Country proves natural fortress

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 September, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 September, 1994, 12:00am

THE map of Chile, standing alone, looks strange, almost a geographical absurdity.

There is no country that sprawls so far over so many latitudes. Few are so narrow. But packed into that long, skinny strip of real estate, there are climates and societies of vast variety.

Chileno cartographers boast the nation spreads over three continents. First there is mainland Chile, the entire southwestern coastal strip of South America.

Then there is the pie-shaped 1.25 million square kilometres of Antarctica. Finally, there's Easter Island, the lonely easternmost dot of Polynesia.

The continental strip snakes almost 7,000 km with an average width of 180 km.

It is a nation well protected by nature. To the north is the arid Atacama desert, said to be the driest on earth. The mighty showy peaks of the Andes, soar to 7,000 metres.

To the south are the eternal gales of the Antarctic and, to the west, is the wide Pacific.

Within this natural fortress, nature has been generous. There are far more fjords than Norway, and more skiing slopes than Switzerland.

The isolation provided by nature has kept out most pests and diseases that affect plants and livestock.