|Dawn breaks over the El Tatio Geyser field|
|The village of San Pedro|
|Even the furniture in the hostel was made of pise|
During the day it was warm enough for the men to take their shirts off and most of my fellow hostellers wore shorts, but as soon as the sun set it was very cold. The hostel solved this problem by having fire pits in the garden on most nights so that people could enjoy being outside under the stars. It is an excellent place for stargazing.
A number of tours begin here including those going to the salt lakes. My first was to the Valle de La Luna here (there's one in Argentina too, as well as the one in La Paz). The stark landscape was created by salt, most of which is composed of lithium - the largest deposit in the world. Some say that the reason the town is so laid back is because of the lithium in the water. The valley covers a huge area and is full of bizarre rock formations, caverns and a few stalactites formed in same way as in limestone. Occasionally you can hear the rocks crack and there will be a minor landslip as salt and moisture find fissures in the rock and expand and contract with the dramatic temperature changes between day and night. If you want to get a better idea, click here.
|Chile's Valley of the Moon|
My second excursion was to the El Tatio Geyser field about 90 kilometres from San Pedro. Because the geysers are at their best early in the morning, this necessitated another chilly 4 a.m. start. They were also 4,300m above sea level so we were advised to wear very warm clothing and not to partake of alcohol, meat or tobacco the night before. This was a shame since the hostel was having a barbecue that night with lots of free drinks.
This is the third largest geothermal field in the world and most certainly the highest. Everywhere geysers hissed, gurgled and bubbled. Bigger ones sent clouds of steam into the skies while smaller ones burped and chuckled. You can hear a bit of it here:
|Steam rises, fumaroles hiss and blubber and hot water surges out of the earth|
|Nice touch - breakfast of hot chocolate with chocolate biscuits|
Unfortunately there is now interest in starting a geothermal power station here which may threaten the tourism value of the field. The guide said that just the exploratory drilling has caused the geysers to drop in height. While the region may not seem very hospitable to wildlife, we did see one of the small local foxes. I think it was the Viscacha, a relative of the chinchilla. These do not run away when spotted but obligingly sit very still. There were also vicunas (other relatives of the Alpaca) on the grassier slopes further down. These were almost extinct thirty years ago, but a vigorous protection program on the part of the Chilean government has enabled them to recover and thrive.
|Little fox near the geyser field seen through the windows of the van|
|Vicunas grazing on the plain|
Walking up the hill to the little church, I noticed that each of the small neat houses had solar panels on its roof. It was sort of Stone Age meets the future without the Industrial Age, power poles and centralised power stations in between.
|Little Church in Machuca|