With our house and garage tucked away in storage at Halifax we arrived in Santiago, Chile. Since it was an overnight flight we did not sleep great but we were ready to go. Our transfer from the airport turned out to work perfectly and we arrived at our Airbnb in the Barrio El Golf district right around the corner from the Ritz Carlton where we would connect with our Sky and Telescope Eclipse tour group. Since we arrived in the morning our apartment was not ready, but we were able to access it and drop our luggage and change before heading out to explore. First stop was to check out the Ritz ( and of course the spa there ) where we will spend 2 nights at the start of the tour. Then on a tip from June’s brother Robert we went to Tarmonto Bar & Terrace for rooftop food and drinks and a spectacular view of the surrounding mountains!
After relaxing (also eating and drinking) for about 3 hours enjoying the sun and the view we walked over to the Costanera Center, the tallest building in South America. There is an observation deck but no bar or restaurant at the top so we decided not to go up. It was a long but great day (or two days) to start off this adventure.
After a good night sleep it was time to head out and start exploring Santiago. First outing was a city bike tour and after a 30 minute metro ride into the centre of town we found the starting point without any trouble. It was a small group and we headed out on our “city cruiser” bicycles.
Interesting sights that we saw were La Chascona, the former home of Pablo Neruda (a Chilean Nobel Laurette) and then The Hill (a Catholic pilgrimage with a statue of the Virgin Mary on top). We finished the tour at the Markets, a 4 city block market that was a bit of a flea market, a huge fruit market as well as a seafood market that had just about every type of seafood you can imagine.
Oh, did I mention the stray dogs in the city? They are very well taken care of and one adopted our group and spent most of the morning with us, we even got separated from it and when we finished the tour it was at the office waiting for us! We finished the morning with a wonderful lunch at a restaurant back at the seafood market. The food, as well as the pisco sours were amazing.
Funny thing the man who served us was a huge Toronto Raptors fan and when we told him we were Canadians, he was SO happy!! We then had an afternoon cycling tour arranged so we headed back to the cycling office. This time it took us along the river and to the Presidential Palace and the Cultural Center. As we headed home we stopped to watch a beautiful sunset to finish off a great day.
The following day we had another tour booked. This one was an historic walking tour starting at the Presidential Palace. We learned about the earthquakes, the coup and Pedro Gutiérrez de Valdivia the Spanish explorer who came over the Andies and founded the city of Santiago. It finished at San Cristobal Hill where we had another amazing sunset. Another awesome day and we walked over 23 kilometers!
With our last day by ourselves in Santiago we decided to walk and explore on our own starting by going to the main park downtown and up the hill to the Virgin Mary statue looking out over the city. A great vantage point with lots of hummingbirds and dogs to enjoy as well. On the way home we wandered through the “craft” market area of town as well.
The official tour with Sky and Telescope starts today (June 29th) so we had to leave our Airbnb and walk over to the Ritz Carleton where we will spend the next 2 nights. However, before doing this we streamed the funeral service for our friend Amy Johnston who lost her battle to cancer, we were glad we could be part of it from so far away.
After checking in at The Ritz we enjoyed the balcony and spa area as we waited for the rest of our group to arrive. We were excited to see our friends Toni and Charlie but as we were settling in for the evening we got a message from them saying they missed a connecting flight due to weather and were scrambling to find a new path down. The next day the first of the planned events started with a bus tour of Santiago. This was our third “city” tour with each one covering a lot of the same area but all with a little different twist.
After the city tour we ended up at the National Observatory for a cocktail reception to kick off the tour. It was followed up by a view of Jupiter through the 100 year old 25 cm by 3.8 meter refractor telescope. We arrived back at the hotel for the first of many amazing dinners, but still no Toni and Charlie! They finally arrived in Santiago around 22:00 that evening but unfortunately none of their luggage followed them down!
In the morning when the whole group was finally together, it was time to head back to the airport for our morning flight up to La Serena which is about 500 km north of Santiago nestled along the Pacific Ocean. After stopping at the beach for lunch we then travelled inland about 35 km to El Molle and our resort Casa Molle where we were going to watch the solar eclipse.
This was an amazing 5 star resort nestled in the hills!!! After checking into our rooms and enjoying a wonderful dinner it was time to head out for an evening of star gazing. This took us up to Pangue Observatory and some of the darkest skies we have ever seen. The first thing that filled the sky was our Milky Way Galaxy, we have seen it before, but never in the brilliance that we did this night. For the first time we experienced the Magellanic Clouds, both large and small, WOW, the Southern Cross (which we have seen before) but within it the open cluster of stars known as the Jewel Box. The Carina Nebula and Eti Carina, Coalsac Nebula, Omega Centauri Globular Cluster as well as Saturn and Jupiter. What a night and we finally crawled into bed at 1:30 in the morning.
The next day was the BIG SHOW, everyone was so excited as this is the main event of why we were all here. Our group had our designated viewing area so we got set up and we waited. It was a clear, gorgeous sunny day, perfect! There was a lot of socializing and partying while we waited, and boy, the wait was worth it. There really are no words that can describe the day. IT WAS AMAZING!!!! So, we will just let some of the pictures talk for themselves.
Some of the excitement from the days events.
The main event!
The following morning we boarded the bus again and headed north to La Silla Observatory which is part of the European Southern Observatories. What a beautiful drive up and through the mountains. Here we visited two 3.6 meter telescopes, the ESO and the NTT. With the drive being 2.5 hours each way the day was spent more on the bus then at the observatory.
One last official event planned for the El Molle area was a tour of the local Pisco Distillery. The only main difference from a winery tour is that the vats here are made of cement instead of oak or stainless steel. Pisco is a favourite of ours, so we enjoyed the tour and it is a bonus that Toni and Charlie don’t drink, so we got all their tastings!! Then it was back to the airport and the flight down to Santiago and back to the Ritz for a night.
In the morning it was back to the Santiago airport where we said goodbye to some of the group and the remaining people boarded another plane and flew up to Calama and the Atacama Desert. The Atacama Desert is a high desert plateau that borders the western edge of the Andes Mountain range in northern Chile. It is also the driest nonpolar place in the world. With some regions getting only 1 to 3 mm of rain a year.
Here our home base was in San Pedro de Atacama. The next few days were filled with stops at the Los Flamencos National Reserve (the national reserve of flamingos), the Tropic of Capricorn and El Tatio.
El Tatio is the world’s highest geyser field at 4200 meters above sea level. There are roughly 350 geysers with 76 being large and constantly steaming and erupting all the time. This excursion is an early morning because it is a 1.5 hour drive and the best time to be there is sunrise.
It was definitely worth getting up early in the morning because the view was stunning. Since this was an astronomy focused trip we had two astronomy events as well. The first was a night of star gazing at San Pedro de Atacama Celestial Explorations or known as SPACE.
This is privately owned observing site located on the outskirts of San Pedro de Atacama. It is owned and operated by Alain Maury who is a good friend of June’s brother, Robert. With so many astronomers in Chile because of the eclipse it was a little disappointing as it was over crowded and rushed but once again the night sky was amazing.
The other big ticket item on this trip next to the eclipse itself was the tour of Atacama Large Millimeter Array or known as ALMA. ALMA is an astronomical interferometer of 66 radio telescopes. The telescopes are on the Chajnantor plateau at 5000 meter elevations. To go up to the telescopes you need oxygen so we did not do that. Instead we had a tour of the control centre and construction and repair bays. Very impressive!!!
Th realization that the trip was coming to an end, is always a sad time 🙁 Flying back down to Santiago we had our last dinner with the group. Many good-byes were said and everyone went their separate ways. Since we did not want to connect in the USA we spent that night at the Holiday Inn at the airport so that we could fly direct from Santiago to Toronto with a connection to Halifax.
What an amazing experience!!!
If you click on the picture below you will get to a Dropbox folder where you can view a video of the eclipse that was taken by our friend Toni on her GoPro! We have her permission to share it! Thank you Toni.
This photo was taken by Stan Honda who was on the trip with us and is a photo journalist. This image was picked up by the Jakarta Post and was on the front page the next day. In it is June, Sharon and Michelle, from right to left. Stan has given us permission to use this picture and the earlier one in the post.