Chile is one of South America's most stable and prosperous nations. It has been relatively free of the coups and arbitrary governments that have blighted the continent. The exception was the 17-year rule of General Augusto Pinochet, whose 1973 coup was one of the bloodiest in the 20th-century. During the coup, engineered and actively supported by the CIA, Pinochet seized power from the popular president Salvador Allende. Allende had formed a socialist government striving to distribute wealth more evenly. But as foreign investors shied away and domestic capital fled, it also ran into economic difficulties. More importantly, however, it was the rich elite's and the USA's ever so paranoid fear of communism and the alleged possibility of a "domino effect" that sealed Allende's fate.
In 1973, Allende was not only replaced in Pinochet's military coup, he even lost his life in it. Fighter planes attacked the presidential palace in Santiago – while Allende was delivering a melodramatic farewell speech on live radio. Many Chileans went into exile. Thousands of opposition members in the country were imprisoned, or in many cases simply "disappeared". The Pinochet military dictatorship lasted 17 long years – but Chile has been remarkable in its recovery from that dark chapter. It managed more or less successfully to get back on the path of democracy. It has also been an economic success story, and that includes tourism. In general, the tourism infrastructure in Chile is excellent. Price-wise, however, it's on a somewhat higher level compared to some neighbouring countries.
A small island in the Pacific with nothing for 4000 kilometers in every direction, making it the most remote desolate speck of land on Earth. The island which is most famous for its mysterious stone statues called Moai. These tell a tale of environmental destruction leading to complete societal collapse and a civil war that even involved cannibalism.
Easter Island is so called because the first European explorer to set his eyes on it did so on Easter Sunday. Created by three (now extinct) volcanoes, it's small and mostly barren. The early settlers of Easter Island were the Polynesians, who started building those awesome giants statues. The moai were erected for symbolically securing the elite's positions of power and as part of a kind of ancestor-worship. Such monumental statues came at a heavy prices - the inhabitants used all the trees and natural resources on the island as a result. Agriculture was highly organized to extract maximum crops, straining the soil. All species of animals were soon hunted down to extinction, leaving only chicken as livestock and fish to fish in the surrounding ocean.
As resources got scarcer and tensions arose accordingly between clans as well as within the various clans, the islanders never stopped building the moai statues. Eventually a collapse did come, and it came brutally. Civil wars broke out and in the end, reduction of the critical overpopulation ensued, mostly through death, natural as well as violent. Starvation will have been a major cause of death – there is also evidence of cannibalism. After all, as other resources ran out, eating each other was one of the last options still available.
Then came the European explorers and colonizers. These outsiders did what they did all over the Americas and elsewhere: engage in ruthless exploitation themselves. On Easter Island, the only resource left to exploit was the remaining population. Peruvian slave traders took a large part of the Rapanui away and sent them to work in mines on the mainland. In addition, contact with the new arrivals brought diseases that the islanders were especially susceptible to, such as smallpox.
Yet, the Rapanui were not wiped out completely. At one point their number may have been down to as few as a hundred or so – but they did survive. The island was annexed by Chile in 1888. The Rapanui population slowly recovered somewhat and today the islanders' enjoy a somewhat better status than they had for centuries. Land was "given back" to the natives, and the management of the cultural heritage is now also more under islanders' control than before. Tourism has become the largest mainstay of the economy, boosted by the construction in 1967 of the airport at Hanga Roa, the island's only town.
Simply being in this most remote spot on the planet makes for an eerie feeling – after five hours of flying over nothing but the empty expanse of the Pacific. You can't help but wonder how it is even possible not to miss this tiny piece of land in the midst of all that nothingness. Standing in front of the moai, the enigmatic, mystical stone statues that epitomize Easter Island like nothing else is something that can only described as ineffable. There are tours that take you all around the island, but I simply hired a scooter.
San Pedro de Atacama
San Pedro de Atacama, at 2,400 meters above sea level, is a small town near the Bolivian border. With about 2,500 inhabitants, the city is located in the Altiplano region of Chile, from which you can see some of the highest peaks of the Andes. The town is mainly a base to explore the incredible landscapes that surround it.
Daytrips from San Pedro
The scenery of the Atacama desert as such, especially with its geysers, volcanoes, salt lakes and moonscapes is sensationally varied.