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"A phenomenon of this intensity was not seen in 20 years." Roberto Vergara speaks, tour guide. "The last flowery desert was recorded in 2015, " he explains. This year could last until mid-October and its peak will take place this September. It will be when a greater number of species are in bloom.
The flowery desert takes place with some regularity, in a period of between three and five years. Certain circumstances must occur for flowering to occur. However, climate change and the greater occurrence of El Niño seem to have increased the frequency with which this phenomenon occurs.
The phenomenon had not been so intense for 20 years © Gonzalo Prieto
WHAT MUST HAPPEN FOR THE DESERT FLOWERS?
The seeds and bulbs remain for years buried and in lethargy, inert form, in the shadow of the desert. They expect the perfect combination between the decrease in temperature and winter rains, which should be placed over 30 millimeters. That's when the magic happens. A festival in which it is possible to appreciate up to 200 species.
Vergara is in luck this year thanks to the unprecedented flowering. "Without a doubt, there is a greater influx of tourists to the area with the phenomenon of the flowery desert, " he explains. For this reason, their efforts are focused these days on bringing visitors from around the planet who come to this area of Atacama to the flowery desert in search of this exceptional work of nature.
No wonder the flowery desert arouses great interest among foreign tourists. Germans and French are in the lead, but the number of Spaniards interested in the phenomenon also grows. Up to 35, 000 people are expected to visit the flowery desert, in a projection that has recently been expanded.
This year, the target is taken © Gonzalo Prieto
ON THE ROAD TO THE SEA OF FLOWERS
The flowery desert appears in all its extension in several zones. One of the most flowering agglutinates is located around the stretch of 'Route 5', which connects the cities of Copiapó and Vallenar. Specifically, in the immediate vicinity of the Llanos de Challe National Park, where these plant species appear here and there with dense flower beds.
The plains here are presented in the manner of the Atacama desert. Aridity and meadows. During certain periods, unlike other areas of the desert, morning fogs appear, which locals know as ' camanchacas'.
A good alternative is to take the route that leads from the town of Huasco Bajo to the National Park. First you have to stop to contemplate the roar of the Pacific over the white sand beaches. With luck you can see some guanaco, fundamental member of the native fauna.
There the first signs of the flowery desert are already noticeable. Following the path first to Carrizal Bajo and then to Totoral, the multicolored mantles are increasingly noticeable. Inevitably stop the vehicle and look out at the grasslands.
With luck you can see a guanaco © Gonzalo Prieto
NEAR 70 ENDEMIC SPECIES
"Be careful not to step on the flowers, " Vergara warns as she takes a firm step into the flowery desert. Many of the species that bloom here - about 70 - are endemic. If they are stepped on or cut, they will never grow the same again, he explains. White nolanas are the most widespread flowers now, but they are dotted with copaos or sighs from the sea. Beauty everywhere.
The road to Totoral is followed, a small town in which the constructions are mostly adobe on the walls and totora on the roofs. It is a cane that grows in the scarce banks of the area and that confer its personality to this small town of charm, which swirls around its small church.
Fox ear © Gonzalo Prieto
Totoral has passed, back to 'Route 5', the large and extensive flower-covered meadows have a hypnotic effect. What in normal conditions is an extensive sandy pampa is covered with a blanket of white flowers that carry far away from the traditional desert image. So far, that, for a moment, one doubts that this may be the driest desert in the world.
There are only three points on the globe where deserts bloom: in California (United States), in Central Australia and in Atacama . In the latter, there are areas in which a possible rain of being measured, of 1 mm. or more can take place once every 15 or 40 years.
In fact, there have been periods of up to 400 years without rains in its central sector. However, the rain is less raucous some winters. Then it sneaks into this sector of Atacama, making the impossible a reality: that the desert be in bloom.
White Nolana © Gonzalo Prieto