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A Planet of Colors

The Atacama Desert astonishes visitors with its landscapes. This impressive geography serves as inspiration for the illustrator Antonia Reyes, who tells us about the adventures she's had observing and drawing this beautiful place.
December 20, 2022

Antonia Reyes

For this trip, I traded in the vertical lines of the trees in southern Chile, where I live, for the horizontal lines of the desert landscape. The vibrant colors of moisture, for pale desert hues. Greens and blues, for browns and pinks. Out of orbit, Tropic of Capricorn, Latitude 23°26’16’’.

In this place, the wind also blows, and it appears to be the same wind, however it sounds different, because it comes up against nothing in its way.

This mission was sponsored by the Hotel Tierra Atacama. I’m exploring the area of San Pedro de Atacama, on what feels like another planet. I came to find life amongst the hostility of the desert, and if I find no life, to discover beauty and poetry nonetheless.

First excursion: El rosa / Salar de Atacama /Los Flamencos National Reserve

Turquoise water; pink, mauve and sienna mountains. Salt forms the ground beneath our feet. The landscape is Venusian and I find myself in another galaxy. The planet of flamingos. I take note: The neon pink of their feathers electrically interrupts the soft landscape colors.

Second day: El verde / Guatín and Valle del Arcoiris

I set out an astronaut, looking for water as the first indication of life. Yes, there is water; and it is a mirror of heaven. It emanates in the form of salt flats, reservoirs, timid tributaries and ice patches that solidify at night and withstand the day’s sun.

The plants sprout compactly with minimalistic expression as if they fear the desert. They do this to collect moisture and avoid large surfaces exposed to the sun. In their resilience lies their charm. Many have ancestral medicinal powers discovered by the local Aymara, Quechua and Atacameña cultures, which are now used creatively in cooking. I carry with me a list of species that I am hoping to find and illustrate: Copa-Copa, Pingo-Pingo, Rica-Rica. Why are the names repeated? No one knew precisely how to answer this question; however, it has to do with the concept of abundance they believe.

Cutting the plants to collect samples opened the door to a completely different landscape: the olfactory. Who could have imagined that so much aroma was concentrated in the pale and desaturated grains of the Rica-Rica? No wonder it is used to perfume cocktails, infusions and ice creams at the hotel.

Green also shines up from the soil itself. The sun activates the minerals, and everything looks sackcloth, emerald and green-black in what they call the Valle del Arcoiris (Rainbow Valley). Here the landscapes are visual poetry, and their names sound like poetry as well:  Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon), Llano de la Paciencia (Plain of Patience)…

As we climb toward the sky – 2,800 meters, 3,200, 4,500… each altitudinal tier offers its own expression of life: its own resident birds, animals and plants. The inhabitants of this planet cooperate with the mission, and they are letting me approach to photograph and draw them.

Third day: Yellows and blues. Vado de Putana, Lagunas de Miscanti and Miñiques

On the way we find a large sulfur rock that may have leapt from the crater of a volcano. Or so I imagine. Its molecular structure has been organized to shine in fragments of white and neon yellow. I confirm the idea that this place can be confused for another world, and this knowledge feels like an intergalactic treasure.

A sort of grass grows here that they call paja brava (straw), which carpets the desert plains with gold. I say gold! It shines like a golden velvet rug. Does the desert know that yellow is the complementary color of violets and blues, and does it highlight the plateau lagoons even more in this way? It would appear so.



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