The Puna of northwestern Argentina is an ancient plateau of hard crystalline rock more than three thousand meters above sea level. It comprises the lesser known corner of the Atacama Desert, which is shared by northern Chile and southern Bolivia and Peru. The driest place on Earth, it is one of the few spots on our planet to contain regions devoid of any life form.
During my five day journey through the Argentine Puna, I was stunned by the eerie, otherworldly quality of my surroundings: red, silver and purple mountains, volcanoes so black they appear to be permanently shaded by clouds, dazzling white salt flats, vast fields strewn with lava or bits of gray rubble. And yet, within this arid, inhospitable land, life manages to sprout to the surface: oases of leafy green trees, yellow straw-like grasses, pink flamencos, furry llamas and graceful vicuñas. It is no wonder scientists come here to study how life might have formed on Mars.