Isabella the virtual traveller begins a new series for Chileno taking us on a thought-provoking viaje of discovery, travelling the length and breadth of the long and thin country. From El Norte Grande to Antartica, from Los Andes to the Pacific Ocean, Isabella discovers the richness of the country, describing geography, flora and fauna, people and customs along her way.
Some descriptions are of a geographical nature and unsurprisingly the effects of such a diverse habitat will show themselves in the lives of cultures of the people that I “meet”. This is a country of extremes as it passes through so many latitudes and this will be reflected in the many differing lifestyles that I will encounter. Preparing for my viaje, I delved into copious books and sources, to whet my appetite for what was to come. Fascinated by my discoveries, I could hardly wait to depart. Chile can be found in South America with Peru to the north and Cabo de Hornos being the southerly point. Then travel onwards across Drake Passage to Antarctica of which 1.2 million square miles belong to Chile.
Known as un pais largo y angosto, it is a very long and narrow country reaching from only 19 degrees south of the equator almost to the South Pole. Because of this the climate varies from region to region. It is bordered to the west by the Pacific Ocean and to the east by Bolivia and Argentina. The Andes is the major mountain range in South America running parallel to the Pacific Ocean from Tierra del Fuego to the Caribbean passing through Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela. There are 200 volcanoes in Chile only about a quarter of which are active.
El Desierto de Atacama stretches from the Peruvian border to the river Copiapó which is south of the town of the same name further to the south of Antofagasta. The Pacific coastal range is to the west and the Cordillera de Domeyko to the east. The Atacama Desert is said to be the driest desert on earth, little or no rain makes it inland to the desert and fog is the only moisture to reach inland from the Pacific. The prevailing winds blow offshore, pushing the surface water out to sea, which is replaced by cold water drawn up from below. Moist air is chilled by this process and condenses out at sea as rain or forms Camanchaca (dense banks of fog) along the coast. The day begins with the Camanchaca which the sun dissipates by early afternoon. Nature can adapt and there is an extraordinary air plant called Tillandsia Latifolia which grows in the desert. It has no roots at all and just has stiff, springy leaves arranged in a ball, whenever the wind blows, it rolls across the desert. The structure is designed to capture moisture from the fog. I am looking forward to finding out more about the marvels of nature as I journey on.
The temperature of Chile averages 20 degrees C and rarely goes below 8 degrees or over 35 degrees, the temperature of the interior is higher than that of the coast and clouds are rare. The border with Peru is the beginning of the region called Norte Grande and there is a problem with water here. Because of lack of rain, the river valleys crossing the northern desert are dry for most of the year. Water from the Andean snow-melt is insufficient to allow the rivers to actually reach the coast, so water has to be piped to where it is needed.
Watch for my next entry as I arrive in the northern-most city of Chile, Arica. It has an interesting history and enjoys a mild climate. What will I feel about this city on the Ocean? It will be my first taste of life in this country that has captured my imagination – will it capture my heart too?