Archive for October 2009

Pica

October 28, 2009
Pica Iglesia de San Pedro

Iglesia de San Andres, Pica

Pica: Travel Date: August 28, 2009

We first arrived in Iquique on the night of August 3. The next morning we had a meet and greet and orientation at the Ministry of Education with our bosses, before being sent off to our host families. Among the items covered at the orientation was the promise of a field trip to Pica the following week for all the volunteers in Iquique, we 4 newly arrived rookie 4 monthers and the comparatively veteran 6 monthers. It would be a great chance to see some of the surrounding country and towns and meet the other volunteers, giving us a better sense of place and acting as a volunteer bonding experience. The following week came and went with no mention of the trip, as did the next and the next: promises late as usual. But just as I was about to give up, the bossman, Don Juan, came through and the call to Pica came. A concrete date for our field trip was given as Friday August 28th.

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Pica High School

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Pica High orchard

We met at the Ministry of Education at 8:30 am on Friday: 9 volunteers, Don Juan (our boss and guide), and the driver of our mini-van. Once gathered, we soon hit the road, climbing up and out of Iquique, through Alto Hospicio, and out through the open Atacama Desert on Highway 16. Near the junction with the Pan-American, Highway 5 in Chile, we spied the nitrate ghost towns of Santa Laura and Humberstone through the van windows. We turned onto the Pan-American and rolled through the desert town of Pozo Almonte. We soon turned off the Pan-American onto the road to La Tirana, Matilla, and Pica. The oasis town of Pica sits on top of a wealth of underground water that bubbles up out of the desert and is tapped to make Pica a spot of verdant green in an otherwise seemingly endless brown of the Atacama.

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Em in the pampas of the Atacama

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Pica crew

Muchas frutas

Muchas Frutas

Pica is famous for its fruits: lemons, oranges, mangos, grapefruits, etc…. Pica is a 114 km from Iquique. It sits above 2000 meters above sea level in the Atacama. The population is 2900. Our first stop was the high school in Pica. Its focus is agricultural. After ducking in to a few bewildered classes en masse to smile and say hi to the students, we got a tour of the orchard, garden, and livestock pens out back. We were loaded down with oranges, grapefruit, and tomatoes fresh off the vine to dine on and take home. The livestock pens included llamas, pigs, turkeys, and guinea pigs (cuye “the foodsource of the future” to quote one of our guides). The high school was a calm, quiet oasis, very different from the chaos of Placido Villaroell, and our welcome there was heartwarming. As we said goodbye, we were sent off with student made ornamental parting gifts, shellacked fruit pieces on a leaf. They now hang on our wall. Loaded down with gifts, we loaded back into the van and headed off to our next stop at Cocha Resbaladero.

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Mujer de fruta

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Cocha Resbaladero

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Cocha Resbaladero

Cocha Resbaladero is Pica’s fresh warm water pool. Being a school and workday Friday afternoon, it was not crowded as Don Juan said it often can be in summer and weekends. The pool is set in natural rock and hanging vegetation. At its far end, it includes a water issuing pair of caves where the warmest water sits. You can alligator crawl back 60 or 70 feet into the dark of the cave for the warmest soak. We lounged in the pool for an hour before hesitantly crawling out to dry off, change, and head off to lunch at a local restaurant. After lunch, we visited Pica’s church, Iglesia San Andres, at the center of town and then roamed the streets and green back alleys of Pica, peeking into the wealth of green orchards as we roamed.

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Plaza de Armas and Iglesia de San Andres, Pica

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Looking up in the church

We rolled out of Pica around 3 p.m. Our next stop was in the neighboring town of Matilla. The main attraction of Matilla is its national landmark church, Iglesia de San Antonio. Its foundation dates from the 17th century. The church and its belltower withstood some serious damage due to an earthquake in 2005. Since then, it has been repaired and renovated and is presently in great shape. The church was locked when we arrived but Don Juan quickly secured the key. Postcard perfect inside and out with a beautiful square alongside boasting some huge, shade giving trees to lounge under. After our tour of the church, we rolled out of sleepy Matilla and back out onto the open road under the Atacama sun. On the way, in between Matilla and La Tirana, we pulled off the side of the road in the middle of the desolate Atacama to appreciate the wide open, silent spaces devoid of vegetation. It seemed a world away from verdant Pica.

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Iglesia de San Antonio

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Iglesia de San Antonio

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Last Supper

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Last Supper Trinity

The road home took us by some islands of tamarugo forests. The tamarugo: (quoting Lonely Planet): “The trees are a native species, tamarugo, (Prosopis tamarugo), which, though feeble in appearance, is astonishingly determined. It sprouts roots three times the length of its overground height, thus clawing its way to hidden water reserves. This tree once covered thousands of square kilometers, but was then endangered by heavy felling in the nitrate era.” There is now a nearby 1080 sq-km Reserva Nacional Pampa de Tamarugal dedicated to preserving the trees and managed by CONAF (the Chilean equivalent of the National Park Service.) On the ride home, the evidence of the long gone nitrate era and its scars and legacy upon the landscape of the Atacama was evident. We rolled through the desert sun and finally descended back down into the camanchaca (high fog) of Iquique. We arrived back at the Ministry around 6:30pm, after a great day of sightseeing. It was worth the wait.

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Tamarugo

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Lonely road

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Dropping back down to Iquique

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Flashback Santiago

October 25, 2009
Hombre de Pescado

El Hombre Pescado en Barrio Brasil

July 25-August 3, 2009

We arrived in Santiago in the early morning of July 25 as the sun rose, after our Houston-Atlanta and Atlanta-Santiago flights. After paying our US$131 airport entrance fee, clearing customs, and gathering our bags, we emerged into the early morning Santiago chill. English Opens Doors had arranged an airport shuttle to Hosteling International in Barrio Brasil. We checked in to HI, put in separate sex dorm style rooms with 3 other English Opens Doors roommates. As an older married couple, this did not fill us with glee. We inquired with the front desk about getting our own room. They said that should be possible, check back in a couple hours, as long as we paid the difference for the more expensive room. We told them we would be okay with that. We locked up our bags and hit the streets of Barrio Brasil for some early morning roaming. We roamed over to Barrio Concho y Torro, to quote Lonely Planet, “a gorgeous little square fed by cobblestone streets and overlooked by art deco and beaux arts mansions.” As we sat on a bench in the early morning sun in front of the fountain, a local joined us on the bench with a young street kitten in his hand. He began chatting in English with us. The extremely nice older gentleman, Mario, lived in one of the “art deco and beaux arts mansions” of Concho y Torro. He invited us up for coffee and conversation and we took his invitation. We immediately got friendly, genuine vibes off Mario.

Mario

Mario

Coffee on Mario's porch

Coffee on Mario's porch

Mario's kitchen

Mario's kitchen

Chuko

Chuko

Mario and his home oozed Chilean history. We entered his home and were greeted by his cute manic leg humping dog, Chuko. Mario is an antique dealer, and his house was filled with antiques of all kinds. A march through history and he toured us around before and after coffee. From his back porch, the snow capped Andes were visible above the city skyline. Over the next 8 days we would return to Mario’s several times for coffee and one night for dinner. Mario provided a great welcome to Chile for us, a mere two hours after we got off the plane. A moment that made the hassle of long haul air travel worth it. After coffee, we headed back to the hostel, and checked into our new room, decked out with a double bed, our own bathroom, and cable TV. The 9000 extra pesos we would be paying each night seemed well worth it. Turned out that on the third day, we found out we were never supposed to be in Hosteling International in the first place. The first of many organizational problems on the part of the English Opens Doors that would rear their ugly heads over the next week of orientation. So after two nights in Hosteling International, we had to move to Hostel Americano, several blocks away.  They put us in a much more basic double room there, no bathroom or cable TV. This turned out to be good for us because we didn’t have to pay anything extra. Most of the rooms in Hostel Americano were doubles, and most of the volunteers staying there were in doubles. If we had been checked in there in the first place, as we were supposed to be, we would not have paid anything extra. With 130 four month volunteers, the most the program has ever dealt with, organizational snafus during the week were plentiful.

Outside of Mario's house

Outside of Mario's house

Carabinero Riot Mobile

Carabinero Riot Mobile near La Moneda

Hombre de Mono

El Hombre Mono en Barrio Brasil

Man in the box

Man in the box in Iglesia de San Francisco

Paris con Londres

Paris con Londres

Andes through skyline

Andes through skyline

Monday through Friday were spent in orientation from about 9am to 5pm. Orientation included ESL teaching methodology and Spanish classes. The ESL training sessions were put on by English teachers of the Insitituto de NorteAmericano, where our orientation took place. They did a great job. Our daily Spanish classes were also great, with Em and I in the basic level. There was daily confusion due to organizational snafus, but overall I thought the orientation was very worthwhile. Hopefully, the program learned from its mistakes and things will go smoother in future years. But don’t hold your breath on that one. Bottom line is that orientation was a great learning experience, orientation to Chile, chance to meet people, and a great opportunity to explore Santiago.

Adentro Iglesia de San Francisco

Adentro Iglesia de San Francisco

Rabbit friend in Las Condes

Rabbit friend in Las Condes

Santiago Metro

Santiago Metro

Nightview from Cerro San Cristobal

Nightview from Cerro San Cristobal

After classes each day, we headed out to explore Santiago taking in many of its sights: Plaza de Armas, La Moneda, a Rapa Nui exihibit in the Museum under La Moneda, Cerro San Cristobal, Iglesia de San Francisco, Paris con Londres, Las Condes, etc…. I was very impressed with Santiago’s Metro system. It was clean and efficient, on par with Japanese subway systems, with the addition of pickpockets. Em caught a lady with her hand halfway in her bag after she had slyly partially unzipped it. Nothing was lost and our vigilance increased. The lady shrugged her shoulders when caught in the act, with a “I had to try.” look on her face. Karma did punish her. The would be pickpocket dropped her scarf on her way out the door. HA, HA!  I enjoyed our time in Santiago, but the winter time smog there is a huge minus to the city wedged in a valley between the coast range and the Andes. A week was enough and I think my lungs suffered from even that much time there. We were able to get up to the ski resort of La Parva one day to ski. The narrow winding road up the Andes to the resort was an experience unto itself. Looking down on Santiago, nearly 10,000 feet below, gave a real sense of the smog that people live in. In the morning, the city could be clearly seen. By midday (and this was a Sunday) you could no longer see the city under the smog cloud. Breathing the fresh air of the crisp clear snow clad Andes was a real treat, knowing we would soon be heading back down in the smog for another day. After 9 nights in Santaigo, and one more organizational snafu that left us waiting at the airport for five hours for our flight to Iquique, we finally landed in Iquique on the night of August 3. We waited in the airport for five hours because nobody from the program had ever bothered to actually buy our 4 tickets (for the 4 four month Iquique volunteers) that they had reserved for us. So, our seats had been sold. But they were able to get us on a later flight. It provided for some Iquique team bonding team for Em, Lai Nee, Aaron, and I. It was nice to finally get to Iquique and smell the sea and hear the waves crashing and settle in to our homes for the next four months.

Taste of Rapa Nui

Taste of Rapa Nui

The Virgin on Cerro San Cristobal

The Virgin on Cerro San Cristobal

Riding the Cerro San Cristobal Funicular

Riding the Cerro San Cristobal Funicular

Looking down on smoggy Santiago

Looking down on smoggy Santiago

La Parva

La Parva

“Paro Indefinido”

October 23, 2009

Sr. (a) Apoderado (a):

Informo a Ud. que nuestra Comunidad Educativa se adhiere al “Paro Indefinido”, por lo que su pupilo no tendra clases. Le pedimos que se mantenga informado (a) con noticias de radio, TV, etc., para el regreso de las activades.

La Direccion

The message above was handed out to all the kids in my school yesterday, Thursday October 22, 2009. It announces that the teachers at Placido Villaroel are adhering to the “Indefinite Strike” called for by the Chilean union of public school teachers. It started today (Friday: yesterday’s tomorrow). Yesterday, my class, already on the unruly side, was interrupted half way through the hour and a half to hand the message out. I was teaching by myself, the profesora in another room busily preparing for a performance evaluation interview later that day. The thirty-three 6 th grade students were already proving a handful as we reviewed adjectives and comparatives. The strike announcement sent them over the top. The corralling and damage control began in earnest after their realization of no school tomorrow and possibly for a long time. English comparatives no longer seemed a bit important. The test next week that we were supposely reviewing for probably would not be happening anyways.

Soon to be roaming the streets...........

Soon to be roaming the streets...........

This is a nationwide strike. It could last one day. It could last one week. It could last one month. Conceivably, we public school volunteers may not work again if this thing drags on for a month. We have one month left. The teachers are still demanding their money owed to them by the government: bonuses, historic debt to some teachers left over from the Pinochet regime (which the current government doesn’t think it is responsible for), and reimbursement for money spent on professional development. Yesterday, I saw a news flash of the teacher’s negotiators getting up and walking away from the table and out of the room in a meeting with the government. The current strike comes on the heels of a multi-week strike in May/June, and a one day strike a week and a half ago. The teachers in Iquique opted out of the one day strike a week and a half ago, but most are on board for this one. There will be marching in the streets. Remain informed by following the news on TV, radio, etc., to know when normal activities will be returned to. Hurry up and wait.

Hurry up and wait...........

Hurry up and wait...........

Calm before the storm.........

Calm before the storm.........

Empty patio

Empty patio

La Roja

October 20, 2009
Fanaticos de la Roja

Los Fanaticos de La Roja

Soccer (futbol) undisputedly sits on top of the sports world here in Chile. And soccer crazed Chile is on cloud 9 after La Roja, nickname for the national team, qualified for the World Cup last week with a 4-2 win over Colombia. They followed this up with a final qualification match 1-0 win over Ecuador. Chile’s jerseys are red, like the blood of a country, hence the nickname. We have been here in Chile to watch on TV four of the qualifying matches with rival South American countries. The first two in September, a disappointing tie against Venezuela  and a crushing (but not really surprising) loss to Brazil, we watched at home and dined on incredibly delicious soft shell tacos cooked up by Kitxi. Unfortunately, the disappointing results were blamed on the tacos. Tacos = mala suerte. The taco tradition was abandoned for the next two matches, and the results were two victories and qualification for La Roja.  No mas tacos.

Chile last qualified for the World Cup in 1998. This year they finished second in the South American rankings. They ended up tied with Paraguay on points, but came out ahead on goals. Brazil sits atop the South American heap. Chile is second. Paraguay is third. And Argentina is fourth. The top four are headed directly to South Africa for the 2010 World Cup. The possibility of a fifth South American entry, Uruguay, exists depending on the outcome of a qualifying playoff with other countries on the cusp of qualifying. La Roja will be carrying the hopes of 16 million Chileans on their shoulders next winter in South Africa. Every game is a national event. Success measured in cheers or tears. Both will likely be flowing next winter.

La Roja wannabe

La Roja wannabe

El Dia del Maestro

October 18, 2009

Friday, October 16, was el Dia del Maestro, Teacher’s Day, here in Chile. In many of our classes during the week, the Profesora had kids making cards for the occasion to give to their profesor or profesora of choice. They were coloring English coloring book sheets, with wishes in English, slicing them up and creating cards with them. Of course, only about half of the kids bothered to do it, despite me constantly encouraging and pushing them. That is the biggest problem I see in class. The profesora assigns them something, then sits at the front grading other papers, recording attendance, writing comments in the grade book, walking out of class and doing god knows what for 10 minutes, etc…without really monitoring whether students understand and are on task or not. With the end result being, at the end of class students show her their work, and if they finished they get a grade, and if they didn’t, they don’t. I see way too much busy work given, with no real idea of checking for true comprehension and formulative evaluation going on. Usually, about half the students are on task and half are not. With me roaming around and encouraging, providing them with needed supplies, and monitoring, most will get on task. I find a lot have no real clue what they are supposed to be doing, until I explain it to them. And there are always a few stubborn ones who refuse to do anything no matter what I do. Making cards was pretty straight forward and easy, but there were many who did not make even one in the hour and half given. However, I will focus on the positive. Many students did make some real colorful beauties to give to their favorite teacher.

For el Dia del Maestro, the 8th graders voted me the best profesor at Placido Villaroell. A touching tribute that I hope they all remember next time they are not listening to me! That night there was a teacher appreciation blowout put on by the Ministry for all the municipale teachers in Iquique in the gym of my school. Usually, it is a dinner and dance affair at a snazzy restaurant\ballroom. But this year, due to the ministry’s lack of cash, it took place in the snazzed up gymnasium of my school, with no dinner. Probably partly funded by my still unpaid stipends! The bureaucratic shuffle continues.  The invitation said the party started at 10 p.m. But knowing how things go here in Chile, we decided to show up at 10.45 p.m., still too early! The party finally got kicked off after 11:00 p.m. There was champagne, cake, mixed drinks, and lots of dancing, with the usual critiques of my moves. Chilean dancing seems very formulaic and rigid to me. The men look like speed walkers with lots of arm swinging. The women stick their rears in the air asking to be slapped.  I do not have the proper moves, and people love to try to coach me instead of just letting a man dance in his own uniquely, awkward way. Endless critiquing is a sure fire way to get me to sit down and watch. Which should always be a person’s harassment free option. Dancing is not an obligation, but seems to be treated as such here. There was a live three piece band (drums, guitar, and keyboards (providing horns, extra drums, etc…). But the highlight was a 30 minute session by a local Iquique brass band who came marching in and sessioned on the gym floor amongst the dancers. Very psychadelic brass band music. The sound reminded me of the black high school marching bands in the Mobile Mardi Gras parades I attended in my youth. Great sounds. Very different from the stereotypical Latin rythms of the main three piece band. But the dancing remained the same. Formulaic and off beat to the sound of the brass band. The party was a good time and fun to see the teachers letting it all hang out, which they have very little problem with. We bowed out around 1:30 a.m. and walked home.  The party went on without us for another several hours. Upon our arrival at home after 2 a.m., Mario and Kitxi looked at us and wondered  why we were home so early. A post 2 a.m. arrival home is more than respectable back home, but it is lightweight in Chile. Happy Teacher’s Day to all!

Tacna, Peru

October 17, 2009
Arica-Tacna Ferrocarril

Arica-Tacna Ferrocarril

Travel Dates: October 13 & 14, 2009

The Arica-Tacna Ferrocarril (train) runs every Monday-Saturday. It runs round trip, starting and ending in Tacna, twice a day. It departs Arica at 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. One way tickets are 1300 Chilean Pesos (7 Peruvian Sol). We caught the 9 a.m. train from Arica on Tuesday morning. The train is a one car affair, with the conductor in the front in his own compartment. Bench seats are lined out two by two, some on their own facing forward, some facing each other. The train can probably hold around 50 passengers in total. Em grabbed us a bench facing forward at the front of the train, just behind the conductor. Unfortunately, Peru tourist posters block the view into the conductor’s compartment and out of the front of the train. I guess the conductor requires his privacy from his charges in back. We contented ourselves with the views out of our side window.

Riding the rails

Riding the rails

Front of the train in Arica

Front of the train in Arica

El conductor

El conductor

The train starts out from the Estacion de Ferrocarril in central Arica next to the port. The tracks run close to the ocean for the first 20 minutes of the trip before it curves away and the train runs through the outskirts of Arica and through the flat sandy desert that makes up the no man’s land between Chile and Peru. Border disputes and tensions still linger from the War of the Pacific and its aftermath over 120 years ago. The military of the two countries think, maybe even hope, things will come to a head in 2012 with both sides prepared for armed conflict if necessary as Peru seeks to move the border further south, which Chile is not in agreement with. Meanwhile, Bolivia is still left with no coast. The Bolivian Navy patrols only the waters of their rivers and lakes, like Lake Titicaca. Much to the amusement of the Chileans. The Bolivians dream of regaining a coast for their landlocked country. Don’t think it will happen unless Chile drops into the sea in 2012.

Ferrocaril parked in Tacna

Ferrocarril parked in Tacna

Tacna Station

Tacna Station

Tacna Station

Tacna Station

Our bumpy train journey lasted just over an hour and a half. It rolled us through the shanty town outskirts of Tacna, visions of District 9 rolling through our heads. Vast areas of the outskirts of the city are half constructed with bricks and cinder blocks. A huge work in progress, I think partially funded by the government in an attempt to replace desert shanty towns constructed with less permanent materials to a more permanent neighborhood of bricks and concrete. We spied a few brand new and pristine looking playgrounds at the center of a few of the developments that looked like a shanty town version of a planned community. The train rolled into the older more established center of Tacna, the conductor honking and yelling out of his window at human and auto obstructions in the tracks, running through narrow streets. We soon arrived at the Tacna station, which sits in the center of town. After Chile’s spring ahead to daylights savings time over the weekend, Peru now sits two hours behind Chile. So we actually arrived earlier than we left. By the time we cleared customs, it was just about 9 a.m. Peruvian time. I adjusted my watch to Peruvian time, and Em kept hers on Chilean time so we could keep track of both and avoid any further confusion of time disasters. After inquiries, we figured out the train back to Arica left at 4 p.m. Peruvian time. The ticket office opened at 2:30 p.m., and we needed to be in line, to clear customs and board, by 3:30 p.m. So it gave us about six and a half hours to explore Tacna.

Tacna Cathedral

Back of Tacna Cathedral

Front of Tacna Cathedral

Front of Tacna Cathedral

Tacna Wall

Tacna Wall

We headed out on foot into the town. We had spied the landmark Cathedral out the train window, and headed their first. The impressive Gothic Cathedral was built in the 1950’s and is the centerpiece of town. We appreciated it from without and within, relaxing and roaming inside its peaceful interior for an hour before heading back out into the main square. I got my shoes shined by persistent lustrabotes (my desert worn shoes were in dire need) in front of the fountain in the square. After my shoe shining, we looked for a place to change money. I first stopped into a bank, but they did not change Chilean Pesos (they wanted US dollars). But he said there were plenty of money changers just down the street. And his word was good. Armies of them lined the street, many counting up big wads of US dollars, undoubtedly disappointed that I only carried Chilean Pesos. I stopped in at an exchange house and converted 10,000 Chilean Pesos. The going exchange rate was about 200 Chilean Pesos = 1 Peruvian Sol. About US$1 = 3  Peruvian Sol. US$1 = 550 Chilean Pesos.

Beardos in line

Beardos in line

Naked Mannequins

Naked Mannequins

Roaming Bolognesi

Roaming Bolognesi

Armed with the correct currency (we exchanged another 6000 Chilean Pesos for Sol later in the day), we roamed again, making our way over to one of the main commercial drags, Avenue Bolognesi. The middle of the avenue is lined with a nice palm tree lined walkway. On either side of the street, every kind of store imaginable lines the way. Including, lots of dentist and optometrist offices with barkers on the sidewalk beckoning those in need inside. I guess dentist and eye work comes cheaper in Tacna. The city and region of Tacna is also a duty free zone. A lot of people come here to shop, especially from Chile. Apparently, a lot of people buy school uniforms in Tacna because they are significantly cheaper to get in Tacna than in Arica or Iquique. We kept our purchases to a minimum. Our biggest being lunch. Mostly we just roamed, visiting an older church and a patriotic history museum on our way. The center of Tacna is very conducive to aimless wandering.

Cristobal Colon

Cristobal Colon in Tacna

Cathedral stained glass

Cathedral stained glass

Cathedral Detail

Cathedral Detail

After securing tickets and some refreshments for the ride back to Arica, we cleared customs and reboarded the train. It pulled out just after 4 p.m. Peruvian time, putting us back in Arica at 7:30 p.m. Chilean time. We walked back to Residencial Arica where we had stashed our packs and jumped a micro to the bus station, getting there at 8 p.m. A bus left for Iquique at 9 p.m., which worked out perfectly. It gave us time to buy tickets and get a bite to eat before our 5 hour ride back to Iquique. Iron Man in Spanish was the feature film for the first half the ride, followed by sleep, arrival in Iquique, a taxi home, and bed at 3 a.m. Work came far too early the next day.

War Hero Bolognesi

War Hero Bolognesi

Painting a steeple

Painting a steeple

Tacna Corner

Tacna Corner

Putre

October 15, 2009
Peeping Toms

Peeping Toms

October 9-12, 2009

After school and taking in Tarantino’s newest movie, Inglorious Bastards (which we both enjoyed immensely), on Thursday we got a jumpstart on our trip to Putre. Looking down the barrel of a 5 day birthday weekend, we decided on a night bus to Arica, where we would catch another bus to Putre. We jumped the 1:30 am bus north from Iquique to Arica, an oceanside city on the Peruvian border. We arrived in Arica at 5:45am, and soon figured out that the bus to Putre, La Paloma, left from another place at 7 am. We grabbed a taxi and arrived in front of the La Paloma compound at 6:20 am, and settled in on a park bench for our wait. Groggy eyed and fried we climbed on the bus at 7 am for a dream like 2 hour journey from the Pacific up through the Atacama desert to the Aymara village of Putre, located in the precordillera of the Andes at 3,500 meters on the edge of Lauca National Park, which sprawls across the Altiplano on the Chilean/Bolivian border.

Sleepy streets of Putre

Sleepy streets of Putre

We pulled into Putre around 9:30 a.m., and disembarked at the center square. I dropped in at the tourist office, which was amazingly open (apparently it is not open on weekends!), and was cordially helped and laid out with some great information and maps. I also inquired about going into the church and was taken over to the keeper of the key, who said she was busy at the moment (sitting on her ass probably), but I could come back  later, between 2 to 2:30pm. We did come back later, but she was of course nowhere to be found. In our four days there, including Sunday, we never saw the church open once. We had to content ourselves with admiring it from the outside.

Putre Church: What lies within?

Putre Church: What lies within?

Putre is a very sleepy town. It seems to be slowly incorporating more and more tourism into its economy, but it has a long way to go to catch up to the full blown San Pedro de Atacama further south in the Antofagasta Region (III). The town is nestled in a precordillera valley on a table of land wedged between canyons. It is surrounded by terraced slopes growing alfalfa and home to around 2,000 people. We found a room at the Hotel Cali, had some coffee and lunch, roamed around, took a nap, and headed back out for a sunset hike above one of the creek carved canyons. After a couple beers in the room, we turned in early after a long day.  We had contemplated taking a tour of Lauca National Park the next day, but everytime we stopped by a tour office, they were closed or abandoned. So, we figured we would make it up as we went along the following day.

Caballos de Putre

Caballos de Putre

We woke around 9 am on Saturday, and I roamed by some abandoned tour offices. Then, we decided to rent a car instead. We rented a 4X4 from the Cali and hit the road to Lauca National Park at 10:30am. We climbed and climbed, belching black smoke at times from our ride. We headed to Lago Chungara first. An Altiplano lake in the park that sits at 4,500 meters, right on the Bolivian border. The 6,300 meter tall snow capped volcano Parinacota looms over the lake filled with nesting birds. We had a great picnic lunch lakeside out of the back of our ride. From the lake we headed back down the road to the llama/alpaca herding Aymara town of Parinacota, which made sleepy Putre seem like a thriving metropolis. We roamed the pueblo, seeing all of two people. Amazingly enough, upon inquiry, one of them held the key to the church and let us in for a look. Its adobe walls are covered with old paintings of heaven of hell and everything in between.  From Parinacota, Em took over the controls of our ride and we headed down the road to Las Cuevas, taking in llama, alpaca, vicuna, flamingo, etc… filled bofedals along the way.

Our ride at Lago Chugara

Our ride at Lago Chungara

Em and volcanoes

Em and volcanoes

Vicuna

Vicuna

Roaming the Altiplano

Roaming the Altiplano

Iglesia de Parinacota

Iglesia de Parinacota

Mural in Parinacota church

Mural in Parinacota church

At Las Cuevas, we took a soak in the termas (hot springs) housed in a stone hut off the side of the road. We had the bath to ourselves as the wind howled outside. It was more of a warm spring then a hot spring. 10 degrees hotter would have been ideal, but it was relaxing none the less. After our bath, we took a 3 km vicuna filled walk. Then we started our winding trip back down to Putre with a stop at another termas for a look see. We arrived back in Putre just after six. Just in time to catch the Colombia vs. Chile World Cup qualifier as we dined at a local restaurant. Chile emerged victorious 4-2, much to everyone’s delight. La Roja is headed to South Africa in 2010.

Las Cuevas Termas

Las Cuevas Termas

Vicuna muerto

Vicuna muerto

Skullls in Parinacota church

Skulls in Parinacota church

We planned on heading to Arica on Sunday at 2 p.m, the one La Paloma bus departure of the day back to Arica (Everyday: Arica to Putre at 7 a.m. Putre to Arica at 2 p.m.). We checked out of our lodging at what we thought was 11 a.m., stashed our packs, and headed out for a hike in the surrounding country side. After a nice walk and some time relaxing in the sun in the plaza, we showed back up at the Cali to grab our bags at 1:30 p.m. Plenty of time to spare for our 2 p.m. departure. We were wrong. A Spanish Laurel and Hardy routine soon ensued between us and two of the housekeepers. Roughly translated into English:

“Are you taking the La Paloma bus to Arica?”

“Yes.”

“It left at 2.p.m.”

“Yes, it leaves at 2.p.m”

“No, it already left.”

“But it is 1:30 now.”

“No, it is 2:30.”

“No, it is 1:30 (pointing to watch).”

“No, it is 2:30.”

Continues with some untintelligible exasperation towards the clueless gringos on part of the housekeepers .

Finally, as the conversation continued, we figured out that the time had changed. Like in the U.S., Chile has daylights saving time, spring ahead, fall back. But of course with the opposite seasons of the southern hemisphere, the spring ahead is in October, and the fall back is in March or April. So, it was in fact now a hour ahead and 2:30 p.m., and we had missed the only bus of the day back to Arica. So, we were staying another night in Putre. We checked back in our same room, now minus the shelving unit that had been in there. Scavenged by one of the permanent residents for their own room. We unpacked once again and then headed out for a beautiful hike up in the hills, that made missing the bus well worth it. Another night in peaceful Putre was a treat. The next day, after another nice walk with watches set to the correct time, we did actually make the 2 p.m. bus to Arica, where we spent the night in the Residencial Arica (a screaming deal at 8,500 pesos for a double room without a bathroom). We also secured tickets on the train from Arica to Tacna, Peru for the following morning.

Putre Aqueduct tunnel

Putre Aqueduct tunnel

Hiking a Putre canyon

Hiking a Putre canyon

Hiking down canyon

Hiking down canyon

To be continued…..(Next stop Tacna, Peru).