A Travellerspoint blog

Farewell Chile

sunny 29 °C

Well, we tried to drink Chile dry last night with our bon voyage meal at a fantastic little place just down from our hotel (the wine here is just too darn good!). We headed out in the morning to Los Dominicos Village a local crafts market and shopping destination in a heritage zone of Santiago, Chile. We hopped on the subway (we are becoming experts) and headed out. Upon emerging from the subway we happened upon the Saturday Farmer’s Market. I am always in awe of the size of the vegetables and fruit in the other hemisphere. Here the avocados are the size of small watermelons and watermelons the size two footballs.

We wandered through the many shops of local craftsman and bought a couple treasures to take home to remind us of our wonderful time in Chile. Ger and I bought a copper plate and some lapis lazuli (a deep blue, semi-precious stone) earrings for me. We headed back to the hotel for a shower and change of clothes before heading out for our last Chilean feast and transport to the airport. Our flight leaves at 9:00 pm and we should be in Toronto by 6:00 am tomorrow. If all goes well we should be home by 10:00 am (weather looks terrible at home!).

A fantastic journey we had over the past 3 weeks, Chileans are friendly & welcoming, the range of activities this country offers are immense and Chile is absolutely beautiful. We had such a great time traveling with our partners in crime and I look forward to our next adventure. I leave Chile feeling very grateful and blessed (and heavier! The wine and great food was thoroughly enjoyed, Ger and I are heading home to dry out!).

Until next time,

PS - the wifi here at the airport is very slow so no pictures today.

Posted by imalazyj 14:42 Archived in Chile


Manhattan of Chile

semi-overcast 26 °C

I am wrestling with what to call this blog. We are nearing the end of our adventure with one more day left in Chile. Yesterday we spent our last time in the Atacama (the skies never did clear for us to see the stars so we will have to return) and fortunately all the excursions were running and we ended our time with an archaeological excursion, visiting ancient ruins of the native people and a quick trip into the closest town, San Pedro. We had one last amazing lunch (and far too much wine) before heading to the airport at 4 pm to catch our 7 pm flight back to Santiago.


Unfortunately, as common in air travel we experienced our first long delay, as our flight was 4 hours late. We arrived in Santiago late and made our way to our hotel to collapse into bed, it could have been much worse. Today we had nothing planned but exploring Santiago so we just spent a couple extra hours sleeping.


Santiago is very easy to navigate so we hopped on the subway and headed down to the Old City to visit the Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos or in English “The Museum of Memory and Human Rights”. The Museum is dedicated to a dark period of Chilean history, which did not occur that long ago. It commemorates the victims of human rights violations during the civic-military regime led by Augusto Pinochet between 1973 and 1990. Pinochet staged a successful coup d'état on 11 September 1973 (ironic it was September 11) and of dictatorship (military reign) over this country for 17 years. This was the era of Cold War and the US backed this coup as an anti-communism movement. (I am not historical expert so I will leave it to you to fill in the details).

Photo Credit: Museum of Memory and Human Rights

Horrific human rights violations were committed to Chilean’s during this period. By the time of Pinochet’s death in 2006 there were over 300 charges laid against him. The museum is dedicated to the horrific violations that occurred, it is estimated that Pinochet's government killed at least 3,197 people and tortured about 29,000. Every time I travel I am grateful for the lottery I won being born in Canada. The museum was very well done and quite a sobering experience.

The country is still dealing with the remnants of Pinochet’s policies including privatized education (making it tough for all Chilean’s to access) and privatization of water rights. Which is under scrutiny right now, as many people in Santiago are without water due to flooding in the Andeans (remember it was raining for the last week in the driest place on Earth).

We spent a couple hours learning about what some say is Chile’s most violent time (which was only 20 years ago, a plebiscite in 1988 ended Pinochet’s reign) before heading to source some food and wine (of course!). We navigated the subway again to a restaurant that was recommended on our first day here (a lifetime ago it seems) and devoured some local ceviche and sea bass (and maybe a bottle or two of Sauvignon Blanc).


We are now back at the hotel resting, it is hot here (well for us Canadians at least) 26 Celsius and muggy (not good for those here still without water although it seems very much business as normal to us).

We will rest for a couple hours before heading out to dinner (because we haven’t consumed enough). Tomorrow will be our last day here. The plan is to hit a local craft market for some shopping before heading to the airport for our 9 pm overnight flight back to Calgary (via Toronto).

Until next time,

PS - this update was titled San"hattan" as this time we are staying in the more modern part of Santiago (taller builders, newer) and the locals refer to the area as San"hattan"

Posted by imalazyj 13:04 Archived in Chile

"Common Sense is not so Common"

Words from a Guide

semi-overcast 19 °C

I can’t believe we are nearing the end of this adventure. I won’t lie I miss my dogs (thanks Mom & Dad for looking after them) and everyone at home but this has been an incredible journey.

Today was another amazing day. We headed off to the El Tatio, a geyser field located within the Andes Mountains of northern Chile at 4,320 meters (14,200 feet). The field is about an hour and a half drive (or 2 hours given the state of the roads from the recent rain). Its name comes from the Quechua (local native) word for oven. None of us were really excited about this as we have all seen the geysers in Iceland (cool but not really as dramatic as they sound) but we were offered the opportunity to hike a gorge and thought what the hell.


El Tatio is among the highest-elevation geyser fields in the world (you have to be the “best” at something). El Tatio has over 80 active geysers, making it the largest geyser field in the southern hemisphere and the third largest in the world. None of the geysers here erupt very high (sometimes up to 6 m but I think that is rare) and they are not nearly as regular as “Old Faithful” in Yellowstone.

The drive gave us time to quiz our local guide as we passed abandoned sulphur mines. Our guide, Manny, said that a sulphur was used as a fertilizer and since cheaper alternatives became available the mining process was abandoned. The high sulphur concentration in the area is due to the volcanic activity Chile once experienced.

Lithium is now a very important metal to this country (supplying about 40% of global demand), particularly as the world continues to purchase electric vehicles. While this area is the driest non-polar desert (except apparently when we visit) its conditions make it one of the best places in the world to extract lithium, a soft, and volatile metal that is found in the Earth’s crust. Lithium has been described, as “white oil” as the world tries to move away from fossil fuels but I am not convinced that it’s extraction is any friendly than “black gold”. That said, it seems the extraction process in Chile is easier and may have less impact on the environment. Regardless it should be an important industry for this country for years.

We arrived just as all the tourists were leaving (they go early in the morning as the steam coming off the hot pools looks more impressive) and headed to our trailhead. The drive itself turned out to be beautiful as the Andes popped through the clouds covered in snow (a rare sight also due to the unprecedented moisture over the past two weeks…Andes with snow substitute for cloud cover affecting stargazing??) and we got our first look at the Atacama Desert flanked by these majestic mountains.


We headed off on the trail and spent 3 hours or so making our way through a fantastic gorge with odd rock formations and loads Yareta or Llareta plants (a green moss looking plant that locals used to burn but is now protected). The plants grow very slowly (15 mm per year and can live up to 3,000 years. The plants give off a tar/sap that smells a lot like pine. Several Viscachas or vizcachas rabbit like creatures (but longer tails) also accompanied us. The weather was perfect. We got a peak at the rare snow covered Andes but did not have to hike in the full blasting sun. At the end we climbed to an altitude of about 14,200 ft to get back to the van. We devoured our well-earned lunch (including local beer that our guide brought…. apparently “Team Canada” as we have become known has a reputation!!!), took one last look at the geysers and headed back to our lovely abode.


Note, for anyone interested in geothermal energy, the Chileans have tried it and failed miserably (they don’t have the right technology) may be an opportunity there!

We are relaxing poolside with a beer and hoping that the clouds remain away for the evening so we can see some stars (it isn’t looking great and I may have jinxed it because today was pretty wide open skies here). Still debating what we can squeeze in for excursions/adventure before we leave. We have a 7pm flight tomorrow back to Santiago (and a 2 hour drive to the airport at Calama) where we will spend two final nights before starting our trek home.

Until next time,

Posted by imalazyj 13:16 Archived in Chile

The Tropic of Capricorn

semi-overcast 19 °C

The staff at Alto Atacama provide the best service I think I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing. All of them over-the-top friendly and personable. So yesterday the excursion leader convinced Ger and I to take on the full day walk hike to the Soncor & Chaxa Lagoon. An 8:30 am departure and we were off with one other, Brazilian couple with ample hiking experience (they have been to base camp at Everest). We had a 180 km drive to the trailhead (mostly pavement with maybe 30 minutes of pretty decent gravel with the occasional section washed away by the rains).

We passed the Observatorio Alma, the highest astronomic observatory of the world at 5,000 meters above sea level, an astronomical interferometer of radio telescopes. ALMA is an international partnership among Europe, the United States, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Chile. Costing about US$1.4 billion, it is the most expensive ground-based telescope in operation. Yay Canada! In Greenall terms, they are analyzing very tiny waves of the universe, trying to study the formation of the sun and stars (in a nutshell looking for scientific proof of Big Bang Theory, Sheldon and his crew would love this shit!).

We had a brief pit stop in Tocoano (Greenall Travel Tip – never pass up the opportunity to use a clean bathroom, even if you don’t have to really go), a small village that is actually an oasis in the middle of the moonscape (the landscape here is odd beyond description).


Finally we arrived at our destination, off the beaten track (literally) the 4 of us unloaded at 4,000 m above sea hiked down to (3,800 m) the most amazing lagoon and salt flat with the snow peaked Andes in the background for a surreal hike along it’s shore. We ended with a gradual climb back up to 4,200 m. I get that 400 m doesn’t sound like much but at ~12,000 feet (Calgary is 3,400 feet for those who were wondering) it is a slow and steady walk.

The pièce de résistance was once back up at 4,200 m (~14,00 feet) we looked out over the most picturesque salt flat, a vast salt plain covering around 8,000km2 in the heart of the Atacama Desert, not only a salt plain but also a salt hot spring (more tomorrow on the geothermal activity here and sulphur (in a nutshell Chile has lots of sulphur and used to mine for it but that has ceased (considering Alberta has it stacked like hay and is free to a good home may be a reason))). Breathtaking. The pictures don’t do it justice.


We were able to see the little bit of wildlife the region has to offer including the vicuña, a lama looking animal (related to the camel) that live at high altitudes (3,200 – 4,800 m or above). Vicuñas produce small amounts of extremely fine wool, which is very expensive because the animal can only be shorn every three years, and has to be caught from the wild. They were almost extinct from the over hunting (population down to 6,000 according to Wikipedia (which is my number one source of information)) but now number 350,000. In addition to the vicuña we also had the privilege of seeing two different species of flamingos in the lagoon on the salt flat. We saw both the Chilean Flamingo (all pink) and the Andean Flamingo (has a black tail and is supposed to be one of the rarest in the world (again Wikipedia)).


We returned via the same route back to our lovely hotel, the skies have cleared a little so hopefully tonight some stars. Either way this place has already surpassed any and all of my expectations.


Stopped by the bar on our way to our room for a cold one and met our doppelganger bartender (oil & gas CEO I know in Calgary) and a steam in the spa before heading for another round at the trough (the food here has been outstanding, Betty Ford and Jenny Craig put me on your waiting list).

Until next time,

PS – the reason the post is called the Tropic of Capricorn is we crossed it both on the way to the hike and back. The Tropic of Capricorn is the circle of latitude that contains the subsolar point on the December solstice. The Tropic of Capricorn is one of the five major circles of latitude that mark maps of the Earth. As of 27 February 2017, its latitude is 23°26′13.4″ (or 23.43706°) south of the equator, but it is very gradually moving northward, currently at the rate of 0.47 arcseconds, or 15 metres, per year. The Tropic of Capricorn is so named because, when it was named about 2,000 years ago, the sun was also in the direction of the constellation Capricornus (capricorn is Latin for goat horn) at the December solstice.

Posted by imalazyj 14:31 Archived in Chile

Calama”Tea” Time

semi-overcast 19 °C

First, editorial correction (thank you and if anyone catches others I encourage you to correct me.) caught a mistake; “burly bits” is actually “bergy bits” which makes far more sense for small ice bergs (although, burly bits sounds cute). Now that I am back in the land of Google I can provide even more colour (or useless tidbits) on melting Glacier ice. Small icebergs, rising between 1-4 meters / 3-13 feet out of the water are called "bergy bits". Very small chunks of floating ice that rise only about 1 meter / 3 feet out of the water are called "growlers". When trapped air escapes as the iceberg melts, it sometimes makes a sound like the growl of an animal, and that's how growlers got their name.

Now back to the Atacama, I forgot to mention as we drove in to the hotel yesterday, Pukará de Quitor, a pre-Columbian archaeological site, which was declared a National Monument in 1982. The pre-Inca site dates from the XII century. It is built over rocks that form the surface of a hill as a fortress with a perimeter defence wall. An unexpected but interesting find given our exposure to the Inca (and their love of stairs) during out trek on the Inca Trail in Peru.

Salt Mountains (Cordillera de la Sal) formed a million years ago surround the area we are now in. It was originally a lake before the bottom was pushed upward by the same coastal influence that formed the Andes Mountains (Chile is where the Nazca plate meets the South American plate (moving at 79 mm per year and giving rise to earthquakes)). The Cordillera have been moulded through time by rain, wind and the sun of the Atacama Desert. The result today is a great variety of natural sculptures, different types of stratifications and varied colors from the diversity in minerals.


The name of "Cordillera de la Sal" derives from the fact that its rocks possess a great quantity of calcium sulphate, what gives them the aspect of being splashed with salt. They might be the oddest mountains I have ever seen. It looks like snow but is clearly not. This morning we were able to do a hike in the Valle de la Luna (“Valley of the Moon”), a valley in Los Flamencos National Reserve, in northern Chile’s Atacama Desert. It was oddly fantastic (sorry I know I have been saying that a lot but it truly has been spectacular so far).

After a quick lunch at the hotel we headed out this afternoon for our second excursion. (Did I mention we are at elevation? About 8,000 feet give or take. Fortunately, none of us are suffering any altitude sickness.) While we don’t have clear blue skies (thank goodness because the temps reach 30+ degrees Celsius) the cloud cover is making for perfect hiking weather. The guides are doing what they can given what is open after the floods. By tomorrow many more options will be available. There are a couple full day excursions available but we are reluctant to commit to spending 4+ hours in a car when staying in such a fantastic area for such a short time.

We went through the town of San Pedro de Atacama (about 8,000 people live here) for the first time. FYI – we learned that San Pedro de Atacama is NOT actually in the Atacama, hence the rain. Things you don’t learn until you actually get to a place. San Pedro de Atacama plays home to many of the locals that work in the various resorts and tourist activities in the surrounding area. It is much more like what I expected Chile to look like. Rustic houses (tin roofs and more third world like for lack of a better expression), no pavement, lots of commotion and many, many stray dogs running around. Through San Pedro we continued on to the trailhead. Keep in mind this area has seen significant rain in January and two days ago so many roads and trails are washed out (including parts of the one we embarked on).

The trail was about 9km long and was a fantastic hike in a canyon following the Capur River. It was often a scramble with a bit of traversing the river (it is more like a stream but still ample water flow). We had a fantastic time with Lucas, our guide, who more than once sacrificed his shoes in the water to help us stay dry.


We are now back at the hotel, showered and ready to eat. Ger and I have been convinced to take one a full day excursion tomorrow to hike a volcano in the Andes (might be my only chance to set foot in the Andes, which are a pretty spectacular mountain range). So in all, even with the rain (and likely lack of stars) the area is providing some pretty special experiences.

Until next time,

Posted by imalazyj 15:29 Archived in Chile

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