Monday, February 23, 2009

Monday, February 23, Santa Rosa


We're home. It was a very long series of flights from Northern Chile to Santiago to Dallas to San Francisco, and a bus ride to Santa Rosa. Thankfully, we were so tired from the bad bed in Atacama that we slept for most of the main flight. We're sorting through mail today after a great night's sleep on the best bed in the world.

Thanks to all who followed our adventure, and to Pat's brother and his wife, who watched over the house. We'll be local for a while until the summer when we drive the Airstream up to Vancouver for a month. In September, it's off to Paris and Africa until the end of October. Look for lots of photos and blogs again during those adventures. I may out some of the photos from this trip into videos for YouTube. I'll provide a post here to link to them if I do.

And I haven't forgotten my promise to put together some personalized photo sets for many of the members of our tour group. We'll be dealing with some personal family medical issues in the next weeks, but I will get them finished and sent off as I can. Thanks to all of you for helping make our trip so wonderful.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Friday, February 20th, Sky High Geysers in the Andes


Early this morning, we boarded a bus for a ride up the most rugged road to the highest point we've been without an airplane. Leaving the desert behind, we climbed to geyser field, where the precise temperature of the earth around them combines with the heat of the water to unleash the spurts and gushes that attract the tourists from all over the world. It's the highest such phenomenon known, and the only advise I can give you should you decide to make the journey is to wear layers. It was cold. I, like a complete idiot, wore sandals, thin pants, t-shirt, and a light golf jacket. Pat was smarter, and got to stay out longer and see a bit more.

The air at 13,400 feet is also thinner than I expected, and I wasn't as quick on my feet in pursuing the right shot angles. I think you'll get the point by what was captured, however. And no, we didn't swim in the large thermal pool near the parking lot. These people are far more rugged (or crazy) than we are.

On the way back down the mountain, we stopped to see vicunas (un-domesticated llamas), llamas, flamingos, and lots of great landscapes. A small town offered views of life at this altitude, and a chance to eat llama meat (we declined).

For a look at the photos of the day, click on: Sky High Geysers

Thursday, February 19th, Volcano and Salt Lake


The mountains so dominate the views around here that I had to take the morning on which we had no tours –and go get a picture of the volcano (Lascar, 5154 meters) which towers behind the town. I started with a photo from our room porch over the wall. When the telephone lines got in the picture, I decided to walk east through the town seeking a clearer picture with more mountain in it. An hour and a dozen photos later, I was on the outskirts of the town, and had found my way through many yards and neighborhoods where tourists rarely go. But the shots were better.

Our tour today took us to a failed agricultural experiment, an Andes river ravine where rhyolite is quarried to build local houses, and the Salt Lake to see flamingos. I’m a little tired, and going to let the photos tell the story. We’re getting up a 3:30am tomorrow to go to the geysers for our last tour.

To see the photos taken today, click on: Volcano and Salt Lake

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Wednesday, February 18th, Garden of Eden


We’re sleeping at 8,000 feet above sea level. It doesn’t seem like it, because the landscape is flat with huge mountains off in the distance. Breathing isn’t difficult, but not a piece of cake either. When you drive up to 10,000, hiking up and down canyons can be a bit slower.

That’s what we did this morning. The thermal pools, which are called “Termas de Puritama”, are a stretch of a river which flows into another river which has its source in some hot springs. It creates about ten small pools along 300 yards of canyon which vary from 95 degrees to 80 degrees, and are surrounded by pampas grass and boulders. Many have waterfalls, and the locals have built a web of wooden walking bridges which lead you down to platforms from which to enter the pools. Nearby are changing rooms and eating areas.

It really is quite like being in the Garden of Eden without the apple tree and the snake.

It’s 3pm now. We’ve had lunch at small restaurant close to the hotel (goat cheese, tomato, and avocado sandwiches and fruit juices), and we’re resting in our room. A weird rain just hit, and the smell of it caught Pat’s attention before we saw it out the window. We have no tour for this afternoon, and will probably just hang out. Left for the remainder of our time are the flamingos at the salt flat, and an early morning-all day trip to another hot springs on Friday. Saturday, we fly to Santiago, visit the Archeological Museum all day killing time until the 11:30pm flight to Dallas and then SF. We arrive in SF on Sunday morning at 10am, and catch an bus back home. Next bed is our own.

To look at the photos for the day, click on: Thermal Hot Springs at 10,000 feet

Tuesday, February 17th, San Pedro de Atacama


San Pedro de Atacama is a lot more than we expected. Though we haven’t yet been to its signature viewing – the flamingos on the salt flat, we’re already blown away by the beauty of its land and sky. And we had no idea that its local archeological ruins would be so extensive, and how well displayed its museum would be. I mean, this is in the driest desert in the world. You’d think all there’d be is dust storms (oh wait, we huddled on a mountaintop through one of those today) and tumbleweeds (they all are alive here, and the roots go down nine times as deep as the plant).

At breakfast near the pool, the hotel staff informed us our tour staff had arrived. Since we thought they were coming at 9am, we hurriedly finished and met Oliver at the desk. He apologized and explained that there had been a change, and we quickly joined the other five passengers which had been rounded up from nearby hotels.

Oliver was a great guide, sounding in Spanish and English much more experienced than his two months on the job would indicate. He and Carlos took us to the first dwelling in the region (Tulor – tracing back to about 900 BC), then to a mountainside fortress (Pukara of Quitor) guarding the San Pedro River in the period from 300 AD to its assimilation into the Inca Empire in 1450 AD. Finally, we were guided through the exhibits at the Gustavo Le Paige Archeological Museum before returning for lunch near the town square.

At 4pm, we were picked up by Claudio for our trip to the Moon Valley. Before heading off there, he wanted us to see the surrounding area from several panoramic viewpoints. It’s hard to realize how unique the little community of San Pedro is until you see if from atop the adjacent hills. The river has afforded a lush colony of adobe-bricked houses and shops which have become a mecca for eco-eager tourists. From backpacker to five-star elitists, they are here for Chile’s peak vacation week.

The Moon Valley at sunset was clearly an experience we won’t forget. At least 300 tourists, very few of them Americans, hiked up a long windy hillside to the topos a huge sand dune to catch the last rays of the sun on this side of the Chilean Andes. Unfortunately, the Bolivian winter rain clouded the distant mountains, and only the tallest snow-capped peaks were visible. And then came what our guide called the strangest weather phenomenon he’d seen. Reversing the usual West-East wind direction, a bizarre dust storm rose out of the Atacama Valley, swept over us, and reduced visibility to about ten feet. Climbers who had secured the best rock locations to view the sunset were worried they would be unable to climb down again. Soon, it passed to our west, and we were able to at least watch the sun set as we walked back down the hill.

Tomorrow, we’re traveling to some thermal pools in the highlands.

To view today's photos,click on San Pedro de Atacama>