Valparaiso – it gets knocked down, it gets up again!

Walking through the main streets of the port area of #Valparaiso #Chile early one morning, it was eerily quiet and deserted, with very little traffic. This though was not the 11 September 1973, the day the military coup against the Allende government started, although perhaps it was a little like that then. This was in fact 20 April 2017, census day, when everyone was required to remain home and be counted. In 1973 they’d been required to remain home or be shot by the military & police in their streets, or bombed by the Chilean navy situated in the port & bay, with their naval guns facing the city. To this day the Chilean navy remains based in Valparaiso, with ships in the port harbour, just a warning perhaps?

The 1973 military coup was one of many knocks taken by Valparaiso over the years – another was the fact that General Augusto Pinochet, the coup leader & soon-to-be dictator, was a son of Valparaiso, born there in 1915. But as ever Valparaiso bounces back, and today is home to the Chilean Congress (since 1990 when Pinochet stepped down), a greatly recovering local economy, and maintains a strong alternative/bohemian culture alongside it’s working class & international roots. Continue reading

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The Ascensores (funicular railways) of #Valparaiso sure test your vertigo!

Artilleria – view from top

The ‘ascensores’ of #Valparaiso, #Chile (funicular railways, but literally translated meaning ‘escalators’) are these days more of a tourist attraction, but when first built their function was largely to move the workers up and down from Valparaiso’s main port & business area faster. Today those that remain provide a test of one’s vertigo, and nerve, and some stunning views of the city, and they are cheap too costing 100 to 300 pesos (12p to 35p) each way.

On our ‘Tours for Tips‘ excellent walking tour, we’re sure they said the first acsensor was built in 1868, and that there were once 33 of them, however other sources give figures such as 25 or less in total and the first built was in 1883 (Ascensores Concepcion – now back in operation). What is clear is that only 8 appear to remain in operation today, and some of them are regularly closed for maintenance. This website (in spanish, and not updated since 2013) gives some info on the individual ascensors – Ascensores de Valparaiso. Continue reading

#potd – Birds on the Beach in La Serena (at the Mouth of the River Elqui)

If you walk down Avenida De Aguirre some 2km to the coast from the city of La Serena (central Chile), and head north along the beach for another 25 minutes, you’ll be in for a real bird-life surprise. At the mouth of the River Elqui and on the surrounding beach you’ll find flocks of birds of numerous different types, to the extent that it’s an almost eery place to be – alone amongst so many birds.

looking south

On the occassions we went it was just us, the odd lone fisherman a little upriver, a rather windswept lone nudist, too much polluting rubbish, and a hell of a lot of birds. Initially timid, they soon ignored us (the birds that is) and regrouped all around, waiting we presume for the sea tide to bring them some fish for lunch. It was fascinating to sit quietly and just watch their movements & behaviours (note – we know sod all about birds!). Continue reading

#potd: Stations of the Gross – a Concrete Monstrosity

During Semana Santa (Easter Week) here in #Chile, south America, we’ve largely escaped the worst excesses of the catholic church’s hysteria, but we couldn’t escape this concrete monstrosity towering over #Coquimbo & the surrounding areas in central Chile.

Named the ‘Cross of the 3rd Millenium’, built for the 2000th anniversary of the birth of that mythical figure JC (no not Corbyn!), the colourless ugly grey concrete monstrosity stands an absurd 90m tall, and has been plonked on the highest point of the Coquimbo headland (where the old port town is located). Given the tendency for earthquakes in these parts it may not have been the most sensible place to put it, but the lives of the locals are no doubt of little concern to those who put it up.

station of the crass

Surrounded by a number of huge bells, and by depictions of the 12 so-called ‘Stations of the Cross’, this abomination stands perhaps as a testament to the Catholic church’s history of inquisition and complicity in the genocide of the indigenous peoples on south America. In Chile this includes the Mapuche people amongst others, who’ve been oppressed & hunted down for over 500 years – see news & solidarity (english) and more info (english & spanish). Continue reading

#potd: A Chile beach welcome – a Tsunami Warning!

After arriving on the Pacific coast of Chile near the city of La Serena, naturally one of the first things to do is go see the sea. After 4 months in the Andes we were looking forwards to the coast again. So it’s a bit of a shock jumping off the bus in the port of Coquimbo (in the huge bay of same name), to see immediately this warning – Tsunami Hazard Zone.

Coquimbo bay, with La Serena in distance

In fact such signs, and others relating to earthquakes, are all over Chile, and particularly near the coast for the simple reason that Chile experiences a lot of both earthquakes & tsunamis. Indeed on 16 September 2015 following an 8.3 earthquake at sea south west of Coquimbo city, a few minutes later around 8pm a huge Tsunami wave hit the Coquimbo port area, going some 4-5m over the sea wall, and causing huge damage. Other coastal towns/ports such as Valparaiso, Tongoy & Concon also experienced damage & flooding, leaving some 13 dead & 6 missing, and many thousands in damaged homes. (See info, science & news on 2015 in spanish, english, and english again). Continue reading

A Bike Ride Upriver into the Desert and the Devil’s Gorge

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This gallery contains 11 photos.

It was a lovely hot sunny day with clear blue skies, what better day for a 20km off-road bike ride at some 2500m altitude…especially after not cycling for 6 months. Did we have sore arses the next day, or what! … Continue reading

Clear skies and ancient history at San Pedro de Atacama in Chile

view southeast from Quitor to San Pedro

Leaving aside the the iffy tourist scene in San Pedro de Atacama, there are three very good reasons for coming here – the clear skies day & night; it’s stunning geographical location; and some very ancient history dating back to the 9th century BC. The clear skies are there most days & nights, but especially at night – find a darker space to sit back and stare at the beautiful and clear array of stars, and indeed galaxies. To see the sky even better at night, we took a late evening tour with SpaceObs out to their site south of San Pedro, where there’s no ambient light, and had access to 12 telescopes of varying strengths – to see clearly things far away that we’ve never seen before. Recommended – see website!

entrance to Quitor site

We took in the local geography at the same time as the local history, by walking 4km from our hostel north alongside the Rio San Pedro (or Rio Grande), to the ‘El Pukara de Quitor’ (in Quechuan – the Fortress of Quitor, where Quitor is an ancient indigenous community – see wikipedia history in Spanish). The walk, and the views from the top of El Pukara and nearby viewing points, were breathtakingly beautiful on a clear sunny (very hot!) day – see pics below.

San Pedro, like all the villages & small towns in this region, sits beside a river or other water source (such as an oasis). Many are in river valleys, in San Pedro’s case between the mountainous Andes border between Chile/Bolivia (and Chile/Argentina) to the east, and a further mountain range (the Cordillera de Sal) to the near west. And so despite the heat & harshness of this remote desert region, there has been human habitation in these areas for a good 11,000 years – from hunter-gatherer groups, to herders and agricultural communities. And situated as it is on an ancient river, that feeds into the even larger Rio Loa – that travels from higher up in the Andes to the north, all the way to the Pacific sea (Chile’s longest river – info) – San Pedro is also on an ancient trade route dating back several thousand years.
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