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04/10/12 - Last Day in Santiago

Since our flight home left Santiago at two o'clock in the morning, we planned our final day carefully. We started with a walk around Santiago on Easter Sunday. We expected everything to be closed, but it turns out that the Cerro Santa Lucia, the original fort built when the city was founded in the 16th century, was open. It was a trip backwards in time with the formal garden near street level and staircases leading upwards to the fountain of Neptune and then higher to a terrace and finally up to an old church and the old look out tower. The view of the city was quite impressive.

We headed down and wandered onwards. As the Cerro Santa Lucia was near the train station, we discovered a number of stores were opening even on this most serious of holidays. There was a department store, a pharmacy, a small supermarket and the inevitable television and electronic gadgets store. Santiago is a big city, so Easter Sunday or not, you could do a bit of shopping.

You could also go to church. We passed a number of churches, and the main cathedral was pretty full as the service went on. It was strange to see autumn flowers, like chrysanthemums, instead of spring flowers, like lilies, decorating the church. Off the main square, some vendors had already set up their stands selling remaindered books and oddball figurines, none particularly Easter related.

We did find the Museum of National History which we had missed on our previous visit to the area. It was open and full of old portraits, weapons, household items and documents from Chile's history. It started with the early Spanish settlement, went on through the revolution, and soon we were looking at dial telephones and manual typerwriters. Wow, we are getting old.

We made our way back to our hotel for lunch at a Peruvian restaurant which was right down the block. Our hotel, The Aubrey, was in Bellavista which is probably one's best bet for a meal on a holiday like Easter Sunday. Constitution, our street, and the Bellavista Patio were full of restaurants and happy diners. Then we took a long nap. Remember, our flight home was at two o'clock in the morning, so we needed all the sleep we could get. Then, well after sunset, we woke up, finished packing, grabbed a bite at the hotel, and made our way to the airport. The next 20 or so hours we spent in airplanes or airport lounges, and that would only get us to Seattle.

The lower level of Cerro Santa Lucia

The Neptune level

A terrace even higher - This one had cannons.

Even higher

And higher still

That's the castle we visited.

That's our hotel's terrace, where we had our final meal in Santiago.

Keywords: chile

04/08/12 - Tatio Geysers (Part 4 - Coda With Movies)

Here are a few pictures we took on our drive back to San Pedro de Atacama. We had a very clear view of an active volcano for much of the way. The giant coots are indeed huge, at least by coot standards, and the vicuna was in a classic postcard pose, even if no one sends postcards anymore what with the internet and everything.

We've also posted some movies of some hot thermal action. Turn on the sound and you can hear the hiss of the steam. It's not quite like being there, but, then again, nothing really is.

An active volcano - Look closely and you'll see the sulphurous fumes.

Giant coots building their nest - The one on the right is hauling algae.

Another vicuna employed by the Chilean Tourist Bureau

Keywords: chile

04/08/12 - Tatio Geysers (Part 3 - More Stuff)

We could go on and on about the geysers. In fact, we do, but this was a most amazing hike and we need some kind of copy to justify all the pictures.

Our walk took us past a rocky area where we saw little chinchilla-like creatures called viscachas racing about among the rocks. We even managed to catch one in a moment of repose. There were also vicunas wandering about the thermal field. As we said earlier, there was always something interesting.

Then we reached the swimming hole, a naturally heated pool where we found the only other group visiting besides that one other car we had passed earlier. It was a French speaking family from Belgium in a little camper with a bicycle rack built in to the back.

Finally, we climbed a bit, but at 15,000 feet, any climbing is exhausting. We made it to the visitor center, a nicely appointed facility kept in excellent shape by the hard working staff. We took over their kitchen. Jorge convinced them somehow. Because it was Good Friday, Jorge could not eat red meat, but the senora in the kitchen had prepared a wonderful chicken stew. She generously offered us some, and we even got to try the senora's wonderful garden fava beans, but most of our lunch was provided by Awasi, and were we hungry. Enjoy the high speed photo we managed to snap before all the food disappeared.

Vicunas on the thermal field

A viscacha

A hot river

This is one of the geysers feeding hot water into the swimming hole

Another geyser near the swimming hole

Yet another - you guessed it - geyser

One of the big blue pools

Another geyser

This was a really pretty pool. It looks a lot like a Roman bath.

Our lunch with prosciutto, blue cheese, roast beef, and the like. Now, strictly an internal matter.

The charming visitor center

Keywords: chile

04/07/12 - Tatio Geysers (Part 2 - Around the Thermal Basin)

It was a long walk around the thermal field, but there was always something interesting. There were pools of boiling hot water, geysers spurting from pools or holes in the ground, bubbling pools of hot mud and, of course, the mountains around us.

Steaming hot pools

Bubbling mud

A little geyser

A steamy, spurting geyser

A view showing the mountains

This was a very active, spurting geyser, and quite noisy.

This was a calmer fountain of a geyser.

The blue pool

A close up of the blue pool - It's deeper than it looks.

A calcite formation

Bubbling mud

Keywords: chile

04/06/12 - Tatio Geysers (Part 1- The Journey)

Most people go to see the Tatio Geysers at dawn. We had already seen an Andean dawn at our own private salar, so we went to see the geysers later in the morning. En route, we passed tour bus after tour bus, all heading back from their dawn excursions. By the time we arrived at the geysers, there was one other car, a Belgian family with one of those biycle campers soaking in a hot pool, and the caretakers.

We were originally going to take a serious hike, down a hillside, along an old road then through a canyon and up to the geysers. There was a beautiful view of the mountains, but we were at 15,000 feet. Our nerve failed us, so we decided to head back to the thermal field where the geysers were and take a five kilometer (three mile) hike on level ground.

We stopped to take a picture of a baby vicuna.

And some geese

Isn't he (or she) cute?

The field of geysers

An amazing setting

This is the hike we didn't take. We were SO disappointed, but our lungs thanked us.

A little lizard

Back to the thermal field

One of the many pools of boiing hot water with colorful heat friendly algaes around it

A close of up the pit

A string of thermal ponds

Keywords: chile

04/05/12 - Petroglyphs

We took a drive out to the countryside and saw some wonderful petroglyphs down in a cave in the wall of a canyon. There are all sorts of interesting things here in Chile.

The countryside

The canyon


There is no need for captions. Look and you will see vicunas, guanacos, people and all sorts of wonderful things.

Jumbled rock in the cave - There might have been more petroglyphs before the walls crumbled.

Keywords: chile

04/05/12 - La Laguna del Altoplano (Part 2)

We drove around the lagoon with its ice and mineral deposits as the day dawned. The birds were already out and active, sloshing around in the water or walking boldly on the thin ice. There was a lot to take in - the cold, the many birds, the mountains, the ice, the mineral deposits, and the coarse sand. It was cold, but there was no wind this early in the day. That made standing outside, oohing and aahing, fumbling with binoculars and taking countless photographs endurable.

On the drive down we could see more. There were the distant white forms of the ALMA telescope complex in the distance and a Japanese observatory perched atop a mountain with the snow tracks of the access road visible in the distance. There were numerous lakes and lagoons, most in Chile, but some in Bolivia. Our road went to Argentina, but we were also near the border with Bolivia. We stopped a few times to admire blue lakes, snow capped mountains, industrious horned coots, and green swamplands.

There were llamas beside the road, posing in front of the mountain scenery. There were even a few baby llamas getting ready for their first winters. We stopped for a bit, then resumed our descent. Breakfast beckoned. We were already exhausted, and our day had just begun.

James flamingos

Here you can see the mineral deposits as well as the ice.

At about 15,000 feet mineral deposits, ice and water all co-exist.

A view with reflections

More reflections

Those are mineral deposits, not ice in the foreground

At one of the lakes we passed on our way down, a horned coot was building its nest out of green algae.

A highland swamp, lush and green, by local standards

A glimpse of Bolivian lakes - We are near the border with both Bolivia and Argentina.

A baby llama with only its undercoat. Its fur is still growing in.

Visit Chile - This clever llama works for the Chilean Tourist Bureau.

Keywords: chile

04/05/12 - La Laguna del Altoplano (Part 1)

Once again we woke before dawn. By six o'clock we were racing along the dark Chilean highway towards the border with Argentina. First came the gloaming, and we could make out the dark silhouettes of the mountains around us. Then we could start making out more detail of mountain, road and vegetation. The air was thin and cold, maybe 14F. The heater in the jeep strained to keep us warm. We turned off the highway and onto a narrow, unpaved track.

The sun was still below the horizon when we stopped. Before us was the salar and the lagoon and around us were the mountains.

Not quite dawn at the lagoon

A snow capped mountain

A bit later with the dawn light

Crested ducks and the sunrise reflected on the water

More reflections at dawn

That's our jeep there. This shot almost looks like a Jeep-TM ad.

Andean geese walking on the ice

Three types of flamingos - James flamingos, Andean flamingos and Chilean flamingos

Another view of the flamingos on the ice

They look like tulips, all clustered together.

That's a mineral deposit in the foreground.

Keywords: chile

04/05/12 - An Amazing Orchard

We had a hidden garden adventure. We stopped outside of a little town and walked through flat open country. Then, we saw a forest below. It was the town orchard. Each household had a small portion of the terraced, sloping land leading down to the river, and each walled and gated plot had its collection of trees bearing apples, quinces, pomegranates, lemons, and other fruits. There were even cactus among the trees which yield their own fruits, called "tuna" in Spanish. We followed the little pathways under the arching branches and even tried a pomegranate, unlike any we had ever had before.

View from the open country

The orchard down below

More trees

One of the walkways

Another walkway - The stone wall is one of the retaining walls for the terracing.

These may be a type of lemon.

These are a type of pomegranate. It's autumn in Chile, so these are ripe.

Yet another walkway - It's quite a maze.

Even more walkways - You can get lost here. Luckily, we had a guide.

That's a newer wall on the left.

Inside Chile, inside a pomegranate.

Keywords: chile

04/04/12 - Up Some River, Through a Canyon

Much of the Atacama Desert is extremely dry. Even cacti need moisture, and big cacti need even more. While our trailhead might have looked dry, there were all sorts of large cactus telling us that water was nearby, especially in the canyon itself.

We made our way down the rocks to the canyon floor and walked, clambered and crawled upstream. Now and then we'd leap the stream or scramble over the rocks to bypass a waterfall. It was moist in the canyon, with tall cactus about along with a broad variety of plants, many in flower. There were also big clumps of pampas grass, many six or eight feet tall, and we'd sometimes have to fight our away upstream through thickets of them.

Eventually, the walls of the canyon grew lower and we could see the mountains ahead of us. We emerged from canyon-land to the surface, and the canyon itself was invisible behind us.

Cacti seen from above the canyon

Some of the flowers

More flowers

Cactus flowers

Even more flowers

Pampas grass in the canyon

Waterfall in the canyon

Making our way along

More waterfalls

The view out of the canyon

Between cactus and pampas grass

Keywords: chile, waterfall

04/03/12 - Devil's Creek - (Part 1) To Be Continued

In the afternoon we drove out of town and up a river, literally. The road started out as a dirt road, but it forded the river several times. Now and then the road vanished completely, and we had to drive upriver through the broad wash, climbing onto the occasional island before fording onwards to new stretch of dry road. Some miles north of town, we pulled into a side canyon and parked. Then our hike up Devil's Creek began.

It followed the Creek's canyon, carved into soft rock and mud. There were gypsum intrusions and slot canyons and little caves that were carved by the bend of the stream. We were climbing slowly all along. The canyon changed and grew more open. We saw our first plants, scrubby bushes along our way. We could also see the moon rising over the canyon wall. It would be our companion for much of the journey.

Near where we parked

Entering the canyon - The floor is flat from the flooding, but completely dry now.

Overhangs and caves

A slit in the canyon

View from under an overhang

The walls of the canyon

One of the first plants we saw, a fair way up the canyon, in bloom

A view from the canyon

Canyon walls and fallen stones

The towers, among many

The moon, our companion, over the canyon walls

Keywords: chile

04/03/12 - Catarpe (Part 2 of the Devil's Creek Saga)

The canyon widened and we started seeing more plants, though not all that many. The sun was setting, throwing the canyon into shadow. The moon was rising. We had made our way up via Devil's Creek canyon, and now we were returning by Catarpe, a parallel canyon.

We saw a few signs of life - guanaco tracks, mountain cat tracks and a lone feral donkey. Though the canyon was more open, the shadows were long, and we could still feel the sense of isolation.

Mineral deposits and small bushes

More mineral deposits

Dry earth, but recent water

Different rock and many shadows

Darkness comes early in canyon country.

A cave in the wall

An overhang and a surprise - read the next installment

The shadowy canyon floor

More shadows

Mountain cat prints

We saw donkey prints first, then a donkey. Luckily we did not see the mountain cat.

Keywords: chile

04/03/12 - A Surprise and A Challenge (Part 3 - The Exciting Conclusion)

In the last installment we mentioned a surprise. It was above us, built into the canyon wall, an old Incan ruin. This is about as far south as they conquered, and this was an old fortification dominating the canyon path. A bit further on, there were caves in the wall. Our guide led us on a scramble up the side of the canyon and into the ruins of an Incan outpost. All that were left were stone walls, but there were at least a dozen buildings still partly standing.

We would have lingered, but the light was failing. We left the plateau by an alternate route, clambering down rocks and emerging by the river, the same river we had followed on our way to the trailhead. Then came our race with darkness as we followed the broad flood plain of the river downstream to our guide's truck.

We arrived shortly before dark and began a mad drive along and, at times, through the river, aided by our guide's knowledge, our headlights and the waxing moon. As we are writing this, you know we made it back in time for dinner, but it was quite a journey in the dark.

A view from the canyon floor

An arty shot of an Incan ruin, with the moon

A less arty, but more informative shot

Caves in the canyon wall - We climbed that pile of gravel.

Incan ruins

More ruins, a foundation

Some walls were still standing

Ruins look great in fading sunlight

A view from the ruins - We can imagine the "view lots" real estate ad in the Incan newspaper.

The river flood plain we raced down

Another view of the river

Keywords: chile

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