This past week I ventured to the Northernmost tip of Chile to explore one of the country’s beautiful national parks. Even before officially arriving in the park, the views along the drive took my breath away. The park was located at 15,000 feet and the drive was breaking through clouds and entering a surreal landscape. One of our many comments was that it was one of the most barren landscapes we had ever seen; no trees as far as the eye could see. It felt as though we were on Mars. When we finally arrived to Lauca National Park, we were stunned by the lush greenery and incredible amount of biodiversity. There were alpacas on one side of the road and flamingoes on the other! We spent the next few days camping at one of the highest elevation lakes in the world, complete with volcanoes that reached heights of 21,000 feet
View of Lago Chungura (with flamingoes and vicunas in the background) at ~15,000 feet
On this trip, we met many hitchhikers and other backpackers. It was interesting to discover that almost everyone we met was from Europe, we met two different groups of Germans on our trip and a backpacker from Slovakia. I was very curious as to why so many Germans would be visiting a fairly obscure national park in Chile. Over the months that I have been here, I have learned that there is a fairly strong German presence in Chile and that they were actually one of the largest immigration groups in the early 1900’s. Their presence can be seen in German sandwich shops throughout Santiago, Chile. One of my favorites is Fuente Aleman, which serves huge sandwiches called Lomitos.
We also travelled to a town called Arica, which is world-famous for its surfable waves, and, most importantly, its famous wave called El Gringo. Arica hosts world championships for surfing and has a stunning coastline. I got the chance to take my first surf lessons ever at one of the best locations to do so. While in Arica, we stayed in a hostel near the shore. We got to take yoga classes with the owners and even got to take care of little black lab puppies that had just been born. Many of the people that had been born in Arica, such as my surf instructor and the hostel owners, had ventured to locations such as California and eventually settled back down in Arica. It’s charm and absolutely stunning coastline made me understand why. I have heard time and time again that many Chileans think the coast of Chile is very similar to California and that many have visited for that reason. Sadly, no one mentioned they wanted to visit Connecticut (understandably so).
This trip to the North further solidified my knowledge of the welcoming outdoor community and gave me the opportunity to learn more about a different aspect of Chilean culture, which includes many foreigners, such as the germans. Onto the next trip!