Out-of-the-World Village

Hey everyone, it´s been a week since our last blog post, but only because our class has been absolutely non stop action packed! Here is what we have been up to during the past week:

Day 10

All of us students piled on into a bus at 4:30 in the morning a little begrudgingly, but little did we know, we were about to experience one of the most magnificent sites of our lives. After a little over an hour driving, the group arrived at the Geisers del Tatio, a geyser field that is located in the Andes Mountains and is roughly 4,300 meters above sea level, making it one of the highest elevated fields in the entire world! It was absolutely freezing (actually, a few degrees below freezing!), and seeing as we have been exploring the Atacama Desert in one of their hottest months, we weren't exactly acclimated. Fortunately for us, the geysers spewed out hot steam to warm us up. But even better than that, we got to swim in a geyser-pool! The water was kind of lukewarm, but if you managed to find a hot water vent, you had your own little "heater." Geisers del Tatio was an absolutely spectacular sight, and we now all understand why it´s such a large tourist destination when visiting San Pedro de Atacama. However, a little over five years ago, the Codelco mining company, a state owned corporation, began exploring near the geysers, but had an operation malfunction that caused a fumarole. A fumarole is an artificial opening in the earths crust near a volcano that leads to the emission of toxic gases. Codelco could not seal the fumarole for several weeks, which has made mining exploration near the region extremely controversial. We don't know the future of the field, but we are all very grateful we had the opportunity to see them before there are any potential incidences that would prevent us from doing so. I don't say this about many things, but the Geisers del Tatio were definitely worth getting up at 4:30am for.

Day 11 - 14

Today we took two buses, one from San Pedro de Atacama to Calama, and another from Calama to Caspana. After about five hours worth of traveling, we all arrived in what is now remembered in our hearts as paradise. Caspana is a small, rural, indigenous village with only 300 people living there. It´s situated in the middle of the Atacama desert surrounded by mountains, and yet is in this valley with trees, grass, and other types of plants! The fact that anything can grow there absolutely dumbfounded us. Caspana has only one store in the entire village, which is a handmade craft store for tourists. Surprisingly, many people visit Caspana because of the plant and animal life that somehow has managed to sustain itself for generations in the middle of a barren desert. The place we were staying is the only guest-housing offered, and is actually an extension of a family home. All of the daughters cooked our meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and they were absolutely amazing! None of us will forget the amazing bread and soup we had there. While we were there, we went on hikes on the some of the mountains surrounding the village, and the sights were phenomenal--Volcán Paniri, Cerro Echado, Cerro León, and Cerro Toconce. On Sunday, we got up to attend the monthly church service, hiking part way up the mountain to the church, and waited for about an hour for the service. To our dismay, we found out that mass was not being held that Sunday because of a town hall meeting that was being held in regards to a dispute between the Atacamenos and CODELCO. It was saddening that mining corporations were preventing a small community from even having their Sunday mass, and it really added another layer to the impacts of mining on the indigenous for us. Fortunately, we were still allowed to look around the church before we left. It was a Catholic church, but also blended in Atacamenian cultural elements; I can honestly say that I have never seen so many flowers and colours in a church before. After taking in all of the sights over three days in Caspana, it was time for us to all bid our farewells to this charming village.

For me, I was sitting on a wooden log listening to the sounds of sheep baaing, birds chirping, and a flutist somewhere in the distance. That moment sitting there overlooking the trees and the mountains is the most relaxed I have felt in years. It finally made me realize why people stayed in a town like this. I felt at one with the nature. The Atacameno people have a sacred bond with nature and animals, and while I was sitting there thinking, I finally began to truly understand why. I know I didn't feel the same connection to the land in Caspana as the indigenous do, but I felt my own spiritual connection to this peaceful, bucolic village that is Caspana.

The view from the hotel in Caspana
A view Caspana in from the top of the canyon
A beautiful sunset in Caspana
Huge grass plants that grow in the valley
What some of the older houses in Caspana look like
Volcano Paniri, Mount Echado, Mount León, and Mount Toconce