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 2)

Tricky photography by the fireside - note the unexplained goulish skull above the fire!!! (sorry Caroline)

Up until Chile, South America had failed to meet my expectations in one important respect. After such a bad dose of the runs in Roatan (aka the Hondurance Endurance), I expected at least a few ´bouts´down here in S America.

But things had been fine and my immodium supplies remained undiminished until I got on the truck for the two hour journey from San Pedro to Calama.

I have an interest in religion without feeling committed to any traditional concept of a supreme deity (bear with me, i know this seems like an obscure change of tact). Also, I do consider myself to have strong moral values, but without having derived those from divine inspiration (getting back toward the point now, honestly). But I can tell you that there´s no such thing as an atheist with the runs travelling on a truck in the middle of a flat featureless desert.
And I can resolve many an ecumenical argument by confirming that my prayers were answered when I arrived at Calama without calamity, with seconds left to sprint to the supermarket loos.

As well as divine intervention, I think music was a great help - in particular, a few listens of KWS - "Please Don´t Go", and at my moment of greatest need, i took great comfort from Wilson Phillips "Hold On For One More Day". (Graeme - over to you...)

Luckily i was able to put a cork in things for the next stage of the trip - bush-camping.

One of the biggest problems camping in the desert is getting wood. Being a responsible guide, Dan organised a scavanging hunt at the side of the road on our way to our desert camp.

24 burgers between 7 people, erm including 2 vegetarians. Who sent Caroline and Calum shopping?
Luckily, Ali got so much wood that we had to help him carry it back to the truck. At the same time, one other possible danger is getting too much wood, which can keep you up all night if you´rĂ© not careful. A bucket of water is a handy cure to have to hand.

Our last stop before Santiago was the seaside port of Valparaiso.

Santiago itself was a real revelation for me. I hadn't been expecting much but personally i found the place to be really lively and cosmopolitan. So my last 48 hours in mainland Chile were a real adventure. Jazz clubs until 2am, clubbing until 4am, staying up until 10am and beyond... and a special hi to my Chilean friend from Santiago Camila. Next stop Easter Island.

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.