Chile: The Land Where the Earth Ends

By Gloria Vaquera Photos Courtesy of Chile Tourism

Located along the southwestern coast of South America lays Chile; a country whose rich diversity and culture, eclectic cuisine, distinct geography and varied atmospheric conditions have produced an indisputably unique place on earth.

Chile is the longest and at the same time, most narrow country on the planet. Its length consists of 2,653 miles of Pacific coastline and its width, averaging only 112 miles, runs from the Pacific Ocean to the rugged Andes Mountains bordering the east. The tri-continental nation shares borders with Argentina, Peru and Bolivia but also has territories in Oceania and Antarctica. 

The North

Such vastness lends itself to a majestic display of scenic splendors starting with the Atacama Desert. In studies conducted by NASA, it was concluded that this desert area in northern Chile, is the driest in the world with average rainfall recorded approximately 1mm per year. Due to the intense dryness, the Atacama Desert is one of the most important environments for researchers as it is believed to be the one place on Earth that most closely resembles the conditions of Mars.

The Central Valley

Between the Andes on the east and a lower mountain range that runs along the Pacific coast lays a glorious countryside in the fertile central valley. Beaming with the Mapuche culture, this is where the country’s agricultural activity is centered and where the majority of Chile’s world-renowned wine is produced. Nestled in the central heartland are Santiago, the lively capital of Chile, and the port city of Valparaiso. This region is quite possibly the only place on the planet where one could ski in the Andes in the morning and drive one hour down to the beach to enjoy some surfing by late afternoon.  

Easter Island

Easter Island is uniquely isolated, deep in the South Pacific Ocean approximately 2,300 miles from Chile. It is unclear when the islands were first settled, but on Easter Sunday in 1722, Dutch explorers landed there and thus the island got its name. At the time, only a few Rapa Nui, the Polynesian society that inhabited the island, remained and the collection of almost 1,000 giant moai statues that dotted the landscape had already existed for several centuries. The average figure stands 13 feet tall and weighs 14 tons and although no one really knows much about the significance of the sculptures, one thing is certain; the moai stand in silence as a monument to the master craftsmen and engineers who constructed them. 

The South 

Abounding in breath-taking lakes for water sports like fishing, white-water rafting, hydrospeed or canyoning; stunning volcanoes and nature reserves for observing the flora and fauna; ancient forests and national parks for skiing and exploring; and natural spas for relaxing, the southern part of the country has an allure unique to the region. It is also where one can find the magical island of Chiloé, home of the palafitos, homes built on stilts above the ocean water, and a collection of churches that numbered 400 at one point in time. 

Patagonia and Antarctica

Patagonia is the southernmost tip of the continent and is known as the land where the earth ends. Very little has changed here since the first explorers discovered the area around 500 years ago. Even the ranching history, the gaucho lifestyle and pioneer towns in this area have withstood the test of time. The varied landscapes of Patagonia include everything from wildflower fields to hundreds of pristine glaciers, fjords, and mountains. It is not uncommon to encounter wildlife such as penguins, dolphins and killer whales towards the southern edge. From here, the only place to continue further south is to Antarctica by sea. 

Climate

The seasons in Chile are quite the opposite of those in the northern hemisphere. In the majority of the country spring runs from October to December, summers are from January to March, fall from April to June and winter from July to September. However, the average temperatures vary depending on the part of the country. In the north, the days remain warm while the nights can get quite cool. The central part of Chile has typical Mediterranean climate with the average high in the mid 80s in the summer. In the south, low temperatures and recurring rainfall are normal year round. 

Cuisine

The confluence of ecological wonders, climatic contrasts and a centuries-old culture has had a great impact on the identity of Chile and its people. Chileans are known for their warmth and kindness as well as their willingness to share their love for the land, culture and food. There is no better exemplar of this than the gastronomic adventure that Raquel Contreras and her son, Esteban Catalan, took us on when they welcomed us into their home to sample traditional Chilean food and wine. The menu included palta reina, a chicken-salad-stuffed avocado as an appetizer. Followed by the popular entree pastel de choclo, a corn and meat pie similar to a shepherd’s pie, and a peaches and cream dessert. The meal was accompanied by an exquisite Santa Ema Merlot and effortless conversations about Chile. Our encounter with Raquel and Esteban taught us as much about the intriguing history of their food as it did about the extensive geographical features of their country.

Summer 2017

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