Monday, January 2, 2012

Arica, Chile (NGS Waitt Grant 1)

The sea wind is blowing through the curtains, and the lights are coming on El Morro. So far in Chile:

-While the trip down was long, we were fortunate on the long (8 hours) Miami-Santiago leg. We boarded with only about 50 pepole, and quickly fanned out to the middle rows to sleep. I woke up with the morning light looking out at I believe the vicinity of Aconcagua. Impossibly dry mountains stretched out forever. -You never know what will make the impression when you travel (which is why you travel). I was amazed by the endless dune/cliff along the ocean north of Iquique. From the airplane, it really looks like just a giant sand dune rising maybe 2,500 feet (or more) from the Ocean. Now that's an impressive sight.

-First off, Arica is where punk lives:

-I'm very much enjoying the feel of Arica.  Things are going generally well here for people.  The economy is strong.  It's a coastal town where it's always breezy and not too hot.  It rarely rains (but see below).  They live in a pretty place.  They have influences from all over.  The Chileans come in all colors, shapes, and sizes - and they all want to walk briskly on the 21 de Mayo pedestrian mall and look at each other.  I find it a very approachable city - a trading city, a frontier city.  A lot of surf culture.  Some people are comfortable in Paris; I'm comfortable in Arica.

-Catherine says a lot has changed.  There weren't any buildings taller than five stories last time, really.  There is a Lider hypermarket now.  And the atmosphere is much more relaxed - more casual.  Like I said, surf culture.  Surf style.  At least for the young.  And positive.

-Today was a very good day.  Catherine set aside two days for logistics to arrive at Lauca/Parinacota.  Of course it will take a few days to meet the CONAF contacts, as well as with her collaborator at Tarapaca University.  But instead we woke up, had a fine breakfast at our hostel, and immediately met up with Professora Belmonte, who enthusiastically welcomed Catherine's research.

  They call Arica a city of eternal spring, and the university is essentially outdoors - certainly it seems hard to focus on one's studies with all that ocean breeze and sun.  Professora Belmonte then offered to drive us over to CONAF, where we sat right down with the regional director, as well as the prior regional director, both of whom also welcomed her research.  They are discussing, the Spanish is going very quickly, and everyone is talking about this wonderful plant that Catherine studies.  Great.  By the early afternoon, we were done with our meetings, and had time to see a few of the sights:

-But this was by far the most interesting, and the most surprising, sight:

That's the Azapa River.  And it's always dry.  In fact, it practically never rains in Arica.  Except that this morning it rained, and the river is flowing (albeit intermittently).  What this means is the mountains are getting crushed by storm after storm.  Every day it's raining in Parinacota.  After literally eight years of practically no rain at all, water has returned.  This is good news for everyone, but less so for us, who had hoped to climb Volcan Parinacota, etc.  The climb is out, and it looks like we will be getting wet (repeatedly) in the course of Catherine's upcoming fieldwork.  More to come.

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