“Pukará de Quitor was guarded by a 300-head strong security force; but only their heads...”

Pukará de Quitor

17 juli 2009

This page describes our travel to Chile. We visited Santiago, briefly, but spend most of our time in and around San Pedro de Atacama.

The trip started out a bit arduous, with a trip of over 24 hours from Los Angeles, USA, to Santiago, Chile, and then to San Pedro de Atacama. But it was all worth it.

Timing was perhaps not optimal, because it was winter, and almost none of the hotels and hostels has heating. But going in the summer is probably also not ideal...

Anyway... read about our adventures, below.

Unfortunately, the weather had been bad again, which meant that we could not go to the Salar de Tara. When we heard that, we secretly sighed of relief. We were in San Pedro de Atacama now, and this was probably the only time in our lives. That is why we wanted to do as much as possible, but it also meant that we had hardly had any rest. Now then, we could rest.

On the way to Pukará
On our way to Pukará

What to do in San Pedro? Well, it turns out that there is a pleasant walk to Pukará de Quitor. The Pukará is a set of ruins of one of the last strongholds of the Atacameño people in their fight against the Spanish under command of Pedro de Valdivia. It is about a 3 kilometer walk from San Pedro, or better still a bike ride. However, all the bikes were rented out, so we had to walk.

The road curls through a nice, but dusty, valley along a small river. When you arrive at the Pukará, the walk turns into a climb. It is all uphill. The fortress, or what remains, is relatively easy to reach, but you can also choose to climb all the way to a viewing platform, and that is quite a hike. But you are treated on a very nice view of the valley in which San Pedro in located.

We started late on our hike, about 1 o'clock. At 4 o'clock we would be picked up at the airport to be brought to the Calama airport. It would only be just enough time, but that is the way we always travel.

The fortress has an interesting story. The Pukará de Quitor was the last operating base of the Atacameño at the time the Spanish were conquering South America. The Atacameño resisted for a long time, but had to surrender in the end. The Spanish were ruthless and killed entire villages. The Pukará de Quitor is also known as the "castle of the heads", because the Pukará de Quitor was guarded by a 300-head strong security force; but only their heads... The Spanish had killed and beheaded 300 of the leaders of the Atacameño when they conquered the fortress, and they had put the heads on stalks around the fortress. It is rather sickening to realize that the fortress is itself maybe 300 meters in circumference, which means that there was an impaled body-less head every single meter.

The panoramic view
On our way to the panoramic view

Otherwise, it is a gorgeous view from here, by the way. As said, it is a small settlement, en we still had time to visit the viewing platform. After a steep climb we gained an even wider view than we had before. We had no time to stay for long and meditate on the beauty of the area, because our transport would arrive in 40 minutes.

A view of the Licancabur, and April
A view of the Licancabur, and April

After our visit, we arrived in San Pedro at 15h30, just in time to buy some food for on the way. We entered a small business to order some humitas, but they were sold out. The store was also closed, so we had to buy some empanadas from a small restaurant. Even though the empanadas were already prepared, it took a long, long time for the lady to heat them up. After about 20 minutes they were ready. Right when we stepped out the door, our van was driving past. We had to run to our hotel in order to keep up with the van, and to ensure that we could reach the airport in time for our flight.

Andes mountains with Pukará de Quitor in the foreground
Andes mountains with Pukará de Quitor in the foreground

It was in the end not quite the day full of rest that we had imagined.

At the Calama aeropurto it was dark. I wondered where the landing strip was. Normally it is well-light, but here I could not see anything. The strip was invisible. About 10 minutes before the plane that was going to take us to Santiago landed, the lights of the landing strip were flashed on. All the while, the airport itself was richly lit by many thousands of lights. It is not a life of excesses here, but the electricity for sure is used in practical ways.