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Named Moon a valley by a Belgian priest many years previously it's easier to draw comparisons to Mars than the moon but either way the landscape was like nothing I've ever seen before. As we crawled through rocks carved by water, it seemed bizarre such landscapes could be formed from water when the area receives so little each year. Our guide explained that the ground in the desert is not porous and so does not absorb rainwater well meaning it can gather momentum and pour to lower points taking parts of the soft, sandstone like rock as it goes. In between the orangey stone sits salt crystals and for a time the area was mined for salt. However, with the towering Licancabur volcano in the distance there come some secondary minerals. One found in this area as a result of eruptions is arsenic. Needless to say, due to high levels being found in the salt, the area is no longer mined.
From the first set of caves / tunnels we went to the three Mary's, a set of rocks that have been sculpted by the wind, interesting but not as amazing as our next stop, the grand dune. A giant sand dune which is surrounded by orange rocky outcrops here we had an hour to explore the rocky spine that ran adjacent to the sand dune. The scenery truly took my breath away, I don't think I had ever seen anything like it and I found myself excited for the following landscapes I would see during my Salt Flats Tour. Our next and final stop of the tour was Mirador de Cali to see the sunset over the desert. Sat up above the desert valley it felt as if we had front row seats to the show, and it didn't disappoint as the sun slowly slipped away the sky changed to a magnificent orange and then deep blue. My only complaint with the tour was that we had to leave immediately after the sun had slipped beneath the horizon meaning we only saw the magical colours that fill the sky once the sun has set from the bus. The view was still great but with hindsight I would consider hiring a bike and cycling to the moon valley and Mirador rather than taking a guided tour as then you are able to have more freedom and see the full sunset.
Wanting to know more about the town itself I spent my last morning on another free walking tour, also with the Tours for Tips company I had used in Santiago and Valparaiso. Meandering through the towns mud streets we learnt about the native plants and their uses along with the towns history with Jesuit priests and why their interferences have led to some locals disliking all backpackers that pass through. It was great to see the town through the point of view of a local, and learn about the plants and also fruits and vegetables you can find in the market just outside of town. It's easy as a backpacker to visit a destination for its attractions and skip the historical part of the town. However, the further I travel the more my curiosity for each location is growing and these walking tours provide a much more interactive and informative answer to my questions than Wikipedia or lonely planet!