19 December 2004

The numbing of the relentless desert heat

SAN PEDRO de ATACAMA - I call this the numbing of the relentless desert heat. Neruda aptly calls it the fierce noon sun with its sharp spears. It is pervasive and there is no respite, no shadows, except in the canyon. Goodness knows how the llamas and the beconias do it. It is like a life without seasons, with nothing to look forward to except the relentless heat.

Of course I don't regret this trip to the desert but I doubt I can live in such harsh conditions for long. The conditions are so extreme - dry and hot in the day, cool in the night and subzero in the altitudes. Am I glad I didn't have the balls to sign up for any altiplano treks!

One gets tired and afraid of this sun. What a sanctuary this little cafe is. There must be a 3-4 degree Celsius difference between indoors and outdoors. Of course that is why they can charge S$7 for a glass of milk shake. For a small town like San Pedro, the people here sure knows how to cater to tourist tastes.

I am not sure if that is a good thing. At the town of Machupa, the llama meat seemed almost too readily available by being all ready-BBQed on skewers. I guess I am a difficult tourist to please. On the one hand, I shake my head at the crazy bone-rattling journey to the El Tatio geysers (what my Israeli roommate said about being in a washing machine is such an apt analogy!), but on the other, I don't like things too prepared. I like to stumble on llamas and tall phallic cacti, but not be led like a donkey to the water.

The geysers this morning were spectacular as one might expect, but my experience was compromised to some extent by some altitude sickness (at 4200m) and the subzero cold. It was something that one must do in one's lifetime - to feel the power of pecha mama (mother earth) in the mountains, the desert and the exploding geysers, but the rawness of her power is something so unforgettable that it does not need re-verification again...

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