Travels with Lois and Jason

Chile: Patagonia Fjords & Atacama Desert

January 12 - 25, 2017

Photo journalist Lois




It's early January and we were delighted to be heading north toward warmer weather.... What?  North for warmer weather.  In the United States you head south to get to warmer weather.  But we were in Patagonia cruising the fjords of Chile well below the equator, so going north took us toward warmer weather. 



We went from a glacier at sea level to the highest, driest, desert in the world - the Atacama.  We had read that there are places in the Atacama that have not had rain in centuries, and the overall average is less than an inch a year.  The people who wrote that were not on our trip.  We had three inches (felt like three feet) in one afternoon.  Our hotel had to put towels inside our doors to keep the water from coming into our rooms.  It was WET.  So much for the driest place on earth - three days in the Atacama and three days of rain!



Flash flooding along road


Rain soaked llama causing traffic




This was a very relaxed trip, visiting two very different kinds of environments:  fjords and desert.  In theory, the vistas are spectacular, and on a clear day, we're sure they are.  We enjoyed every moment, wet and dry, cloudy and clear.



Cruising fjords with Andes in background


Driving Atacama with Andes in background




Our trip started in the Lake Region of Chile and a visit to the town of Frutillar.  This town was settled by German immigrants (as was much of the southern area of Chile) around 1850 when there was massive unemployment in Europe due to the Industrial Revolution.  The town is on the shore of Lake Llanquihue with the spectacular Osorno Volcano on the far side.



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                      frutillar chile theater

Frutillar is a thriving center of the performing arts and has one of the most elegant theaters that we've ever visited.  The entire theater was made of wood and took 12 years to complete.  The docent told us there were no nails used in the construction;  everything is pegged together.


The Teatro del Lago (Theatre of the Lake)


Main concert hall

Photo by  Teatro del LagoTravelling


Photo by Konzerts�leM�llerBBM


Our tour boat for the Northern Chilean Fjords traveled from Puerto Montt to the San Rafael Glacier, and back.  The five-day trip paralleled the Andes with its looming volcanoes.  We, on the other hand, primarily saw clouds.  Our boat circled a couple of different islands providing a display of penguins, cormorants and seals.



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The highlight of Patagonia was the San Rafael Glacier, which was very active with calving.  We spent almost an entire day at the glacier, moving around icebergs and anchored a close (but safe) distance so that we could enjoy the view for hours.  We saw blue icebergs, which looked like carved glass, which we had never seen before.  This day alone made the entire cruise well worth it!


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Remember, 90% of an iceberg is BELOW water!!!



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Our ports of call included three different villages.  The first was the village of Puerto Aguirre.  On our town tour we heard the legend of the magic dwarf Trauco.  We were told that even to this day, if a single woman is pregnant and no one steps forward as the father, Trauco is listed on the birth certificate.


Our second port was a tiny town with a park at the top of the hill providing a great view of the fjords. 





Our third port was the village of Castro, known for colorful weaving and eight varieties and colors of potatoes.





Santiago - our transfer stop


The Patagonian Fjords start 500 miles south of Chile's capitol Santiago, and the Atacama Desert is 500 miles north.  Our transition entailed a day in Santiago.  Regrettably the forest fires in the surrounding areas made the Santiago smog very bad.  The highlight was The Chilean Museum of Pre-Columbian Art where the docent made the mummies and pottery come to life.  We were very surprised by the quipus display:  we had never seen these before.  Quipus, sometimes called talking knots, were recording and accounting devices that consisted of colored, spun, and plied thread or strings.  The cords contained numeric information encoded by knots. 

Quipus with knots

Photo by



Atacama Desert


The Atacama Desert is a plateau at over 7500 feet, nestled between the Andes Mountains, which are well above 15,000 feet, and the Chilean Coast Range at over 10,000 feet.  It is considered to be one of the foremost night skies viewing location in the world.  Volcanoes and snow capped peaks ring the plateau, which we were able to glimpses during our three-day visit.  Unfortunately, we never saw the sky at night. 







We had two local ladies as our guides.  They were descendants of the indigenous people of the area.  They both had gone off to university for education and chose to return to the Atacama area even though job opportunities weren't what they were in the big city.  Their stories were fascinating.  The origin story and concept of God for the indigenous people was tied to both volcanoes and the Milky Way.



In the archaeological site at Tulor, our guides explained how life cycles were woven into their blankets.




In the village of Toconao, we learned how the local people compromised with the Spanish religious authorities by adding a volcano to the church tower (along with the cross). 





Given that the Atacama is considered one of the best (or the very best) astronomical viewing locations in the world, it was appropriate that we were given a lecture on how the indigenous people of Chile viewed the night sky.   We learned that the Milky Way was tied into their life cycle stories and gods.  They saw the dark parts of the Milky Way as a llama and other animals.  This was in stark contrast to the Western view of the night sky which saw the individual stars making outline of gods and animals. 



There is no better way to conclude this adventure than a few pictures of a salt flat lagoon which is home to the Chilean flamingos and great view of the desert landscape, and to show the one MAJOR benefit of all that rain - blooming cactus.












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Photo journalist:  Lois Frand

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April 7, 2017