A Chile Winter: Atacama

Friday 2:50AM: I opened my eyes and was filled with anxiety at the thought that I had slept in and missed my 4:00AM transfer to the Santiago airport. Just a few hours later I was on board a plane to Calama for my visit to San Pedro de Atacama.

People had told me about the little pueblo — about the colorful sunsets, geysers and indescribable landscapes. My Chilean mother would tell me about how San Pedro is a desert full of wonders with stars that are so close they seem to be within your reach.

The journey to San Pedro began with a plane ride to Calama followed by a one and a half hour transfer bus to San Pedro. As we were approaching Calama, the desert slowly came into view:

The Calama airport is literally in the middle of the desert — a small runway and terminal in a desert that stretches as far as the eye can see. Walking out of my plane I immediately felt the change in climate — the warmth of the sun’s rays, a chilly breeze, and the dryness of the air — a sharp contrast to the cold Santiago weather.

The transfer left me right in front of my hostel, which had a spectacular view of Volcan Licancabur, towering high above the valley. This was to be only the beginning of the panoramic landscapes which awaited me.

The rest of the Harvard students would be arriving in the evening so I decided that on my first day I would explore the pueblo and leave the tours for the following days. I was very happy to find out that June 29th is the celebration of their Patron Saint, St. Peter the Apostle.

For the Feast of San Pedro, festivities commence on the 28th with a “misa de víspera,” and on June 29, mass is held in the Church of San Pedro, built in 1641 of white adobe brick.

Mass is followed by a procession of the image of San Pedro with musicians, dancers, and community members throughout the pueblo.

I became friends with a couple of girls from San Pedro, who explained to me that these rituals and dances, which have been passed down throughout the centuries, have a great spiritual relevance for their community. The colorful clothing, along with the traditional songs and the countless of smiles, showed the continuing presence of the Atacameño culture and made my first day in San Pedro truly memorable.