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Poverty is Not the Problem with Education (Part 1)

Poverty is Not the Problem with Education (Part 1)

When we’re young, we tend to think that all schools are like the ones we attend. Even as adults, people who went to well-functioning schools tend to think that all schools offer a quality education. If students who attend some schools lack basic math skills, act out in class, or have trouble decoding a text written for their grade-level, then the problem must be the student or their environment. The problem must be poverty.

But the way students are treated and what’s expected of them, varies dramatically from one school to another. Even a school’s attitude towards itself, how seriously it takes its obligation to educate, can vary drastically.

I recently visited a school in Santiago in a relatively low-income area. We arrived during a break and students mulled about in the large courtyard. When the bell rang, I assumed that we would head to a classroom but nothing happened. Students continued to loiter. Ten, then fifteen, minutes went by. My host explained that the teachers were in a meeting that was running late.

Poverty and Education Students Loitering

Students loitering after the bell has rung

Class eventually started. The teacher had all the students stand and greet him and then spent about 10 minutes hooking up a projector. The lesson’s objective was on sorting information with charts. Students ‘accomplished’ this objective by watching two commercials and sorting the problems and solutions described by the commercials into columns in a table. The teacher then spoke over a chattering room to instruct them to apply this skill to interviews they had conducted. I circulated to three groups during this part of the lesson, but none of the students could show me the interviews. The class was essentially free to socialize. When I asked if all their classes were like this they laughed and said ‘yes.’

In the late 1970s Jean Anyon conducted intensive research to see how schools that served different economic groups in the U.S. treated students. What she found was troubling but, sadly, not surprising.

Anyon observed that working-class schools mostly prioritized order and discipline. Instruction was organized around copying and memorization, while larger concepts were ignored altogether. ‘Good teachers’ were those with quiet classrooms and discipline was often enforced with sarcastic or derisive language. Students resisted this treatment by rejecting the legitimacy of the school and the relevance of the work in front of them. When students were asked if they could ‘create knowledge’ the answer was almost uniformly ‘no.’

In Affluent-Professional schools (think accountants, lawyers, engineers, small-business owners) things looked different. Students wrote essays and engaged in projects. Creativity was valued and it was emphasized that each students’ work should be unique. Consequently, students showed immense pride in the products of their work. Discipline was maintained more by influence than outright control. The teacher would regularly initiate conversations with the class about the type of behavior she should see and why. When students were asked if they could create knowledge nearly all of them said ‘yes.’*

Poverty and Education talking with students

Talking with students at the working-class school

People often say that students in low-income communities have trouble focusing or act out in class because they are mimicking the unstable environments they live in. They come from ‘broken homes’ where they can’t be expected to have learned values like respect and responsibility. But in my ten years of working with low-income communities, I’ve seen that values of responsibility and especially respect, are emphasized more, not less, in low-income communities.

I have experience teaching in both working-class and affluent-professional contexts, and I know that if I treated my affluent students the way working-class students are treated, they would rebel. They would reject my legitimacy as a teacher and, at best, put forth some minimal effort to complete the work I gave them. Later, they would then talk with their parents, who would quickly express their concerns to the principal. The principal would listen to these concerns with a great deal of respect, and I would very quickly find myself in a serious talk about my teaching strategies.

“Teachers with other ideas, systems they bring from somewhere else, they generally don’t last,” said Shannon Watt. We were talking about how the affluent Southern Cross school was able to maintain such a strong culture. I asked what she meant. “For instance, we’ve had teachers who want their class to stand up and formally greet them at the beginning of class. No. Here the teacher comes in and they may say ‘Hi,’ but there’s no formal greeting. That’s not going to work here. If a teacher tries to be overly strict it’s not going to work for the students.”

When Shannon showed me around some classrooms, I saw 4th graders solving problems with multiple different strategies. I asked a student how he completed a math problem and he jumped right into an explanation, including the reason he used a certain the method.** Later the class was asked if there’s a relationship between multiplication and division. There was a thoughtful silence. The first student response was that, ‘they both involve numbers.’ This caused a laugh, but the teacher let them think about it some more. A few other students offered answers, and soon they were explaining how knowing your times tables makes division easier. When I asked this class why they like school, almost all of them said, “Because I like learning.”

Poverty and Education southern cross

Ms. Javier, the 4th grade teacher at Southern Cross

It’s true that many students from working-class communities put forth less effort in class and act out more often than their more privileged peers. But when they do this, they are not normally ‘bringing their home life into the school.’ They are simply having normal human reactions to the way they are being treated. If anything, students with unstable home lives are those who yearn the most for school to be a sanctuary of caring and support. When schools fail in this responsibility, these young people often feel it as a kind of betrayal.

Now, I don’t mean to suggest that poverty is a non-factor. The effects of poverty on young people are real and can be very deep. Nor do I want to suggest that teachers in working-class schools should go into work tomorrow and pretend that they can reverse their students’ relationship to school with a new management plan. Questions about where to go from here are tricky, and I’ll explore them later in this series. For now, I’ll just say that poverty, in itself, is not the primary problem holding schools back. The way schools react to poverty, how they choose to treat students from low-income backgrounds and the stunted expectations they communicate; those are the principal problems facing education.

  • Will

*Anyon also profiled middle-class and executive elite schools. For a full description you should check out her paper. But a general overview is that middle-class teachers give students some more choice but the focus of most work is finding the ‘right answer.’ Students are more engaged but don’t feel that the content is relevant. Executive elite schools actually offer less opportunities for creativity than the affluent schools but the workload is generally much higher. There is an emphasis on ‘excellence’ and students behavior is corrected by reminding them of the ‘responsibility to succeed.’

** I also visited a 1st grade classroom where the teacher talked about how challenging it was to get students to explain their work. But she also talked about why it was incredibly important. This was interesting. The 4th graders were obviously used to explaining their work and they were quite good at it. Some people may attribute this skill to their more affluent home lives, but doesn’t it make more sense to credit this skill to the perseverance of their earlier teachers?

 

 

Sorry, I Just Didn’t Like Valparaiso

Sorry, I Just Didn’t Like Valparaiso

Listen, I know everyone loves Valparaiso.  It’s trendy, romantic, filled with street art and hilltop views and fully endorsed by Pablo Neruda himself. When we told people we were going to Santiago, the response again and again from fellow travelers was, “oh, make sure you get to Valparaiso.” But here’s the thing.  I just didn’t like Valparaiso.

There were some specific activities in Valparaiso that I absolutely loved. Among them were visiting La Sebastiana (Pablo Neruda’s house), tasting several Carmeneres at Antonia’s Wine Boutique, and enjoying churros and chocolate at one of the many adorable sweet shops. Unfortunately, these things could not overtake the things I hated: the dirtiness of the streets, the graffiti on every building (not the street art, that’s different), and a bad run in with another guest at the hostel.

We arrived on Saturday around noon to find the city rainy and 10 degrees colder than Santiago.  Determined to love Valparaiso, I remained upbeat as we checked into our hostel and set out to find some lunch.

Valparaiso Street Art 1

En route, we gingerly danced between the puddles and ridiculous amount of dog poop that filled the sidewalks.  The rain made the slimy streets worse, and it was hard to enjoy the stroll. We finally found a place called Mastadon that specializes in Chorillana, a dish invented in Valparaiso. A little heavy, but fully embraceable by a couple of Americans.

Valparaiso Chorrillana

As night fell, the rain stopped, and we found a route with less dog poop – up a cobblestone street to this adorable corner:

Valparaiso Streets 06

We located Antonia’s Wine Boutique, recommended to us by an Australian couple we met in San Pedro.  We opened the place up at 9pm, tasting an incredible Carmenere.  The owner/host chatted with us about what type of wines we like and brought us a complimentary meat and cheese platter.  We had a great view of street art and the rolling blocks of colorful houses.  Things were looking up.

Valparaiso Street 20

Back at the hostel, Will and I passed out on our hostel bunk beds at midnight.

Around 5am, I awoke to someone shaking me. I opened my eyes to the lights on and a 20-somthing girl yelling at me in Spanish.  The bunk bed was very low, so I couldn’t sit up, just lay there being yelled at.  When she took a breath, I said “I don’t speak Spanish,” to which she responded “English then, speak! Speak!” Will and I finally gathered that she thought the bed I was sleeping in was her bed.  After she continued to yell at a staff member for another 10 minutes, and took several photos of me in the bed, she was finally ushered out of the room.

Here’s what happened: When you stay in a hostel dorm, most hostels record which bed you claim. For example: Bed 3 – Elizabeth, Bed 4 -Will. This hostel does not record which beds are claimed, so they can’t tell you which ones are available when you check in. It’s just guessing.

This girl thought she claimed the same bed I had claimed. I checked in first (and went to bed 5 hours earlier) so I don’t feel bad about keeping the bed. Additionally, there were two more free beds in the room, available for claiming when she arrived back from the bar. This is how a hostel works. You take a free bed. You certainly don’t shake a stranger awake. If you have a problem you go talk to the staff person at the desk.

The girl was with an older gentleman who generally looked mortified. Later, the hostel staff tried to act like the girl was sorry, but didn’t know how to say it in English.   It was evident from her demeanor that she was not sorry in the least. Was I hurt? No. Was I pissed? Yes. Will wanted to confront her in Spanish, but I suggested we just get an early start and vamos.

So we headed to Plaseo 21 de Mayo – another enthusiastic recommendation from our Australian friends in San Pedro. We took a tram to the top of the hill and looked out. The harbor full of shipping containers just wasn’t enough to lift my morning funk.

Plaseo 21 de Mayo 03

Although this view was nicer.

Plaseo 21 de Mayo 10

The sky looked like it would hold out against the rain, so we decided to walk across downtown to La Sebastiana. On the way, we took note of the street art (while trying not to step in dog poop- seriously, it’s everywhere).

Valparaiso Street Art 02

Valparaiso Street Art 04

Valparaiso Street Art 03

Finally we reached Pablo Neruda’s house. Here you can see Neruda’s morning view as he awoke.

Valpariaso La Sebastiana 12

We ended our afternoon with churros and chocolate on our favorite cobblestoned corner before catching the bus back to Santiago.

Valparaiso Churros and Chocolate

I know, I know. The incident at the hostel and the weather were not Valparaiso’s fault. Perhaps I went in with expectations that were too high. Perhaps the dirty streets (I saw a roadkill rat blocking a street drain) prevented me from feeling the romance of the city. Perhaps I simply prefer the urban style of Santiago.  In any case – there are wonderful things to do in Valparaiso… it just wasn’t the city for me.

Ciao,

Elizabeth

One Day Walking Tour in Santiago

One Day Walking Tour in Santiago

Santiago greeted us with a beautiful, sunny, 72 degree day – perfect for our self-styled walking tour.  We were staying in Barrio Brasil at La Casa Roja – an old mansion turned hostel.  Barrio Brasil is just off of downtown, which made it the perfect location to start our walk.  We passed through the central business district, with its pedestrian streets and kiosks selling snacks and philosophy books, on our way to the other famous barrios of Santiago.

Santiago Downtown Travel

We ran into Plaza Moneda, the location of the presidential palace, or La Moneda.  We looked on as a protest took place.  We didn’t yet know that this was a major site of the 1973 military coup.

Santiago La Moneda Travel

From the downtown we headed toward Bella Vista, one of Santiago’s most popular neighborhoods.  Just before reaching this barrio is the National Museum of Fine Art, where the collection of sculpture particularly moved and intrigued us.

Santiago Art Museum Travel

From the Art Museum we headed to San Cristobal Hill, which took up an enormous green area on our tourist map.  The hill is extremely steep, so we took the San Cristobal “Funicular” up instead.  The Funicular begins and ends in matching castles at the top and bottom of the hill – with one intermediate stop at the Santiago Zoo.

Santiago San Cristobal Hill Travel

When we got off the tram, we could see the true expanse of Santiago.  Seventy-five percent of Chile’s population lives in cities – and Santiago is by far the largest.  The view was amazing.

Santiago San Cristobal Hill Travel

Looking up, we could see the Chilean flag with the statue of the Virgin Mary behind it.  We weren’t at the top yet!

Santiago San Cristobal Hill Travel

The path to the top wound through gardens and various sections of an enormous outdoor church, including an outdoor altar and amphitheater.  Finally, we reached the Virgin Mary.

Santiago San Cristobal Hill Travel

The Funicular was less crowded on the way down.  This old-timey tram made me a little nervous in all its Industrial Revolution glory.  Can you spot my anxious grip on the rail post?  Will loved it.

Santiago San Cristobal Hill Travel

On the way back to La Casa Roja, we took particular notice of the street art in Barrio Bella Vista.  Here are some of our favorites.

Santiago Street Art 03

Santiago Street Art Travel

Santiago Street Art Travel

Our one day walking tour in Santiago was blessed with beautiful weather for exploring.  A quick recap of the the highlights: the National Museum of Fine Arts, San Cristobal Hill, and street art in Bella Vista.

Other highlights from other days in Santiago include: the lovely park Santa Lucia Hill, dining in Barrio Lastarria, visiting the Museo de la Memoria, and drinking lots of Carmenere wine.

Santiago is a complex, intellectual, passionate, and reserved city.  It leaves you wanting to know more about it, and feeling completely at home at the same time.  I would go back any day.

Ciao,

Elizabeth

Creating a Collaborative School Culture (Part 2)

Creating a Collaborative School Culture (Part 2)

“Lesson study is the way change has been able to come to elementary,” explained Shannon Watt. “We plan our lessons as a team. And we’ve done it, so if it doesn’t work it’s the team’s responsibility, not just one teacher. Lesson Study is what’s enabled us to open our minds, make mind shifts, to leave the traditional.”

As she spoke, Ms. Watt began to pull books on Lesson Study from the shelves in her office and slide them towards me over the desk. Lesson Study is a Japanese methodology where teachers plan and analyze their lessons together.

“And the best thing is that lesson study makes them open their classrooms, so now we have middle school teachers who go to see elementary teachers. Which is great because now they feel empowered. Observers come, and they are impressed and then they adapt what they see for older students. There’s more sharing ideas.”

But Lesson Study is a difficult system to get going in a school. In the West, teachers are famously attached to their autonomy. In a system that makes them feel embattled on all fronts, it’s often all they have to cling to. Even in a more affluent school like Southern Cross, teachers often invest a tremendous amount of personal pride in their particular way of doing things. Getting teachers to plan and evaluate lessons together, to get them innovating, is often a tremendous challenge. The “Team Time” in my first school back in 2006 often devolved into a round robin airing of grievances. Many of the teachers I’ve worked with over the past few years have shared similar experiences.

Lesson Study - International education

When Shannon Watt first introduced Lesson Study, she knew that she had to be delicate. She first started with a team she thought would be more amenable. Only after they shared how much they liked it, did she encourage the more skeptical teachers to try it out. There were problems at first. It’s only now, in the third year, that she feels Lesson Study is working as it truly should. All of the teachers are engaged and invested. They see how Lesson Study helps them. The issues with group work, which resulted in the slow but enthusiastic adoption of Kagan strategies, were originally surfaced in Lesson Study meetings.

Spending a day with Ms. Watt at Southern Cross, and talking with her teachers, was extremely illuminating. She seems to have created the kind of professional culture that many schools in the States aspire to with a kind of wistful idealism, an unstated recognition that the barriers are actually too great.*

More and more, people are beginning to realize that teaching needs to be a more collaborative profession. Just the night before, I was at a talk with a Chilean Education Professor who discussed how teachers’ tendency to view their classrooms as independent fiefdoms was one of the major barriers to reform. More collaborative faculties not only give people more opportunities to collaborate and share ideas. It also helps with morale.

[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]
Ms. Watt’s approach to leadership is much more thoughtful. It’s characterized by a patient perseverance that is far too rare in most schools.[/pullquote]

In the last post, I mentioned that the Harvard Business Review has found that having opportunities for professional growth and feeling trusted by one’s supervisor are two of the most important factors for job satisfaction. A third factor highly important factor is having close collaborative relationships with one’s colleagues.

The importance of collaboration is something many schools in the U.S. seem to know without understanding how to make it a reality. Too often the strategy is to block off time on a calendar without any context or guidance. Ms. Watt’s approach to leadership is much more thoughtful. It’s characterized by a patient perseverance that is far too rare in most schools. And it’s an approach that’s created results.

As an 18 year veteran teacher I met at Southern Cross told me, “I’ve worked at a lot of schools. And what I’ve learned is that the role of the instructional coordinator is really very important.”

– Will

*There is a very real barrier in many U.S. schools though. Mainly the amount of time teachers are expected to be with students. At Southern Cross, the teachers told me they spent 27.5 hours a week with students. In many U.S. elementary schools that number is closer to 34 hours. Those extra 6 hours a week for things like Lesson Study can make a big difference.

Creating a Collaborative School Culture (Part 1)

Creating a Collaborative School Culture (Part 1)

The teachers Shannon Watt works with talk about her in tones of grateful reverence. If you’ve spent much time in teachers’ lounges, you may appreciate how unusual this tone of voice is. Especially when the topic of conversation is school administration.

“She trusts us. She gives us freedom,” began one, 18-year veteran, teacher.

“But its freedom with responsibility,” added another.

“Exactly.”

We got to this point after I asked them why they think the culture at Southern Cross (one of the best private schools in Chile) is so strong. First, they spoke about the strong relationships between students and teachers. They said teachers aren’t seen as a ‘big authority,’ and that it’s important to help students understand that behavior corrections are meant to help them become better people. But they quickly switched to talking about their own development.

“And the teachers here are always studying.”

“It’s tough, but nice. Like Kagan… It was difficult at first but now I love it.”

By ‘Kagan’ the teacher meant a set of cooperative learning strategies that are quickly gaining popularity in the United Sates as well.

“Cooperative learning started because the teachers wanted it,” explained Shannon Watt. “They saw that kids didn’t know how to work in groups. They made group work and it didn’t work. The kids had to learn how to work in groups.” Ms. Watt is also a trainer for Singapore math and, interestingly, it was a teacher from Singapore who recommended Kagan. So Ms. Watt bought the book, travelled to the States for training and then returned to try the strategies out with her own class.

“So, I tried it. The first weeks I thought, ‘this is terrible, this book was phony.’ Everything was ‘Ahhh!’ I didn’t know if it was going to work. And then the third week kids started engaging and it went well. I saw them working. And then I invited other teachers to come see my classes. They liked what they saw and that was the way we put it in.”

Shannon Watt
Shannon Watt

I think there’s a lot to learn about effective administration from this account.

  1. The teachers identified group work as a priority. The reform wasn’t coming down from out of the blue.
  2. Shannon did exhaustive preparation on her own and then piloted the strategies in her own classroom. In this way, she was in a position to truly empathize with the challenges her teachers faced later.
  3. She stuck with it for three weeks before it started to work. For me, this emphasizes the unwavering expectations she holds her students to. I’ve seen many teachers from working-class schools attempt and then abandon Kagan strategies after a few days. They say the initial disaster is proof that these strategies won’t work in ‘their environment’ or for ‘their students.’ It’s worth noting that a veteran teacher at a prestigious school encountered the same difficulties, she just reacted to them differently.
  4. Before pulling teachers into trainings, she invited them to her room and allowed a ‘buzz’ to build around the techniques. When the training finally started it was something they were eager to learn.

It’s not hard to see why her teachers love working with her.

The Harvard Business Review has done a number of studies about why people do or don’t like their jobs. Two of the most powerful factors for job satisfaction they’ve found are:

  1. Feeling trusted by your supervisor.
  2. Opportunities to develop professionally in a meaningful way.

Too often in the United States administrators limit their communications with teachers to discussing evaluations and obligations. This approach fairly quickly chips away at the trust most teachers initially feel toward their administration. And it’s a cliché by now for teachers to be bombarded by new waves of ‘teacher proof’ classroom strategies every few years; strategies devised without their input, and without any concern for the specific dynamics of their classroom. Teachers end up feeling that the school or district doesn’t understand them and doesn’t care to. The idea the district ‘trusts’ them is often almost laughable.

Ms. Watt’s approach to leadership is clearly different. Her teachers love working with her because they feel trusted. And the way their development is set up makes them excited to grow in their craft. It’s amazing the differences happy teachers make.

But before Shannon Watt helped her teachers create a collaborative environment for her students, she first had to work on creating a collaborative culture amongst her teachers. Shannon is quick to point out that the above story never would have happened if it hadn’t been for Lesson Study. For more on that story, check out tomorrow’s post.

  • Will
Museo de la Memoria (Santiago, Chile)

Museo de la Memoria (Santiago, Chile)

I had no idea, entering the Museo de la Memoria, that Chile shares September 11th with the US as a day that lives in infamy. On September 11th, 1973 the military coup that would place Chile under dictatorship for 17 years ripped through the nation and resulted in the executions, disappearances, and torture of thousands of Chileans.

The museum is dedicated to telling the story of the coup, dictatorship, human rights violations, and citizen resistance. I went into the museum only knowing that there had been a military dictatorship and that some people said the CIA was involved. I came out with more questions than answers – wondering, thinking, and feeling many different things.

As we entered the museum, we were greeted by life-sized cut outs of individuals who had disappeared, holding up their identification cards.  These cutouts continued throughout the museum. One of my first reactions was surprise at how little I knew about these events. Even Will, who received a Latin American History certificate in college, knew very little about the coup and dictatorship. Both of us moved through the first major room – dedicated to telling the story of the coup – astounded by what happened in Chile. We repeatedly used surprised tones to exclaim to one another “and then they bombed the presidential palace?!?”, “wait – Salvador Allende (the president) shot himself?!?”, and we huddled around the screen that showed his final radio address.

Chile1973

What struck me second was how honest and thorough the museum is in describing the human rights violations and honoring those who suffered. These exhibits are particularly powerful because they do not hold back detail and frequently involve first hand accounts of torture, which also makes them hard to stomach. This is an approach that we’d never see in the US. Here is a beautiful museum dedicated to telling the story of human rights atrocities that were committed by the government. Even our civil rights museums focus on the struggle of the oppressed rather than the wrongs committed by the system. It’s inspiring that Chile wholly owns and mourns these events at the same time.

 

[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]This is an approach that we’d never see in the US. Here is a beautiful museum dedicated to telling the story of human rights atrocities that were committed by the government.[/pullquote]

 

We got kicked out the museum before we were finished – right as we started to learn about the clergy, women’s

groups, and worker’s groups who began to protest and question the mass disappearances. We had been there 90 minutes but hadn’t reached the end by closing time. I left wanting to know the history of Allende’s elected government, more information about who Pinochet (the military dictator) was, and details on who disappeared and why (it’s implied in the exhibits, but I wanted to know more.) We speculated on how involved the US had been in the coup and dictatorship and talked about the destructive cold war anxieties of our government. We talked about how the military dictatorship ended with an election rather than more violence – and why that is not what’s happening after the Arab Spring.

Museo de Memoria is powerful, disturbing, and inspiring. It tells a story that raises so many questions and thoughts about Chile and the greater world. If you are in Santiago, please go. Just get there at least two hours before closing time. You’ll need it.

Note: The featured photo is attributed to Francisco Javier Cornejos here and is under this Creative Commons license with some rights reserved. We used some minor cropping to fit the photo to our site.

Valle de la Luna: San Pedro de Atacama Day 4

Valle de la Luna: San Pedro de Atacama Day 4

The Valle de la Luna (or Valley of the Moon) is San Pedro’s most famous attraction. The valley gets its name because of its terrain, which is said to be the closest thing to a lunar landscape on the planet. It’s also fairly close to town so, instead of a tour, we opted to rent bikes and get there on our own.

Bike to Valle de la luna san pedro de atacama

The ride was about 15km with ups and downs and nice scenery.

Biking to valle de la luna san pedro de atacama

The Valle de la Luna is part of a mountain range made almost entirely of salt. The first feature you see when you arrive are the salt caves.

valle de la luna salt caves san pedro de atacama

Looking close, you can see the salt crystals more clearly.

valle de la luna salt caves san pedro de atacama

At parts, you need to contort to get through. And other parts (no pics) are completely dark.

salt caves in San pedro de atacama valle de la luna

When you emerge from the caves, you find a unique landscape. That white stuff is salt, not snow.

valley of the moon san pedro de atacama

Some parts inside the valley are too steep to bike.

biking to valle de la luna san pedro de atacama

Some places you see sand.

valley of the moon san pedro de atacama

Other parts are powdered with salt.

valley of the moon san pedro de atacama

And some parts just seem to say, “Peace, man.”

valley of the moon san pedro de atacama

To prepare for sunset, we climbed to the top of the great dune,

san pedro de atacama valley of the moon great dune

and ate the avocado sandwiches we brought for dinner.

great dune in valle de la luna san pedro de atacama

The view from up there was pretty great.

valle de la luna san pedro de atacama

Eventually the sun began to set.

valley of the moon san pedro de atacama

And we soaked it in.

sunset at valle de la luna san pedro de atacama

sunset valley of the moon san pedro de atacama

But the thing about biking and staying til after sunset, is that the ride back is completely dark.

biking back fro valley of the moon san pedro de atacama

The ride was both cool and nerve racking. Cool because we were alone in this wild place and the stars were bright and clear enough to see the milky way. Nerve racking because, well, it was pitch dark in a crazy place and we were miles away from town.

Eventually we watched the moon rise over the Andes and that brought enough light to see. We returned 2 hours later than we said and much more exhausted than we anticipated, but the evening was a perfect finish to our week in San Pedro de Atacama.

This day was a clear highlight of our trip so far.

Will & Elizabeth

Cathedrals of Salt – San Pedro de Atacama Day 3

Cathedrals of Salt – San Pedro de Atacama Day 3

On our third day in San Pedro de Atacama, we headed toward the Cathedrals of Salt. The journey took us into the Andes, across the world’s largest extinct volcano crater, past a number of volcanic rock features, and around several high altitude lagoons.

But first we had to drive toward the mountains. All of the peaks in the distance here are volcanoes.

San Pedro de Atacama Andes

We stopped to eat a breakfast of bread and cheese on the side of the road.

San Pedro de Atacama Andes breakfast

Eventually we passed by the volcanoes we had seen on the horizon.

San Pedro de Atacama volcano travel

We stopped at a lagoon.

San PEdro de Atacama lagoon

Where we played,

San Pedr de Atacama lagoon

and danced on the ice.

San Pedro de Atacama lagoon

Later we approached rocks made of volcanic ash that have been eroded into surprising formations.

San Pedro de Atacama monks

Can you make me out lounging in the shade of this one?

San Pedro de Atacama monks

Here it is a bit closer up.

San Pedro de Atacama monks

We were encouraged to use the shade and crannies of these rocks as our Pachamama (mother earth) toilet.

San Pedro de Atacama pachmama

Next we drove into the largest extinct crated in the world. Everything until the mountains is a crater and there’s as much space on the other side. The specs of black are pieces of obsidian that have been resting there for millions of years. (we were encouraged to take some home and we obliged)

San Pedro de Atacama volcano crater obsidian

Nearby we found the ‘White Monks.” The two distinct lines that run across these rocks, mark the 3 different eruptions that created them.

San Pedro de Atacama white monks

It’s cool to wander around them.

San Pedro de Atacama white monks

San Pedro de Atacama white monks

Eventually we arrived at the Cathedrals of Salt.

San Pedro de Atacama catedrales de sal

It’s a great place to stroll.

San Pedro de Atacama catedrales de sal

Or meditate.

San Pedro de Atacama catedrales de sal travel

Eventually we ended up at this lagoon.

San Pedro de Atacama lagoon

Where we watched vicuna. (an endangered species)

San Pedro de Atacama Vicuna

Our guide was the one who popularized this tour a few years ago. He told legends about the family relationships between the volcanoes. All in all it was a surprising and incredible day.

San Pedro de Atacama catedrales de sal travel

Check out our other San Pedro de Atacama Galleries:

Day 1 Petroglyphs and Rainbow Valley

Day 2 Piedras Rojas and Atacama Salt Flats

Day 4 Valle de la Luna

Will & Elizabeth

 

Piedras Rojas (Red Rocks): San Pedro de Atacama Day 2

Piedras Rojas (Red Rocks): San Pedro de Atacama Day 2

The thing about a desert is that it is very hot during the day, and it’s that much colder at night.  At daybreak, we paced the street outside our hostel to keep warm, waiting to be picked up by the tour bus for Piedras Rojas (Red Rocks).  The bus was late, and we ended up watching the sunrise over our street and the volcanos in the distance.

San Pedro de Atacama sunrise

On the way to Piedras Rojas, we stopped for breakfast and to see an old church with multiple cactus wood features.  This wood is made from cactus that had been dried for a year.  The panels are connected with cactus fiber.

San Pedro de Atacama cactus wood travel

When we arrived at Piedras Rojas, the tour guide cautioned us not to let our emotions overwhelm our experience.

San Pedro de Atacama Piedras Rojas Travel

We could see why she warned us.  The red rocks were created from volcanic lava and ash.  The lagoon that had collected was frozen over and looked blue green.

San Pedro de Atacama Piedras Rojas Travel

The mountains in the back ground are either volcanos or piles of volcanic ash.

San Pedro de Atacama Piedras Rojas Travel

We gazed out over the lagoon…

San Pedro de Atacama Piedras Rojas Travel

Will felt so great, he thought he could take off.

San Pedro de Atacama Piedras Rojas Travel

But he settled for a little meditation.

San Pedro de Atacama Piedras Rojas Travel

Next, we headed to one of the highest lakes in the world.  On the way, we saw a family of Vicuna, which are an endangered relative of the llama.

San Pedro de Atacama Vicunas Travel

We had to walk to Lagunas Altiplanicus from the entrance because snow had blocked the road.

San Pedro de Atacama Lagunas Atiplanicas Travel

So Will took advantage of the situation.

San Pedro de Atacama Laguas Altiplanicus Travel

We stopped in a small town for lunch and the bathroom.

San Pedro de Atacama Salt Flats Travel

Then we headed to the Atacama Salt Flats, created (of course) by volcanic ash and the evaporation cycle of these lagoons.  How many flamingos can you find?

San Pedro de Atacama Salt Flats

We got to hold a flamingo egg.

San Pedro de Atacama Salt Flats Travel

And see a number of flamingos.

San Pedro de Atacama Salt Flats 11

We strolled along the salt flat.

San Pedro de Atacama Salt Flats Travel

And enjoyed the close of the day and the ride back to San Pedro.

San Pedro de Atacama Salt Flats

Stayed tuned for more tomorrow!

Check out pics from our other days in San Pedro:

Day 1 Petroglyphs and Rainbow Valley

Day 3 Cathedrals of Salt

Day 4 Valle de la Luna

Elizabeth & Will

Petroglyphs and Rainbow Valley: San Pedro de Atacama Day 1

Petroglyphs and Rainbow Valley: San Pedro de Atacama Day 1

San Pedro has several claims to fame. It’s in the driest desert in the world, adjacent to some of the world’s largest lithium mines, and is populated by incredibly friendly people (lithium in the water?).  It’s also a half-day trip from dozens of volcanic features unlike anything else in the world. These volcanos, including one of the world’s two super volcanos, worked to mold the landscape millions of years ago. Our six days in San Pedro allowed us to see geological formations we didn’t even know existed.

Fully exploring “The Atacama” requires guided tours or renting a car.  We booked four outings with Flamingo Tours and got a package deal.  Our adventure started with a midnight stargazing (no pictures, sorry!)

The next day we were picked up from the hostel at 8am for the Petroglyphs and Rainbow Valley. We started by climbing up to some ancient petroglyphs carved into volcanic rock.  Here we see images of elders in a ceremonial circle.

San Pedro de Atacama Petroglyphs Travel

When the rocks were volcanic ash, the ash moved very quickly and formed air pockets.  Now these old air pockets make the rocks look like Swiss cheese.

San Pedro de Atacama Petroglyphs Travel

Will contributed his artistic talent to the petroglyphs…I mean… Will pointed out these flamingos.

San Pedro de Atacama Petroglyphs Travel

We moved to another area to see even more petroglyphs.  We were instructed to stay on the path.

San Pedro de Atacama Petroglyphs

Which led us to these images of this llama and baby llama…

San Pedro de Atacama Petroglyphs Travel

And this “two headed dragon.” The lack of wind in this area prevents the petroglyphs from eroding away.

San Pedro de Atacama Petroglyphs Travel

Next we headed for Rainbow Valley. We were dropped off at the top of the path, where Will immediately climbed this rock.  Can you find him?

San Pedro de Atacama Rainbow Valley Travel

We made our way toward the rainbow color rock.  Different minerals have caused the rock to turn multicolored.

San Pedro de Atacama Rainbow Valley Travel

Will meditated for a moment.

San Pedro de Atacama Rainbow Valley Travel

And I contemplated the copper in the green rock.

San Pedro de Atacama Rainbow Valley Travel

Rainbow Valley has many views, and many colors.

San Pedro de Atacama Rainbow Valley Travel

We tried to capture as many colors as we could before our day’s adventure ended.

San Pedro de Atacama Rainbow Valley Travel

Check out our other galleries from San Pedro de Atacama:

Day 2 Piedras Rojas and Atacama Salt Flats

Day 3 Cathedrals of Salt

Day 4 Valle de la Luna

Elizabeth & Will