Sunday, April 5, 2009

Diverting Dakar: San Pedro de Atacama Says No to Fossil Fuel "Sports"

Earlier this year, for the first time, the famous Paris Dakar Rally took place in Argentina and Chile, the first time it had been held outside Africa. The rationale for shifting the race was fear of terrorism along parts of the African route, while Argentina and Chile are countries with no recent terrorism problems.

That doesn’t mean there weren’t problems with Dakar, including at least three deaths: one French motorcyclist died in a remote part of the Argentine province of La Pampa, and an Argentine support vehicle killed two Peruvian motorists in a head-on collision on Ruta 43, just north of the Chilean city of Ovalle. That’s not to mention, of course, the environmental damage caused by Hummers and other massive machines kicking up dust and tearing up the fragile Atacama Desert.

The 2010 Dakar will once again race through Argentina and Chile, but it will not come anywhere close to San Pedro de Atacama, where the organizers had hoped to arrange a rest day. Chilean government officials, under pressure from archaeologists and conservationists, had expressed doubts about any such use (or abuse) of Chile’s archaeological capital and its spectacular surrounding countryside (pictured here). The organizers finally decided to seek alternatives.

Those alternatives include Antofagasta, Calama, Copiapó and Iquique. Except for Iquique, which has its own historical heritage in and around the town, all of these are industrial and mining towns where the environmental impact should be minimal. Calama, though, is a little too close to San Pedro for comfort.

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