“The Hand of the Desert (Mano del Desierto)” is 11 meters tall. It was created by Chilean artist Mario Irarrázabal. The sculpture was unveiled on March 28, 1992, as a symbol of the injustice, loneliness, sorrow, and suffering experienced by the Chilean people during the dictatorship era.
We were ‘fortunate’ to visit this famous sculpture for only five minutes. But it took us two full days to get there. Why did it take so long, and why so little time? Let us explain!
Originally, everything was planned the other way around. The Hand of the Desert was on our route from the city of Vallenar to the city of Antofagasta, a distance of 711 kilometers. We were hitchhiking, and this sculpture was almost at the very end of our journey. Perhaps it’s already obvious. Still, it’s worth noting that before this, we covered a similar distance from Rancagua to La Serena, bypassing Santiago. Therefore, our mood was quite optimistic, and we even agreed with Eloy, our host in Antofagasta, to meet in the evening at the Hand and camp together nearby.
Ela is a photographer, and her favorite genre is astrophotography—night skies and stars. The Atacama Desert is one of the best places in the world for astrophotography and stargazing. Since there might be no mobile connectivity around the Hand, we agreed to meet at 8:00 PM, take some photos, and then move a bit further away. Sometimes, at night, many tourists come to the sculpture, shining headlights and flashlights, and extra light can interfere with capturing photos of the starry sky.
To our great regret, hitchhiking through the Atacama Desert turned out not to be as fast as we expected. We caught a slow truck and, by 8:00 PM, only managed to reach the town of Chanaral. The driver wouldn’t go any further, and catching a ride at that hour was no longer realistic. Although we, of course, tried.
The town reminded us of scenes from the movie Mad Max. Everything around was so brutal and post-apocalyptic. We decided to set up our tent on the beach. But waking up in the morning, we realized that it wasn’t a beach but rather a landfill covered with sand. We didn’t quite reach the actual beach. However, the place wasn’t as dirty as it may sound.
We continued our journey early in the morning, and a miner stopped for us. He was heading to Antofagasta, but not on Route 5, where the Hand of the Desert is located. Instead, he was taking the coastal route through the towns of Taltal and El Cobre. Both routes are almost the same in terms of distance, but Route 5 is more direct, and thus, faster. However, the driver chose this route not because he had to visit any places for work but because driving along the ocean is much more interesting and beautiful than in the middle of the desert. And he was absolutely right! In Taltal, we also stopped to have some fresh seafood ceviche for lunch.
This route wasn’t quite suitable for us, as it meant bypassing the section of Route 5 where the Hand of the Desert is located. Initially, we agreed with the driver that he would drop us off at the intersection, and we would catch another ride back to Route 5, while he continued on to the city. However, to our delight, when we were already at the intersection, he asked us whether we would stay there for long or just take a few photos. We chose the second option, understanding what he was getting at. As expected, he decided to take us to the sculpture and then to the city. Moreover, he had never been to the Hand of the Desert himself. He mentioned that he had passed by many times but never came close
Hand of the Desert
The offer was very convenient for us. We try not to miss opportunities with transportation because you never know how long you might wait for the next ride. But to be honest, we didn’t expect our visit to be so brief. The driver really had no interest in the sculpture. He only stepped out to use the restroom, and during that time, we managed to take some photos.
– Is that all?” he asked, approaching the car.
– Yes!” we replied with a bit of regret
Actually, we would have taken more photos. The place was truly interesting and very photogenic. We could have climbed a hill and taken a couple of photos from there. On the other hand, it’s a good thing we moved on! If, for example, we decided to wait for the golden hour, we could have stayed there until morning. However, we had neither a large supply of water nor a stock of food. So, we didn’t have the chance to fully appreciate this creation and decided that we might come back someday.
From Chile with love, Vasya and Nastya