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The last time I was in Chile it was the anniversary of the accession to power of General Augusto Pinochet. I had been unaware of the holiday. My companions and I had walked down from the high Andean plateau of south-western Bolivia into the little desert town of San Pedro de Atacama in the extreme north of the country.
About 1,000 miles from Santiago, this is close to the great copper mine of Chuquicamata, source of so much of Chile's wealth; not far from the sticky, seedy mining port of Antofagasta; not far from the Pacific.
But San Pedro inhabits a different world. Its situation is high and, in winter, cool; the air is dry and clear; the sky is eggshell blue; and on the horizon stands a range of exhausted volcanoes which it is easy to imagine Disraeli had in mind when comparing such a sight with his political opponents. The stone and adobe settlement has one of the oldest churches in South America - small, simple and serene - and a timeless, unspoilt quality which draws …