Machuca Village

August 9, 2012

Machuca is a village of around ten people that exists solely because of tourists. The village used to be a place for travellers to stop, and also for miners in the region. However, many people left and it seemed the village would die. Therefore, people from other towns and cities in the area began to alternate living in the village for months or weeks at a time, leaving the population at a steady ten. Whenever one set of people would return to their houses in Calama, San Pedro or around, another ten would take their place. It seemed to me that they must have an agreement with tourist companies in San Pedro, as all tours to the geysers stop at Machuca on their way back.

The village tries to retain an air of tradition, with people dressing in local traditional outfits and the café serving empanadas and sopaipillas cooked in front of you. There is a toilet block, charging CLP250 and one shop selling the standard artisan goods – the colourful ponchos, hats and scarves and ‘hand-made’ souvenirs. I say ‘hand-made’ but I’ve seen so many of the same things that I think there must be a factory somewhere making these. Apart from this, there are a few houses and a dirt road, nothing more.

You arrive at Machuca at around midday on your way from the geysers. When the guide tells you the story of the village, you immediately feel like a cog in a machine. Having spent the morning in awe at the natural beauty of the planet, you arrive at a contrived human invention, seemingly only there for the taking of money and not for actual lives. The thing is, when you arrive you’re hungry, having had breakfast at 6.30am, and you fulfil your status, buy an empanada, and the cogs keep turning.

The village is based at a beautiful spot: 4000 metres above sea level, and surrounded by soft brown mountains, and these little mud-hut houses and church with straw thatched roofs blend seamlessly into the backdrop.

And then, when you begin to feel okay with the place, you look to your side and you see the reds, whites and blues of the coaches glimmering like cash machines in the sun.

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