Category Archives: Atacama

Desert Thirst


For three years from 1990 to 1993 I lived in the driest desert in the world.  It is called the Atacama Desert and covers the entire Northern part of Chile for almost 2000 miles from Antofagasta right into Southern Peru.

I lived in Iquique, a coastal town not far from the border with Peru.  My house and parish church were only minutes from the Pacific Ocean, and the beach was known as Playa Brava, freely translated as Angry Surf.  I suppose the name of the beach was a sort of a warning that if you are going to enter the surf, you better be able to take care of yourself.

During my three years in the area, the sea did not cause any problem, although for one short period when El Niño was active, the tides covered the entire beach, and even reached over into the coastal road.  The main concern regarding the sea was the possibility of a tsunami, the tidal wave caused by a quake on the sea-bed far out in the ocean.

We were told that the public siren would give us a twenty minute warning of the tsunami, and that should give us time to get to a safe point on the high ground, which rose steeply from the beach to the enormous sand hills behind the town.

These were serious concerns, and had to be addressed, but they really did not affect our daily lives.  What affected our daily life more than anything else was the beautiful climate in which we lived.

Iquique was sometimes called the ‘land of eternal Spring time’.  It was sunny almost every day.  Daytime temperature rarely rose above 85F (30C), and night-time never fell below 55F (12C), and it never rained.

 Well, that is a slight exaggeration.  During my three years there it rained once, for about three hours one dark and cloudy afternoon.  The fine drizzle caused a certain amount of inconvenience, but by sunrise next morning was completely forgotten and put aside as something not likely to occur again for another three of four years.

But the rain affected me in a way I did not expect.  It made me aware that I was not totally happy with the non-stop sunshine and dry weather, which left us with a parched land and lifeless earth.  There was something refreshing and life-promising in the rain, and the contrast brought home to me why the Psalms and the Bible refer so often to the rain and the dewfall as God’s blessing on the earth.

The desert weather is pleasant and convenient, but it does not quench the thirst of the human heart.  We may not be aware of it, but each one of us is thirsting to be in touch with the living God, and will never be at peace until that thirst is satisfied.  Knowingly or not, your heart is always praying secretly, “O God, you are my God; for you I long.  For you my soul is thirsting.  My body pines for you like a dry weary land without water” (Psalm 63)