The following report covers a photographic journey which took place in 2009 between Chile and Ecuador, of course the mix of "Aviation" and "Tourism" could not be missing.
The aviation part took place mainly at the civil airports of Santiago (SCL) and Quito (UIO). Little to say about Santiago, the Comodoro Arturo Merino Benitez International Airport is the only one serving the city, modern and efficient, is primarily used by LAN, the national airline, which undertakes both international and intercontinental flights, while domestic traffic is mainly handled by Sky Airlines and PAL. The major European, North and South American companies operates from this airport which in 2010 totaled about 11 million passengers reaching the 9th place among the South American airports, an amount of traffic therefore quite limited in relation to the size of the city.
It happened that in the days of our stay, and unknown to us an "open day" was organized on the FACH military base which occupies the north part of the airport, with a large static display with several Chilean aircraft, some of which performed in flight. The only foreign Air Force present was the “Armee de l'Air” with the Patrouille de France, a C130 and a Transall as support.
More interesting was Chile from the touristic point of view: for sure especially pleasing was the city of Santiago, very large and comparable in some ways to Buenos Aires, but outstandingly fascinating was Valparaiso, declared a UNESCO heritage town, overlooking the Pacific Ocean about a hundred kilometers to the west of the capital, famous for its colorful houses that dot the surrounding hills, its elevators and the graffiti that fill the walls of some neighborhoods.
The remainder of the visit to Chile was then concentrated in the northern part of the country, with a flight of Sky company we flew from Santiago to Antofagasta (ANF), making a brief stopover in Copiapo, a small town in the desert that made headlines for the miners trapped for weeks hundreds of feet deep.
Antofagasta is very anonymous, but was used by ourselves as a starting point to reach San Pedro de Atacama, a very special small town located in the middle of the homonymous desert, maintained a bit too forcefully with typical features like adobe houses and streets of clay ... maybe a little too much tailored for tourists.
Not a problem anyway because San Pedro is logistically perfect for undertaking excursions in the desert, from here you can visit the many salt lakes populated by flamingos; by car considerable heights can be reached along the various mountain passes that cut across the Andes to Bolivia, admiring breathtaking scenery, dotted with herds of guanacos, until you reach the extreme elevation of Tatio Geysers (more than 4.000 meters) where you can even take a swim! Regrettably, the road is very bumpy and has put a pressure on our small Yaris rental car. More at hand is the Valley of the Moon, very nice, a few kilometers from San Pedro where we recommend a visit at sunset.
The final part of the tour in northern Chile was the visit of the city of Iquique also overlooking the Pacific, geographically north of Antofagasta and certainly more interesting of the latter: along the ocean there are several hotels and a long, wide beach frequented by surfers also in low season. Behind the town stands a huge sand dune leaning against the mountain that is often used for an alternative... snowboarding.
The last five days of the trip were spent in Ecuador, the main purpose was to visit Quito’s Mariscal Sucre Airport (UIO), an airfield certainly unique because of its features. Very particular is the approach pattern: after a descent at a very impressive rate several narrow turns very close to mountain sides are required to align with the single runway (35-17), which is situated in the middle of the city. Quito is laid at the center of a narrow valley at an altitude of 2.800 meters.
The terminal is small and crowded and the fencing of the airport is largely formed by the walls of the surrounding houses, which are only a few dozens of meters from the runway; the astounding thing is that here land wide-bodies, which have to negotiate the 3.000 meters of available runway length which seem far less due to the altitude. This punitive factor resulted in some recent accidents, such as an Iberia Airbus 340-600 which overrun on landing, and a Fokker 28 of Icaro which ended up against a wall after an aborted takeoff ... fortunately no casualities but both aircraft were damaged beyond repair.
Perhaps because of these events it was decided to build a new airport, this time secluded from the city, on a plateau at 2.400 meters (400 less than the current) with space for a runway of 4.100 meters; at the time of our visit the work was far behind completion despite the opening was planned for 2010. It is now expected to start operations in 2012, after which the Mariscal Sucre will be closed and incorporated within the urban fabric.
Aboutr tourism in Ecuador, we can say that we have not had enough time to see much; Quito is any overcrowded and quite extensively urbanized city, interesting only in its old part, which is located to the north. In the five days we spent there we managed to make a small excursion to the “Nariz del Diablo” (Devils Nose), a railway in frightful conditions that zigzag down a steep slope; due to lack of space to get the bends, exchange points were set up where the train changes direction going down in reverse, of course, overlooking the ravine. A real train is actually being used only on some rare occasions, we had instead the opportunity of sampling the "autoferro", a bus adapted to travel on the tracks... an interesting experience indeed.
Our last day was devoted to Otavalo, a small village not far from Quito famous for its colorful market, the most popular in Ecuador.
Images and text by Massimiliano Terzaghi e Dario Cocco
Produced by Giorgio Ciarini