The Andes Mountains stretch the length of Chile on the West side while the Pacific Ocean kisses the East coast. The Andes mountains are very long and run through Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Argentina as well. The average height of a mountain in the Andes is 13,000 feet. The mountains formed when parts of the earth called tectonic plates came together. These layers of earth move, sometimes toward each other. Like two passing ships, they both can’t travel the same path. In this case, one layer had to go under the other. When this happened, the top layer was pushed upward. Here is a short video that demonstrates this. (One of the facts given in this video is that the Andes are expected to DOUBLE THEIR HEIGHT in next 4 million years. I looked for back-up information on this and I am not comfortable with the number of sources for this. What is not disputed is that the Andes are continuing to change, as is the rest of the world.)
Every environment effects the plant and animal life that survive within it. The Andes mountains have very warm areas and very cold areas due to height (altitude) variations of the mountains and due to the closeness of some of the mountains to the equator (the widest part) of the earth. In some areas glaziers are found up high in the mountains while tropical climates exists below. (Remember the mountain in Tanzania?)
The air is thinner, holding less oxygen, up high. This can cause health problems for humans that aren’t usually at this height. If you don’t live in a high area and you go to the top of a mountain too quickly, you can get sick with what is called Altitude Sickness. This is because the body is not getting the amount of oxygen it needs. There are some animals and people who live high in the mountains and their bodies have adapted to the environment. Mountain Shepherds survive at 17,000 feet because their bodies are accustomed to the height.
Among the animals that thrive in the Andes are Chinchillas, Lamas, Alpacas and the Andean Condor. Chinchillas are native to the Andes. Their ability to move quickly and jump up to 6 feet makes them more adapt to the mountain. Their fur is the second thickest fur of all (first is otter). They live in herds. They take dust baths to get clean. My daughter, Anna, had a Chinchilla when she was young. We enjoyed watching him roll in the dust to get clean.
The Andean Condor is one of the largest flying birds in the world. It has a wingspan of ten and a half feet. Because they are so heavy, they need to live where the winds are strong so they can soar longer periods. They can live up to 75 years and reproduce very slowly. A couple of Condor have only one egg every other year and then both parents have to care for the young one for a full year. Here is a video showing you a Condor. In this video you will find out why Condors throw up.
The wind can blow hard and nearly constantly in the high parts of the mountains. The types of plants that can live up high must be able to stand the winds, the cold, and the dryness of the environment. I found the Llareta plant to be most interesting. This article is a good one to read for information on the plant’s very unique characteristics. Can you believe that some of these plants are 3,000 years old? People of the area have used it for fuel and for medicine. They use it to treat colds, diabetes, altitude sickness, and topically (on the skin) for wounds and soreness. (If you think it is unusual to use plants as medicines (Medicinals) you are in for a wonderful discovery as medications often come from plants.)
The Andes are beautiful, creating a wonderful backdrop of photos of Santiago, the country’s capitol. We would have to make a trip to see some of the people and small towns in the mountains. People have lived in the mountains for thousands of years and they are working to protect their culture in the changing world. Today mines are found in the mountains where gold, cooper and other minerals are dug from the earth. The presence of the mines can cause disruption to the long standing communities. I love history so I would be anxious to see some of the older towns and get a feel for the long rooted culture.