December 11, 2011

Mine All Mine

What do Larry Bird, Patrick Roy, Dan Wheldon, and a mine in Copiapó all have in common? The number 33! Now I didn’t visit the infamous San José Mine, but I did decide that a trip to Chile just wouldn’t be complete without checking out a Chilean mine. The industrial parts were immense. I guess I never realized how much space is needed for the whole copper mining process. Spread out over hectares of land, a really old train transfers the ore from the mines to the storehouses to the smelter to town.

Afterwards I made my way to Sewell a ghost town high up in the mountains. Why is it a ghost town now you ask? All of the inhabitants were dying of black lung and from the air which was saturated with arsenic. Other than that… what a place to live! The town was originally built by a North American in 1904 who brought all of his building supplies from the States and set up the town as a self-standing community. The miners that lived there received their salary and paid no rent or board. For many country folk this was a huge change and they were happy to be living in luxury. As an outsider I really felt like I had walked into an old-Western set. It was eerie, but fascinating.

Today Sewell is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Despite all of the tremendous earthquakes and shakes, the town still stands. Since all of the buildings were constructed of wood, they withstood the stress. The nicest houses however couldn’t defend themselves from the hands that tore them down. When everyone left the town they took 3/4 of the town with them. That means all that’s left is only a smidgen of what it used to look like. At any rate it is still a gorgeous town situated high up in the mountains.

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December 5, 2011

Legends of the Hidden Inca Temple

If you thought that Marina and I would just play it cool and have a relatively quiet beach vacation, you are mistaken. Of course we had to shake it up a bit, so we spun the globe, pointed to a spot and ended up in Cusco, Peru.

Our first day there we made some friends at the airport and shared an amazing two-hour lunch with them. Carlos and Francesca were reporting on a fashion show that was going on in Cusco that week. We had a great time chatting with them, tasting some delicious Peruvian food, and just hanging out.

The next day we left for a two day trip to Machu Picchu. We travelled by train to get there and it was really cool because we could look up through the glass roof and look out to see the jungly terrain. It exactly matched what I had imagined it would be like, green, rocky and beautiful.

After learning all about the different native tribes in Chile, I have come to appreciate the variety and Chilean traditions that span over thousands of years. Thank you Pre-Columbian Art History. But along with the admiration of all things Chilean, I had developed a bit of an aversion to all things Inca because of the number they did on the native cultures. One look at Machu Picchu and I had to set my feelings aside and stand amazed at the skill they displayed in their city. Some of my favorite things about the city are the details that these intelligent people built so many years ago.

Example #1

Somehow the Incas knew where the fault lines were on the mountain. If an earthquake were to occur the city would have been torn apart and all of their work would have been destroyed. Not so fast there. The Incas were one step ahead of the game. They built a fault zone along the line so that as the ground shifted the city remained intact. Genius. (You can see how severe the fault line is by the huge chunk of the mountain that is in shadow.)

Example #2

Farming on a mountainside can’t be easy; especially when the mountainside is super steep. Never fear, the Incas have it under control. They cut notches out of the side of the hill to create the perfect agricultural plots. What’s more is that they also developed a greenhouse in order to cultivate plants that only grow at sea-level (like potatoes) at higher altitudes.

We hiked all day up to the sun gate on to see Machu Picchu from afar, around to the Incan bridge on the backside to see the sheer drop off (wouldn’t wanna be there during an earthquake), and back through the ancient city. Every year Peru claims that they are gonna permanently close down Machu Picchu because the city is wearing down. I’m pretty sure that if it has survived hundreds of years a few pesky tourists aren’t much of a threat, plus the upkeep can’t be that bad. They have some awesome free lawn mowers that work 24/7 for free!

Once we got back into Cusco, we decided that we wanted to see more of the Sacred Valley so we took another all day tour of the other sites. The Spaniards found all of these Inca cities so they were all in ruins, but it was still good to see some more cities. All in all we toured Pisaq, Ollantaytambo and Chinchurro. We had good weather for the majority of the day which made hiking through the ruins a pleasant adventure.

The last night we were in Cusco we went to a recommended restaurant from our trusty guide book. The food was delicious and there was even live music. We had a great time in Peru and it was delightful the whole time. As we looked out of our window in the plane to say goodbye to Peru, we were sad to leave. Then at the end of the runway with our last glimpse of Peru we were scared to leave. Why you ask? I’ll let you be the judge.