At 14 thousand feet, the wind blows incessantly. Waves of colors rise up and down across the outcroppings of earth. The light shifts between white and gold as clouds move across the sun. Flamencos wade in the shallow lakes feeding on algae and insects, rich in alpha and beta carotenoid pigments. This diet makes them blush all over. There are few of them here now. Most of them are below on the salt flats of the Atacama. But once night approaches these, too, will take wing and fly here, high in mountains, to spend the night.
It is still and endless here. The quiet sets itself up against the blowing wind. I want to run to the edge of the lake to get a better view of the feeding flamencos (flamingos), but I can only walk in slow motion. It is not the wind that keeps me back; it is the lack of oxygen.
This is a virgin land, punctuated only occasionally by humans. There is a single two-lane paved road that follows the gas pipeline across the mountains. Every half an hour a truck lumbers by on its way east to Argentina or west to the Pacific port of Antofagasta. The undulation of layers of stone and sand plays counterpoint to the sun. I could stay here forever. But the shadows are growing long, and there is no food or lodging. Suddenly the wind picks up. Great black storm clouds rush in. It begins to snow. Nico, my twenty-year-old nephew, gets nervous. “Let’s go, let’s go. I don’t want to die here.”
This is the power of the land speaking.