Yesterday we visited the Universidad Catolica del Norte where Manuel Prieto, who received his PhD in geography at the University of Arizona, delivered a powerful speech about the history of water privatization in the Atacama region of Chile. Walking into the lecture, we had the preconceived notion that the Atacameños played an important role in the Chilean indigenous community, but we were shocked to find out that until very recently, Atacameños were not acknowledged by the government as indigenous people. Because of this, they were also denied indigenous rights and were forced to unify and fight for them. Due to their initial invisibility, they were given limited water rights during the battle for water betwen the indigenous people and the nearby mining corporations. Water is a very scarce resource in this regions, and during the dictatorship under Pinochet, water was privatized and strictly rationed in order to provide water for the mining corporations. One of the main issues with this was that the state separated land rights from water rights, and the Atacameños saw the land and water together as one. To them, only having one or the other is pointless because they can't grow anything either way. As American students, we were appalled that water could be privated and bought and sold on the market, while in the United States, water is a basic right to which we are granted free access. We take this right for granted, consuming large amounts of water without any concept of conservation practices, yet here in the Atacama region, they need it just for basic survival. Manuel's speech was really eye-opening to these differences in lifestyles and is really crucial to our understanding of the Atacameño way of life and how mining has had a significant impact on their communities.
Yesterday and today, we went on a couple of day excursions to both an archaeological site called Pukara de Quitor and to a nearby land formation called Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon). Pukara de quitor is an archaeological site which is an ancient Atacameñan fortress from the 12th century. We climbed to the top where we got to see a beautiful view of the surrounding area.
Today was our hike through Valle de la luna, an intricate salt canyon formed by water and wind erosion over a period of about 22 million years. On a guided tour, we hiked along the canyon and through a few caverns for about 2 1/2 hours, seeing countless different rock formations that have been shaped by water and wind erosion for millions of years. Eventually, we took the bus to a bluff overlooking the entire region, called the mirador (lookout point) giving us an incredible view of the area we had just traversed. We relaxed along the bluff and waited a couple hours for the sunset over the mountains. Personally speaking, the sunset was a very relaxing and refreshing experience, and was just what I needed after a long day.