I got back home to Southern Germany a few days ago; the promised final post from Santiago de Chile fell through due to a very questionable Empanada and, as soon as I a little felt better, the Lufthansa-strike… Interesting journey back, to say the least. Anyway, I am back home and well – already editing the material that I shot during my time in Chile. I would like to take the time to thank all the wonderful people that I met in this lovely country. People who showed me around deserts, mountains and the fantastic CTIO-observatory at Cerro Tololo, people who allowed me to be part of their lives for a short while and to photograph them. Thank you all very much.
My time in Chile is slowly coming to an end. Tomorrow I will start my “descent” south back to Santiago, from where I will fly back to Germany. The trip to Chile concludes my coverage of the Southern hemisphere and after my return an in-depth photo-essay will be published on the website (to be announced in a newsletter). My journey was filled with beautiful impressions and encounters, meeting many generous people. I would like to especially mention my friends Rebeca and Daniel (her son) from Andacollo here, without whom this journey would not have been the same. Rebeca managed the difficult task to make the contacts with the miners, and Daniel accompanied me for a whole week translating in burning sun and impervious fog. Thank you, thank you. And yet, today’s post is about yet another “first-time-experience” – I was having lunch, and there was that dog lying some meters away from me in the sun. All of the sudden, the dog grew extremely nervous and started whining; and I am thinking ‘What the ….?’ About 30 seconds later I had my answer – an earthquake. Nothing severe, but I was astonished by that animal’s instinct. One more post from Santiago will follow!
Coming down from Cerro Tololo, the austerity of the scenery changes into the “green oasis” of Elqui Valley. The contrast between the mountains and the vegetation in the valley is quite spectacular. Much of Chile’s agricultural production tales place here – Avocados, Oranges and, as seen in today’s image, the Pisco-grape – “natural resource” for Chile’s national drink, the Pisco – grow here.
One more image from Cerro Tololo that I would like to share… I had the great pleasure to accompany a group of Chilean High School-students during their first visit to an astronomical observatory. Glowing faces and sparkling eyes as the dome of the telescope opens…
My first visit to Cerro Tololo today. From the entrance-gates, a curvy road takes staff (the shuttle-bus “Carry-all” takes about 45 minutes) up on the mountain to an altitude of 2200 meters. There, various research facilities have telescopes set up specialized in numerous fields within astronomy. LCOGT (the ‘family’ of three domes in the very front) has 1-meter telescopes there deployed in October 2012. The name ‘Tololo’ comes from the Cacán-language of the Diaguitas and means ‘steep cliff’ (quite appropriate if you ask me…). The Diaguitas settled in the ‘Norte chico’ (“small north”)-region of Chile around the year 850 and, amongst others, created wonderful ceramics (the Museum of Archeology in La Serena is stunning). More from Tololo tomorrow!
I visited the town of Montegrande today, a sleepy pueblo, where, however, Nobel Prize-winner (literature) Gabriela Mistral lived as a child. Her sister was a teacher in the local school, and the family actually also lived in the schoolhouse, which today is a museum. Mistral’s poetry is very much inspired by nature and, yes, the stars. One can imagine the impact it may have on someone to grow up and live under such an incredible night sky. Tomorrow, I will get to visit Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory for the first time… I can’t wait! More from the mountain tomorrow!
Compared to my previous journeys to South Africa and Australia, the “public side” of astronomy is a little different here. As it is rather difficult for the public to visit Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (you have to register for a tour at least two months in advance, which then takes place only on Saturdays), astronomy tourism flourishes in so-called “tourist observatories” (there are quite a few of them around available for guided stargazing and didactic introductions to various fields of astronomy). However, ‘Hacienda Los Andes’, an outdoor-lodge close to Cerro Tololo, is quite the place for astro-photographers. Four professional systems for astro-photography have been installed there in a beautiful setting to experience and capture the Southern Skies.
I have left the mining town of Andacollo yesterday, full of impressions from a world that I had no idea existed. It did seem like from an ancient time, those hard-working gold-miners… Who are so proud of their traditions, their region and its “earth” providing their existence. The frantic search deep down in the ground seems like such a intriguing contrast – and, at the same time, analogy – to the incessant search up in the night sky. Anyway – moving on via the ‘Route of the stars’, the road winds down the mountain through a breathtaking landscape. I am on my way to the valley of the river ‘Rio Hurtado’, where, so I hear, a guy from Belgium has opened a hotel specialized in astro-photography.