Saturday, March 4, 2017

Day 12: San Pedro de Atacama, Altiplanos and Dinner and a Movie

Day 12:  San Pedro de Atacama

Sandra and Oscar showboating for the camera: the van and lunch are both terrific

Weather:  Sunny (and out float the hot air balloons), cool in the Alto Plano, hot in San Pedro

Questions of the Day:  Unbelievable, have we been anywhere prettier than this? And, what is the Tropic of Capricorn?

Roadwork near the Tropic of Capricorn

Answers of the Day: It’s a bit of a memory test for us: we believe this has to be a top five spot. 

Answer #2, The Tropic of Capricorn: on this excursion we crossed it twice; it is the southernmost latitude where the sun can be seen directly overhead. Any further south and it can’t be seen directly overhead.

THB managed to capture birds on the wing and DB figured out how to zoom in and save. Hopefully you can see that the flamingo in flight has a white tail and black feathers under the wing

Department of Corrections: On those flamingoes from yesterday, the black tail feathers aren't the tail: when the juveniles have black feathers on their wings and then they tuck their wings in when not flying the black feathers somehow congregate on their rear ends. 

Quinoa protected from birds by plastic bags

Somehow this gorgeous, smooth stretch of road is a photo op

Another very nice breakfast buffet and then we’re awaiting our guide for the 9am to 4pm tour of the Alto Plano. It seems like a long day. Our guide, Sandra, greets us and finds the other married couple, two men from Sao Paolo. THB is feeling better: no third seat in the van for THB today. Outside, we meet Oscar our driver, and lo and behold we are in a new red van today. Sandra explains that the van from yesterday is an old one, and that Tierra replaces them every year (well, not quite). Today, we have one of the newer models, plus we will be on better roads for good portion of the drive.

It’s a long way to the Alto Plano (Altiplanicas in the local indigenous dialect), and spectacular all the way today because of the clarity of the air. We’re driving south and the Andes are along the left side of the van to the east. Snow-capped volcano after volcano and long vistas out towards valley and salt lagoons to the west.


We make a stop in a village to see quinoa and corn, a church that is closed, and to take a break from the van (hardly necessary: this puppy is new-ish, comfortable and quiet).

lots of tourists have made the journey

The end of the drive is to see and walk along and eat lunch by the two lagoons, Agua Calientes and Tuyajto. The color of much of the water is “Tiffany” blue and up close it is very, very clear! It is also getting pretty cool, probably in the low 50s with a cold breeze.
Even though it is prohibited, some guides do not keep their charges out off the lagoon

Sandra and Oscar set up lunch while we explore the lagoon shoreline, spotting what we believe are snowy plovers, the local protected bird at Monterey Dunes (if these birds can make it in northern Chile, something tells me they will survive the coming climate change).

These are shots of the shoreline, note the various mineral colors; the water is only a few inches deep

Like a crack in the sea ice

The lunch view

Lunch is terrific: this is the picnic when you were growing up that was on the table next to your meager array of bologna sandwiches and potato chips and over-mayo’d potato salad. Roast chicken, great French bread (this loaf would be at the top of the Bay Area versions), veggie quiche with great crust, quinoa veggie salad, wine, peach crumble, and a view from our chairs of the Andes and blue lagoons. 

Okay, it is being served at over 12,000 feet and it is cool and there’s a breeze. Still…THB and DB (amid complimenting the meal) are discussing how high on our list this spot goes…very high, and not just for the altitude!!
Large rodent, moved too fast to get a pic

When THB masters zoom and post, you'll be able to see rhea somewhere else than in a crossword puzzle

The next sequence is THB taking a pic looking in each direction at the special turnoff spot, starting with the van

After lunch, Sandra and Oscar take us off-road to a spot overlooking the near lagoon, an option done by the guide/driver, not normally included in the tour. While that takes an extra half-hour, it is one of those “how did we get here” specials.

The move in small herds, usually an alpha male and up to seven breeding females

Back to Tierra, and this time the air visibility is pristine and the Andes pop mile after mile. Damn!

THB is on the phone with AMEX for over 2 hours, 95% of the time on hold while they attempt to change our last in-country LAN flight to Santiago because LAN has booked us with only an hour between getting off the plane from Temuco and on to the non-stop to LAX. We’re pretty sure that’s impossible even though that’s the way LAN booked it and guaranteed the transfer would work. Gives THB a chance to catch up on the blog.

What does that guarantee mean if we miss the connection? They put us up at the Santiago Airport Holiday Inn, maybe respect our business class tickets, they don’t care if we miss our Southwest Airlines flight from LAX to Oakland the next morning?

AMEX can’t resolve the impasse by putting us on an flight 5 hours earlier to Santiago, and promises to call us with resolution tomorrow. THB has a theory:  LAN has oversold business class and this is their way of making sure they spread those tickets over multiple flights. Oh, and they hate their agreement with AMEX. LAN claims the two flights (the one arriving one hour earlier and the non-stop Santiago-LAX) are linked and can't be decoupled. 

THB goes for a dip, runs into Swiss guy from yesterday’s Valle de la Luna excursion and we compare notes on today’s excursions. They hiked a couple of hours to hot springs and floated around; that’s up for DB and THB tomorrow, everything but the hiking part.

Dinner and a movie! Pisco sours on the back deck of dining room looking at snow-capped volcanoes followed by King Crab stacked between crackers salad, duck ravioli in sweet sauce, seared thin ahi over wok’d veggies and sharp mango sorbet over a weird circular cookie covered with a layer of chocolate. We agree that was a shareable moment. Nope, we each had our own dessert.
The view from our room in late afternoon...volcanoes!

Something called the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour is being shown outdoors at the far end of the Tierra property. Far end meaning at least a ¼ mile from the dining room in a party enclave. The films are shorts of extreme sports. For instance: a guy riding a mountain bike down a steel trail on the side of a cliff. How steep? The people climbing the trail have to clip into a ½ inch steel cable imbedded in the rock, with drop offs of 100s of feet. The biker is either a) giddy or b) giddy crazy.

We stay for several of the shorts, THB and DB are hoping to be able to sleep without nightmares.
Part of the boardwalk between the dining room and the movie theater

Bonus round: it’s clear out tonight and the stars are present in multitudes against a starkly black sky.

Ohhhhhhhh whaaaaaaat a daaaaaaaaay it wasssssssssssssss

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