I've Got My Head in the Stars

Trip Start Sep 30, 2011
Trip End Dec 13, 2011

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Where I stayed
Hostal El Punto La Serena
Read my review - 5/5 stars
What I did
Mamalluca Observatory La Serena
Read my review - 5/5 stars

Flag of Chile  ,
Tuesday, October 18, 2011

    After almost five weeks in Argentina we decided it was time to move on to Chile.  We took the bus from Mendoza to Santiago, an amazing journey that takes you through the mountains right past Aconcagua, the tallest mountain in the Americas, at 22841 feet.  Once on the Chilean side we saw a dramatic change in vegetation type.  We traveled from the extremely dry Argentinian mountains to the refreshingly green landscape of coastal Chile.  It was great to finally see sky clear of volcanic ash and land covered with more than dirt and the occasional spiny shrub.  
    We decided to skip Santiago and took a bus directly to La Serena.  We arrived late and had to stay in a drab hostel without English speaking hosts or toilet seats...great!  Early the next morning we moved to Hostel El Punto, a great German run hostel with plenty of activities and colorful courtyards.  As suggested by an old frenchman who we met in Valle Fertile, we booked a tour to Mamalluca Observatory.  We soon found out why they say that the skies in Northern Chile are some of the best for star gazing. 
    We set off near dusk for a mountain top maybe an hour or two outside of La Serena.  Once we arrived at the observatory we had amazing unobstructed views of the skies.  This part of Chile has hardly any light pollution.  The night was so black that I felt like I could see every star in the sky.  We started off our tour looking at galaxies and zodiac clusters through a gps controlled 30 cm diameter telescope.  We learned all kinds of interesting things like the darker the color of the star the older it is.  The darkest stars may have already died and exploded long ago.  
    Next they showed us a video of all kinds of galaxies, stars, and planets that we couldn't see with that power of telescope (the observatory we visited is primarily used for tourism, however, some of the largest telescopes in the world are located farther north in Chile and are used for science).  Afterwards we went outside where our guide pointed out more constellations and stars using a high powered laser.  We learned about the southern cross and how to use it as a compass.  As we were finishing up our tour Jupiter rose above the mountains.  We were able to see all four moons along with the two gas stripes covering the planet.  Jessie and I went home wishing we were Chilean and always had access to such amazing telescopes... Lucky people!  
    We spent the rest of our time in La Serena walking on the beach, eating sea food, and doing a little shopping.  Who would have thought that jeans in Chile are long enough for us Alaskan giants.  Jessie and I always wondered why everyone in Chile had their pants rolled under.  
    Off for more beach time in the most Northern city in Chile. 
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