After visiting the amazing Moon Valley, Salt flats, and high lagoons in Atacama, I got some education in the archaeology of the area. Very close to San Pedro is Tulor, village remains discovered by Gustavo le Paige in 1958. The site is a collection of circular building remains, constructed with pathways connecting them. The material for building was a mixture of clay, water, and animal oils, combining to make walls which kept the interior cool in the summer and warm in the winter.
Windows all faced the Licancabur Volcano, a sacred symbol for the local people. The Licancabur volcano was a sacred place of worship for the Inca Empire, meaning this area was a popular place of pilgrimage each year. Even after the invasion of the Spaniards, volcanoes remained as objects of worship. Once again, the utter strangeness of the landscape here – tall volcanoes from nowhere, rocky striped hills, and barren desert, is simply amazing.
Following our tour of Tulor, we headed to the fort of Pukara de Quitor. Over 700 years old, this fort was built as a defense for the Atacamenos against invading other towns. Quite unlike Inca constructions like Machu Piccu, the stone construction is very irregular. Triangular viewpoints are built along all the walls for scouting enemies.
Climbing the fortress, like everything here, is tiring simply due to the blistering sun and dry heat. We made our way to the top and enjoyed an incredible view out across the valley.
Our reward for the sweaty climb was snacks at a local farm nearby. We toured the lovely shaded farmland, populated by incredibly huge flower and vegetable gardens, sheep, llamas, and goats.
It was fascinating to see what locals extract from the tough vegetation of the area to sustain themselves. The Chanar tree is an endangered plant indigenous to the area. The fruit of the tree is boiled for hours to produce Arope de chanar, a sticky sweet syrup which can be used in place of honey or sugar. In the past, it was also boiled to make a drink similar to coffee. Dried chanar fruits can be ground and used as flour in breadmaking. We tried the chanar syrup drizzled on top of roasted dried corn and quinoa, as well as a dense sweet crusty bread made with the flour. Delicious.
My experience in the Atacama desert was incredible – a land of contrasts and bizarre scenery never seen before. Coupled with the hippie town of San Pedro, bursting with artisan craft markets and a unique food scene, you are sure to find something you like. For another take on the area, check out the link below: