Short on time, and wanting to get a glimpse of Northern Chile, we took a bus this morning to Ovalle, a small city surrounded by farms and vineyards which disappear into hot, dry desert hills. The main reason we chose Ovalle was there was a ceramics museum for Rowshan, a cloud forest a couple hours away for me and some petroglyphs. Due to the shortage of time and lack of public transportation to the cloud forest, we eliminated that early on.
As we arrived into town, we both were equally unimpressed so decided to just visit the museum and petroglyphs and then take a midnight bus to Valparaiso. We managed to find the museum only to learn it was only open Tuesday through Friday meaning it was closed and would be for the next 2 days. We went back to the bus station to catch a Santiago bound bus back 19 km to the road to the petroglyphs. Unfortunately, the next bus was at 6PM so we had to take a taxi. This proved to be a good thing since the road to the petroglyphs had no shade and the weather was sizzling. As we were driving out of town we passed multicolored gypsy tents.
We'd passed some others earlier during the bus ride but I wasn't sure they were Roma because they looked like small circus tents with their festive bright colors. As we drove to the site, we discussed life in Chile and politics of the US with the taxi driver.
At the site we were handed over to the ticket and general info guy who immediately asked us "Bush or Clinton?" To which we replied Clinton. Then he asked, "Reagan or Carter?" He gave us a quick intro: "Here is the trail, the petroglyphs are marked with white arrows. Down there is the Martian." He gestured with his fingers like antennae over his head. I felt bad turning down the offer of a tour guide since the guide looked kind of dejected when we did. He resembled Roberto Benigni.
We walked down into the Valle del Encanto and followed the signs to the petroglyphs. There were often faint and hard to make out. But then they were supposed to have been created by a culture from 2000 years ago. There were a few clearer ones including the "martian." The info office had a cartoon version titled, "Man with television head."
The area was hot and dry with cactus and large boulders.
There were several areas with grinding stone holes as well as some pictographs which were fainter than the petroglyphs.
There were also a couple shelters. The petroglyphs were spread out and we had to follow footpaths made by other tourists, some leading nowhere, others leading to a petroglyph. There were murky algae filled pools between some of the rocks as well as an area signed, "Incan Baths." Our deal with the taxi driver was he'd wait an hour for us (not that he'd leave since we hadn't paid him). We rushed about trying to make sure we didn't miss anything. There were strange stick figures, square heads with antennae and heads with what looked like sun rays. There were also a couple stick figures holding what looked like a pair of underwear between them... Could they have been ancient underwear gnomes?
Apparently it is easier to see the petroglyphs when the sun is directly overhead. I wonder what inspired them: futuristic premonitions of 1950s alien invasion movies?
Back in town we hung out in a cafe. As it got dark, the Plaza de Armas was lit up with Christmas lights on a giant evergreen tree in the center. Surrounding the evergreen were huge palm trees also decorated with Christmas lights.