We made our way down another tight adobe alley when we were confronted by a procession coming from another dark alley.
It progresses at a short pace, slowed down by the weight of the stilts that carry Christs and Virgin Marys on foot.Stunning orth. At least, if you take into account the size of the village.
The procession is animated by high-pitched chants, performed by hundreds of torch-lit devotees.
At the front, there's an unlikely combination of village butts hidden behind black veils and curious foreigners walking in shorts and sandals.
Taking into account the slowness, he promises to take the entire morning to travel through San Pedro and reach the homonymous church. For foreigners, that doesn't matter.
As soon as Calle Caracoles is free, for lack of belief, they indulge in dinner.
Shortly after, to beer Austral and Pisco Sour, the queen drinks of Chile, perfect to brighten the narrative of your travel stories, the exact and the exaggerated, and the night in general.
Once the ceremony is over, the animation quickly spreads to calle Gustavo Le Paige. The baptism of this alley honored a Jesuit missionary of Belgian origin who settled in San Pedro in 1955.
Like so many other outsiders, Le Paige fell in love with the simple life of the village and its Atacama past. In fact, he became one of those responsible for preserving the faith and the religious manifestation we had just witnessed.
From Atacamas to railroad that Carried Nitrate
The oasis that welcomed it was initially occupied, around 11.000 years ago, by the Atacamas, the first people to settle in areas irrigated by rivers or aquifers in the puna and the desert ravines.
After conquering the area from the Incas – who had taken over it in the meantime – the Spanish colonists erected São Pedro de Atacama. In 1540, Peter of Valdivia: conquistador from these parts of South America visited it.
The village enjoyed a prosperous peace, as an obligatory stop for the cattle and nitrate caravans that linked the Offices from the highlands of the Andes to the plains of the Atacama Desert and to the Pacific coast.
This substance would later be exported around the world. also for Portugal. Chile's famous Nitrate fertilizer quickly proved essential to good crop performance.
While it spread through the Portuguese subsoil, its brand image of the black knight invaded the surface in posters and bags of the product. In fact, throughout the country, various panels of the brand, painted on tiles, survive.
The introduction of the railway across the Andes closer ones caused the decline of São Pedro de Atacama. The town only won as a favorite holiday destination for Chileans.
In the meantime, it began to attract foreign visitors, surrendered to its stunning colonial architecture and peaceful, welcoming atmosphere.
The Gringo Invasion
As Maurício Aguero, Santiago de Chile guide, explains: “… the Atacama desert became irresistible to the adventurous inhabitants of the Chilean capital and, around 1970, an international horde of travelers who had already explored the town took over. several stops nearby: Salta and Jujuy, Argentina, the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia, Cusco in Peru and so many others – and I was looking for new fascinations”.
After a few years, there were already several bars, restaurants and inns opened in houses and other typical buildings.
Tourism is here to stay and dominate. After the donkey and horse caravans, the village became an obligatory stop on the backpacker routes to discover Andean South America.
Today, outsiders number in the thousands. This invasion has subsidized and disturbed, for a long time, the secular way of life of the Atacameños.
During the day, the situation is still manageable. Most gringos are absent from San Pedro, which adopts the slow pace of its inhabitants.
Women talk at the door of the local pharmacy, kids play barefoot in the mud around the dimples, elderly people cycle on their way to their orchards, just outside the village.
Everything happens without haste or confusion.
As Calles and alleys of San Pedro de Atacama
On sunset, foreigners return from dispatches of the day. they cluster south of the Plaza de Armas, on Caracoles, the alley that is central to San Pedro's nightlife.
There, in some parallels and perpendiculars, the bars, restaurants and shops of souvenirs shop do a bit of everything to attract more customers.
They create bright decorations, install indoor fireplaces and stages where they welcome Chilean musicians and, when appropriate, from other parts of the world.
They also turn up the sound volume as much as they can and keep exuberant recruiters diverting hungry or thirsty passersby to their establishments.
The spectrum of tourists is now much broader than it was a few decades ago. The strong evolution of the Chilean economy provided the region with better access and conditions.
Suddenly, San Pedro and the Atacama Desert are no longer the exclusive territory of indigenous people and backpackers, who are used to suffering to discover.
Luxury hotels such as Explora and Larache and their wealthy customers also arrived. The under-35 travelers were joined by others, with more age, money and whims of comfort and refinement to match.
San Pedro de Atacama. An entire Adobe Colonial City
Despite the invasion of outsiders, in architectural terms, this town situated at 2436 meters above sea level, it retains the original rustic feel generated by the hispanic settlers.
One-story and arranged in a geometric pattern, its houses preserve the adobe on which they were built. Sometimes it appears raw, sometimes whitewashed.
Sometimes, we see it whitewashed but “decorated” by brown stripes produced by the running of water from the mud roofs on any such special day when it rained.
Door and window frames are almost always bright and contrast with the earth tones that surround them. Interiors range from spartan to lounge decor, depending on the creativity and possessions of the owners.
The unpaved streets are interconnected around the Plaza de Armas, the square from which the city's religious and political buildings stand out, solemnly represented by the church of San Pedro, the Casa Incaica (specially built for Valdivia's visit) and the Cabildo.
San Pedro's Stunning Commercial and Rural Backyards
In the back of the city, under permanent speculative threat, a kind of rural ghettos of indigenous communities resist - the ayules -.
These are vegetable gardens and orchards irrigated by canals in which, to the surprise of many visitors, the water generated by the distant melting of the Andes flows. After all, we were supposed to be in a desert.
The permanent population of São Pedro de Atacama is around 5000 inhabitants.
When we go through the callecitas at the end of the afternoon, it seems much bigger. Countless busy explorers cross and cross over until they finish organizing their programs for the next few days.
On the genuine side of the village, secluded in the alleys furthest from the tourist centre, small grocery stores sell a little bit of everything, from compost bags and nail clippers to used travel guides.
of these stores and picturesque wineries, the pharmacy and the bakery stand out. There we admire women attack and Aymara dark-skinned and slanted eyes commenting on the rumors of the day.
We've strayed further from the center. We ended up buying empanadas at bodega and botilleria San Pedro.
Oriana Soza is very pregnant but still resists the counter. Welcomes us with a mixture of surprise and sympathy. Take the order, hand us the warm package and wish us the typical South American “what are they vaya bien".
We are about to leave the grocery store when the native gains courage and adds "y, señores … hablen de la nuestra bodeguita a los otros gringos, please".