Pan-American Highway, National Geographic Book: Roadside Shrine
Colorful flags, religious statuary and plastic flowers decorate an alter that marks the Pan American highway in a wind-blown desolate section of the Atacama Desert in northern Chile. Animitas,are the name of the roadside shrines to the dead that line the roads, numbering in the tens of thousands, especially along rural highways and in poor and working-class areas of small cities and towns. The word refers not only to the shrine, but to the soul of the dead housed there. Animitas are not simply memorial markers, but serve as homes for the souls of the departed. They are places where the living can visit and seek intercession from those souls, the suddenness of whose death gives those deceased special spiritual power. Bodies are not buried there. Instead, the animitas mark the spot where body and soul were separated, and where the soul may linger and still be reached, at least for a while, by the living. According to a Catholic writer, they are not sanctioned by the church.