Monday, April 02, 2007

Geoglyphs in Chile

Chile is an odd place, a desert that lies on a coastline. Away from the coast, it looks like Mars -- dry, reddish soil unrelieved by any sign of life. I spent a weekend in the port city of Iquique, which got its start as a mining town. A 1,500-foot cliff forms the eastern boundary of the city, and it is a great place to do paragliding. These guys can stay up for hours.

The nitrate deposits lying near the surface here were mined and exported all over the world. It was used as fertilizer mainly but it also had minerals used to make gunpowder and sulfuric acid, among many other products. The Pacific War of 1879 was fought among Chile, Peru and Bolivia over control of nitrates. That´s when Bolivia lost its coastline. It is still trying to get it back, now by offering Chile gas for a corridor to the sea.

Today Iquique is a center for container shipping, commercial fishing and tourism. Santiago is 1,000 miles to the south, and a lot of its residents vacation here. The water is pumped in from hundreds of miles away, far up in the mountains. I went to a hot springs oasis far into the interior and about 4,000 feet above sea level.

About 1,500 years ago, at the height of the Tiwanaku empire, which was based on the shores of Lake Titicaca, the local shamans produced thousands of carvings in the soil and rock. Many have survived in the dry mountain air.

Among the best examples are at a place called Pintados, about an hour or so east of Iquique. These carvings go about four to eight inches deep into the soil or rock and are sometimes highlighted by patterns of inlaid stone. Some of them are 50 to 100 feet across. The guide, who really knew his stuff, explained the religious significance of many of the groupings. It´s hard to reproduce the impact in photographs. The size of the images and their location are stunning. One supple image near the center depicts a shark. These glyphs were supposed to create a sense of religious awe. They still do.


  1. Jim -- Those aren't religious carvings. Rather quite obviously they are methods of sending data to extraterrestrials landing in the area. -- David Boldt

  2. Anonymous8:10 PM

    I have just read a number of the stories and wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed your photos and commentary. It was a cheap way for me to travel through South America.

    Do you remember Cleveland's Jim Doney's Adventure Road? You could revive it with your own version.

    Jim Miraldi