Posts Tagged With: Desert

No Quitting The Cueca In Oasis Called Quitor

Folkloric Ballet of Chile. Photos, slide show below

What a week last week!

Chile celebrated its Independence Day in grand style, with cookouts, a wide variety of events that involved food, music and dance, and a healthy amount of patriotic flag-waving.

I had been so busy balancing work and enjoying what Chile served up during the celebrations that stretched over a month that little time was left to share with you – in a timely manner – all that I’ve been up to. In a nutshell, unabashed fun – even at work. That’s just how Chileans roll.

Team Blue at Gaby Mining Company ready for competition

For me, the long Independence Day weekend started  in earnest at the copper mine where I teach English to corporate executives and their support staff. Company employees took to the parking lot for friendly relay races that drew laughter and then to the dining hall to watch and take part in a cueca competition. The cueca is Chile’s typical dance. It consists of some foot-stomping and fancy footwork all while the dance partners wave white handkerchiefs. I started dancing the cueca about two weeks ago and I swear I haven’t stopped. If you come to Chile during Independence Day festivities, you can bet your bottom peso that someone will drag you out on the dance floor to watch you make a fool of yourself. No matter. After a few pisco soursyou won’t give a damn.

Careful laying that egg!

After much diversion at work, that very evening I went home, took a long nap, and headed over to the office for an office party that consisted of a barbecue, Chilean food and the unavoidable shop talk. It was at the office party that I learned that the following evening there would be a free performance of the Folkloric Ballet of Chile. I jumped at the chance to attend this rare cultural treat in Calama. If this dance company ever comes to your town, don’t miss it! The troupe has toured the world with an entertaining repertoire  of traditional and modern dance, highlighting Chilean folk music and dance. I thoroughly enjoyed.

Early the next morning I headed for the bus terminal with two of my housemates – Zack and Chris – where we  met others with whom we would spend the weekend in  Quitor and San Pedro de Atacama, high in the Chilean desert. That was some weekend, spent touring, eating, dancing, swimming and having an amazing time on an estate – an oasis of pleasure and relaxation in the middle of the desert – owned by the aunt of one of my colleagues. About 20 of us ate, sang and danced there all weekend long.

Monday afternoon we headed back to Calama content and a few pounds heavier from all that good eating. I believe the word “diet” was tossed about several times. What a week it was.

The Deja Vu Wrecking Crew: (left to right) Me; Christina, (New York, USA); Angello, (Calama, Chile); Zack, (Florida, USA); Chris, (Saint Jacobs, Canada); and Maureen (Chicago, USA), all English teachers at the International Center in Chile

Stone mermaid in Quitor, Chile, on estate where weekend was spent

Pre-Inca site in Quitor, Chile. What a find!

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Desert Hot And Cold As Ice

Not much life in the vast Chilean desert, but it always seems to reveal a few surprises.
This morning it was ice. Ice in the desert? A solid, crystal clear sheet of ice had overtaken the water fountain at the company where I teach English to mining executives in the Atacama Desert. Sure, it was no large body of water, but it was still impressive to see that in the driest place on Earth – that would be the Atacama – ice can still form overnight.
At night in the Atacama, it gets pretty cold. We’re talking below freezing winter temperatures, so obviously cold enough to freeze water.
In the month plus I’ve been in the Atacama, I had not seen it, especially since rainfall is virtually nonexistent.
The Chileans arriving at work must have thought, “what is that crazy gringo looking at now?” They all walked by the ice as if it was a nonevent. And it probably was – to them.
Except for a couple of weeks several years ago in the Mojave Desert in the United States, I’ve never spent much time in any desert. So what’s normal or abnormal is all the same to me – new. Snow on the mountains in the desert? New. A freak thunderstorm? New. Ice? New.
And it’s all fantastic to my eyes. Wish I could have captured last night what a nearly full moon rising and sun setting simultaneously looks like over desert mountains.  The sky was a neon rainbow. Spectacular!

From what I’m told, I can expect a few more surprises out of this magical land in the coming days. They’re out there, just waiting for their grand reveal to eyes hardly used to them. I say bring them on!

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A Place In The Desert Sun Where Snow Kisses Sand

Licancabur, view of the volcano from San Pedro...

Licancabur Volcano viewed from San Pedro de Atacama, Chile. The volcano is located in Bolivia and Chile. Click image for more information

And so I am now in San Pedro de Atacama, the tiny village in the middle of the desert that draws thousands of tourists seeking natural fun and adventure.

The Atacama Desert in Chile‘s northern region is a landscape like no other. As I made the one-hour bus ride from Calama to San Pedro de Atacama I wondered why is it that this vast land is not deemed one of the world’s natural wonders. Have you ever seen or heard of a place on Earth where in the middle of the desert there is actually snow? Boggles the mind.

The Andes Mountain range runs fairly uninterrupted through the Atacama Desert, and where there are tall mountain peaks there’s usually snow. The landscape is a study in contrasts. My eyes focused on the snow-blanketed mountains but my mind kept saying, wait a minute, you are in an arid zone, a vast wasteland straight out of Mad Max’s Thunderdome. And yet, there’s the snow, lots of it, cascading down to the desert sand. Man, I’m definitely heading up one of those mountains to shift from hot sand to cool snow in one day’s climb. Hot to cold and back to hot. Well, more like warm. It is winter in the desert and while the days are comfortably warm, the nights are chilly.

As for San Pedro de Atacama, it isn’t at all what I expected: homes and other buildings are built from adobe – a mixture of clay, sand, straw and water – and roads left unpaved – in other words, rocky dirt words that I’m sure turn to mud – if it ever rains. The Atacama is the driest place on Earth.

The village, with homes that date back to the 1500s, seems to have been built to cater to tourists. It has rows upon rows of hostels and hotels and businesses that offer guided tours to see the mountains, the desert, the geysers, lakes, lagoons and salt flats. Tour guides abound. There are also the usual shops – countless of them – selling local arts and crafts. In short order, San Pedro de Atacama is crawling with tourists who outnumber actual residents, just below 2,000 people. The tourists are here for obvious reasons. The town is the launch pad for all the natural beauty – the flora and fauna – that the surrojunding area offers. But beyond that, San Pedro de Atacama is a fantastic little town that has remained largely unchanged for centuries. It’s well worth a visit.

Now if they could only do something about the wind kicking up all that sand. Bring sunglasses to keep some of that sand out of your eyes. And expect to be dusted in that fine desert sand.

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