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Expedition: Into the Altiplano
Dispatch 1
La Portada, the 250-foot stone arch that serves as the entryway to the Chilean coast town of Antofagasta, is even more awe-inspiring when seen from the seat of a kayak. With seas roiled by backwash as 15-foot ocean swells slam into the arch and the tall, whitewashed cliffs that border the coastline, we kayak as close as we can to what is perhaps Chile's best-known piece of geography. Every 10 seconds I lose sight of my teammates in the heaving swell and foaming whitecaps.

Our six-week-long adventure has begun here, at sea level. Within a few days we'll find ourselves nearly 20,000 feet above, in the high, dry Altiplano. We'll first make a big loop through the high desert, moving across Chile and into Argentina before heading north into the salt flats and silver country of Bolivia. Along the way we'll look for the one thing that this, the driest place in the world, has little of—water.

Off the sea and climbing the dusty road that leads up, up, up, we parallel a pipeline that runs 150 miles out of the Andes to the east, delivering the only water to be found in this place where, in the most desolate sections, rain has never been recorded. The pipe is sometimes buried under piles of sand, sometimes exposed, but never far from mind. It is the link that allows people—and businesses, like the copper, saltpeter, tin, nitrate, and salt mines that are everywhere here—to exist in what is a very foreboding place.

Next: Listen to Dispatch 2 >>

Funding for this expedition was provided by the National Geographic Society Expeditions Council. For more information on the Council, its projects, and grants, e-mail ecouncil@ngs.org.


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  The Team
  Photo Gallery
  Dispatch 1
  Dispatch 2 (Audio - 1:20)
  Dispatch 3 (Audio - 1:31)
  Dispatch 4
  Dispatch 5
  Dispatch 6 (Audio - 1:45)
  Dispatch 7 (Audio - 1:40)
  Dispatch 8

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December 2003/January 2004

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