Friday, January 05, 2007

Starry night in Vicuna

Taking the road east of La Serena, we followed the road through the Elqui valley where the big crop there is the Pisco grapes for the pisco sour, something I am getting a bit of a taste for. We set up camp on the outskirts of town at campsite with wonder of wonders, a swimming pool. We had just ordered lunch in the square when this guy in a stained shirt and tie carrying a briefcase came over and started talking to me about the bikes. It turned out he had a bike and had done some trip to Brazil but now had bambinos, something Michelle and I get asked about quite a lot here. Anyway, this was all well and good but he was getting a bit irritating and I smiled and said 'ok, ciao'. Our food had arrived by this point and normally, most people would see this as a good time to leave. Not this guy though. He got out photos of his kids and then plopped his briefcase down on our table and actually got out a bible. He seemed to be asking us to stay at his place for free. Er, no thanks mate.

The main moon

That night, we had booked our selves on a trip to the Mamalluca Observatory which has been specifically built for the general public. This area has some of the clearest night skys in the world thanks to no light pollution, high altitiude and cloudless skys. We boarded the minibus about 10.30pm for the 20 minute ride up to the observatory. There were maybe 20 or so people in this group but once we arrived at the observatory, the car park was alive with hundreds of people, magic. We were herded towards a observatory building and were waiting in line for abour 30minutes when there was some movement in the line. When we got to the front, it turned out that this was the spanish-only session, well thanks for telling us. We ended up in a group of english speaking folk, including an incredibly loud, posh english couple who appeared to know everything about everything. Our guide eventually arrived and got some order going. Before entering the observatory, we were first taken to a 30cm telescope outside around which this chap gave us a look at the moon which was very bright. This is a bad thing as it makes the rest of the sky quite difficult to see. Anyway, this guy was brillient there wasn't much he didn't know about the night sky. It was facinating listening to him and hearing about old and new stars, supernovae, constellations, meteors and planets. We even saw Saturn including its rings through this telescope, amazing. Looking at what appears to be say one star in the Southern Cross with the telescope, it suddenly became clear that there were hundreds of stars there, you just can't see them with the naked eye. Throughout the evening, the constellations moved slowly accross the sky revealing new ones as they came over the top of the mountains. We got back to the campsite at qbout 2am after a fantastic night.

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