Tuscan Traveler’s Tales – Last Post from the Atacama Desert

Sandstone bluffs are the doors to the Valley of the Moon

Sandstone bluffs are the doors to the Valley of the Moon

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.

The Valley of the Dead leads to an ancient volcano

Death Valley leads to an ancient volcano

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.

El Tatio Geyser Basin at 12,500 feet above sea level in the Atacama Desert

El Tatio Geyser Basin at 12,500 feet above sea level in Atacama

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.

A sleeping volcano known as Licancabur

A sleeping volcano known as Licancabur

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.

A lone vicuna, one of twenty at the geyser basin

A lone vicuña, one of twenty at the geyser basin

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.

Hundreds of flamingos spend months on the Salar de Atacama

Hundreds of flamingos spend months on the Salar de Atacama

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.

Week-old llama gets a kiss from his mother at the Hotel Alto Atacama

Week-old llama gets a kiss from his mother at the Hotel Alto Atacama

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.

Alto Atacama Hotel

Alto Atacama Hotel

 

Italian Food Rules: The BookItalian Life Rules (the book) is coming in Summer 2014. Italian Food Rules by Ann Reavis is available now. You can buy Italian Food Rules by using these links:

Amazon. com (U.S.) eBook for Kindle & Kindle Apps

Amazon. com (U.S.) paperback

Amazon.co.uk (United Kingdom)

Amazon.it (Italy)

Amazon.de (Germany)

Amazon.fr (France)

Barnes & Noble (U.S.) eBook for Nook

 

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