Volcano Parinacota looms over Lago Chungara in the Lauca National Park.
From Lauca National Park in Chile’s northern extreme, we descended over four and a half thousand metres to the city of Arica at sea level. Pop went the ears and bang went the lungs! We went from the cold and icy, windswept and barren Andean Altiplano to the hot, expansive and treeless sand of the super-dry Atacama Desert in a couple of hours. We sported our super-hero capes as our oxygen levels increased and our extra red blood cells (that we had spent the last four weeks making at the high altitudes) cried: ‘hurray!’. Renting bikes in Arica and peddling up the hills was no large task for the two super-hero gringos!
A little further down the Chilean coast, we stopped in the city of Iquique, also in the desert. There was a peaceful protest in the main square as we passed through on our walk. Younger folks were marching for the legalization of cannabis. Leafy decorations and colourful banners were abound as was the wafting fragrance in the air. A band played some Bob Marley-esque music and we watched a few live impromptu speeches on stage. Chilenos love their protests! We loved the colonial streets and the nicely restored
The desert city in Chile's far north.
architecture in the downtown core. It was a pleasure strolling the wooden boardwalks alongside the old streetcars. Historically, Iquique was a very busy port when the world went crazy about nitrate. Nowadays natural nitrate is not such a hot commodity as it can be made in a lab. So the port dwindled and the nitrate mines closed – or rather, they were abandoned.
The ghosts of yesteryear were awoken when we visited Humberstone which is one of those abandoned, "boom and bust" mining towns. An amazing place. An entire community complete with a theatre, school, recreation centre, hospital, town hall, church, stores, offices, and hundreds of houses. The town is in a desolate location in the middle of an almost rainless expanse of sand under a relentless and piercing sun. It was sweltering work just casually wandering around - we cannot imagine what working here would’ve been like.
We ascended back up a couple of kilometres to the small mountain village of San Pedro de Atacama. There, we chugged away on our rental bikes (which actually worked perfectly- the best rentals we've had ever!) and spent an entire day biking the Valley of the Moon (Valle de
The Palm-lined Streets
In Arica - nice to feel the heat!
la Luna). A fantastic area to explore, with its canyons, sand dunes and epic views of towering volcanos. We went in first thing in the morning and had the whole park pretty much to ourselves until mid-afternoon, which was really nice. No traffic, no noise – just sand, salt, rock and dazzling light.
We took a tour up to the El Tatio geysers to watch Mother Nature spew fountains of boiling water into the air. There were dozens of geysers and pools of boiling water in the otherworldly environs high in the Chilean Andes. We got our wildlife fix with some flamingos, vicuñas and viscachas (the bunny-like animal with a long rat-like tail)! The landscapes in the San Pedro region are spectacular, the air, fresh and cool, and the sun---relentless as usual. We loved the fact that any wet clothes would dry completely within 30 minutes.
We really enjoyed our time in the north of Chile. It has a different vibe from the other parts of the country. And did we mention the dry climate?
We stopped briefly in the copper mining city of Calama before deserting the desert north and then flew down to the capital
Vultures and carcasses along the coast near Arica.
to await a connection...
What was the next place on the agenda, one wonders?
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