Altiplano: Birds, Bunnies with attitude, and other creatures

While the Vicuñas, Llamas and Alpacas tend to show up on most tourist photos, there is actually a large amount of other creatures living in the Altiplano.

Most of the birds are found in the wetlands.  There are two types of wetlands: Hydric and Mesic:

  • Hydric – has water permanently
  • Mesic – has water sporadically and salinity can be observed

The smallish birds that are most often seen are: buff-winged cinclodes, slender-beaked finch,  black-hooded sierra finch and Puna ground-tyrant.

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I think these two are moor-hens


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Taking off


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Flamingo in the Altiplano Wetlands


I managed to spot a small group of 4 or so of these large ostrich-like birds on the side of the road.  Had to use my zoom lens to capture this photo.  They are very skittish and we had to be super quiet.

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What do you call a group of flightless birds?  Still a Flock?


Vizchacha = Bunny Rabbits with attitude.

They eat vegetation mainly from the wetlands.  We found a huge amount of Vizchacha in the “Las Cueves / Chañacaca” area which is made up of a collection of several overhanging rock caves located in the middle of a wetland area.

In this area, people have found evidence of occupation of small groups of humans from 9000 to 1000  years ago.    Evidence such as stone, wooden, and bone tools.  This may have been a resting place for people traveling to/from the coast.

They have a comical facial expression as if to say “I am sitting here and I don’t care who knows it”


Our bird guide:

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Smallish Birds:

This guy visited us at one of the rest stops, but I am not sure on the species.

These two were busy making a nest – maybe Moor-hens?

Another bird-spotting:

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I did see a bumble bee on this flower, but didn’t get my camera out in time so you can just take my word for it.  The bee was huge (width of my thumb).

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Didn’t see any condors this time – another good reason to return some day in the future.


#IBMCSC Chile #CSCChile8




Altiplano; llamas and their cousins

It took a lot of planning and confirmation before we were able to confirm our trip to the Altiplano, mostly because of the danger of visiting high altitudes, but we finally made it.

We spent the first day driving (very slowly) up to Putre, with lots of stops in-between.  The stops enabled us to acclimatize more slowly, but also gave amazing opportunities for photography.

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At first we were calling every 4-legged animal a llama, but we quickly learned the difference.


They are beautiful graceful creatures.

They look like deer – and have a much smaller head.  These ones are not tamed and are much harder to get closer too than the llamas and alpacas.

I sat at the front of the bus, as I often get car-sick, and so I had the opportunity to spot groups of creatures as we traveled (sometimes even before our driver and our guide spotted them).

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People have been taming and farming llamas in South America for over 6000 years. Baby llamas are especially cute.  The llamas are larger than the alpacas, have longer necks, and also have ears shaped like a banana.


These ones are smaller than llamas and have a big fuzzy head, and a much shorter neck.  They often hang-out with the llamas and have been known to inter-breed.  There were three too-friendly alpacas at one stop that have been eating people food from tourists for years.  I didn’t give them anything as I know how harmful processed food can be for animals at home.

The llamas and alpaca sometimes have colourful earrings which are used to tell one farmer’s animal from another.

Learning Aricaños Spanish

Our host client today complimented us on our improving Spanish.  He says we are saying “Buenos Dias” more like the way the locals say it, which pleased us.

We had shared that we were not used to the hugging and the kissing as part of the greetings and goodbyes, and they responded with “we noticed”  🙂

Duolingo is great, and really helped us understand a base layer of Spanish, but we are noticing multiple local differences which Duolingo did not cover.  For example, “permiso” is used for “excuse me”, while “disculpe” is not used very often.

I also love when Chileans answer the phone with “digame” which means “talk-to-me”.  I remember my sister Katy and I finding that strange when we traveled together to Ecuador many years ago.

Some important phrases:

  • Hola = hello (along with a hug and a kiss)
  • Buenos Dias = good day  (but only in the morning) – (along with a hug and a kiss)
  • Agua sin gas = water without carbonation
  • Mas lento por favor = slow down please
  • Tiene ….. =  do you have …
  • Es Claro?   = is it clear?
  • Chao = good bye
  • Cuanto cuesta? = how much does it cost?
  • La cuenta por favor = restaurant bill please


#IBMCSC Chile #CSCChile8


Heading up to the Altiplano

I am sitting here drinking my tea and getting ready to depart on our bus.

We are finally getting ready to head up to the altiplano.  I have a small overnight bag packed;

Ok, yes my bag is huge but it gets really cold up on the Altiplano and people tend to feel the cold more when bodies are adjusting to high altitude.  Sweaters and coats take up a lot of room!

I have heard about the wonder of the landscape and the wildlife and the stars.  Fingers crossed that we get reasonable weather and a clear night for star gazing.  I will post again when we get back.

Fellowship of the 12 Comes Together

Years in the planning, all twelve members of the Chile 8 Corporate Service Corps team finally meet in person. It has been a long wait, with a lot of hopes and wondering about who I will be working with over these four weeks.  I’m so excited as we will soon begin our work with community groups in Arica, leveraging our technical and consulting skills to affect positive change in the local community.

I am going to start at the beginning  (a very good place to start…).

It was back in 2014 when I applied to the Corporate Service Corps and was so thrilled to be accepted.  I was also really nervous about leaving my family as my kids were 5 and 7 at the time.   Then in 2016 I was assigned to a team, but had to postpone due to other things happening at work (which were also fulfilling and great).

And then again at the start of 2017 I was assigned to a project and was so happy that it was to be in Chile.  I had visited Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador on previous excursions, and I loved the people and the experiences.  I gladly accepted to return once again to South America.

The team then spent 3 months of prep-work.  We talked on the phone weekly and shared with each other, and started to get to know our team.

Debbie and I ran into most of the team at the left-luggage/baggage storage at Santiago International and then headed up to our gate where we met our twelfth and final member of our team.  The fellowship united.  Most of whom had been traveling for 1-3 days to get to this point, from 10 different countries.  It is fair to say that many brains were scattered at this point and excitement was high as we navigated the airport process and got to our seats on the plane.


We flew the 2,000km to Arica together (remember Chile is the longest country in the world) and every single bag made it.  We were picked up at the airport and headed to Hotel Diego de Almagro Arica where we got to meet Carolina, our Regional Program Coordinator from Pyxera Global, and were very quickly assigned to rooms, our new homes for the next month.  Exhausted from the travel, but enthused greatly for the journey that lays before us.  I look forward to sharing this adventure with you.


#IBMCSC Chile #CSCChile8


Another time up the hill

On Friday, we had to leave Cascada de las Animas and head back to Santiago.

First we had to pack up and get our selves organized.  It was nice to not be in a rush and to take our time getting to breakfast.  We checked out at around 11:30 and decided to do one more hike before we left the beautiful sanctuary of Cascadas de las Animas (Waterfall of the Spirits).

We looked up at the peak that we had climbed to the day before.


We met with our fellow hikers and had a talk in Spanish about some of the local flora/fauna.  I was able to pick up every 3rd or 4th word.  He talked about staying at least one meter away from the enclosures.  Then he mentioned chocolate and Cafe con leche which was confusing to me until a nearby family helped us translate that he was talking about the colour of the Maipo river — which really is that colour.


This was a much easier path than the day before, but we still fell behind the group as we took pictures.  We passed the a few enclosures containing Pumas, Parrots, and two Eagles (which are the last two known of their species in Chile).

Then we got to the actual waterfall.


“Cascada de las Animas means Waterfall of the Spirits, and is the legendary name given to this waterfall and to the nature sanctuary that surrounds it.

The legend of ‘Cascada de las Animas’ can be traced back several hundred years to a time when horse wranglers passing near the falls on their way down from the mountains were surprised to see a group of women bathing and dancing at the base of the falls.  As they approached closer they realized that the women were semi-transparent and were in fact spirits.

Many stories have also been told of countless sightings of fairies in the area.  The fairy people were known to be gentle and kindly towards children yet mischievous with adults.  In bygone days, children of local woodsmen have told stories of having spoken to the fairies, while adults have found their campsites ransacked by them.”

After heading back down the hill we left and headed back to Santiago to finally meet the other 10 members of our CSC team.

#IBMCSC Chile  #CSCChile8


Worth every step

On Thursday we woke up and really got to see the beauty of Cascada de las Animas for the first time.  Such a beautiful spot and a very well designed architecture and theme.

The name means “Waterfall of the Spirits”, not “Cascade of the animals” as I had originally thought 🙂

About Cascada (read more):

Through six generations the Astorga clan has cared for, and protected it´s lands. Currently the Nature Sanctuary has numerous reforestation, erosion control and wildlife reintroduction projects underway. More than 30.000 trees have been planted in the last 10 years and a number of endangered wildlife species, endemic to Chile, are being released to the wild.

Cascada de las Animas

Originally today we were going to be doing the El Morado trek.(an Easy to intermediate 4 hour hike, but due to the unfortunate recent flooding of the Maipo river, the roads and park are closed.  We had called/emailed earlier in the week and Cascada had offered for us to do a  4-5 hour hike for some breathtaking views of the Andes in the realm of the Condor.  Which we accepted.

After a yummy breakfast (with decent tea), we went to visit the office as our safe had been locked in the open position and we were not sure about our packed lunches.  Our Spanish vocabulary is limited, and I had taken a photo of the safe so we were able to mime/Spanglish our communications to get that sorted out (safe was locked, plus the batteries were low).

Then we met our amazing guide, Simon, who suggested we get more water for the trek while he arranged for our packed lunch.

We found out more about the trek, turns out it is a much harder trek than we had originally booked, but we figured they were exaggerating a bit and we were feeling adventurous.

Trip Length: 4 to 5 hours, Available all year
Difficulty: Intermediate to Strenuous

This trek initially follows the route of the ‘Meseta Trek’ then proceeds to climb an additional 500 meters higher into the spectacular Cordillera! After leaving the meseta, the trail climbs steeply upwards to “La Campana” – an 1800 meter, bell shaped mountain that dominates the landscape surrounding the sanctuary.

They were not exaggerating.

The hike was a challenge as it is walking uphill for what normally takes 2 hours.  We had a decision point at one stop where we could have taken a shorter hike, but we opted to go for the full hike and just take our time.  Simon was very patient with us as we took lots of photos and stopped for water breaks.

Our trek upwards:

After the grueling uphill climb (which took us 3 hours) we stopped at a gorgeous picnic area for lunch.  I swam in a mountain pool and we enjoyed our ham/cheese/guacamole sandwiches with nuts and fruit.

Flora/Fauna (the brown lumps are toads, the bird is a Condor):

The view at the top

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We walked back down, with our joints complaining the whole way.  Overall it took us 7.5 hours to finish the 4-5 hour hike, but it was so worth it for the experience, the views and the nature we encountered.

We headed back to Cascada for a cooling swim, and a delicious dinner.

#IBMCSC Chile  #cscChile8