Posts Tagged With: Loa River

Loa River

Soaking my feet in the Loa River. The Loa is a U-shaped river in Chile's northern Antofagasta Region. At 440 kilometers long, it is the country's longest river and the main watercourse in the Atacama Desert. The waters are freezing in winter and cold in summer. I tried to venture in, but only did up to my waist. It wends its way from the Andes Mountains through some of the most scenic country anywhere on Earth. It's interesting that it also cuts across the Atacama Desert, the driest place on Earth, with virtually no rainfall. Most days the skies are a bright blue and it's very sunny. I've seen various stretches of the Loa River over a period of time. In some parts, it runs lazily, in others it moves fast, and still in other sections it cascades over huge river bed boulders. It is the lifeline of the Atacama.


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A Waterfall Thousands Of Years Old Vanishes

The Loa River in Calama, Chile, is where many in the town go on Sunday afternoons to cool off in the river, barbecue, relax.

Until recently, there was a beautiful waterfall on this river. When I arrived there today with friends, to everybody’s surprise, including the locals, the waterfall was gone! All that was left was a big hole with standing water in it. No cascading waters. Just the bone-dry riverbed where the waters once flowed and fell over the edge.

Locals explained that water being diverted further upstream by the world’s largest open pit copper mine – a mine named Chuquicamata– has caused a serious drop in the river levels, resulting in the vanishing of the waterfall that has been there for thousands of years.

Waters from the Loa River would cascade down here, creating a beautiful waterfall. No more.

Since I got to Calama, I had been really looking forward to that waterfall. I had heard so much about it. For now, it’s no more. Residents hope that with the rainy season that arrives in January, the water levels of the river will again increase and the waterfall will return. This is the desert.

It’s the Atacama Desert. It’s the driest place on Earth. Doubtful it will get so much rain that the river will bounce back enough to bring back the cascade. But I won’t discount Mother Nature. She’s capable of  much.

A day on the Loa River with friends

Still, the Loa River was still a bit cold. Some have more tolerance for near-freezing waters than I do. My friends and I only got in up to our waists. The river is born from the snowmelt in the Andes Mountains, which loom in the horizon. The ice-cold water left our legs numb. It’s that cold. But we still enjoyed our lazy Sunday afternoon down by the river.

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The Rush Of A Desert River

Today I decided to leave the town center of barren Calama, Chile, to go find the longest river in Chile, the very circuitous and as I discovered, very cold Loa River. The river originates high in the Andes Mountains and snakes its way across the northern portion of the world’s longest country. The Loa courses high above sea level along some of its stretches. Its fresh water from the mountains becomes brackish in some areas. That is certainly true when it makes its way through Calama.

I took a very long walk along the river, following its banks as much as passage allowed without actually going for a swim. In some areas, the river is very deep and the water is ice-cold, even through the desert. There was no way I would leave the Loa without at least dipping in a toe. I took off my boots, my socks, and rolled up my jeans and went in calf deep. Brrrrrr. A cold shock to the system, but then I started to get used to it. Or maybe I had just grown numb to the freezing temperature.

It was an absolutely beautiful day in Calama. I was confusing the glands that regulate body temperature as I felt the warmth of the sun heated my upper body while the chill of the river froze my feet. I got out of the water and sat on the banks of the river. There is something especially soothing about sitting by a river out in the middle of nowhere with birds singing in the afternoon. If I were a bird I’d sing all day, too, living out here in this beautiful wilderness.

I will never say I love Calama. Since starting my journey more than five months ago, I have seen prettier places. But even in ugliness there is beauty. Just look at the rundown houses in Venice, the paint peeled, the stucco grimy, the facade aged. Even those are beautiful. So in Calama, you can find beauty if you look with a certain eye.

Despite the fact I spent the entire afternoon walking along the banks of the river, I still had some energy left to clown around, as you can see from these pictures. Now, there are some people – and I wonder sometimes why I still call them friends – who will criticize me for “having too much fun” as if life is to be spent in eternal misery. To them I say, I’ve heard you. You’ve already said your piece. Live your life the way you see fit, unhappy or otherwise, and I’ll continue to do what what brings me joy – travel – which is meant to be enjoyed. I’m not exactly in Paris – not yet – or some very cool city, but I will make the best of Calama and enjoy it as much as possible.

To the rest of you who don’t mind a little silliness every now and then, I leave you with a photographic essay of  how I spent my day. Until next time…

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