Florence in January and February is mostly gray – gray medieval or renaissance stone palazzos, gray cobblestone streets, gray rain, gray skies, gray clothes – so it warms me up to think back to hot days on the high, high, high Atacama Desert of Chile with its rose and peach wind-shaped bluffs, its white-silver salt flats with pink flamingos, its blue-black midnight skies with a moon hanging within reach.
Before I arrived at the Calama airport, I thought I knew deserts, but the Atacama is unique with geysers at altitudes that steal your breath, volcanos – both active and sleeping, and salt flats, curdled hard after centuries of sun, surrounding saline pools teeming with flamingos.
I thought the desert might provide the peace I needed after the chaotic Santiago streets, but debated whether Patagonia might be more a more interesting escape. What I found in the Atacama Desert made me wish I had two weeks rather than four days to explore its variety. On my next visit I fantasize that I will try sand surfing, but probably not.
Florence is not know for its wildlife (or even as a place for a wild life). There are a lot of gray pigeons and at home, Dante and Guido – they are gray-furred, too.
I didn’t think the “dead” Atacama Desert would have many colorful birds or animals, but it does – vicuñas, llamas, alpacas, and guanacos, as well as flamingos, Andean geese, Andean gulls, grebes and condors.
Florence feels closed in during January and February. It’s cold, but not too cold. It’s damp, but without the excitement of a thunderstorm. I am encouraged to hibernation. At the Hotel Atacama I found that just listening to the wind move along the sand was invigorating. I can almost still hear it now.
The Atacama Desert stretches on forever with all its space, variety and color. The memories will get me to March when the crocus and iris will greet a pale sun in the Tuscan countryside and promise an April bursting with color.