Hello again! Sorry I haven't posted anything for a while. My wife and I have been taking a short break from the Falkland Islands, after moving here in January. A change is as good as a rest, as the saying goes, and we certainly had a change. The brochure didn't mention it would be like going to Mars....
|Sunrise over Stanley Harbour.|
|Watching Gentoo penguins in the dunes.|
However, it is also midwinter here, and the days are short, so we were looking for a bit of sunshine to brighten the winter months. About a month ago, we headed down a very rough, icy track (the main road!) to the international airport at Mount Pleasant to catch the weekly flight to Chile, which, unknown to us at the time, had been a stand-in for the planet Mars!
|Vicuna at the roadside, Atacama desert|
|San Pedro guard dog|
|Main street, San Pedro. Mostly unchanged since conquistadores found it.|
The town centre is only a couple of streets long and wide - in the traditional Spanish colonial style, introduced by the Spanish invaders around 1540. The road surface is a compressed mix of salt and dirt, which lasts well as there is virtually no rainfall. The buildings are mostly traditional adobe mud brick.
|Volcanoes at the edge of town. Telescope is for stargazing - assuming no clouds.|
|Valley of the Moon. Andes in distance.|
|Old church, San Pedro|
|Licancabur, sacred mountain. Bolivia is on the other side.|
But, initially, the most striking features of the area were physical.
As some of you may have heard on the news, a NASA probe, "Curiousity", has just been delivered to explore Mars. It seems that scientists needed a testing ground with somewhere as close as possible to the harsh Martian conditions that the module would experience. So, they chose the Atacama! This article gives more detail - (once more, indebted to the wonderful Kindle which delivers the paper each morning! Thanks to my Nordic Walking friends!)
|San Pedro valley - the river soon peters out in the desert.|
|Tatio geyser field. 13,123ft, or 4,000mts above sea level|
The main drawback about seeing the geysers is that they are at their best at dawn. And this means leaving San Pedro around 4am! However, it is worth it!
|Middle-aged geyser having a dip at 4,000 metres above the sea.|
|Much older Geysers|
|Vicuna on the altiplano. The lack of llamas wouldn't last!|
Although not quite in the same league as those we see in the Falklands, we did have a couple great sunsets. The only cloud on the horizon for us, were..... the clouds on the horizon!
For four days, we tried to organise a session of stargazing in the clear desert skies, accompanied by expert astronomers to identify the heavenly bodies. However, very unusually, clouds arrived every evening just as we were setting off for the session. Maybe a reason to return?
|Andean sunset, with gathering clouds about to obscure the stars|
Soon, we would be enjoying the clear skies in Bolivia.....Could it top Chile, and Mars? I knew very little about the country, other than it boasted 500 different types of potato - reason enough for a Scot to want to go there! Oh, and that's where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid ended up....