We're in the Andes Now!

Trip Start Jan 30, 2010
Trip End Sep 12, 2010

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Where I stayed
Pachamama Hostel

Flag of Chile  , Tarapacá,
Thursday, March 25, 2010

After Easter Island, we flew from Santiago to Arica, Chile, less than five kilometers south of the Peru border. Here, we took care of laundry and checked things at home. Reality intervened with a flood in our house that has kept my Mom, who had agreed to be our "property manager", busy. On the heels of that repair, which necessitated replacing hard wood floors in the kitchen and hallway; the heat went out - during a cold snap no less. And THEN the oven stopped heating past 250 degrees! These disasters leave us feeling both guilty (for being on vacation) and helpless (to do anything from this distance). Mom, you are the BEST.
Back in Chile...On day four, we left Arica, heading right uphill – sea level to 12,000’ in two hours – to our first destination in the Andes, the Reserva de Biosfera Lauca Parque National. We based ourselves in Putre, Chile, an agricultural hamlet where sheep and llamas outnumber human residents by at least 4-1. Here we encountered our first indigenous community, the Aymara, generations removed from the Incas, whose empire extended down to southern Chile, where the fierce Mapucha of Patagonia kept them at bay. Stepped terraces on steep valley walls and canals for irrigation built by Incan farmers 600 years ago are still used today.
One of our hosts at our hostel in Putre was a resident baby llama. The llama, Patricio, became buddies with Oliver, who was soon feeding him from a bottle and leading him around the courtyard. The little llama’s baaaing and nuzzling was heartwarming (though potty training was definitely an issue).
Using Putre as our base, we embarked upon a two day tour of the Andean altiplano, visiting Lauca Parque National, La Reserva National Las Vicunas, and Monumento Natural Salar de Surire.  This region abuts Bolivia, and Lauca’s highest peak, Parinacota, at 6,340, or 21,000’, borders both countries.
Rolling hills and pastoral river valleys are home to the protected vicuna, alpaca, llama, nandu, foxes, flamingos, Andean condors and the rabbit-like, and endangered, vizkotca. A few small pueblos appear out of nowhere on the shrubby pampas. One of the larger, Guallatire, seemed absolutely deserted. We freely explored the streets, empty but for a few hens, and peeked over walls of warren-like scale mud houses. Oliver and Michael climbed the colonial church tower. They refrained from ringing the bell, as this would definitely have confused the locals.
The Salar de Surire, a butt-bumping four hour drive from Putre, is a miniature version of the world’s largest salt plane, Bolivia's Salar de Uyuni, which we will visit later in the trip. It was nevertheless interesting for its bubbling, boiling thermal lagoon, three species of flamingos and herds of graceful vicuna. The salt flats were less impressive, having shrunk considerably since the dirt road encircling them was built; possibly another victim of climate change that seems evident in all the parks we’ve visited. There’s been little rain the past couple of years in this region, and local subsistence farmers are very worried.
After bidding goodbye to our new-found friends at the hostel, including Patricio the llama, we hoisted our packs on our back, caught a ride from town to the main carreterra, and awaited our bus for the five hour trip across the border and on to La Paz, Bolivia.
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J.L. de Jong on

Amazing animals and terrain.
Thanks for sharing.

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