BETTER LATE THAN NEVER
sure...i've been back in nyc for a few weeks now, but i'd hate to just abandon the story at 15,000 feet. when i last checked in i was still up in the altiplano getting a sunburn. (i used the SPF 45 in the morning, but neglected to re-apply after the mud bath. i'll blame the dizzying altitude and a little forgetful post-photographing bliss.) at any rate, after a final night in moutains and feeling very content to have found the llareta, we headed back down towards arica, stopping along the way to visit some old queñua trees which eliana had previously conducted extensive research on. we reached arica in the mid afternoon, tired and dusty, in time to buy some fresher than fresh fruit in one of the best farmer's markets i've ever seen.
i left arica for santiago the following morning after a rather unfortunate misunderstanding about daylight savings time. i had to laugh through my drowsy haze when an entire chilean football team got on the plane, the andes in full view. [to explain: before my trip i had asked my young cousin aiden mantelmacher (is that not the best name?) if he knew where the andes were. indeed he did -- because of his fondness for the movie ALIVE.]
SANTIAGO >> PUERTO MONTT >> VALDIVIA
after another restorative night in santiago in the home of the afore mentioned javier and bruna, i officially headed down to the cooler, rainier south for part II of my expedition: searching out the two oldest alerce trees on the northern borders of patagonia. i flew into the working port town of puerto montt, and after sorting out some problems with the my rental car (yes, i needed a 4x4, no, i couldn't drive stick, that's why i reserved the automatic), i wound my way through construction and detours onto the panamerican highway and got directly out of dodge.
i was relieved to find the drive from PM to valdivia an easy one, the roads well paved and well marked. it was my first time driving in south america by myself and i hadn't been sure what to expect. after the desert in the north, the waters of the rivers region seemed almost decadent. not quite enough so to quell the forest and brush fires that plagued the summer months, however. by mid afternoon i had made it into valdivia proper, a charming college town on a river and near the coast. on the advice of bruna's friend bernie i checked into the hostal above la celesa restuarant which turned out to be a private room in the family home of the folks who run the restaurant. i couldn't have been more pleased. i was their only guest, and an occasional baby crawled or scooted their respective ways into my room. that evening i met jonathan barichivich, colleague of alerce expert antonio lara, who would be my guide to a 3,500 year old alerce the following day.