Wednesday, June 10, 2009

San Pedro de Atacama

San Pedro de Atacama is a small village in an oasis in the middle of the Atacama desert. Which also happens to be in Northern Chile. Population : around 5000 people. 7,900 feel above sea level, making it high and dry. One of the driest places in the world actually, with little to no rainfall ever recorded. Temperature in the 80's during the day and drops down to below freezing during the night. The village was founded 11,000 years ago by the "Atacamenos". Some of the first known farmers in the country, they used llama droppings to fertilize their crops. Then, when the llamas got old, they cut them up and grilled them. So it goes. They charge 1200 pesos for a stick of llama meat now. I would have easily paid 1500.

The Atacamenos don't have much water, so they put up signs like this one in the bathroom. It was hanging in the hostel I stayed at and I only saw it the last day. Then I felt bad about my long showers before I knew it was there. They have so little water that they have to ration it by the hour.

There are a series of water channels in the village that are operated by a person called a "celador" [sp?]. You get a certain amount of hours of water from the channel depending on your plot of land. If you have horses or alfalfa you get a bonus. The Hotel de Larache gets 20 hours of water every 17 days. Which is a good amount and fair. They have both horses and alfalfa.

There are three types of shops in San Pedro. One is posh-rustic restaurants with expensive drinks. Another is tour operators with big glossy pictures of lagoons on the wall. And the last is an internet/bike rental/convenience store/laundry or any combination of the four. That is all. And a post office. All of the dogs are lazy and nice except for the ones that are owned by junkyards. They have pointy ears and good posture and run much faster.

A good way to get around is to rent a bike from the laundromat/internet cafe. Then you can go anywhere you want and see the other small villages. There are small creeks to cross that give you wet shoes if you go too fast. It is very high there and I think that I had altitude sickness, though no one told me that. I got about a mile before I had to stop and rest and wave to people passing. I'm sure they all knew that I wasn't reading my map because I was breathing so hard.

Many of the homes are made with many different materials. No one ever told me why. I think it was because you build with what you can in the desert. Sometimes that means barrels. Other times that means sticks. And every once in a while it means blocks.

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