The second part of the road trip took us up to the Atacama Desert. I want to talk about the powerful landscapes and the deafening absence of life. But when I reflect on my time in San Pedro, I think of the tour companies.
When you walk through San Pedro de Atacama, you’ll see streets lined with tour companies eager to whisk you away to some of the many wonders of the desert. There aren’t just one or two or even three – there are dozens.
And, more than any other place on the trip so far, did I hear American English being spoken. But the English wasn’t necessarily what gave them away. These were the Arcteryx-wearing, adventure-seeking, Amex credit card-wielding tourists… you know, the type that looks like, well, me?
I don’t like it when I’m confronted with myself.
This observation is easily juxtaposed with the fact that San Pedro de Atacama is a rare oasis town in the Atacama desert – one of the driest places in the world. A fragile ecosystem that I’m surprised can even support the existing infrastructure.
It’s a classic problem of a tourist economy – a place full of natural adventure, enticing enough for the eager Amex Platinum-wielding tourists, especially with some creative marketing campaigns from the tourism board.
But to limit or curtail tourism cold-turkey would cut off the most prominent and reliable (save for global pandemics) source of revenue. So what is one to do?
Well, we sit in our car – a rental from a local tour agency – at the base of a volcano, eating a sandwich, contemplating our complacency in the world’s problems.
Fuck – it is gorgeous here.