The warm air of Santiago embraced me like a long seen cousin. Having negotiated the throng of humanity just outside the arrival area, I was scooped up by Alexandro. He introduced me to Vance, one of my teammates and we zoomed along modern highways into downtown Santiago. Alex, as he liked to be called, briefed us on places to see and eat and change money. The adventure was underway.
At the hotel, Vance and I met up with Greg from the United States, Margaret from Scotland, Paul and Micheal from Australia. Vance is a Kiwi from New Zealand. We ventured down one of the main pedestrian streets to one of the main squares. A thirty foot Christmas tree towered over small stands selling crafts, artists offering portraits, and numerous chess games. Several sets of lovers expressed their sentiments openly and children used the many fountains as wading pools.
A few hours of walking yielded to a nap to catch up on sleep robbed by an overnight flight and then more urban exploring for a dinner spot. We landed at the Capital Restaurant’s roof top garden and enjoyed Chile’s finest seafood and dessert. The sun slowly drained from the sky as conversation flowed easily around the table. We’re an adventurous lot with many stories to share.
Forty-thirty came early the next morning as we drove back to the airport for our flights north. We are all relieved to learn because we had all landed within twenty-four hours, we wouldn’t get dinged for excess baggage on the flight (we’re all planning to wear our plastic mountaineering boots for the flight south in a few weeks). Two hours passed quickly and then we landed in the driest desert on earth. Sandwiched between two mountain ranges, the Calama desert receives less than 3 mm of rain per year. Copper mining rules this region and the drive to San Pedro de Atacama was a blur of sand and ochre colored bluffs.
We dined on traditional Chilean dishes of beef soup and baked chicken for lunch and then couldn’t believe we were heading out to trek with such full bellies. We started in the Salty Range Mountains hiking through a narrow canyon. The walls of the canyon “spoke” in clicks and shutters as the minerals lining the sides expanded in the 35 degree Celsius heat. Salt crystals sparkled in the sun and we gave thanks for shade around canyon bends. A few hours later, we dropped down into the Valley of the Moon, a massive crater reminiscent of its namesake. One last long climb positioned us, with hundreds of others, to watch the light of sunset paint the canyons and sand dunes in deep shadows of rouge and brown.
Appetites honed through exertion were not disappointed with a feed of Lomo con de Pobre, a local specialty. Steak with eggs and fried onions adorned a large plate of fries–I will not go hungry in Chile. Musicians serenaded us as we watched the bonfire cast a light over their instruments. A hearty night’s sleep delivered a beautiful morning eating breakfast beside the small babbling pool in the courtyard of our hotel. Yup-this mountaineering life is tough! We head out today on three days of acclimatization leaving this luxury behind. We’ll trek from San Pedro at 2600 metres through several villages to 4200 metres and a visit to the region’s famous geysers.
So, as you can see, all is well in Chile-a fine start to a grand adventure. I’ll keep you posted as I can but it’s likely to be another five or six days until I can write again.