Before I recap Chile, I need to relay a more recent outing. The weather today is beautiful. Enough to make me regret sending all my shorts home with Mary. I’d love to see the look on people’s faces if I went out in shorts in July!
Anyway, I took a long walk, hitting a few places for the last time, bidding farewell to the Andes (it’s to be cloudy the rest of the week) and picking up a few trinkets. Between Santa Lucia and Plaza de Armas I was asked for directions by a Spanish-speaker. I must have passed for a local. A couple of blocks later, I was very much taken for a tourist as I had to fend off an attempt on my backpack. A foul smelling substance resembling bird poo was tossed on my back and then I was kindly offered tissues. Now, my friend Steve had the same thing happen to him back in April in just about the same place. Fortunately, he had heard of the scam where someone offers help to clean you up and, in so doing, a partner comes by and liberates your belongings. He’d heard of it so was on guard. He told me so I, too, was on guard.
I told the first man, “NO,” in firm voice and walked briskly to a corner which I wedged myself into. I took off the pack, brushed it clean where needed and put it back on. A second man came up, also with tissues and water, offering help. I straightened to my full height, balled my fist and again declined forcefully. I really hope he was part of the scam because he recoiled and fled. I’d hate to think I threatened an innocent helper. Somehow I’m not terribly worried.
Anyway, I will summarize Santiago another time. Today’s recap is of Chile outside the capital. I’ll take it south to north.
Punta Arenas, Penguins and Mount Tarn
Our first trip during our first week in Chile was to fly as far south as possible, to Punta Arenas. Mary had said she wanted to go to Patagonia and then turned it over to me. Because I know everything, I did very little research. It turns out, if you want to go to “real” Patagonia, you need to take a bus (or car) from Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales. You also need significantly more time than the two days we had allotted. However, we regrouped, found a lovely guide named Fernanda and saw penguins and retraced the steps of Charles Darwin on a beautiful hike. It was also an excellent, that is, slow and quiet, introduction to negotiating hotels, food and cars in Spanish. Monte Tarn
As we are all wont to do, we’ve been discussing what our favorite place on the trip was. A few votes for Easter Island and San Pedro but Pucon makes a very respectable showing. Five students are adamant that it was the best place they went and everyone who went there acknowledges it is a strong candidate. Rainy Chile
Cajon del Maipo and Embalse El Yeso
I made seven trips into Cajon del Maipo. My local astronomy inn was here and the Yeso reservoir was a beautiful place to hike and picnic.
Valparaiso and Vina del Mar
We made a program trip to Valpo and Vina almost as soon as we arrived from Argentina. It’s an easy and cheap bus ride and a students made this a pretty frequent weekend trip.
Parque Natural San Carlos Apoquindo
This was my “local” hike. I could get there by metro and bus so did it often. It got me above the inversion layer and afforded a great view of the Andes beyond the pre Cordillera. Back to the mountains
An incredible place without the Moai. With them, truly awe-inspiring. Isla de Pascua
Elqui and Hurtado Valleys
I ended up making three trips here, two by air and one by car. It’s a great site for astronomy but has a cloudy/rainy season in winter. Elqui Valley, Part 2
Antofagasta, southern Atacama Desert
My latest, er, last trip from Santiago. The Atacama is a barren, colorful, beautiful place and hard to describe though I’ve tried. Pictures are better but they lack the sense of size and openness one has when standing alone with nothing living for miles around. Antofagasta
San Pedro de Atacama
My furthest trip north was to Calama, an airport about an hour northwest of San Pedro. I went twice, once for astronomy with my friend Steve and once with the students. San Pedro sits at about 7500 feet, above the coastal inversion layer, and gets something like 320 clear nights per year. The altitude and relatively low levels of light pollution make it an extraordinary place to do astronomy. The Atacama was also surprisingly beautiful. And dry.
Rural Chile, as I’ve written, is quite isolated. Most of the smaller towns don’t have grocery stores or gas stations. That held for any town smaller than about Pucon. Often, towns would be over an hour from groceries or gas. I was talking with Dad last night about the efforts the United States has made to bring technology and convenience to rural areas. I grew up in a very small town but can recall no lack of modern convenience. I don’t know if no effort has been made in Chile or if I never figured out how to negotiate rural Chile but, while beautiful, peaceful and amiable the lifestyle differs enormously from the city.
Chile is also unique in its thinness. At its widest point, it’s only something like 120 miles from coast to the Argentine border, high up in the Andes. It is very difficult to go by land across the Andes, a lesson many have learned the hard way. I never quite pulled it off. That gives the landscape a steepness and allows a rapid transition from coastal lowlands to rough mountain terrain. The lack of vegetation presents a clear picture of Chile’s geological history which is continuing to unfold, as felt often by the floor shaking.
I clearly saw a lot of the country but missed the very far north, the lake district and most of Patagonia. Ah, well, another time.