The Only Little Gringa en el Norte

by Sanjena Sathian

When team Glo reunited a few days ago back in Santiago, I stuck around in the Atacama desert. The other six northern adventurers had a flight out of Calama that morning, but my bus to the Valle del Elqui wasn’t leaving till late that night, and so I found myself alone in Calama.


Miners’ homes in Calama (Sathian/TYG)

Calama is an industrial, grungy mining town. We’d gotten more than a few raised eyebrows when we told people in the north we were heading there, but that only made us more curious. In my wanderings, I came across a “tourist information office” that we’d missed in our group walk-about-town the day before (it was boarded up; apparently they weren’t expecting anyone). There are no shortage of pollo stands (think low-grade KFC fried chicken) and or bars. Karaoke seemed popular — but we’d figured that out the night before when our restaurant at dinner turned into an impromptu singalong with workers from the local mines, featuring “Piano Man” and “Heaven,” among others. And I ran into a lot of angry graffiti and protest posters.


Protest signs outside a union headquarters in Calama (Sathian/TYG)

Remaining alone in the city was a gift for me — I managed a lot of impromptu reporting and even ended up in a roomful of angry miners airing their grievances about their employers on their way to the night shift at Chuquicamata — all just before rushing to catch my bus out of town.

A few days later, I found myself in exactly the opposite environment of Calama: as I went running through la Valle del Elqui, a quiet, quaint valley where Chilean pisco is grown, I realized, after having been surrounded by Globalistas for the better part of two weeks, that I was quite suddenly alone.  Hear-your-own-footsteps-alone. The kind of alone where you don’t hear your own voice for a couple of hours or even a day. No longer “at work” as a reporter, I was suddenly a lone traveler.  It felt strange, but it also felt like a little embrace from the country.


the valley is abandoned this time of year; hardly any tourists come through in the winter (Sathian/TYG)

I never lose the thrill of being alone in a foreign place. I crave the little nods of approval from the travel gods when I master local transport, and the feeling of “getting it” that comes after having had the same conversations about politics with every local you meet. It’s a little bit of triumph, certainly, but more than that, it’s a feeling of being welcomed by the country. Chile, with its many faces — its deserts and oceans and snow capped mountains and salt flats — embraces us, whether we’re alone or in a group of 18 loud Americans, with our many faces — students, travelers, reporters, tourists, wine/pisco/honey beer connossieurs …. We came with the hopes of unraveling a country, forming an intellectual relationship with it, understanding it, and then reproducing it in the form of readable journalism for all of you. Just as we take our bits of newly understood identidad chilena home with us, I hope we’re leaving a little bit of identidad Globalista in our wake.

Natural Wonders of the North

By Rachel Brown

When the portion of our group headed to Northern Chile set off, we knew that the terrain in the North would be dry, but we didn’t expect to see landscapes reminiscent of an entirely different planet. Disembarking from the plane in Antofagasta, many of us exclaimed over the surrounding desert and our sense of awe at the scenery only increased once we arrived in San Pedro de Atacama. An oasis in the midst of the world’s driest desert, San Pedro was originally inhabited by the Atacameños, an indigenous people native to the region. The Spanish later colonized the town and remnants of their colonial influence can still be seen in landmarks such as the Iglesia San Pedro de Atacama, a white-washed church on the edge of the town’s plaza. 


     The Iglesia San Pedro de Atacama (Brown/TYG)


                   Inside the church (Brown/TYG)

A small town, with a population of only around 5,000, San Pedro quickly won us over. Low, adobe houses line the town’s dusty streets, lending it the feel of a frontier town in the American Southwest. We aren’t the only ones to have been drawn in by the town’s charms and San Pedro has become an increasingly popular tourist destination for both domestic and international travelers. The influence of international visitors is particularly noticeable in the menus posted outside the numerous restaurants in the town center. Many menus featured “Spaghetti al Pesto” next to the Chilean “Empanadas de Pino.” Fortunately our hostel was located on the town’s outskirts, which allowed us to observe the rhythm of daily life in residential areas, as well as in the more heavily touristed town center.


                 Walking in San Pedro (Brown/TYG)

Since few of us were sourcing articles in San Pedro, we took the opportunity to explore some of the remarkable landscapes and nature preserves lying just outside of town. Below are some snapshots (literal and metaphorical) of sites we visited near San Pedro:

Salar de Atacama


                           Flamingos! (Brown/TYG)

Much to the excitement of our group, the salt flats at the Salar de Atacama house not one, but two different species of flamingos (Chilean flamingos and Andean flamingos), both of which we were able to see on our visit.

Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon) and Valle de la Muerte (Valley of Death)

The two valleys feature sand dunes, salt deposits, and starkly beautiful rock formations caused by wind and water erosion. Although named the “Moon Valley,” the park also contains terrain similar to that on Mars and scientists have even tested prototypes for Mars rovers there. We were eager to scramble around the rocks ourselves, but our guide warned us to stay only on marked paths because the region reportedly still contains land mines from when Chile and Argentina nearly went to war.


                 The Valley of Death (Brown/TYG) 

The park also has mines of a different sort. It’s hard to imagine that anyone could survive in such a harsh landscape and climate (some parts of the preserve haven’t received rain in centuries), but miners once lived and worked at a salt mine in the Valle de la Luna. The mine no longer operates, but plenty of salt remains inside. We clambered down a ladder and into the former mine, where we admired the various shapes of salt crystals and tasted some salt for ourselves. We even brought a bit of salt back to the hostel with us to season future meals.


                Exploring the salt mine (Brown/TYG)


             Former dwellings for miners (Brown/TYG)

While visiting the two valleys our guide showed us true “northern hospitality,” taking us to some of the less-visited sites and even surprising us with pisco sours at sunset!


The Valley of Death and Licancabur Volcano at sunset       (Brown/TYG)


By Sophie Broach

The town of Chuquicamata, once home to 20,000 people, is now an eerily modern ghost town. On our way to visit the largest open pit copper mine in the world last week, we drove past neat rows of abandoned houses where Codelco workers used to live. By the early 2000s, all had left to avoid toxic emissions from the adjacent mine. Nostalgic vandals have scrawled “Ciao Chuqui” and “La familia ______ vivió aqui” [the ­­­­_____ family lived here] on several homes. Boarded up barbershops, clothes stores, and kiosks line the immaculate streets of the town center. Our driver pointed out his school and the plaza where he used to hang out as a teenager. He said wistfully that Chuqui had been a fun place to grow up.

A street in the ghost town Chuquicamata.

Now most of Chuqui’s former residents have moved to the city of Calama 16 km away. Though no one lives in the town anymore, people work in the mine itself 24/7. Before setting out on a tour to learn about copper production at Chuqui, we put on neon orange vests and helmets, slipped on plastic glasses to protect our eyes, and hung gas masks around our necks. Inside a massive building with a forest of crisscrossing multicolored metal bars, we paused to watch a massive circular machine unloading perfect rectangular sheets of copper onto a conveyor belt. The heat and fumes prompted some of us to breathe casually through our gas masks.

On the way to the next room we passed a patch of turf marked with gravel diamonds that the workers had apparently requested to make the giant windowless space a bit more cheerful. Above it hung a sign with Codelco’s logo, which resembles a lidless eye. We watched several men hose down copper through metal grates as if they were watering plants in a garden. Situated in the Atacama—the driest desert on earth—Chuqui uses some 15 billion gallons of water each year (enough to fill over 20,000 Olympic swimming pools.) I asked in feeble Spanish where the water came from, and our guide replied simply “Las montañas.” Codelco, the state-owned copper mining company that owns Chuqui, has a large portion of the region’s water rights.

After eating lunch in the mess hall alongside some of Chuqui’s employees, we drove out to see the mine itself, an enormous oblong crater nearly 1 km deep and 4.5 km wide. We could barely make out the 50-foot high trucks on the opposite side through the hazy dust rising from the ridged edges of the mine. Our guide estimated they guzzle about a liter of gasoline per minute, and their enormous tires cost $40,000 each and get worn out every 8 months.

The largest open pit copper mine in the world

(Sathian / TYG)

ALMA: A visit to the world’s largest observatory

By Diego Salvatierra

At 7am on Tuesday, Rachel, Ashley, and I made our way through the dusty streets of San Pedro. Dawn was breaking, and the outline of the Andes was visible.  Just hours earlier, we had gazed at of the world’s starriest night skies. With extremely low humidity and cloud cover, Chile’s Atacama desert is a paradise for astronomers. And so we drove towards the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) the world’s most ambitious astronomical project. ALMA conveniently spells “soul” in Spanish, and the project will peer into the depths of space.  Under construction, and with some US$1.5 billion invested, it already boasts 32 massive antennae. It will have over 60 when completed in 2014. ALMA will detect an unprecedented range of electromagnetic radiation to “see” even the earliest galaxies, and explore nothing less than the origin of the universe.

After passing the first checkpoint – and being granted special passes – we went up to the Operations Support Facility (OSF), the ALMA base camp, at 3,000m above sea level. To go up further, we needed to pass a medical examination. The array is located at over 5,000m, on the vast Chajnantor plain, deep in the Andes. At such altitudes, breathing becomes difficult, and health problems can arise. As fit 18 and 21 year olds, we easily passed the test. But just to be sure, the OSF safety officers gave us emergency oxygen tubes.

So we went up. The air thinned. Ashley fell asleep, and I felt a bit woozy myself. Vegetation disappeared. We saw snow. And after 40 minutes, the antennae appeared. The massive white antennae contrasted with the red desert and the snow-capped mountains. A Star Wars song immediately popped into my head.  Driving into the heart of the array, we got out for photos. I felt sleepy, and had to take deep breaths. It was freezing, -2˚C, or less than 30˚F. The wind chill made it worse. But it was awe-inspiring, and I can’t do justice to the sight in words!

We returned to the base camp for lunch and an interview with Kertik Sheth, an astronomer. I half-expected space food, but lunch was normal. Over coffee, Kertik explained some physics concepts. This was a feat of explanation, since we knew nothing about astronomy. When we gasped at the first equation Kertik drew, he explained it all in layman terms: In brief, the dozens of dishes coordinate their observations and function like one huge dish, which captures a broader electromagnetic spectrum. To add up the thousands of observations per millisecond, ALMA is also building one of the world’s fastest super-computers.

Kertik told us a bit about life at ALMA. Engineers and astronomers work for 8-day shifts (working every day from 6am to 11pm), get 6 days of rest in Antofagasta or Santiago, and work for 8 more days. Some then return to their home countries for a few months. All in all, the camp lodges over 600 workers, scientists, and engineers from over 20 countries. We saw Kertik’s living quarters – a sparse, college-like dorm, with black shutters to sleep after nighttime observations. The hundreds of temporary construction workers stay in temporary cabins, but can take a bus to San Pedro for evenings in town.

At 4pm, time came for us to head back. Star struck by the project (excuse the pun), we said goodbye to our hosts, and glimpsed at the white antennae for one last time. They disappeared behind the red mountains, as we drove through the dry desert road towards San Pedro.

Let’s Talk about Chilean Photography

by Ashley Wu:

Chilean photographer Jon Jacobsen tells us about his career and the art scene in Santiago. Specializing in portraits, Jacobsen’s surrealist photography has appeared in leading Latin American publications such as Paula magazine. Skip to 3:40 to see some of his photos.

An Afternoon in San Francisco de Chiu Chiu

by Margaret Zhang:

After a two day tourist jaunt in starry-skied San Pedro de Atacama, we’ve returned to Calama to get back down to business. This afternoon, we had a meeting with a Calama-based Codelco employee and then explored the Chiu Chiu community.

Before we came to northern Chile, we were distinctly aware that we’d be spending time in the Atacama Desert, one of the driest places in the entire world. There are parts of this desert that have never experienced rain in all of history! Such arid conditions seem to make it impossible for anything to stay alive, yet 26 native Atacameña tribes have thrived in the area for years. One tribe is the Chiu Chiu, located in a small oasis town about twenty minutes outside of Calama.

The Chiu Chiu people have been in the area for many years and lead an agriculture-based lifestyle, depending on the river Loa as their main source of water. As the river Loa has become more and more polluted by the nearby copper mine, Chiquicamata, the Chiu Chiu people have begun to fight legal battles against Goliath corporate mining companies.

We visited the Chiu Chiu community with the president of the community, Wilson Galleguillos. While there, we saw one of the oldest churches in Chile, which had doors and front gates made out of beautiful dried cactus wood.

We also visited a sacred Chiu Chiu lake rumored to be both bottomless, and made from the unstoppable tears of a mother who had lost her child. Though the latter was confirmed to be only legend, the Chiu Chiu people really believe that the lake has no bottom–perhaps we’ll need to do a Globalist scuba dive mission here in the future.

Wilson Galleguillos also happened to be the community’s expert in herbal medicine, so we got to check out his medicine shop, chock-full of herbs ready to combat any illness.

The Chiu Chiu community differs from other Atacameña tribes due to their proximity to a growing and increasingly influential city. The Chiu Chiu youth frequently look for jobs in the city of Calama, but with 85% of the Calama economy dominated by Codelco mining activities, it seems almost inevitable that some Chiu Chiu youth will be working for the company that pollutes their community’s natural source of water. While this is the case, the Chiu Chiu community is not worried about the loss of the future generation: within a few years of leaving the community, Chiu Chiu youth will often return from the mining-based bustle of Calama to the tranquilo of San Francisco de Chiu Chiu.

Pride and Polemics in Valparaíso

by Eli Markham:

Today—May 21st—marks the anniversary of the 1879 Battle of Iquique, a naval encounter during the Pacific War. The Esmeralda, a wooden Chilean ship that was under the command of 31-year-old Arturo Prat, took on a Peruvian ironclad battleship. The Chileans showed great bravery during the battle, with Captain Prat himself leading an unsuccessful boarding party onto the enemy ship. In the end, though, the iron ship prevailed and the Esmeralda sunk—along with nearly all of its crew. At the Chilean Naval History Museum, an entire room is dedicated to retelling the story of this battle, complete with portraits of Captain Prat from age 14 onwards.
Although to foreigners this encounter between two ships may seem a fairly minor battle, to Chileans it is an emblem of the heroism of their armed forces. Each year the President gives a major speech (equivalent to the U.S.’s State of the Union) on May 21st at the National Congress in Valparaíso, detailing his past successes and laying out his agenda for the next year. His speech is followed by a major military parade in to the central square, Plaza Sotomayor. Ranks and ranks of white-capped sailors stand at attention for hours as carabineros and SWAT team members patrol the perimeter, all while military and religious leaders give speeches.

Sailors and security forces stand guard in Plaza Sotomayor. (Bruner/TYG)

While the organized spectacle in Plaza Sotomayor may give off the impression of a perfectly ordered and peaceful society, that could not be farther from the truth. As we have been consistently reminded during our stay in Chile, this past year has seen a number of student protests against the right-wing government of President Sebastian Piñera. Today brought even more. While he spoke, student protesters chanted leftist slogans and waved signs. Most of them were students from the Valparaíso’s universities, but a number had taken the morning bus from Santiago, just an hour and a half away. Later in the day, the protests became violent, as many Chilean protests tend to do. Foreigners caught participating in the protests are deported, so we were sure to keep our distance from the violence.

What is the point of the student protests? There’s no easy answer; one of our Globalist reporters, Sally Helm, will be putting together an article on the topic for our fall issue of the magazine. But here’s my take: the protests are, in part, a push for certain policies, such as a decrease in the interest rate of student loans. In part, the students feel that there is no chance for anyone outside of the elite to succeed; Chile has even more income inequality than America, and there is little social mobility. In part, they seek a sense of belonging to a larger movement. And in part, I think, the orderly society present in Plaza Sotomayor no longer appeals to most Chileans. There were twice as many participants in the military ceremony as there were civilian spectators. Perhaps the Battle of Iquique and Arturo Prat’s heroics do not strike a chord with our generation of Chilenos.

(Photos Bruner/TYG)