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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If you have any other books or films to recommend about either of these places, leave a comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.