in Northern Chile
by Kay Quijada
Traveling with Joe
and 6 other “plant people” from
the San Francisco area, we flew to the northern coastal city
of Arica, Chile, and immediately headed east towards Lauca
National Park in the Andes. We stayed in the village of Putre,
elevation 11,500 feet, to help acclimatize quicker to the
higher altitude of the Andes. From Putre, we took day trips
up to the thin air of the altiplano (highlands) of Lauca.
Spectacular views were everywhere. There were snow-covered
volcanoes, wild herds of vicunas, rock-dwelling vizcachas,
a lake with pink flamingos, colorful hills, and the bluest
sky we’d ever seen.
amazed to see the green cushion-like plant called Azorella
compacta, growing in the high desert altitudes of
14,000 to 15,000 feet.
in the high elevations we saw a few cactus; Eulychnia,
Maihueniopsis, and Oreocereus species. On the
way back to Arica we traveled through an area of enormous
sand dunes where a number of stately Browningina candelaris grew.
We then flew south
to the coastal city of Antofagasta and drove south into
the beautiful Atacama Desert to Copiapo.
One of the interesting sights seen in the Atacama Desert
is the process of natural plant death. The Atacama is almost
barren of bacteria. This fact became apparent to us as we
realized the piles of white ash found around dead plants
was not from burning, but from the very slow process of plant
material disintegration due to low populations of bacteria.
Since then, I’ve read that the plant disintegration
process in the Atacama may take decades.
As we made our
way around the coastal and desert canyons from Taltal to
Caldera, we managed to see a number of Copiapoa
and Eulychnia species (some blooming), a Cistanthe species
with red pompom flowers, Deutercohnia chrysantha, Oxalis
gigantea, beautiful scenery, and braying
wild Guanacos. Chile
is a spectacular place, indeed.