A journey through the Moon Valley in the Atacama Desert
Wind battered us from all sides, throwing grit and sand into our eyes and hair. Our bikes were weaving all over the road… this wasn’t easy. But slowly and surely we two riders on the (desert) storm kept up our lonely journey towards the Moon Valley in the Atacama Desert.
After an adventure-filled week in Pucon (South of Chile), Danny and I had made our way up to the Atacama Desert, stopping off in metropolitan Santiago on the way. That uneasy step back into urban life and all of its polluted stresses had convinced us that outdoor adventure was the Holy Grail on our trip. Give us a good bottle of Chilean wine in the country and we’re happy.
So we escaped to San Pedro de Atacama, a desert outcrop of mud settlements turned tourist central in Northern Chile. The town’s 1,900 inhabitants must be at least doubled or tripled by the steady stream of hippies and backpackers that come to visit year round. The attraction is obvious though: an imposingly stark, strangely beautiful desert landscape for miles around, with geysers, volcanoes and salt lakes to boot. Not to mention the crystal clear stargazing opportunities that this remote vastness offers.
Back on the road, the effort required to reach the Moon Valley (Valle de la Luna) was becoming as epic as the scenery accompanying us. Approx. 17km west of San Pedro, this natural sanctuary is one of the driest areas in the world, with parts of it not having received rainfall in hundreds of years. Indeed, when Danny and I arrived in San Pedro amidst a flash shower, locals reacted incredulously (not to our arrival, that is), considering it a blessing from the weather gods.
On we cycled on empty highway out of town and onto the long dirt track up to the dunes where we planned to watch the sunset. The lack of rain, along with the familiar wind whipping up the sand, has over the years created a sensational natural amphitheater of craggy hills stretched along the valley. As the sun went down, the colours took on new hues and the textures became even more dramatic with the falling shadows.
After a quick crawl through some caves, we got back on our bikes for the final, arduous stretch of our adventure: hiking the Duna Mayor, the largest sand dune in the Moon Valley. Once there, we walked along the ridge all the way to the end to enjoy sunset in this most dramatic and beautiful of places. It almost felt like our South America tour had taken on galactic proportions…