Sunday, February 28, 2010

San Pedro de Atacama


We got up at 4:30 in the morning and headed for the airport at 5:30 for a flight to Calama, a small city in the north of Chile.  Once we landed, we loaded up the rental van and headed straight east up into the Andes to see some of the smaller, traditional towns in the area.

On the way there, we passed the Chuquicamata open pit copper mine.  At 4.3 km long by 3 km wide by 850 m deep, it is the largest open pit mine in the world.

Our first stop was at a small town called Chiu Chiu (pronounced Chee-oo Chee-oo), population 322.  The main attraction, other than it's name, is this beautiful white washed church with cactus wood doors and ceilings.  It made me think I was in a Clint Eastwood movie.  The floors inside the Iglesia de San Francisco. were cactus wood as well.  The altitude there is 2500 m.

Cactus wood door at the church.
Building near town square.
After Chiu Chiu, we traveled further east to a small town called Caspana, population of 400 and altitude of 3300 m.  Caspana is known for its many terraces.  The terraces are used to grow garden crops and flowers that they sell to the other towns and cities in the area.


The bustling center of Ayquina (pop. 40) was next.  There were a lot of houses there for 40 people but that's because most of the buildings were padlocked from the outside.  The owners would only come to the town so that they could celebrate the festival of the Virgin of Guadalupe with 30,000 other people.  Party on, Wayne!  Party on, Garth!

The Santurario Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe

And the courtyard of the Santuario.

The houses have mud and clay roofs. 


Rio Salado (Salado River)


These were all pre-Columbian villages, meaning pre-Spanish.  It's a very beautiful, authentic area.

We then trucked it hard to San Pedro de Atacama, the main town where everyone goes to visit the Atacama Desert, the driest in the world.

The town is a fascinating place to visit with its dusty, dirt roads and light-brown adobe buildings and fences.  There are many restaurants and hotels in the town.  From the outside they look like nothing special, but on the inside they're all well taken care of and very nice.  The food was excellent.

Our hotel owner, Alvaro, told us that, back in the day, their ancestors had a lot of restaurants and hotels to serve anyone traveling from the mountains down to the ocean or who would travel along the Incan trail.  That's just what they do now, really, except they serve tourists.

We did run into a cool couple who lived in London.  She wrote children's books and he was a corporate head hunter.

We arrived at our hotel, which were small adobe rooms north of town.  During the day, the adobe kept the rooms fairly cool and they definitely retained the heat for nighttime.  It was a rustic place to stay but it  was nice.

Day 2
We headed out to see Miscanti Lagoon (pictured below) and Miniques Lagoon, altitude of over 4,300 m.  We drank a lot of water to help cope with the altitude and both Dana and Derwin had a bit of a headache dealing with the high altitude.  It has been scientifically proven that high altitudes affect those with big, male brains more so than others.

There were many vicunas and some flamingos and other birds there as well.


Next, we headed down to the Salar de Atacama or the Atacama salt flats.  It measures 30-40 km wide and runs 100 km from north to south.  It is 300,000 ha of rugged, barren salt flats. 

We took a brief tour near the Laguna (Lake) de Chaxa where we were able to see flamingos, other birds, some lizards, and a lot of salt.  We were right there with them.


Day 3

We woke up early and headed to Death Valley, 3 km north of San Pedro.  It's good to get there for sunrise as you're able to see the colors change and the shadows that form as the sun rises.

Death Valley



We then went to the Father Le Paige Museum in town.  Father Le Paige, before he invented glue, was a Jesuit missionary who did a lot of excavations in the area.  He and some of the town's residents excavated over 300 sites and collected more than 380,000 pieces that represented 11,000 years of the Atacamans living in the region.

Evidently, the Atacamans did a lot of hallucinogenic drugs as half of the museum pieces were paraphernalia related to drug use.




Instead of forest fire warnings, they have UV warnings.


San Pedro Church


Pukara de Quitor

The Pukara de Quitor is a small fortress city just north of San Pedro.  In 1540, Francisco de Aguirre and 30 other Spaniards attacked the Atacamans and decapitated all of the chiefs.  Oh yeah, they had the help of 1000 Yanaconas.

The fortress was originally built in the 12th century and is made of stones stuck together with mortar.  They originally had straw roofs.  There are about 100 little enclosures on this steep, steep hill.



Valley of the Moon

Just west of San Pedro lies the Valley of the Moon, an area of sand dunes and weirdly shaped rocks.  We headed there just before sunset.  There is one spot where all of the tour companies take the tourists to view the sunset.  There must've been a couple of hundred of people on top of the sand dune.

Los Vigilantes Tres Marias

Anti Teatro



Sand dunes




Desert Night Skies

The view of the night skies was amazing; very clear with beautiful sunsets.



On our last night, with all of the lights from the hotel out, we came out to look at the night sky.  The clarity and number of stars that you see down here in Chile is absolutely amazing.  You can see a lot of stars on the Canadian prairies but nothing like I've ever seen up there beats what can be seen here.  I guess that's why so many of the world's best observatories are here.


Although Tulor is not big on other people's itinerary, we enjoyed the visit to this archaeological site a lot.  The area was inhabited from 800 BCE to 500 ACE when it was slowly covered with sand.  It stayed that way until 1982, when it was discovered.  They've only dug up 10% now but you can see the circular bases of the houses that they had back then.  The houses were grouped by family clan.  They've built a couple of replicas near the original site.

The beams were tied together with animal this case goat but back in the day it would've been llamas or guanacos.


The bases of the original houses.


Sunflower near the administration building.


This was thee happening place at one time but the desert eventually blocked the river and forced it towards what is now San Pedro.

There was a young man who was in charge there and he was very knowledgeable about the site and very happy to share all the information about the people and their lives back then.  

It is administered by the little village just outside the site and the residents are direct descendants of the Atacamanos people who lived there.

Drink Deliveries

Back to San Pedro.  Since the delivery trucks are too large to drive around the narrow streets, they would drive into town and unload in a parking lot.  Then guys would load up the deliveries on the bikes pictured below and make their deliveries to the restaurants, stores, and hotels.


Andes from the plane

After a great trip, Nana, Papa, Dana, Kirsi, Aidan, and I headed home.  In all, it was a great trip.  We had about 3.5 days in total there and did a lot.  We were really glad that we rented a van rather than taking all of the tours.  It gave us the flexibility to see what we wanted when we wanted and to be able to work around the kid's nap schedule.  Everything we wanted to see we were able to with just a van.

Saturday, February 27, 2010


We’ve had earthquakes here in Santiago before and a few when we lived in Lahore but nothing, absolutely nothing, like the one we had last night at 3:30 in the morning.

Usually, the earthquakes we get cause a little bounce or side-to-side shake that not everyone feels.  They last for a couple of seconds.  I’ve seen the walls in my classroom sway back and forth a little.  Then they’re over.  No adrenaline, no rush, no heart beating hard in your chest.

Last night, the earthquake must have lasted more than 1 minute.  The whole house started to bounce and rock – not sway.  I ran and grabbed Kirsi, waking her up, as we heard a crash downstairs.  The intensity increased.  Up and down, back and forth…we actually bounced as we walked.  Pictures fell from the wall.

I gave Kirsi to Dana who stood in the doorway while I grabbed Aidan.  We ran downstairs and directly outside to a cloudless sky and a bright full moon.  Car and house alarms were going off and dogs were barking.  Power was cut.  Windows rattled.  The lamps on our bedside tables fell off.

When we returned inside, the living room ceiling light was still swaying a good foot to either side.  At the peak, it probably came close to hitting the ceiling.  We went to our kitchen to our find our spice rack toppled over and spices on the floor.  You could smell the curry.  The door that leads from the kitchen to the laundry room was still vibrating in its frame.

It’s 3:58 as I type this and we’re still experiencing aftershocks.

4:01- another aftershock but Aidan doesn’t feel it, he’s back asleep.  I doubt he felt the big one.  Kirsi is still wondering what the heck is going on.

4:05 – windows rattling again.

4:20 – our neighbors came by to ask how everyone was.  They recommended that we fill our bathtubs full of water as we may be without for a while.

4:38 Pascuala phones to check on us.  She says that everything in her house is broken but that she’s alive.  “That’s Chile,” she says.

8:07 Just woke up and the rest of the family is still sleeping.  Had another 4 or 5 aftershocks that woke me up since the big 3:30 one.  On one aftershock, the bed started to shake head to foot about 7 or 8 times, then it bounced me up once a little, and then shook from side to side.

Our friend Marie called from the hotel where her husband works.  Apparently the center got hit bad.  Some of her friends had refrigerators that tipped over.  The hotel has cracks in the wall and some doors won’t open or close.

After we woke up and went downstairs, we found that our fruit stand had hit the floor.  Kirsi and Aidan picked up all the bananas and potatoes.  Our ceiling lamp was just hanging by the electrical chord.  A lamp in Aidan’s room fell and broke.

I also noticed that there was water in our laundry room and that our backyard patio had been covered by water.  We couldn’t figure it out until we realized that the swimming pool was a good 6 inches lower.  The earthquake must’ve shaken the water out of the pool.

Overall, big earthquake but we were very fortunate that we were OK and that there was only some slight damage.  I’m sure that others had it worse.

1:10 - Internet is back on so now we're getting in touch with everyone and finding out what else is going on.

Thanks for all the emails!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

This and That

We've been settling back into our routine, now that Der is back at work.  We are still spending a lot of time outside while we can.  I think our pool days are coming to an end because the nights are getting quite cold and the mornings are often cloudy meaning that our (unheated) pool only gets a couple hours of sun to heat it up.  The water is pretty cold these days!

Monday, February 8th was an important day for Aidan (or maybe more for us).  We went to Antonia's birthday party, which was lots of fun, and we got home late.  Aidan was super tired so we put him to bed without his soother.  He went to bed very easily.  We decided to put all the soothers away and see how it would go.  He's never asked for it since, even when he's seen kids with their soothers.  Woo hoo!  That was an easy transition.

We've started potty training but it's going very slowly.  Aidan knows when he has peed or pooped in his diaper and tells us but hasn't yet done it in the potty.  We go when he wakes up in the morning and after nap but no success yet.  But Aidan loves sitting on the potty reading, so that's a good sign.

Aidan is talking up a storm now.  He will repeat anything you tell him and he loves reading his books.  He shows us the tractor, the excavator, dump truck and big rig in his truck book and says the words.  His speech is coming really well and he's putting two words together now - cat jump, birdie flying, truck vroom.

Kirsi has started t-ball again and she loves it.  She's riding her bike and is getting braver in the pool now too.   She's also doing great with her letters.  She can write her name now and we've been practicing writing other names.  She's not interested in doing the letters all by themselves but when they spell someone's name, she's right into it.  She also is playing a lot with her Playmobil safari set that she and Aidan got for Christmas - it's fantastic to see her imagination working so much. 

Der is super busy this semester.  Not only is he teaching full-time, but he's also taking two online courses.  He's doing training for ITGS for next year at AISK in Jamaica and he's also working on his thesis project for his master's.  He will be done his master's this semester as soon as he finishes this project.  So, he's got lots going on.

I'm still tutoring Asahi twice a week.  I would like to pick up another student or two as I enjoy working with the kids in our tutoring sessions.  I've started scrapbooking again after the holidays and it feels so great to get my creative juices flowing again.  I love it!  We're also busy getting things done before we leave in June.  We've got our plane tickets booked - we get to Regina on June 19th - and we've had the shippers come in to do an estimate.  We're doing dentist appointments and all those little things that have to get done.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Kirsi's First Day of School

Kirsi has been talking about going to school for quite a while now so when Der and I heard about the Vacation Bible School at San Marcos Church here in Santiago, we thought it would be a perfect opportunity for her.  It's just 3 hours a morning for this one week.  She was soooo excited about it.  She was so pumped up about it last night that she couldn't get to sleep; Nana had a lot of extra work to do to get her settled down.  This morning, she was ready really early and kept asking if it was time to leave yet.

We got there and she was totally into the colouring activity and didn't even need me around.  I was so proud of her.  There are 10 kids in her preschool group and the whole group is about 60 kids (I think).  After everyone got there, they did an introduction to the week and then all the kids got up and started singing and dancing.  Kirsi held her own for a while but then she got scared or nervous and started crying.  I went straight to her and stayed with her to sing and dance.  She did OK for a little while longer but then started crying again.  I took her outside and talked to her.  She just kept saying she was tired and wanted to go to sleep in her own bed.  I suggested that maybe she was a little nervous and at first, she didn't think so but then once she thought about it, she decided she was.  It was the first time she had been in a situation like that so she didn't even know what she was feeling.  But she came around and we went back in.

The kids then separated into their groups and I stayed with Kirsi all morning.  We did crafts with Ms. Jill first, then games with Ms. Charlotte and then a story and video with Mr. Mike.  We ended up with the bible story with the crew leaders Ms. Emily and Ms. Sue.  They had a little snack for the kids and then the day ended with the whole group getting together and talking about what they'd learned and some more songs and dancing.  Kirsi ended up liking it but she was exhausted!  By 12:00 her eyes were glassed over and she wasn't even dancing anymore. 

We've talked a lot about it today but it has taken a lot of prodding to get her share what she did today.  At least I was there to remind her and to get her to talk about it.  She's nervous about going back tomorrow but I know it'll get easier every day because she'll know what to expect.

On a sad note, today was Nana and Papa's last day with us.  We have enjoyed having them around and they've become part of our daily lives.  It's going to be a huge adjustment not having them around anymore.  We hope they have two great flights and good drive back home!

Phuket - Be Nice or Get Out

The second part of our December break was spent in a little AirBnB 3m from the beach in Phuket, Thailand. The majority of our time was spe...