Chile: Santiago Hotel Recommendation

Casa Moro, Corte Suprema 177, Santiago de Chile

Casa Moro, Santiago, Chile

In the heart of Santiago just two blocks from the presidential palace, this funky bed and breakfast has garnered a large and enthusiastic following on Tripadvisor thanks to its stylish décor and welcoming hosts.  The hotel revolves around a lush, open-air courtyard of bright plants, colorful folk art and the soothing trickle of a fountain, an ideal place to relax after a long day of sight seeing.  Guests also have access to a communal kitchen and a gallery that features jewelry, woven tapestries and crocheted garments from the south of Chile.

Innkeepers Marcelo and Walter are adored for their warmth and attentive service.  They also serve an exceptional breakfast of homemade scones, eggs and fruit.  At $130 for a double room, Casa Moro’s rates are on par with hostels in pricey Santiago.  However, staying at this delightful inn feels more like visiting the home of a dear friend.

Easter Island

Easter Island

Easter Island, a tiny speck in the vast Pacific Ocean, is the most remote inhabited island on earth.  It is a place shrouded in mystery.  In 1888, when it was annexed by Chile, only 111 inhabitants and few trees remained.  Yet, at its peak, several hundred years earlier, it had been a lush tropical paradise with a population of 9000 people who carved and mounted enormous statues (known as “moai”) to venerate their ancestors.  What explains the sudden collapse of this once thriving society?

For years, the consensus view held that the residents of the island greedily cut down all of the trees in order to transport the moai statues.  In his best-selling book Collapse, Jared Diamond cites Easter Island as the “clearest example of a society that destroyed itself by overexploiting its own resources.”  However, recent research, outlined by Terry Hunt and Carl Lipo in The Statues that Walked, points to a new equally intriguing theory: the Polynesians who settled Easter Island brought with them a rat that upset the island’s fragile ecosystem and caused the destruction of the trees.  If this sounds far-fetched, note that a similar phenomenon occurred in Hawaii, where up to 90% of the native lowland forest was destroyed by the same Polynesian rat.

Whatever the true cause of the island’s collapse, Easter Island is an intriguing place to visit.  The entire island functions as a large outdoor museum with archeological ruins to discover and examine at every turn.  In addition to the moai statues, the island contains the remains of past villages and two rock quarries heaping with half-built moai still frozen in the moment construction of the statues suddenly stopped.  It also exhibits natural beauty beyond what would imagine on an island that lost all of its trees.  Lush green craters and volcanoes rise from the island’s interior while shimmering patches of turquoise water lie just beyond the coast.  Despite the island’s famed losses, paradise has not been entirely lost.

Rano Raraku, Easter Islamd

Rano Raraku, Easter Island

Easter IslandCrater, Easter Island

Anakena Beach, Easter IslandAhu Tahai, Easter Island

On preparing for a trip

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Tomorrow I leave for a month long trip, first to the desert and salt flats at the intersection of Argentina, Chile and Bolivia, and then to Easter Island.  I have been fantasizing about this trip for many years and preparing for it actively for the past two months, pouring over maps, contacting hotels and tour companies and immersing myself in books, films and documentaries about the regions I will be visiting.

Each time I travel somewhere new, I try to learn as much I can about it, not just from my guidebook, but from those authors and filmmakers that know it intimately.  This process allows me to visualize myself there before I arrive so that I can adjust quickly to my new surroundings and take full advantage of the trip.  The more familiar I am with a place before I arrive, the deeper I can go once I’m there.

Here are the books, films, documentaries and T.V. shows that have guided me in the preparation of my upcoming trip:

Chile/Bolivia Desert Region

1) Nostalgia for the Light: Breathtaking documentary by Chilean director Patricio Guzmán about two parallel searches in the Atacama Desert: for cosmic origins and people who disappeared during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.  Highly recommended!

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ok7f4MLL-Hk

NYTimes Review: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/18/movies/nostalgia-for-the-light-chile-documentary-review.html

2) Prófugos: One of my favorite TV shows of all time!  Follows a group of Chilean drug traffickers on the run from law enforcement.  Season 1 begins in the Atacama Desert, where the traffickers have come to pick up a truckload of cocaine from Bolivia, and tracks their subsequent escape from Valparaiso to the snowy mountains near Santiago and the volcanoes and forests of the Lakes District.  The cinematography is beautiful and will introduce you to Chile’s varied and magnificent scenery.

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jsMvr5zQHsY

Comcast Link for Streaming: http://xfinitytv.comcast.net/watch/Prófugos/7115856309296967112/full-episodes#episode=7747768056666408112

3) Alicia en el País: Independent film based on the true story of a 13 year-old Bolivian girl who walked 180 km across the desert from her home in an indigenous community of southwest Bolivia to San Pedro de Atacama (Chile) in search of work.

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PBA0Yu4xZkQ

 

4) Mercury, Mining, and Empire: The Human and Ecological Cost of Colonial Silver Mining in the Andes by Nicholas Robins: A historical look at the colonial history of mercury and silver production in present day Bolivia.

Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/Mercury-Mining-Empire-Ecological-Colonial-ebook/dp/B008561F0K/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=&qid=

Easter Island

1) The Statues that Walked: Unraveling the Mystery of Easter Island, by Terry Hunt, Carl Lipo: Recommended to me by friends on Easter Island as the most reliable and well-researched account of the mysterious series of events that led to the building of the Moai statues and the decline of the once flourishing society that built them.

Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/The-Statues-that-Walked-Unraveling/dp/1619020203

2) Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, by Jared Diamond

The classic account on why societies fall apart, highlighting Easter Island as a central example of how environmental damage leads to collapse.

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Collapse-Societies-Succeed-Revised-Edition/dp/0143117009/ref=pd_sim_b_12

3) 180 Degrees South: Documentary that follows the journey of Jeff Johnson, as he travels from Ventura, California to Patagonia, Chile, retracing the 1968 journey of Yvon Chouinard and Doug Tompkins (founders of Patagonia and North Face).  On his way to Chile, Jeff takes a boat, which accidentally lands on Easter Island.  He remains for several weeks and falls in love with the island.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cWBz_pxYC0A

If you have any other books or films to recommend about either of these places, leave a comment below or email me at virginia@deeper-skies.com.