Tuesday, January 8, 2008

New Website

I've completely redone my website at www.parascandola.com, replacing the old web gallery with a new, more agile site. The Portfolio section includes new images from Chile and elsewhere along with earlier images.

I am also moving this blog over to that website so will not be regularly adding new entries here. The new site will host my blog and allows for comments and more interaction. Because the site is easier to manage, this means I'll be posting news and updating images and site content much more frequently. Keep an eye on the home page for upcoming events.

Check it out at:

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Visviri Circuit

August 31 -- GPS Map

This route of about 160 miles winds through the altiplano to the border town of Visviri and returns along the old train route. The road climbs over the mountains, at an altitude of over 17,000 feet, and requires navigating through streams, sand patches, and rocky terrain. Visviri lies on the border with both Peru and Bolivia; the quiet town comes alive on Sundays for the Tripartite International Fair where you can buy items like 93 proof Bolivian liquor. The road continues on through the dry, sandy landscape, passing by empty nomadic villages and old railroad stations.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Desert Memories: Journeys Through the Chilean North

"All of us, living in ghost towns though we do not know it.
With the illusion that what we leave behind will not be swept away by the wind, that something will remain against the corrosion of time.
Hand by hand, hand in hand
Gloriously making believe we will outlast the desert"

Ariel Dorfman, Chilean novelist, playwright, poet and human rights activist writes about his journey through northern Chile through San Pedro de Atacama, along the Panamerican highway and the nitrate corridor, and up to Arica. Along the way he stops in Pisagua to remember his close friend Freddy Taberna who was executed there by firing squad after the 1973 military coup. He provides a fascinating picture of this unique landscape, drawing on astronomy, anthropology, geology, politics, and Chilean industrial history, along with his own personal narrative. To know the desert, he explains, you must cross through it. "You can immerse yourself in the sea or be welcomed by a forest, but the desert is incessantly reminding you of distances--between yourself and the rocks, between yourself and the next faraway community, between yourself and your own endurance. The desert does not offer the illusion that you will ever be anything other than an intruder."

Monday, October 15, 2007

Arica to Putre

August 28 -- map

Driving from the seaside port of Arica to the mountain town of Putre requires an elevation gain of 11,500 feet. Tours from Arica to Lauca National Park make the trip up and back in one day, which can be exhausting. I took my time driving up and stopped along the way. About two thirds of the way up the road passes by an abandoned railroad car painted in brilliant colors. A hippy couple lives here and will serve tea with coca leaves while they espouse their philosophy of living off the land.

Iquique to Arica

August 27 -- Map

On the way north to Arica I took a detour to Pisagua, first famous as a landing site for Spanish conquistadores, then a key port for mining industry, then a prison and death camp under Pinochet. A hundred years ago this was a bustling town of several thousand that hosted touring opera companies from Milan and stage actress Sarah Bernhardt. Today, however, only about 150 residents remain and the buildings are largely deserted and decaying.
The descent from the Panamericana at 3,500 feet down to the water's edge is a perilous ride through canyons and along the cliff's edge. Just before the descent, a burned out car frame lies in front of a sign that says "Accidente! It could have been avoided. We want you to live. A friend forever."

The landscape becomes more dramatic as the Panamericana rides along the edges of enormous valleys and approaches the coastline, finally reaching Arica, Chile's northernmost coastal city. Only a few kilometers from the border, the city here has more in common with Peru than with Chilean capital Santiago. In fact this land once belonged to Peru. The Morro overlooking Arica houses a museum celebrating the Chilean military's capture of Arica from Peru.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Los Prisioneros

My soundtrack while driving hundreds of kilometers along the flat, desolate Panamericana was the one CD I had purchased along the way, a tribute album to Los Prisioneros, arguably the most important band in Chilean rock history. The album contains 18 of their songs performed by a variety of contemporary bands, with styles ranging from ska to hip-hop to heavy metal.

Here's a classic Prisioneros video from the 1980s for the song We Are Sudamerican Rockers

Sunday, September 23, 2007

San Pedro to Iquique

300 Miles, Saturday August 25 -- Map

After leaving San Pedro early, I stopped in Chiquicamata, site of the largest open mine pit on the planet and the last stop for gasoline for over 170 miles. From here a pockmarked road cuts across 40 miles of brown sandy earth to the Panamericana, the main highway connecting north and south. Unexpectedly, this major artery is a narrow two lane road, patchy in spots, and sometimes diverted onto an unpaved dirt road for miles at a time due to construction. The surrounding landscape is completely devoid of any vegetation or signs of life.

This desolate image contrasts with the history of this region. While hard to imagine now, this corridor was once buzzing with activity, driven by the nitrate mining operations that brought in thousands of works and their families. Company towns were constructed alongside the higway, with theaters, schools, and housing, but most of these settlements have since been reduced to rubble.

Humberstone, the best preserved nitrate operation and town and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, was built in the 1870s. I happened to visit during the First Biennal of Art in the Desert. Artists had been selected to create installations in Humberstone, including filling the bottom of the old pool with oil drums and painting enormous white letters on the ground that could be read from the air.

Oficina Rica Aventura 1903-1956

The Oficina Rica Aventura had a population of 1,900, including workers and their families. It was one of five operations owned by German industrialist Henry B. Sloman. The town included a 50 bed hospital, bank, theater, billiard hall, library, and soccer fields.
Ex Oficina Iris

Oficina Victoria


Humberstone Theater

Arte en el Desierto

Explanatory Sign

Monday, September 17, 2007

Miscanti and Miñiques

The trip to the alpine lakes Miscanti and Miñiques was 154 miles round trip at an average speed of 18 miles per hour, as much of the route is on a dirt road climbing from 7,800 feet to 13,800 feet.

See this location on a map

See the GPS track from San Pedro de Atacama to this location

View from Toconao Bridge

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Atacama Desert

The Atacama desert is the driest place on the planet. Hemmed in by the Andes to the east and coastal mountains to the west, some parts of the region have never recorded a single drop of rain. Spanish explorers referred to it as the "despoblado de Atacama," suggesting it was uninhabitable. Charles Darwin described it simply as "a complete and utter desert" in the Voyage of the Beagle. Traversing the landscape, he reported, "I saw only one other vegetable production, and that was a most minute yellow lichen, growing on the bones of the dead mules. This was the first true desert which I had seen."

Valle de la Luna - map

Every evening shortly before sunset, a caravan of tour vans arrives at the foot of this sand dune in the Valle de la Luna. A column of tourists trudge up the path to the top to watch the sunset turn the surrounding pale rocks to deep red.

Valle de la Muerte - map

The Moon from the Southern Hemisphere

I took this photo during a tour of the stars led by a french astromoner who lives near San Pedro. Northern Chile is the site of numerous observatories, including the world's largest, because of the clear sky, minimal interference and high altitude. Note that the half moon is oriented horizontally instead of vertically, unlike in the northern hemisphere.

Santiago, Chile

I stayed at the Hotel Foresta in Santiago, which faces the Cerro Santa Lucia, a hill park with a tower on top that you can climb for the view. While there are higher spots around, I found this one this one to be the most dramatic because it is right in the middle of the city center.
View this location on Google Maps

The sitting room in my $35-dollar-a-night suite

Santiago fish market

Playing in Traffic -- Sunday afternoon street theater