On the way from San Pedro to the highland region of Talar in Atacama, Chile, I stop several times to take pictures of this beautiful landscape of tussocked grass.
I see several grazing vicuñas, a relative of the llama, and then I spot a llama itself when it suddenly darts across the lonely road.
I am here primarily to see the Salar de Aguas Calientes, the famed salt flats of Atacama, whose beauty is such that I almost rub my eyes to make sure I am not in a dream. Although the sun is shining, the height and the wind-chill bring the temperature down to about two degrees below zero, while I struggle to draw breath in the thin air. “Move slowly and really fill your lungs with air,” says Juan Bastita, my guide, when he sees me wheezing.
Walking down to the Laguna Talar, I come to an area called the Red Rocks. Large, flat red stones of irregular shape cover the ground, fitted perfectly with one another as if a divine hand had paved the ground. Their deep red contrasts with the bright blue sky and turquoise water of the lagoon, an attractive color clash of warm and cold tones that give the place an almost supernatural beauty.
When I return to the jeep, I find that our driver and Juan have prepared a picnic and laid out a bottle of the excellent Chilean Carmenere wine. It is a surprise that I am not expecting, typical of the warmth of Chilean hospitality. “We’ll start with a pisco sour, to whet your appetite,” says Juan. “We had planned to return to San Pedro and look for a restaurant but I thought this might be a better setting.”
As we eat in front of the majestic landscape, I have to agree. Not only is it a better setting than I might find in the humble town of San Pedro, but better than almost anywhere else on Earth.