of Azerbaijan's most iconic towns. Its largely silky history includes periods of great harshness. When we visited it, autumn pastels added color to a peculiar post-Soviet and Muslim life.
The Gran Sabana
Natural Parks

Gran Sabana, Venezuela

A Real Jurassic Park

Only the lonely EN-10 road ventures into Venezuela's wild southern tip. From there, we unveil otherworldly scenarios, such as the savanna full of dinosaurs in the Spielberg saga.

One of the tallest buildings in Valletta, Malta
UNESCO World Heritage
Valletta, Malta

An ex-Humble Amazing Capital

At the time of its foundation, the Order of Knights Hospitaller called it "the most humble". Over the centuries, the title ceased to serve him. In 2018, Valletta was the tiniest European Capital of Culture ever and one of the most steeped in history and dazzling in memory.
In elevator kimono, Osaka, Japan
Characters
Osaka, Japan

In the Company of Mayu

Japanese nightlife is a multi-faceted, multi-billion business. In Osaka, an enigmatic couchsurfing hostess welcomes us, somewhere between the geisha and the luxury escort.
Glass Bottom Boats, Kabira Bay, Ishigaki
Beaches
Ishigaki, Japan

The Exotic Japanese Tropics

Ishigaki is one of the last islands in the stepping stone that stretches between Honshu and Taiwan. Ishigakijima is home to some of the most amazing beaches and coastal scenery in these parts of the Pacific Ocean. More and more Japanese who visit them enjoy them with little or no bathing.
Detail of the Kamakhya temple in Guwahati, Assam, India.
Religion
Guwahati, India

The City that Worships Kamakhya and the Fertility

Guwahati is the largest city in the state of Assam and in North East India. It is also one of the fastest growing in the world. For Hindus and devout believers in Tantra, it will be no coincidence that Kamakhya, the mother goddess of creation, is worshiped there.
Flam Railway composition below a waterfall, Norway.
On Rails
Nesbyen to Flam, Norway

Flam Railway: Sublime Norway from the First to the Last Station

By road and aboard the Flam Railway, on one of the steepest railway routes in the world, we reach Flam and the entrance to the Sognefjord, the largest, deepest and most revered of the Scandinavian fjords. From the starting point to the last station, this monumental Norway that we have unveiled is confirmed.
Society
Margilan, Uzbekistan

An Uzbekistan's Breadwinner

In one of the many bakeries in Margilan, worn out by the intense heat of the tandyr oven, the baker Maruf'Jon works half-baked like the distinctive traditional breads sold throughout Uzbekistan
Daily life
Arduous Professions

the bread the devil kneaded

Work is essential to most lives. But, certain jobs impose a degree of effort, monotony or danger that only a few chosen ones can measure up to.
São João Farm, Pantanal, Miranda, Mato Grosso do Sul, sunset
Wildlife
Fazenda São João, Miranda, Brazil

Pantanal with Paraguay in Sight

When the Fazenda Passo do Lontra decided to expand its ecotourism, it recruited the other family farm, the São João. Further away from the Miranda River, this second property reveals a remote Pantanal, on the verge of Paraguay. The country and the homonymous river.
Full Dog Mushing
Scenic Flights
Seward, Alaska

The Alaskan Dog Mushing Summer

It's almost 30 degrees and the glaciers are melting. In Alaska, entrepreneurs have little time to get rich. Until the end of August, dog mushing cannot stop.
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