Trip Start Dec 11, 2004
16Trip End Jan 01, 2005
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On Friday morning we woke up somewhat sunburned on the face and hands from our great sea-wildlife trip. I Had yoghurt, muesli and frutta for brekkies (needed a change from the days of ham sandwiches); Vicki had a very good fruit plate.
We then decided we´d have an easy day of it. We walked down to a pretty little Japanese garden at the foot of the hill where town starts. The garden is an exchange thing done by the Japanese consulate and has the only extensive grass and water features we´ve seen since our first day in Santiago. It was a relief to sit in the shade of a pagoda with a mini-cascade. About two-dozen haphazardly dressed teenage girls were running about the place so it wasn´t tranquil but it was fun to watch
Then we did the unthinkable. We went to the mall. I know...I know... but Vicki was craving a clean bathroom, air con, and a salad bar. Getting a good range of veggies is rather tricky to do here. The mall is on the west-south edge of town, behind the bus terminal. It is alarmingly Los Angelized, with the usual chain stores etc. So we bought batteries for Vicki´s camera, then bypassed the KFC and ´Burger Inn´ restos for a Chilean chain joint that at least had a choice of salad stuff. Vicki had a monster tortilla-like object while I had a pseudo-Chinese stir fry with the three basic starch groups--rice, potatoes and bread. At least these places let you get cerveza with your meal; that much Canada could stand to learn. Piped into the overhead stereo was a selection of ironic Xmas tunes (Vanessa Williams crooning Walking in a Winter Wonderland....hello irony...) and gooey Chilean ballads. I kind of had a postmodern epiphany (that would be for better and worse) when the Verve´s ¨Bittersweet Symphony¨ came on. Obviously the mall music is run by a foreign company (ie. trans-national) with an ear for local flavour (icky Chileno sap)
We then had a wonderful trip planned for the evening. We went up about 1200m to a public-tour observatory which had a 40cm telescope; this was on a mountain site near Vicuna, about 100km east of La Serena. The telescope was not as big as the 4m and 8m telescopes across the way on other local mountains, but still good enough to see impressive sights. We started out with a stunningly-bright demi-luna (the moon was almost exactly at half); it was rather hard to look at it, it was so bright. I can´t remember if the seas of the moon were upside-down or not, but the rest of the objects in the sky were. (We also keep forgetting to test which way the water runs down the biffy as well...)
We then looked at Betelgeuse and Rigel (both near Orion´s Belt) to get a good contrast of red (cool) and blue (hot) stars. We then looked at the Pleiades (7-sisters) and M42 (a Nebula--pretty hard to see really). We then went outside for a manual telescope (just a big hard-cardboard tube on a pivot really) and looked at the false Southern Cross, the lack of a star at the axis of the Southern Sky (vs. the easy centering point of Polaris in the North), and a bunch of star clusters, both open and closed. Open are scattered with hundreds of lights, closed are clustered like a funnel with thousands as you get more to the center; a closed cluster looks like an electron-possibility-plot if that makes any sense to you, sort of like a welling up of intensity at the center. Then we went inside again for a computer program demo of ´Starry Night Deluxe´. I learned that because of the Earth´s wobble the stars will move relative in position over thousands of years; ergo, in 2500 years Polaris will be well off southeast of the North Axis (sucks to be a sailor then); conversely in 9000 years there will be a good Southern Polar star. Then we had coffee, cookies and a visit to a rather unimpressive souvenir store. Sorry, no souvenirs there. Then we had a bus-ride back to the hostel, rather slowed by a person driving about 40kms on a windy road by the dam that gives La Serena its water and all the wineries in the Pico Elqui valley their lifeblood. The bus driver was cursing for 20 kms... Mujer conduisa... etc...
Chile is one of the best places in the world for telescopes. The largest telescope in the world, 20 meters I think, is up north of Antofagasta; it is remote controlled by NASA. Here in Vicuna, there are 320 clear days per year and up on the mountains negligible rainfall. Some places get zero rainfall on average. I heard Vicuna had one day of rain last year, but three days this year! Hence we always travel with 1.6 litre water bottles--usually from a company called ´Vital´. Go figure! Vicki likes to get Vital Agua con Gaz. Then even have lemon flavour.
We got back at 12:30am and went straight to bed for we had a great trip planned at 9am the next day. See Vicki´s post about our fab trip to (half the height) of the top of the world.
Over and out,