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The Atacama Desert (Spanish: Desierto de Atacama), located in northern Chile, is the driest desert in the world. Excluding the barren lower slopes of the Andes, the Atacama Desert proper occupies 105,000 square kilometers. Periods of up to four years have been recorded without any rainfall in the central sector. Evidence suggests that the Atacama Desert may not have had any significant rainfall from 1570 to 1971.



Aside from being the driest desert in the world, there is another feature that makes this rare and lonely place even more fascinating: a giant hand emerging from the sand. The Hand of the Desert (Spanish: Mano del Desierto) is not a miracle of God or nature, but a monumental sculpture created by Chilean sculptor Mario Irarrázabal in the 1980s. Made out of iron and cement, the hand sits roughly 75 kilometers (46 miles) outside the city of Antofagasta. This 36-foot-long giant hand rising out of the sand serves as a poignant artistic symbol of human rights violations that have plagued Chile throughout its history.
This significant masterpiece brings a unique charm to the desert, appearing empty yet full of meaning. The hand waves to tourists and road trippers traveling through the remote landscape. However, due to its secluded location, Mano del Desierto often becomes a target for vandals armed with spray paint. Local citizens take responsibility for its upkeep, cleaning it twice a year. Volunteers from Antofagasta gather to scrub away six months’ worth of graffiti, keeping the hand clean and beautiful.
Mario Irarrázabal did not stop with the Hand of the Desert. He sculpted a right hand as well, located a continent away in Uruguay. This earlier work, created a decade before the Atacama sculpture, features four concrete fingers and a thumb rising from the sand of the beach in the Atlantic coastal resort of Punta del Este. Irarrázabal called this sculpture “Man Emerging to Life,” but locals refer to it as “Monument to the Drowned” or simply “The Hand.” Between these two hands, it feels as if a subterranean giant is holding all of South America in its stone grip.
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