After probably the bumpiest flight (in the late stages) that I have been on in decades, we touched down at Calama airport. Like so many things here, it is recently built and opened. As we came out into the open, the landscape shimmered with heat, and plumes of dust rose in the distance – which I assume, having looked down on a number of major mines as we flew in, must have been because of mining activity.
We climbed into a minibus with several other people and travelled eastwards towards the Andes. Getting to San Pedro de Atacama took about an hour-and-a-half, during which time I was struck by how much of the desert was covered not so much with windmills, though we passed through an extensive wind farm, but with litter. Most of the low-lying shrubs, it seemed, had acted as snags for passing plastic, paper and other debris.
As the land climbed, the debris thinned out. And then we crested the hills overlooking the Salar de Atacama, the great salt pan. As we headed down into San Pedro, I was struck by how the town’s single storey buildings are made out of adobe brick, with dirt roads once you’re off the main drag. The overall sense, however, with greenery and trees, is of an oasis.
And then on to our oasis within the oasis, the Tierra Atacama resort. Again this is single storey, with careful attention having been made to minimise light pollution. The gardens smelled wonderful, of fig trees, rosemary and lavender, with considerable numbers of hollyhocks (or malvas, here), in a wide spectrum of colours.
My room’s picture window looks out onto the elegantly symmetrical Licancabur volcano.
Under Fernando’s guidance, I’m trying a bunch of different Chilean red wines: Cabernet, Carmenere, Merlot and chilled Pinot Noir among them. Wonderful to sit out in the open air at night, with a glass of wine, the stars, a blazing fire, and across the valley on the flanks of the mountain alongside Licancabur, a wildly snaking road through to Bolivia, with the headlights of a small number of cars making their way up or down.