When you think of just how dry and forbidding the Atacama desert is, you wonder why the hell anyone would live there. Maybe it makes sense now, because there are things like highways and trucks and bottled water you can bring in from a distance. And maybe now because there are vast deposits of copper and other minerals there, and the export of those minerals is to Chile what oil is to Saudi Arabia.
Our weekend trip to San Pedro de Atacama was a little anti-climactic for me. Evidently, I had eaten something which didn’t agree with me sometime during the previous week and it sort of came on all of a sudden–and I do mean all of a sudden–on our second day of a three day trip. So, I did manage to see the geysers on day one, and the archeological sites on day three, but missed the Moon and Death Valleys on day two. Hell, I like geysers and ruins as much as the next guy, but abject desolation is really fascinating. And that’s what I missed.
I’ve been reading, for the second time, a book called The Last Days of the Incas by Kim McQuarrie. It makes traveling so much better when you know something about the history of what you’re looking at. It’s a terrific lot of historical research that reconstructs in great detail just how the Spanish destroyed the Inca empire, and fits in beautifully with Hiram Bingham’s accounts of his rediscovery of the Incan sites, particularly Machu Picchu. (Did you know, btw, that Bingham was looking for Vilcabamba, the last Incan capital, and thought that’s what he’d found at Machu Picchu? Oh well, that’s another story for later, and to be told by someone else–scholars, for instance–who are interested in academic credit.)