Joined February 2018 Message
  • Day9

    Valparaiso, Day 2

    February 24, 2018 in Chile ⋅ ☁️ 16 °C

    We began our second day in Valpo with a visit to La Sebastiana, Pablo Neruda’s third house. Like the first two, this house was a reflection of his personality — quirky, filled with collected objects, and built to entertain. The views from this house are incredible, sitting high atop Cerro Florida. From the living room, the bedroom, and his study, all of Valpo stretches out below — ports, houses, hills and valleys. His favorite chair sits near a window, and the dining room has views which allowed Neruda and his guests to enjoy the fireworks set off each New Year’s Eve. And, of course, there was a separate bar area, from which he dispensed libations of his own creation. Honestly, he was probably a very difficult guy, but his zest for life and embrace of his friends is something that I can truly get behind. Arie was really taken with his attitude, and I think that building a bar at the River House is a future project!

    After leaving the house, we began winding our way down the hills of Valpo. We happened upon a little macaroon store, called Septima, and stopped for coffee and a snack. While Maya’s macaroons are better, the combinations of flavors was quite unusual. We enjoyed the stop and soldiered on down the hills.

    As we descended, we saw a huge variety of murals. Again, some of the art is stunning and the playful attitude that they bring to Valpo is totally infectious.

    No trip to Valparaiso is complete without riding the Ascensors, which are a cross between a funicular and an elevator. These contraptions, which were built in the very early 1900s, travel up and down the hills, allowing passengers to traverse parts of the city, while avoiding a few staircases. We took advantage of this mode of transportation whenever possible, but frequently found ourselves at the Ascensor Reina La Victoria, which was built in 1902. At the top fo this ascensor is a slide which is enjoyed by children and adults alike, including Arie.

    We have enjoyed Valpo and I totally understand why people from across the country and the globe choose to settle here.
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    DORIT PERRY

    yes, indeed... authentic

    2/24/18Reply
    DORIT PERRY

    oh, yum...

    2/24/18Reply

    Fabulous pictures!

    2/25/18Reply
     
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  • Day8

    A walk through Valparaiso

    February 23, 2018 in Chile ⋅ ⛅ 20 °C

    Hills. So many hills. Did I say that there were lots of hills? Valparaiso is built into the side of series of hills. Everything is located either on a hill, or in valley. There are very, very few streets which go across the hills, so you typically have to walk down one hill, in order to walk up the next hill. Unfortunately, a two dimensional map does not give you any idea whether a street is uphill or downhill. So, when you set out towards a destination, you might find yourself having to go downhill, and then up hill, just to get across the hill. All of this is a long way of saying that there are a whole lot of hills, and sightseeing can give you a darn good workout.

    We started with a free tour with “Tours for Tips.” We used the same group in Santiago. The guides wear red and white stripped shirts, which have name tags saying “Wally,” which is apparently the the Chilean version of “Waldo” from the “Where’s Waldo” books that we liked when the kids were little. CJ, our guide, told us that he was into Metallica and WWE. A rather odd group of interests, but I’m sure that being personable increases the tips at the end. He led us around two of the hills in Valpo — Cerro Carcel (prison hill) and Cerro Miraflores. We learned about migration to Valpo, the growth of the city, and the history of street art in the town. As you walk around, you see graffiti (which is just a few lines), tags (which is a symbol for an artist) and murals. Some of the murals are small, but many of them are across the sides of multi-story buildings. The largest one is currently being painted, and it goes up the side of a 20 story building. We got to spend some time watching them paint it from a scaffolding. As you walk around, you begin to recognize certain artists. Apparently, some muralists travel across the globe, and others are more locally oriented. Between the murals, and the brightly colored houses, Valpo is a riot of color. And, when you add in the views of the hills, and the ocean, it is a total feast for the eyes.

    Speaking of feasts, we had our best meal yet. We asked our hotel for a recommendation, and they suggested a small restaurant called Apice. It was located close to our hotel, so not too many hills had to be traversed. Like the upscale restaurant in San Pedro, the chef offers two choices for each of three courses. And, we maximized our sampling options by choosing one to have everything on the menu. For the first course I had a turmeric ceviche. It was really more like a shrimp soup, with turmeric and it was quite tasty. Arie had scallops. I didn’t taste it, but he made happy sounds as he cleaned his dish, so apparently it was quite yummy. We both had rockfish for the main. Mine had a curry sauce and a side dish of rice with dried fruits. Arie’s was an Italian preparation, with a balsamic reduction and the creamiest polenta that I’ve ever eaten. For dessert we had a chocolate creme brulee with passionfruit sorbet, and caramelized peaches with a crumble and dulce de leche ice cream. We accompanied this with a lovely Chilean Pinot. Delightful.
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    DORIT PERRY

    love the color... and "Wally"

    2/24/18Reply
    DORIT PERRY

    absolutely

    2/24/18Reply
    DORIT PERRY

    That's a lot of stairs! Wow-za!!!

    2/24/18Reply

    That's going up on the website! jkh

    3/5/18Reply
     
  • Day7

    "I confess I have lived . . "

    February 22, 2018 in Chile ⋅ ⛅ -4 °C

    We left the Atacama Desert, and drove back to Calama, where we boarded a plane to Santiago. After a quick flight, we grabbed our rental car and headed for Valparaiso. On the way, we planned to stop at the second of Neruda’s three homes, which is located in Isla Negra (the third is in Valparaiso).

    The drive from Santiago to Isla Negra is about 1-1/2 hours. Leaving the city takes relatively little time, and you are soon surrounded by small towns and lots of fields. This is the heart of the Chilean wine country. The valley in which many of the grapes are grown is called Casablanca. We decided to stop at a small vineyard that our guide in Santiago had recommended, but GPS failed us and we ended upon in the middle of nowhere. So, we pressed on to Isla Negra.

    Neruda’s house at Isla Negra is located in a small beachside community. Since it is summer vacation at the moment, the beaches were filled with umbrellas and families enjoying a nice day. The beaches here are small, and pretty crowded.

    This house is called Casa de Isla Negra, and it sits right on the beach. Like La Chascona, his home in Santiago, this house was built to his specifications and is a series of small rooms filled with his many and varied treasures. He was a huge collector, and particularly liked ship prows of women (there are half a dozen in his living room), old bottles, musical instruments, pipes, oversized shoes, and sea shells. In fact, he collected so many shells that there is an entire room at Isla Negra that was built for the purpose of housing about half of his shell collection (the other half was given to a museum in Santiago). He was also quite a dandy, with a large collection of hats, costumes, and the tuxedo that he wore to accept the Nobel Prize. And, he loved to entertain, and had a bar in this house which was decorated to look like a French bistro, complete with tables. In the rafters of the room he carved the names of many of his friends, including Garcia Lorca. His bedroom was above the bar, so he oft said that he liked to sleep near his friends. He is buried at Isla Negra, and his death remains a huge controversy. In 1973, Neruda was suffering from prostate cancer. A few days after Allende was assasinated, Neruda was taken to the hospital. No one thought that his death was imminent. Six days later, he called he wife and claimed that he had been given a shot and was now in great pain. Six hours later he was dead. At the time, it was suspected that he was given some sort of toxin which caused his death. The theory was that Neruda was planning to flee the country, and lead a government in exile, in opposition to Pinochet, and that Pinochet had him killed. But, there was no evidence, and Pinochet had just risen to power, so no action was taken. In 2013, a judge ordered the exhumation of Neruda’s remains. In 2015, the government announced that it was “highly probable” that a third party was responsible for his death. In 2017, 16 scientists rejected the cause of death which was noted on his death certificate — cancer — and indicated that there was evidence of a cultivated bacteria which could have caused his death, but the investigation continues.

    Upon his death, a book of poetry was pushed called “I confess I have lived.” It is probably his most widely read book, and details the extraordinary life that he lived.

    After taking in the house, we returned to the car and drove to Valparaiso. We came in the back way, over the top of one of the hills. The area that we drove through was very poor, with many houses in disrepair. (We later discovered that the cost of rebuilding in Valpo can be prohibitive, so houses are often abandoned and new homes are found.). We wound our way down the hill, with me guiding and Arie muttering about “death by GPS.” We finally arrived at our hotel, Casa Gallo, which is located on Cerro Allegre. (Cerro means “hill,” and there are 44 hills in Valpo.). The hotel is lovely, and extremely well-situated. (We must give a big thanks to Reyna McKinnon and Sophia Cross, who gave us lots of info about Valpo and what part of town to stay in.). After dropping our bags in the room, we made our way to the rooftop deck to admire the view. It was just gorgeous, as we looked across the hills and valleys, which are filled with brightly colored houses.

    For dinner, we went to a restaurant called Cafe Turri, which has a fantastic view of the port. We really enjoyed watching the sun set, and the twinkling lights of the city. My dinner was fine, but Arie’s was fantastic. He started with carpaccio pulpo— paper thin slices (albeit cooked) of octopus. I can’t figure out how they were bound together, but the taste was delicious. For dinner, he had Conger Eel Soup (caldillo de congrio). He chose this because it was a favorite of Neruda’s . . .in fact, Neruda wrote a poem about the soup, which included the recipe. (In addition to being a poet, a politician and an architect, Neruda enjoyed entertaining and often created new recipes for his friends.). The poem has step by step directions for making the soup, and ends with this line: “And to table come newly wed the savors of land and sea, that in this dish you may know heaven.” The soup was fantastic, heavenly even — a rich broth, with a large piece of eel at the center and small chunks of potatoes. Arie announced that he wanted to try to make this at home. I’m all for it, but not sure where he is going to find conger eel . . .
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    Grace Benveniste

    I would want to hang out there a lot.

    2/24/18Reply

    I'm down for trying the soup when Arie is ready.. jkh

    3/5/18Reply
     
  • Day6

    Brrrr . . . Cold all day

    February 21, 2018 in Chile ⋅ 🌙 0 °C

    Pick up in the hotel lobby at 5 am. Seriously? I was assured that seeking the Tatia Geyers was worth getting up literally before the crack of dawn. So, I stumbled out of bed, bleary eyed, threw on every piece of clothing that might possibly keep me warm and made my way to the lobby.

    We were picked up at 5:05 and climbed into a van. We spent the next 30 minutes winding our way through the streets of San Pedro, picking up fellow travelers at different hotels. One couple was a no-show, or maybe the guide just couldn’t find them. Hard to say, although there were many calls back to the office, before Rodrigo announced that they were a no show. So, we were off, as the goal was to get the geyser fields before the sun rose.

    We drove up into the Andes. It was pitch black outside, and I could already tell that it must be incredibly cold outside, as I could feel it through the window of the van. After about an hour an a half, we arrived at the National Park. The sky was just starting to lighten and there were lots of buses, and tons of people. Our guide, Rodrigo, told us that the Tatio Geyers are the third largest geyser fields in the world, behind Yellowstone (no. 1) and someplace in Russia. While I am not one to say that everything is bigger and better in the U.S. of A., I must tell you that after seeing Yellowstone, these geysers were extremely disappointing. Also, because the sun was just rising, and we were at 14,050 feet, it was freezing cold. I was wearing everything that I had that might keep me warm, including a cheap pair of gloves that I’d bought in San Pedro. But, it was far from enough, as it was about 20 degrees outside. We walked around for about 30 minutes, and then I climbed into the van to warm up. Arie eventually enticed me to leave the van with an offer of eggs that had been cooked on a little camping stove and hot tea. With a little warm food in my body, I felt better. While we stood around, a couple from England asked our guide why all of the tour groups went to see the geysers at the crack of dawn. He gave an explanation about being able to see the steam clouds best at dawn. But, by that point, it was pretty sunny and you could see the vents just fine. I think that the real reason is that this lets the tour companies run a morning tour and an afternoon tour. Oh well.

    Next stop was a “pool” at the hot springs. Arie and I decided not to shed our clothes, and instead walked through the nearby geyser field. While this field still didn’t hold a candle to Yellowstone, I thought that it was nicer that the first one at which we’d stopped.

    On our way back to town, we got to see some flora and fauna — a lagoon with coots and Chilean geese, wild vicuña on the hills, and an animal that looked like a rabbit but is actually a viscacha. The coot was pretty interesting to watch, as it we could see it building its nest in the water. This is done to protect the eggs from foxes, and because the grasses combine with some enzyme to create a reaction that generates heat in the cold winter months.

    Not too surprisingly, when we got back to the hotel, we settled in for a well-deserved nap!

    For the evening, we had a star gazing tour scheduled. We were supposed to be picked up at 8:40. But, by 7 pm, the sky was grey and covered with clouds. We were pretty skeptical about seeing any stars, but there was no message from our tour guide, so we once again put on all of our warm clothes and prepared for our pick-up.

    Jorge, who runs the stargazing company, is a one man operation. He books the tours, he drives the van, and then he gives a long lecture about the stars and planets. (The only thing he doesn’t do is prepare and serve the snack, which is his wife’s domain.). As people piled into the van, everyone asked whether there would be anything to see, given the cloud cover. He was very coy with this answer, and told people to get into the van. When we had a full compliment of 13, he headed to the outskirts of town. When we arrived at his property, he told us that the cloud cover was currently making it impossible to see anything, but that might change. He said that his suggestion was that he’d start with an astronomy lecture of 1-3/4 hours, and if the clouds were still covering everything, he’d feed us a snack, and take us back to the hotel, no charge. If the clouds cleared, we could have the star tour. He asked what we all thought, but since we were already at his house, what choice did we really have? Of course, everyone said, sure, why not . . .

    We got out the van and entered into a fenced yard. Once our eyes acustomed to the dark, we could see about a dozen (maybe more, it was dark) telescopes of different shapes and sizes, some chairs with blankets over them, and heaters. We started by looking at moon, which was quite beautiful. Using the telescopes he had, we could see craters and mountains. After looking at the moon in a variety of telescopes, we all settled in for the lecture. Jorge is an accomplished amateur astronomer, and for almost 2 hours we learned about the stars, and the history of astronomy. Some of it was very interesting, and some not so much. As we sat, the clouds seemed to cover the entire sky, including the moon which he had earlier been able to see. I was pretty darn skeptical that we were going to be able to see anything. Then, as the temperature dropped, and dropped, some of the clouds disappeared. The longer he talked, the clearer the sky became. And, by the time he was done, there was not a cloud in the sky — unbelievable. What there was, however, was the Milky Way, clear as a bell to the naked eye. With the telescopes, we saw stars, nebula, the sombrero galaxy, and Jupiter with three of its moons. Super duper cool. But, by the time were were done, it was 1 am and I was once again, freezing.

    A good day, but boy was I cold!
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    Grace Benveniste

    So cute! Loved this post.

    2/23/18Reply
    Grace Benveniste

    Really pretty!

    2/23/18Reply
    Grace Benveniste

    Wow!

    2/23/18Reply
    DORIT PERRY

    Wow. It does look very cold!!! How did Arie manage the cold

    2/24/18Reply
     
  • Day5

    Valley of the Moon

    February 20, 2018 in Chile ⋅ ⛅ 13 °C

    Last stop of the day was the Valley of Moon, to see the sunset.

    Our first stop in the park (yep, Chile has its own system of National Parks, but there is no blue book and no stamp at each location) was the Three Marias. These are three stone formations that the Belgian priest thought looked like Maria. I could explain why, but even with an explanation you’d have to be a true believer. And, one of the formations was knocked over by a tourist who got too close, so now there are only 2-1/2 Marias. Honestly, a whole lot of nothing. Although I did enjoy the formation to the left, which is called “Pac-Man,” for obvious reasons.

    We then walked through the valley, and saw a formation known as the “amphitheater.” Very beautiful. Of course, the ever present Andes are in the background, with their snow covered peaks.

    We then hiked up to the top of a rim, to see the sunset. There were 100s of other people around, camped out on the ledge, anxiously waiting to see the sun fall behind the mountains. It is a funny site to see so many people perched at the edge of a cliff! The sunset was lovely, and the reflection on the hills behind was even prettier. I particularly liked seeing clouds descend on the mountain peaks, like little sombreros.

    The end of another long, but lovely day.
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  • Day5

    Piedra del Coyote and Mars Valley

    February 20, 2018 in Chile ⋅ ☀️ 21 °C

    In the afternoon we took a tour that featured beautiful vistas, hiking, climbing down enormous sand dunes, and a nice sunset.

    First stop was Piedra del Coyote, which features a rock overhang that looks like it comes from the roadrunner/coyote cartoons. Unfortunately, an earthquake has recently cracked the rock, so you are no longer allowed to walk out on the ledge. But, I thought that the real point of interest was the incredible vistas. From this plateau, you can see at least a dozen peaks in the Andes. Most of these are extinct volcanos, although a few have been active in the last ten years. The nearest peak is Licancabur. The farthest peak that you can see is Llullaillaco (the “ll” is pronounced liked a “j”), which is 143 miles way and the second highest active volcano in the world. Even though it is 143 miles away, it seems much closer, which is due to both the geography (very flat between here and the peak) and the crystal clear air quality.

    Second stop was Mars Valley, which is also called Death Valley. This is a valley, which has been caused by erosion. You start at a road beyond the edge of the valley and hike up to the rim. Again, while the distance is relatively trivial, the thin air makes the “hike” a bit of a challenge. (One of our group actually had some altitude sickness, which made me feel lucky to only be suffering from shortness of breath.). Once you get to the top, you hike around the rim and admire the vistas.

    As we walked, we also had a chance to see an Apacheta, which is an Incan pile of stones in honor of the Patcha Mama (Mother Earth). These Apachetas marked the Inca trail, which wound from town to town throughout the empire. As a traveler came to a pile, the traveler spit out his chewed coca leaves onto the pile of rocks (some of the Apachetas still have green leaves visible), picked up a stone, circled the pile three times and then laid down the stone. Laying the stone down brought the traveler’s life force to the stone pile.

    After walking for about 30 minutes, we climbed over the ledge into an enormous sand dune. According to Dr. Science, the dune slopes down 100 meters, which is the equivalent of a 20 story building. A few hardly souls ran down. The rest of us did a fast walk, which was actually incredibly fun. By the time I hit the bottom, my shoes were filled with sand, and there was an enormous grin on my face.
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    DORIT PERRY

    Wow. What an adventure

    2/22/18Reply
    DORIT PERRY

    Like skiing on sand?

    2/22/18Reply
    Grace Benveniste

    It probably felt good to lose a tiny bit of altitude.

    2/23/18Reply
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  • Day5

    The Town of San Pedro de Atacama

    February 20, 2018 in Chile ⋅ ☀️ 11 °C

    To truly understand the town, you have to walk the streets and understand the demographics. The town is almost 2 hours from Calama, which is not a thriving metropolis, but is a mining town. Calama is the nearest hospital, so residents in San Pedro will tell you that no babies are born in San Pedro.

    The natural wonders of the Atacama Desert were introduced to the world by a Belgian Priest, in the 1970s. However, Pinochet took over Chile in 1972, and privatized many of the sites, like the salt flats which were mined for salt. The growth of the town began around 1990.

    The sole reason for San Pedro to exist is tourism. Approximately 5000 people live in town, and they all service they tourist industry — as shopkeepers, hotel workers, and tour guides. Everyone that we met was from someplace else in Chile and mostly they are pretty young (under 40). The tour guides are predominantly male (one of the guides told me that the ratio is 70/30, but we didn’t encounter a single woman who worked for a tour company who was doing anything other than office work.). I suspect that being a guide is a pretty appealing life for someone who likes to be outside, and is gregarious. Working in a shop . . . Not so much.

    The town itself is small, and you can walk through it in less than 30 minutes. Mostly it is filled with hostels, a few nice hotels (like where we stayed) and some super high end resorts ($1000 per day, all inclusive, with tours). And, many tour guide outfits and restaurants.

    The streets are mostly unpaved and dusty. There are stray dogs everywhere, which is actually a “thing” in Chile, as there are no leash laws or prohibitions against abandoning dogs. There are street lights on wooden pole, which sometimes work. Really, there is not much to recommend the town, other than being a gateway to the beautiful sights of the Chilean Andes.
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  • Day4

    Gourmet Food in Atacama

    February 19, 2018 in Chile ⋅ ⛅ 26 °C

    This post is for the foodies.

    After a long day, we decided to head to the “best restaurant” in San Pedro de Atacama. It is called Baltinache, and it is just outside of town. I assure you that no one would just happen upon this place, as it is down a bunch of desolate streets, in the middle of nowhere. But, with my trusty guide at my side, we ventured on. When we finally found the place, they asked if we had a reservation, which was surprising, as the place was pretty empty. As we waited, we noticed that many of the tables had signs on them, which we concluded meant that the tables were reserved. But, they found us a table.

    We started with a Pisco Sour Rica Rica. This is a Chilean Pisco Sour (no egg whites), which is sprinkled with rica rica, which is a green plant that grows locally. Quite yummy and refreshing.

    Next, we had some type of local biscuit, and a mixture of tomatoes, garlic, onions — rather like a salsa. it is served everywhere, and people usually put butter on the bread first. Imagine a bruschetta, but without the grilling.

    The rest of the menu was essentially fixed, with two options for each of three courses.

    For the first course we both choose a quinoa salad, which had smoked salmon, goat cheese, and small pieces of apples and pickles. It looked beautiful, but there was just too much going on. The pickles, in particular, were totally out of place.

    For the second course, we choose two options. Arie had pork ribs, with chimicurri sauce and roasted potatoes. The ribs were overdone, and a little bland. I had fish kebabs with three kinds of fish, puréed pumpkin, and fava beans. It was served with a mustard sauce that had some type of fruit (I didn’t catch the type.). It was tasty, although one kind of fish would have been sufficient.

    For dessert, Arie had a Bavarian cream with “red fruit” (berries). It was quite refreshing. I had a brownie, with a quinoa caramel filling — it was terrible (dry and tasteless).

    The service was kind, but inattentive, which is par for the course in Chile.

    But, the total bill, including drinks and service was $60. All in all, not bad for a little place in the middle of the desert.
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    Hope Ratner

    Holy moly. $460!?!!!!!!!?

    2/20/18Reply
    DORIT PERRY

    A meal and adventure! Dorit

    2/21/18Reply
    Sharon Vinick

    Arie has fat fingers — $60

    2/21/18Reply
    Hope Ratner

    Ha! Mucho better!! :)

    2/21/18Reply
     
  • Day4

    Aguas Caliente and Lagunas Miscanti

    February 19, 2018 in Chile ⋅ ⛅ 0 °C

    After leaving the Salt Flats, we got back in the van and wound our way further into the Andes. As you climb in altitude, the thin air makes you incredibly tired. I had a hard time keeping my eyes open, as did many of the other passengers in the van. So, I have no idea whether we drove 10 minutes or an hour . . .

    But, our next stop was Aguas Caliente, which was a large body of water which is apparently shallow and not hot at all. At some point in time it was hot, however, as it was fed by some type of hot spring. The view was both beautiful and desolate.

    We continued to wind our way into the mountains, stopping at various vistas to admire the view. And, after quite a few hours in the van, we arrived at Laguanas Miscanti and Mineques — two large bodies of fresh water that are fed by melted snowfall from the volcanic peaks directly behind them. We got out of the van, and our guide said that we had the option of hiking from one lake to another, or walking around a bit and then driving to the second lake. Everyone opted to walk, as the guide said that it was only 40 minutes, and that only one part of the walk was a bit of a hill. Of course, what he neglected to mention is that we were at almost 14,000 feet. So, while the distance was trivial, the air is incredibly thin. (According to my own personal Dr. Science, there is 40% less oxygen at this elevation than at sea level. From a practical perspective, the air feels thick and your lungs burn with even the most minor exertion.). The walk was incredibly beautiful, but most of us walked very slowly, particularly on the uphill slope! Thank goodness that we had the excuse of taking pictures, as that gave everyone an opportunity to also catch their breath.

    After our stroll, we were treated to lunch al fresco — bread, cheese, sliced meats, tomatoes, cucumbers and smoked mussels. Arie and I like the smoked mussels, which they eat with a squeeze of fresh lemon!

    We then headed down the mountain. But, our guide had one more stop — the sign marking the Tropic of Capricorn. At this point you are on same latitude as Namibia Desert and the Australian outback. I got a real kick out of taking Arie’s picture at the sign.
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    Wow that is beautiful! and also disappointing that the aguas caliente wasn't hot at all! Also, it's always great to have a Dr. Science along with you on your trip ;) -Wanchee

    2/22/18Reply
    DORIT PERRY

    Yes it is!

    2/22/18Reply
     
  • Day4

    Atacama Desert: Salar de Atacama

    February 19, 2018 in Chile ⋅ ⛅ 29 °C

    Late last night we arrived in the Atacama Desert — which required a two hour flight from Santiago, and then a drive of an an hour and a half.

    The flight was actually interesting, as the vast majority of the passengers were men from the age of 20-50. It seems that the city of Calama, into which you fly, is very near a large copper mine. The men work shifts of 7-10 days, and then fly home to be with their families. I suspect that the job probably pays well, but the life is likely brutal.

    The drive to San Pedro de Atacama was unremarkable, as it was basically dark for the most of the drive. As we arrived in the “town,” I was surprised at how basic it was — adobe buildings, and dirt roads. A paved street is a relative rarity. The whole reason for the town’s existence is to give tourists access to the incredible natural wonders in the area, as the Atacama Desert is one of the driest locations on earth.

    We are staying a nice hotel called Terrrantai, just off the center of the town. Actually, in any other location, the hotel would have seemed wildly overpriced for what you got. But, given that everything needs to be shipped in, and the town is very small, a quiet place to rest, on comfortable beds, with a wine and cheese hour seems beyond civilized!

    In the morning, we rose before dawn, as we were being picked up at our hotel between 6:30 and 7:00 am. The van arrived at 6:45, and we boarded with a dozen other people who looked bleary-eyed, but excited. Thus began our 12 hour journey into the desert.

    We started at Salar de Atacama, which is the second largest salt flat in the world — 200 kilometers by 90 kilometers. It beautiful, in a moonscape sort of way. It is also the home to both Chilean and Andean Flamingos. You can tell the difference between the two because the Andean flamingos walk in a straight line and dredge up the water and disturb the brine shrimp that they eat, while the Chilean flamingos walk in a circle. Of course, the Chileans say that their flamingos “dance!” In either case, the flamingos are beautiful, and if you are fortunate enough to see them fly, they are stunning. (I must admit, the sight of the flamingos was not as stunning as when Ogen took us to see flamingos outside of Merida, Mexico, but it was still pretty cool.).

    After staring at the flamingos, we walked through the salt fields. The ground looks like snow, rather than salt, but I assure you that a small taste of the crystals confirms that it is salt.

    Then, our tour guide fed us a lovely breakfast of bread,cheese and avocados. So much for avocado toast being the province of hipsters and foodies!
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    Reminds me of The Devil's Golf Course in Death Valley!

    2/20/18Reply
    Grace Benveniste

    Wow.

    2/20/18Reply
    Grace Benveniste

    Cool.

    2/20/18Reply

    This brings back lovely memory of the desert. I remember it's haunting beauty, the clear sky, the dry air, the deep blue lake. At one point I hated it, but then I loved it, I would go back any moment. It's so lovely reading your journey, thanks for bring us along :) echo

    2/27/18Reply
     

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