Last weekend all of Chile celebrated International Workers’ Day or, as it’s called here, Día de los trabajadores. Although this holiday has its roots in the United States, it’s better recognized thousands of miles away in Chile and in other parts of South America as May Day. International Workers’ Day is the first of May and is a national holiday, meaning that everyone has off from work, including university students like myself. Like many other people, tourists and Chileans alike, I took advantage of this long weekend to travel to the north of Chile to the Atacama Desert. Since I don’t have classes on Monday or Friday and classes were cancelled that Tuesday, I had a lovely five-day weekend.
The Atacama Desert is one of the driest places in the world – so dry, in fact, that the climate produces natural mummies, preserving them in almost perfect conditions, right down to their clothing. It is also one of the places where many men and women were taken and killed under the Pinochet dictatorship in the seventies and eighties, the same people who are now known today as the desaparecidos. There are bodies that are still there to this day, reminders of the darker parts of Chile’s history.
Despite the darker aspects of the Atacama Desert, it remains a beautiful (albeit mysterious) place to this day. While I was there, I had the opportunity to visit some truly incredible places, like Laguna Céjar and Valle de la Luna. Laguna Céjar is a naturally-formed salt lake in the middle of the desert, and it is basically the Chilean equivalent to the Dead Sea. The salt levels are so high that you can do a trust fall into the water, and the water won’t go any further than your shoulders. It’s really a surreal experience. I rented some bikes with a couple of my friends, and we rode our bikes there, enjoying the desert views on the hour and a half ride there (and back).
One of the other highlights was going to Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley). It almost looks like a different world with the red dust and sand everywhere, with random rock formations around every corner. Many say that it looks more like Mars or some other distant planet rather than Earth. It’s because of these otherworldly qualities of the Atacama Desert that NASA actually tested its Mars rovers there. It’s so dry and inhabitable that it is the perfect doppelganger for Mars.
As much as I love Valpo, I do get a little stir-crazy, so it was so nice to take a trip to yet another region in Chile to explore my host-country a little more. The best part of the north of Chile in the Atacama Desert is by far the beautiful landscapes and the arguably more beautiful sunsets. On my last day in San Pedro, I had the opportunity to watch the sunset from the top of one of the huge rock formations in Valle de la Luna, a perfect end to a beautiful trip.