The main square in San Pedro de Atacama and in the afternoon heat everyone heads for the shade. We had come down from the Bolivian Altiplano descending thousands of feet onto the desert plateau and still this place is nearly 2500 metres above sea level.
The other thing I couldnt get my head around was the small river that runs through the town – in the driest place on earth. I thought it was some man-made confection designed to impress the visitors. We walked a few miles out of town, along the river valley and on the sides of a steep hill, by the river, were the remains of an Inca settlement. So it seems that it was entirely natural.
I saw these guys when I was in San Pedro de Atacama as I was painting the square – see my sketch of April 1st. I had selected my view and was well into it when the front two guys sat down. Later they were joined by the guy in the background and started some banter. I almost stopped what I was doing and restarted, but thought that I could get some photos of them. In one of them I think I was spotted, as you can see.
I started this painting including the lush trees and vegetation of the square which you can see in my sketch. The painting that resulted is shown below.
I wanted to feature the lush shade to explain their situation, but the whole thing looked too busy and the greys and blues seemed to overrun the subjects.
So out came the red paint. I winged it with the left hand side of the rear figure, but the neutral background pulls the figures into sharp contrast. Looking at it again I probably need to lighten the left leg of the rear figure. I also cropped the top painting as there was a lot of red. I might have another go at this, making the figures a bit bigger, to better fill the space – but I’ll spare you that.
Dropping down around 1400 meters from Bolivia to the Atacama Desert in Chile we stopped at San Pedro de Atacama. A small river comes into the town making it look like an oasis from above. The town square with its Adobe Church has lush trees giving plenty of shade and the whole place has a less chaotic, less half-built feel that you get in towns in Peru and Bolivia, although there are still plenty of stray dogs enjoying the afternoon sun. Still, they all seem to be good humoured.
The Licancaber volcano glowers over the town. We entered the country close to the volcano and drove down the long hill to the plain of the desert. We brought with us a group of Chinese photographers who had been marooned at the border. As the area is reputedly mined it is better to come by car.
Later we walked up to Pukara de Quitor which is a pre Columbian settlement from where I sketched this. The river runs alongside the settlement and probably was the reason why it was established along with a great defensive position. Below us the ribbon of vegetation marks the course of the river. In the background is the Volcano and the Bolivian border.