Trip Start Jan 20, 2012
Trip End Feb 26, 2012

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Flag of Chile  ,
Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Antofagasta is our first stop in Chile. We still can't believe how arid the landscape is. At a lecture yesterday on Chile, we saw an interesting graphic, basically Chile is really long and skinny country (2,700 miles long). if you flipped it over and laid it alongside western north America, it would extend from the Baja peninsula in California to mid-Alaska. The weather will have a similar range (packing for this trip was a nightmare....). So the dryness here is similar to the deserts in south California. Antofagasta is a large city (1 million people) fairly prosperous, main industry is copper mining. It is very prone to earthquakes, had a huge one (9 on richter scale) in the mid-1800's and another in the mid 1900's, each brought tsunamis. You can see the effect of the tsunami on the city, half is up on a huge ledge, the other half far below by the ocean (bottom half having to be completely rebuilt after each earthquake). Weather is pleasant all year (13 - 24C) but there is no rain, like in Peru, which means no supply of fresh water for crops or drinking. You see huge water containers on top of houses, the water is brought in by rail from the other side of the Andes mountains and distributed by truck.We took a city tour, saw a railway museum depicting the railway built from Antofagasta across the Andes to Bolivia to bring in the water and cart out the copper, another museum dedicated to mining which was built on the ruins of an old diamond mine (looks more like a fortress than a diamond mine) and spent some time walking around town. The museums were really well done.

There's a large desert a bit inland called Atacama Desert, the driest area of the world. This area is renowned for having some of the clearest skies in the world so star gazing is a big deal here.  The mining museum had great pictures from the views of the skies from the European Southern Observatory which is situated in the desert.
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