Friday, February 3, 2017

To Monjes de la Pacana (Monks of the Pecan).

Licancabur ( 5,916-meters tall) on the left and Juriques (5,704 meters tall) on the right.

Great day today! We were back out in the heart of the Atacama Desert, seeing the mountains, salt flats and lagunas that I have fallen in love with since arriving here.

Today, our destination was the Salar de Talar (Tara Salt Flats).  Along the way, we stopped to admire the landscape at Monjes de Pacana.  Today was also the day that we would hit the highest elevation point of our trip - almost 5,000 meters (16,400 feet)!  Per the denomades.com itinerary for our tour, it's advisable to do this day trip on your last day as it is high elevation. Bro had one last Diamox tablet but I figured that by now, I would have acclimated and that I would be fine.  That indeed turned out to be the case!

Today, our guide was a very hippish looking guy named Allen.  He turned out to be quite the geology geek and all it took was one simple question to launch him into an entire lecture.  I have to admit, I don't remember a lot of what he told us but I did appreciate his desire to spread his knowledge.

Our first stop was just a short distance outside of San Pedro where we had a chance to take in the best view of Licancabur and Juriques.  After all these days of seeing Licancabur from just about every vantage point, I have not gotten tired of seeing this perfectly conical peak.  It would be wonderful to come here in the winter time and see it fully draped in white snow.


It's also incredible to see how the landscape changes if you move just a short distance away.  In the photo above, the ground is dotted with tufts of grass but in the photo below, it's mainly red dirt.

There was a young Chinese boy in our group today and he had a device that measured altitude based, presumably, on GPS location.  According to the device, we standing at an elevation close to 5,000 meters when I took this photo of Bro.  That would turn out to be our highest elevation point today.  Worth it for the view of the two volcanoes alone! 


Not only was there no vegetation here, there were no people.  The two destinations we headed to today are not very popular on most people's Atacama Desert itinerary which is a shame because they are beautiful.  You must go!


Me and  Licancabur :-)

Me and nothingness :-)



People often think of the desert as a colorless place but the Atacama Desert has more than proven to me that that could not be further from the truth.  As we drove further and further into the heart of the desert, there were constant changes in the shapes and colors of the landscape.  The stark beauty of the land against the crisp, brilliant blue sky is stunning.




I think one of my favorite parts about journeying across the desert is when we happen upon a lagoon.  You never think of seeing water in desert but it's a fairly common sight here.



Where there is water, there is wildlife.  Today, we passed by another wetland area with a few flamingos wading in the water and what looked to be a couple of families of vicuñas resting on the shore, near the water's edge.





When we began our journey, Allen had connected his iPhone to the car's USB connector and he was playing out a selection of mainly American rock (from decades ago) on the radio. We asked if he had any Chilean music to play instead and while he did, it was stored on a micro SD card which he could not plug into his iPhone so we inserted the card into my Samsung and we got to hear some Chilean folk music instead.  It somehow made our journey feel more authentic - as if we weren't tourists but locals going on a day trip.  We had a fun group of people with us today.  Aside from an elderly couple from France (whom we've shared a few outings with already) and Bro and I, everyone else was either from Chile or somewhere else in South America.  We have not encountered more than a handful of Americans on this trip which is in some ways a shame because you want to see more Americans traveling outside of the US so they can understand the world better.  On the other hand, it's been nice to not see Americans because that limits your interaction with non-US folks.

I do have to correct myself.  As one person we encountered on this trip pointed out to me. While we typically think of US citizens as Americans, the reality is that everyone from South America can also rightfully refer to themselves as Americans.  Good point, I replied back.

Hernan, our driver and Allen, our guide.





It was almost a three hour ride to get from San Pedro to Monjes de la Pacana.  There were several stops along the way.  As you can see from the video, it was a small group and we all got along very well.  Everyone was super friendly despite the occasional language barrier which did not happen often. We've encountered a lot of people, with excellent command of English, on this trip!


For miles, it was barren landscape.  Then seemingly out of the flatness were tall, free standing rock formations.  This was Monjes de Pacana (Pecan Monks), often referred to as Moais de Tara because of  the resemblance of some formations to the famed moai on the Easter Island.  You have to use your imagination to try and make out the shapes of monks something that I am horrible at doing.  In any case, as Allen pointed out, the rocks were the result of volcanic eruptions that once took place in the region. They've been formed through millenia of wind and erosion.



Of course, the most famous formation is the one that is the free standing pillar.


It's a big rock.  Compare it against the teeny, weeny man standing on the left side of the photo.


That's our van.  Surrounded by nothing.

As I walked towards the pillar, I couldn't help but wonder if the cluster of rocks around its base were there to keep it upright.  Hmmm .....




It looks like a small pillar but it's just a trick to the eye.  He's standing on top of hill which you can't make out because the ground blends perfectly from the top of the hill to the base of the pillar :-)


From Monjes de la Pacana, our journey continued through the desert.  We had some spectacular scenery awaiting us.


Onwards to Salar de Talar!