Low impact living???

Trip Start Jan 04, 2008
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Trip End Apr 08, 2008


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Flag of Chile  ,
Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Well it looks like we can't really get out of this town for a few days...the buses across the Andes into Argentina (and moisture) are booked until the 17th.  So we'll divide our time between Arica and San Pedro de Atacama, which is about 12 hours from here in the higher desert.  Arica is fine to hang out in...it's just that the minute someone tells you can't leave for a bit, then you get all itching to leave. 
 
But we settle in to enjoy the sights and sounds of Arica....I hear that there are sea lions near the port...I'm picturing something like San Francisco where they are piled up on docks in the sun just waiting to be photographed.  But this is a little different.  Once we find the right area of the port, the animals are there, playing and swimming around but amongst the trash in the water.  Tossing paper towels and plastic bags across the water and retrieving them...they're even enjoying the unique construction of the six-pack plastic rings we've provided for them. They're big and I could watch them forever but with mixed feelings...the nastiness in the water is disappointing and in contrast to their beauty.   I am surprised that in a place like Chile, and in a vacation seafront town, there wouldn't be more of an effort to take care of the trash.  Got to say, I'm just not finding the environmental ethic to be a strong one in South America....yes, sweeping generalization, but supported not only by what I see but in the perspective of locals.  "We're just not green down here", I'm told, and while I search for some expression of environmental activism, I find little concrete evidence.  Perhaps, beyond the surface exposure, there is a greater awareness. 
 
What is a new experience for me is witnessing the lives of people in the desert.  The water for this town is supplied by subsurface flow from the high mountains to the east...water is always a concern...shortages occur...yet the bottomlands of the valleys leading up to the mountains are rich agriculturally...there are nurseries for palms and other desert ornamentals, there are acres and acres of olives...right now, I'm not sure who has better olives, Chile or Greece.  These areas of agronomic significance are sharply delineated on the landscape...they are green and lush and much cooler (the ability of vegetation to moderate the air temperature is striking), their perimeter...hot, dry sands...
 
So how can and why do humans settle in such austere places?  Apparently there have been civilizations here for ages...way before colonialism.  And the remnants of their existence have been well preserved by the dehydrating conditions (mummies are big here).  But still, people land in places like Arica and the surrounding area and settle in.  We adapt with sun protection, fans and maybe air conditioners, living our lives either early in the morning or late in the evening (siestas are a must),  becoming accustomed to water shortages, regular power outages....maybe its simply a different end of the same spectrum we have adapted to in Syracuse.  We dress in layers, insulate our houses, burn up fossil fuels, and import year-round fresh fruits and vegetables on in order to survive in our own extreme conditions.  What's increasingly apparent is the degree to which humans have bent over backwards to widen their range of occupancy on earth....way beyond our natural habitat.  And with that comes increased consumption...in the name of adaptation and survival.  In fact, how much of the world really is within our natural habitat requirements?  Now that would be some low impact living. 
 
 
 
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