Saturday, December 12, 2015

Day 146 - Extraterrestrial Landscapes and an Extraordinary Sunset

This day began much more relaxed than the last two days. We could 'sleep in' which turned out to be 9 o'clock, had an easy morning at the pool (no, not swimming, doing e-mails and chatting), and were picked up at 15.30 in the hotel lobby for our last tour. We were persons three and four that were picked up, and two stops later the 30-person bus was full. Here we come, Valle de la Luna!

We were brought to the far end of the park road where we could have a look at the "Tres Marías" in the middle of a moon-like salt landscape. Indeed, this valley was used for mining sand until the 1990ies. The odd shaped rocks look like praying women. Also interesting was that the ground was full of large (10 cm diameter) objects that looked like ice cubes, but actually were mineral salt crystals.

As another highlight of the tour we climbed the side of a huge sand dune where it was rather windy, so that we were hit by several small sandstorms and had the eyes full of sand. The view was stunning. Fortunately some cars drove by from time to time, down on the road from where we came too, to create a size reference in this unreal, extraterrestrial looking landscape.

Afterwards we were brought to a cave in the salt mountains range. These caves were relatively cool so that they have always been used by animals or caravanes as shelter. Another photo stop was the so-called Valle de la Muerte, an odd-looking erosion landscape. Due to the setting sun and the dropping temperatures, the hills around you were cracking quietly. There are two anecdotes that tell how the valley earned its name: (1) because people died under the mass of eroded mud after massive rainfalls (that happen, but very rarely), (2) because an early explorer (a Belgian) called it a mars-like ('martian') landscape which was mistaken for the Spanish word muerte.

The sunset really was a wonderful conclusion not only of our third big tour, but of the entire visit to the Atacama desert and in San Pedro. I have to admit I had had doubts about going to South America, but I was totally surprised by the order and "normality" that I found here.

At sunset, at the Piedro El Coyote, we took some breakneck pictures, enjoyed the "Alpenglühen" of the Andes range and how it slowly went from red to dark grey. After I waited for the very end of the pink at the mountain tops I had to rush back to our bus where everybody was waiting for me already - and even after four days in high altitude I was so out of breath, I swear!


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