Monday, March 6, 2017

Day 14: San Pedro de Atacama to Santiago

Day 14:  San Pedro de Atacama to Santiago
The shots of the moon came to THB via the Brits who got them from the guy who led their astronomy excursion that THB and DB weren't told about at the Tierra. We probably wouldn't have stayed up that late anyway!
Weather:  Very cold at 5am and dropping to the low 20s at 6:45, warming during the day to hot in early afternoon in San Pedro, dropping again at Calama airport in late afternoon, then warm in Santiago for a net difference of close to 60 degrees; with ups and downs THB is probably inappropriately dressed only 50% of the time

Quote of the Day: 

·       To whom are we going to ask to be forgiven? To the one who tried to kill us? To the one who tried to destroy our country? To whom?
·       Our choices should be the product of deep meditations. Note: See book review below

Outside the "facilities"

The line for the women

The location of the geysers at around 15k feet

Today is our last day in San Pedro de Atacama and for our last excursion we are leaving for the geysers at 5am. That means THB does not really get a good night’s sleep, and is awake and moving well before the wake-up call. There are nine of us going today: a family of five from Brazil (the three boys appear to be nicely spaced at 5, 10 and 15 years old) with a separate guide; the Brits are again alongside and we have a familiar guide, Nicholas.

Pre-breakfast at the hotel is excellent chocolate chip pound cake and café con leche. We drive about 1 ¾ hours to the entrance to the geysers and toilets (apparently everyone arriving here needs the nicely maintained facilities). Per Nicholas, the geysers are “owned” by several local villages and they collect fees, which Tierra covers…it is an all-inclusive and every excursion is imbedded in our rates. THB thinks we are paying the equivalent of $15 pp. Nicholas implies that the community collects a ton of money (some days there can be a thousand people here) and doesn’t plow much back; e.g., some of the walkways and separators are just painted red rocks. Nicholas would like to see more structures, more safety, and more education.

Some rocks haven't been painted yet

Nicholas talking to two 5-layer tourists (the one on the left admitted to wearing two pair of pants)

No matter, the place is fascinating and the reason for the early start and arriving in the pre-dawn light is to see the steam rising off the hot water. When the sun hits the field, the steam evaporates quickly and all you can see is water that might be hot or not (mostly, it is very hot!).
was this before or after Nicholas told the story of the Belgium woman who burned to death because she got distracted while taking pictures?

She fell in a pool like this one

Was this before or after Nicholas told the story of the Donner party disappearing after a geyser eruption? 

It may look like a huddle and cuddle, there must be 12 layers separating THB and DB (honey, is that you?)

We tour slowly; there are probably 300 other tourists here and they appear to be on the clock.  Even through his 4 layers of shirts/jacket/cashmere hoodie, a hat, ear muffs, and thick socks, THB is starting to get very cold. Finally, THB is heading back to the van to recover when Nicholas says it is time to start getting breakfast ready. THB and DB drink café con leche in the van while Nicholas and the driver do breakfast prep.

As the sun is rising, we’re having breakfast next to the van with a view of a number of rising steam clouds and the ever-present snow-capped mountains THB has been over-hyping the last few days. Avocado and bread, avocado and crackers, biscuits (THB is surprised the Brits haven’t jumped on them), cereal and yogurt that goes untouched, cheese and sliced ham, mas café con leche.
Thermal transmission equipment left behind from 40 years ago; the experiment failed

The "before" image: steam full of minerals creates a boulder over thousands and thousands of years of emissions

The after image: the hole seals up and it looks like boulder landed right here after a volcanic eruption

This is one of the few active volcanoes in this area. Note the caldera (scooped out area) near the peak; those are not clouds, the steam coming from inside the mountain

The sun is out and we’re getting warmer by the minute and start to shed layers. Time to get the van moving for a few more stops on the way back to Tierra. One stop is by a wetlands where we see plovers/pipers/coots/geese; another is by a village with toilets and domesticated llamas.
Blog follower karma: if THB had not got necrotized and we had been on our original schedule, the days in the Atacama would have been filled with storms. Instead, you followers get snow-capped peaks reflected in mountain "lakes"

Pics from wetlands: 
Those are piles of sulfur, strip-mined

If the flamingos don't have black feathers, they are Chilean

If they have black feathers, they are Andino

By the time we’re back at Tierra around noon we’re down to one layer of clothes (no, THB is not in his underwear) ­­and exhausted from lack of sleep (THB did not nap in the bus in either direction, though it is clear the others did). We get our packing organized, eat a small lunch of soup and small veggie tart (no dessert), settle up with the Tierra, and return to our room for a short nap for THB.

A Bucky Fuller special: it is the meteorite museum, THB and DB didn't walk far enough through San Pedro to see it (or stay long enough to visit it)

What does settling up mean at an all-inclusive? There are guidelines provided by our travel agent, and we use these to make the following assignments: $20 for Natalia (she led the Valley of the Moon excursion), $50 each for Sandra and Nicholas, our guides for the other four excursions, and $80 for the staff (which supposedly goes into some general pool). While the first check-out person is adding the amounts to our laundry bill, the second check-out person seems genuinely appreciative for the staff amount. Maybe it isn’t such a normal thing?

Banff Film Festival suitcase: nobody was running off with this bag

Scary story: When we get back, much to our surprise, the Parisians are in the lobby. They were leaving today via the bus to Argentina. In the bus station in San Pedro, she went outside for a moment and a pair of thieves distracted Mr Parisian (they must be in 60s) and ran off with their bags (THB and DB aren’t clear if it was all their bags or just the ones with their important stuff) and left them without (at a minimum) passports, money, cameras; just copies of their passports. They spent time in the police station (THB and DB and KB did that in Costa Rica 19 years ago; it is a waste of time) and now the hotel was helping them figure out next steps. It is doubtful that Argentina will let them in with just copies of passports so they may be coming instead to Santiago to visit the French Consulate. Will we see them in Santiago?!! 

In any case, to tie a bow on this story: we will be seeing BH, our nephew, whom we saw in Costa Rica all those years ago and, after our stuff got taken from our rental car, tomorrow night in Santiago; he lent THB a pair of shorts and a tee-shirt all those many years ago. That's pretty much all you need in Costa Rica anyway. The big loss on that trip: a large paperback bio of Lewis Carroll that THB hadn't quite finished.

We share the shuttle to the airport with the Banff Mountain Film Festival guy and his two kids and the daughter’s boyfriend (the pair sure look young to THB! Of course, THB sure looks old to them!). It’s about 1 ¼ hours to the airport, plenty of time for the adults to fill the shuttle with idle chatter. We pass a large solar farm and a large wind turbine farm. There’s a nearby copper mine and the suggestion in the van is that the mine needs the renewable energy. Maybe…

Easy through security and a wait for the incoming plane to arrive. Boarding on LAN is a Southwest hybrid: one line for preferential, one long line for rows 15-29, and the last long line for rows 1-14, and they board in that order also. We’re in row 12 on all our internal LAN flights, so we’re in the 3rd group to board, usually near the front. It seems to work fairly well, though THB and DB wonder if some of the people at the back of 1-14 scoot over and get in the back of the 15-29 line. If you followed this description, GO TO THE FRONT OF THE TravelsofTHB LINE!

Okay sports fan: will this LAN flight, standing in for our upcoming LAN flight, the one with the one hour time span for THB and DB to make the Santiago-LAX connection, be on time? Give us enough time to run through the airport with our bags?

The flight is early, and we’re off the plane before the scheduled arrival. Oh well, maybe LAN is that good! On top of that, we’re at the exit before our transfer has arrived. We recognize the guy that picked us up exactly two weeks ago, Juan. He’s surprised, we’re not his clients today. Another guy walks up holding the Briskin Party sign…he’s our guy.

He drops us off at the Hotel Cumbres Lastarria, around the corner from the Hotel Singular, amidst a huge swarming crowd of people maneuvering between people selling handicrafts on blankets laid out on the sidewalks.

Our room is made for one businessperson.
The sink is to left, bed just to right, and the door to the shower opens the wrong way into the room

Long hallway to get in room

There is room for a small circular table, chair and baggage bench at the end of the bed

Rather than join the hordes around the hotel, we opt to dine in the restaurant upstairs. Everybody here speaks to THB and DB in English, regardless of whether we attempt Espanol or not, and quickly, not waiting for us to even complete half-sentences. We’re in the big city now!!

THB thinks this is coming out of a filtered water system into a reusable glass bottle. Who is in charge of the EPA now? Is there still an EPA? Oh, wait, we're in they have an EPA?

We share grilled pulpo (THB likes it a lot) and Thai cappellini (noodles in creamy curry with mushrooms and two shrimp), two complementary glasses of wine + one more, for a total of $40, including tip (there’s actually a line on the receipt for tip, which may be a first on the trip). 

Book Review: The Discovery of Slowness, Sten Nadolny (novel, pub’d 2003, extremely well translated by Ralph Freedman): THB does not normally read translations. This one (a moderate oldie) was recommended by the NY’er artist/designer Christoph Niemann in the first episode of Abstract, The Art of Design (now streaming from somewhere, recommended by KB and also very good). Niemann couldn’t really remember the name of the book, THB hunted it down. Obscure, no?

It’s the story of John Franklin, a real Brit naval explorer from the early 1800s who, per the author, took in visual information in an unusual way and took a long time to process aural input as well, and thus was very slow to respond. When he did, it was in a long-view, thoughtful way. Think Type A’s and the slowest Type B you know and respect for providing an alternate point of view.  THB has read a lot of these sea-battle-Admiral-Nelson and find-the-pole-in-deep-winter books and so this one seemed really familiar. It was all the slow stuff that was new, and much appreciated. Context is everything: sometimes you feel you’re miles ahead and sometimes you just want the person you’re with to slow down to your pace and stop interrupting you all the time. Highly Recommended

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