I Might As Well Be Back in Cleveland

Southern California Is Being Buffeted by Winds

When I lived in Cleveland and in New Hampshire, I was the plaything of various seasonal allergies. There was the sneezing (and the bloody noses), the itching eyes, and borderline asthma. Now with the Winterspring Complex we are now experiencing, it’s back again. Not only do my eyes itch, but the discharge is sticky, such that I have to open my eyes with my fingers in the morning. And I am going through handkerchiefs like they’re going out of style. (I don’t use Kleenex because I feel bad about destroying trees just so I can blow my nose in them.)

As my friend Bill Korn says, these winds are usually accompanied by winter rainstorms, but we have had precious few of those. The current rainy season, which will end soon, is another bad one—just a few inches of mostly occasional showers and only one thorough wetting.

California is well on its way to becoming the next Atacama Desert, which is the world’s driest desert, clocking in at less than 3 mm of precipitation a year. That’s not even as big as one of my sneezes.

The Atacama Desert of Chile and Peru

When the weather starts getting hot, my allergies will gradually disappear. But then I’ll start complaining about the heat.

Atacama and Altiplano

Political Demonstration in La Paz, Bolivia

Still on lockdown from the quarantine, I am dreaming of a vacation that includes Peru, the northern tip of Chile, and the Altiplano region of Bolivia. I may be too old for this trip (at age 76), but I continue to collect information. In terms of transportation, it involves a round trip flight from Los Angeles to Lima, Peru.

There are three legs to this trip.

First I head south in two or three stages to Tacna, Peru, which is on the border with Chile and its Atacama Desert, and over the border to Arica. The stages might include Paracas, Huacachina, and (most definitely) Arequipa.

From Arica, I head northeast to the Bolivian border, possibly stopping at Putre and the Parque Nacional Lauca. From this point until the end of the trip, I am at high altitude, from twelve to fifteen thousand feet (between 3600 and 4600 meters). I will be subject to soroche, or altitude sickness. I will have to use coca leaves and an alkaloid to keep me from becoming seriously ill.

Chile’s Atacama Desert, Which Receives No Rain To Speak Of

From Arica to La Paz, Bolivia is only seven hours by bus, continuing on my northeasterly direction.

I will recover from my bus ride for a few days in La Paz, possibly seeing the ruins at Tiwanaku. Then I head northwest to Copacabana, where I will be on the shores of Lake Titicaca. I will spend a night on the Isla del Sol, and take a bus to Puno in Peru. From Puno, I will take either a bus or train to Cusco, where I will see several local Inca ruins (though not necessarily Macchu Pichu, which I saw in 2015). From Cusco, I fly to Lima and eventually back to Los Angeles.

The Whole Trip Is in the Extreme Southwest of This Map

What interests me in this area are, in addition to the mountains and deserts, the cultures of the mountain peoples living in the area. Originally, I was very interested in the Inca, but then I realized that they were not as advanced as I had thought. One exception: Their stonework is amazing. Also, this is the area from which the Spanish conquistadores extracted most of their wealth, leaving behind some incredible churches full of gold, silver, and incredible paintings.

If it turns out I am too old for this trip, I will reluctantly skip Bolivia and continue to head southward in Chile until I reach Santiago.

Get the H Out of There!

The Atacama-ization of Southern California

The Atacama-ization of Southern California

This was supposed to be a wet rainy season, courtesy of the strongest El Niño in years. Well, February is almost over; and we rarely get much, if any, rain in March and April. The El Niño has sent a lot of rain to Northern California, which is good, but now a high pressure ridge is setting up in the Rockies which will dry everything out and make the mercury rise. And it may result in the dwindling of the now respectable snowpack in the Sierras.

By the picture caption above, I mean that Southern California is becoming North America’s own equivalent of Chile’s Atacama Desert, where it almost never rains. I believe the last flood in the Atacama was witnessed by Noah.

In the meantime, Martine and I scoff more than ever at weather reporters. El Ninny strikes again!

Atacama

The Driest Place on Earth

The Driest Place on Earth

As we in Southern California swelter through a seemingly endless series of hot, humid weather, my mind turns to the Norte Grande of Chile, where the Atacama Desert is the driest place on earth. At one time, I desperately wanted to take the Ferrocarril Antofagasta a Bolivia (FCAB), which ran passenger trains between Antofagasta, Chile and Oruro, Bolivia, from which it was possible to change trains to La Paz.

Years ago, I saw a television documentary about one such trip: I was instantly sold. Unfortunately, although trains still run along the FCAB route, they are all freights.

In My Invented Country, Isabel Allende describes fleeing Chile by this train in 1973 after her cousin Salvador was killed with the participation of the CIA. She remembers an endless, hot, dry expanse.

The FCAB Today

The FCAB Today

Another refugee from Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship was writer Ariel Dorfman, who has this to say about the Atacama in Desert Memories: Journeys Through the Chilean North:

Less rain falls on these sands than on any other similarly blighted expanse on Earth. I talked to men born in Arica, a woman brought up in Pisagua, men and women who had never ventured forth from the nitrate town of María Elena or who have never left the oasis of Pica, which produces the most fragrant oranges your tongue has ever rolled over, and none of them had felt one drop of rain on their bodies in their lives….

Oh yes, it rained once, some years ago, in Antofagasta. Two millimeters. And several residents died in the ensuing mudslide…. That semi-sprinkle had not reached Antofagasta itself, though there was an unusual front of turbulence sweeping in from the sea, so the reporter on the local radio was already trying to calm down a populace that had begun to panic, a woman had called in to say—much to our cruel mirth—that she thought she had felt a drop of rain on her cheek, and what should she do, should she evacuate her children?

We might smirk a bit at that, though with our California drought, we ought to be prepared for anything. With luck, we might see some appreciable rain this winter … or else!