Road death shrines of the Atacama

Driving through the Atacama Desert you cannot help but be struck by the number of roadside shrines to those who have lost their lives on the monstrous Ruta 5 highway. It is easy to see how accidents happen with terrible frequency: the Ruta 5 is a two lane highway carrying thousands of large trucks, buses and cars daily, the distances are huge, the landscape monotonous, the heat haze relentless, the speeds high and overtaking maneuvers frequently insane.

Yet what might be considered ordinary tributes to friends and family who have died have, in this part of Chile, been turned into touching and highly personalised remembrances to loved ones. Even more remarkably, it is quite common to see family members tending these shrines even though they are hundreds of kilometres from the nearest village or town.

Many of the shrines are very elaborate, while some such as this tribute to a truck driver are very literal but also very moving.

Roadside shrine, Atacama Desert, Chile

Roadside shrine, Atacama Desert, Chile

In what could be considered an ironic twist, were they not constructed and tended with such obvious sincerity, the shrines often incorporate tires and other paraphernalia associated with driving and highways. The second of the photos below is of a shrine to a bus driver of semi cama buses.

Roadside shrine, Atacama Desert, Chile

Roadside shrine, Atacama Desert, Chile

Roadside shrine, Atacama Desert, Chile

Roadside shrine, Atacama Desert, Chile

Some shrines are simple and humble while others are very grandiose.

Roadside shrine, Atacama Desert, Chile

Roadside shrine, Atacama Desert, Chile

Roadside shrine, Atacama Desert, Chile

Roadside shrine, Atacama Desert, Chile

Roadside shrine, Atacama Desert, Chile

Roadside shrine, Atacama Desert, Chile

Roadside shrine, Atacama Desert, Chile

Roadside shrine, Atacama Desert, Chile

Then again there are some shrines that defy interpretation. Perhaps the person remembered by this shrine was a big fan of dinosaurs.

Roadside shrine, Atacama Desert, Chile

Roadside shrine, Atacama Desert, Chile

Roadside shrine, Atacama Desert, Chile

Roadside shrine, Atacama Desert, Chile

7 thoughts on “Road death shrines of the Atacama

  1. Pingback: Marking Space: Roadside Monuments and Geoglyphs of the Atacama « synkroniciti

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