Though a straight line appears to be the shortest distance between 2 points, life has a way of confounding geography. Often it is the dalliances and the detours that define us. There are no maps to guide our most important searches; we must rely on hope, chance, intuition and a willingness to be surprised.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Chile, But Getting Warmer (Part 1)

Me, on the top of a huge sand dune in the Valle de La Luna.

Chile´s geography is bizarre and counter intuitive when written in figures. 4300km long (Norway to Nigeria) but just 200km wide, it seems to defy sensible design. But once you´ve seen the looming wall of the Andes marching endlessly south, it becomes clear that Chile´s shape and separation from the rest of South America is natural and irrefutable.

So physically the border is as solid and tangible as any land border I´ve crossed. And quite appropriate too, as the transformation from Bolivia to CHile is a shocking one. The difference in wealth, prosperity and westernisation wasn´t fully shown up until our visit to the shopping malls of Calama, but even in the sleepy tourist town of San Pedro, the increased price of beer (painful) and appearance of western music (joy - you can definitely overdose on panpipes) are telling.
We have 2 days and 3 nights in San Pedro and I´m glad of the chance to recharge my batteries, both literally and figuratively. I indulge in a fair amount of sunbathing (with the drop in altitude, the temperature has soared), emailing and website updating and sorting through some of the 2,000 photos I´ve taken in South America.

I also meet and make friends with some great people. This has happened on this trip whenever I´ve been in any place for any length of time - maybe the best thing about travelling.

The Atacama desert is the driest place in the world - some parts have never recorded rainfall. Ali, Dan and I mountain biked it to the Valle de La Luna one afternoon. A bit less grey than the moon i reckon - not that I´ve been to the moon yet - but I can see the resemblance.

Thanks to its clear weather and incredibly transparent skies, the Atacama desert is also famous for star-gazing. The world´s largest telescope - the Very Large Telescope - will soon be over-shadowed by the currently under construction Overwhelmingly Large Telescope (OWL).
However, Constance, Regina and I found that we were able to make a number of astronomical observations with nothing more than the naked eye and a few litre bottles of Chilean beer.

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