10.07.2019 – Back in Europe

Andra is writing:
We landed in Rome early in the morning. While the clock shows seven by local time, it’s hard to believe it’s early morning because it’s midnight in Chile and our bodies sleep in thought. On the plane only a few of us could persuade ourselves to fall asleep, but most of us haven’t slept at all. Rome promises a hot day and the fact that it is going to be such we already feel when we get out of the plane. Since there were very few citizens of the European Union on our plane we do not have to stand in the huge queue and are quickly getting through the passport control.

It’s good to come back to Europe, use mobile data and talk freely on the phone without thinking about Chilean rates. We’re delighted to see our suitcases again, for they’ve all flown in. We open them immediately to change into summer clothes. It is 11 hours before the flight to Riga. We leave the baggage in the storage room, which is not a cheap pleasure (10Eur/bag), but no other option. We split into interest groups. Those who haven’t been to Rome are traveling by bus to downtown, while others – to the beach in Ostia.

We reach Ostia in 30 minutes. It looks like Jūrmala, but unlike Jūrmala, much of the beaches are private. We find a free beach with no parasols, but a lot of people. We are swimming in the Mediterranean, sunbathing. There is only one problem. As soon as we sit down in the sand, there is a desire to lie down, but once somebody sleeps, he falls asleep. That’s exactly what happens to Agnese. The others manage not to sleep, go swimming every now and then. Before returning to the airport, we taste Roman ice cream, which the cafe’s hostess recommends and offers us to try. It’s prepared by herself from fresh peaches and is really phenomenally tasty. Agnese doesn’t hesitate to make a reference in Tripadvisor. And it’s really hard to decide whether the Roman ice cream is more tasty or the one we tasted in Milan on the first day of our trip.

In the meantime, Dora, Imants and Juris have traveled to the centre of Rome, visited Vatican, Trevi fountain, Pantheon, Angel bridge also gone to Forum ruins and Colosseum, which is impressive, given that there is 31*C hot and a nonsleeping night behind them.
Thus goes the day, and in the evening it is so pleasing to hear the stewardess greet us in Latvian when boarding an Air Baltic plane. The last three hours to Riga, thoughts are moving forward – to home, while looking stubbornly back at the three weeks spent in Chile.
We landed on the ground, speaking both directly and figuratively. Tomorrow some of us have to be back at work. Just the words and hugs of farewell.
The trip is over. Long live the trip!

9.07.2019 – Bye-bye and Thank-you, Chile!

Juris is writing:
Today we wake up early, around 6.a.m. Our flight across the Atlantic leaves at 10:30. The plan is for all of us to go by cars to the airport, leave the luggage and most of the team there and for the drivers to go back to return the cars and catch an Uber to the airport. The car rental opens at 8.a.m., but they have said that someone is usually there already at half past seven. Theorethically everything should work out, although we don`t know the traffic situation in the mornings. As the car rental is a kilometre or so from the highway (this particular office picked not without a reason), it seems to minimise the risk and we go for it.

The place we are staying does not have decent kitchen, so we miss the last opportunity to taste Ilgonis superb omelette. Everyone who wants grabs something to eat from our food stock. Some last packaging and then we go. The bags seem to be slightly larger, than when we arrived.

We arrive at the airport, take all of the luggage and find some place to wait until the check-in gates open. Imants, Ilgonis and Agnese goes back to the car rental, to be there and leave the cars as soon as someone is there. Around 10 minutes before 8.a.m. a message arrives from Imants: “Cars are OK” and then some 15 minutes later from Ilgonis: “Entered taxi. Expected drive 20 minutes.” A moment later Agnese sends us the Uber link, so we can follow their progress. When they are midway, we go to the check-in gate and continue to wait for them while waiting in line to drop-off bags. When everyone is there, we drop-off bags and go through security check, which is reasonably fast. The plan has worked, we are on time for boarding the plane.

The plane is slightly more modern than previously, although not bigger. Due to Agnese’s effert to change the seats, we are almost at hands reach with each other, me and Ilgonis in the middle row with three seats, hoping that the plane is not 100% full and that noone would be willing to sit in the single seat between us. We are lucky! Soon we lift off.
Thank you Chile! You have been welcoming!

Now, the 14 hours of flight across the Atlantic. Everyone tries to spend the time between South America and Europe and between meals somehow. Activities are mixed- some of us mostly sleep, some take time to watch the movies, do some reading and chat.

During our journey in Chile, while not at the steering wheel, I have finished Isaac Asimov`s Robot series and started BBC popular science presenters Jim Al Khalili`s book Sunfall. Turns out it is not a pop-sci book, but rather sci-fi book, but the science is also accurate and covers wide range of topics. Moreover, it is a well written thriller and I spend most of the flight time reading. Somewhere over the Atlantic, we cross the date line and the story continues in July 10.

8.07.2019 – The last day in Chile – wrapping up

Agnese is writing:
The apartment where we spent last night finally had everything we wanted to feel good – as Andra said last night – we don’t need that much – only everything! There was wifi, good kitchen with washing liquid, matches, pots, pans, hot water all the time. The bath was, however, so ridiculously small (1m long) that I specifically tried it out for that reason.
Half of the apartments we rented out were meant for 7 people with a hope that the sofa will be big enough for the 8th. This worked in most cases, but for a backup we had taken one sleeping bag and one tourist mat with us. In this case the sofa would have been big enough as well, but it didn’t look stable enough, so me and Dora slept in an otherwise single bed which was big enough for both of us.

In the morning we tried to contact the car rental and tell about the check engine light again (the previous days the online chat was interrupted by no phone coverage on the highway). They said it will be looked at when we return our cars. OK with us as then we don’t need to spend time visiting any repair shop. We also checked the parking places and costs in Santiago center as that’s where we were going to spend some time when we arrive there in the afternoon. Some souvenirs, postcards and other purchases were still pending, and the last place to stay was not that inviting to go directly there. Here I must say that we only saw postcards in 2 places of our trip – Santiago center and La Serena market. Even La Serena post office only had ones with generic flowers while we were looking for sights of Chile.

On our way we notice an advertisement for empanadas and start craving for them. I search internet and realise after a while that the place we have passed, Huentelauquen, apparently has the best empanadas of all the Northern Chile – everyone is talking about them. But well, we don’t like to turn around, so find good reviews for a place next to the ocean in Los Molles village. When we arrive there (after a bit of driving to and fro since my map is only showing one street in the maze), it turns out that most empanadas kiosks are closed for winter season, but a couple are open as there are still a couple of surfers here. The pies are not cheap here – around 2000-3000CLP for one (1000CLP is about 1.3EUR), but there is big enough choice (crab-cheese, shrimp-cheese, napolitana, meat-cheese, champignon-cheese, olives-cheese, ham-cheese and many more) and they are tasty again. We eat one each and feel satisfied.

We continue our road to Santiago when I remember to look up what a Cherimoya fruit is (the appearance looked familiar) and am not surprised learning that this is a very close species to the tasty Srikaya fruits that we tried in Sulawesi. So I start looking for signs on the roadside booths and soon spot one saying Cherimoya. They are not fully ripe yet, so even better for transporting. Let’s hope that they are as tasty as srikayas!

After some time and several road toll booths and later beeps by our automatic toll-tag device we reach Santiago. We park the cars both for 5000CLP for 2 hours in a small private car park and are off to the town centre. There are lots of kiosks and people selling things, unfortunate for us those are not souvenirs, but snacks as well as hats, gloves, pants, jackets, stockings and other kind of general clothing. We even ask some policemen were we could buy souvenirs, but they seem to not know. Finally we find a small shop on the far side of central market and there are a couple inside the market already packing up for the day. The prices are quite good – in the airport they are more than twice higher.

At 6:30 it’s already dark and we meet at the cars to go to wash them. They are so dirty that we cannot give them back and hope that the rental guys will be able to check for any new scratches. In such a case it is said that any charges will be taken from the credit cards afterwards when such are found. We do not want to risk them finding something that was not there and prefer to have the car checked and confirmed fine already at the moment of returning them. Turns out the high pressure wash-yourself device in ‘Copec’ petrol station is simple enough to operate, but not so great at removing Atacama desert dust, so we help with some paper towels and toilet paper till the cars look if not totally clean then at least good enough for checks.

We fill up the cars using Anders’ last banknotes as this automated petrol pump for some reason is only taking the local bank cards, and then leave for the rental place to see if there is anything we can already sort out today. Tomorrow our flight leaves at 10:30, but the rental in city center only opens at 8:00, and we want to spend there as little time as possible. In the rental we find out that the staff are at work at 7:30 already and if we ask them nice enough, they should be able to check the cars before 8:00. So the plan is to take everyone and all the luggage to the airport at 6am, then for the drivers and Agnese to come back to the rental, return cars and then use Uber to get back to the airport.

We arrive at our ‘Casona’ and are almost the only guests there. Pack and weight our suitcases, exchange boots for bottles as those are not allowed in hand baggage, have some quick supper of microwaved pasta/rice &cheese and then go to sleep.

7.07.2019 – Going back to La Serena

Anders is writing:
We get to sleep in a bit this morning. It’s Sunday and breakfast is served from 8.00 at our hotel. We’re in no hurry. Juris even has time for a second breakfast. Today’s mission is getting to La Serena, about 350 km away. Back on Ruta 5 Imants is driving, Dora is reading, Agnese is calculating everyone’s expenses. I’m watching the arid landscape pass by. Imants notifies us that we now have driven 6000 kilometers. For most of that distance we have been listening to Chilean radio stations. For the moment the radio is playing classic rock/metal music, which is a nice change. In general, if you’ve had enough of Latin songs or dance music, listening to Chilean radio is often like being transported 25-30 years back in time. All the songs I listened to back then, and thought I had forgotten, are played. There’s lot’s of 80’s classics. There’s 90’s music I had hoped to never hear again. There’s a Seal medley. Rick Astley comes on followed by Chesney Hawkins and Sabrina.

We stop for gas and banos. When I get back to the car the others say they considered driving off, leaving me. It’s the usual story. They haven’t done so, yet. We go past the turnoffs to La Silla observatory and Choros valley, where we have been just a few days ago.

In La Serena we park the cars at the supermarket and go for shopping in the town center. Most of the stores are closed but there is a Sunday market along a small road, by the highway. You can buy almost everything, from toys and clothes to old tape recorders. It’s a nice walk but nobody buys anything. Instead we go once again to Recova market to look for postcards and souvenirs. It’s a lot more quiet than the last time, the day before the eclipse. Now most tourists have gone. We take the opportunity to give Agnese a present, a purse filled with some souvenirs and money.

We’re staying for the night in an apartment, the third one in La Serena. Dinner is prepared, while I catch the second half of the Copa America final on TV. Brazil beats Peru 3 goals to 1. After dinner and dessert most people retreat to their rooms, some go to sleep early.

6.07.2019 – Dreams come true

Ilgonis is writing:
When I found out that Agnese was planning an eclipse expedition to Chile, the first thought that came to mind: would it be possible to visit the Paranal Observatory? That day has come, unfortunately, we only have reservation for 2 persons, but we are 8.

In the morning, after a rather fine breakfast – sausages boiled with electric heater in a metal cup, immersing them just like a slowing rods of a nuclear reactor, we go to the northest point of our journey – the Tropic of Capricorn. Here begins a zone where the sun can be at the zenith. It extends across the equator to the Tropic of Cancer. This place near the Road No. 5 is marked by the massive structure that looks like an arch of triumph. We’re making a group photo.

In the Antofagasta, on the shore of the ocean, we visit a naturally formed stone arch of rocks situated in a beautiful bay with great waves. We still had enough time to watch seals and pelicans in the busy fishing port, where many colored boats are anchored. Then we go for a 2-hour drive away from the ocean to Cerro Paranal. We arrive in time. Yess! Agnese manages to make sure everyone can go to visit Very Large Telescope.

Buses quickly take up some 100 touring members on the mountaintop. The first stop is at the Residence, where astronomers stay between the observations. As the air is very dry at the 2600 m altitude of Cerro Paranal, a moist tropical environment has been created here. Then we go to the four huge 8.2-meter telescope domes. Their names in mapuche language means: the Sun, the Moon, the Southern Cross and Venus. A halo is seen above the telescope dome. I took a lot of pictures of this unique place where I had long wanted to go.

Then we enter into the dome of the 8.2 m telescope. Telescope itself is a huge scientific machine. There are big structural pipes, several mirrors, including the main mirror, as big as the dance floor, a lot of wires and hardware. Our group asks a lot of questions, I don’t need it, I just enjoy the view and take pictures. Here, too, we make a group photo. In the telescope control room guides explain us how the observations are done.

With a sense of fulfillment, we go down. The three big goals of this trip – to observe the full eclipse of the Sun, to reach the Monturaqui meteorite crater and to visit the Paranal Observatory, have been achieved. In the afternoon we travel nearly 500 km to Copiapo, where we arrive late in the evening. On the way we stopped to see a fantastic sunset on the shore of the ocean.

5.07.2019 – “Brilliance” and scourge in the Atacama Desert.

Imants is writing:
The alarm clock vigorously rings at 5.50 in the morning. As I went to sleep around 2 o’clock at night, it is clear that I still want to sleep. Agnese had determined that we should leave Antofagasta at 6.15AM for the Atacama Desert. As usual, everything does not happen as expected and we are ready to leave at 6.30AM that is not as bad. The city is slowly waking up and the streets are already beginning to congest, but this is not a big issue. We leave the city fairly quickly and after about half an hour we arrive at La Negra, where we need to refuel. As we go to a very sparsely populated desert area, we also need extra fuel reserves, so we buy a 20 liter fuel can, which is also filled with gasoline. Estimates suggest that with full fuel tanks and this can, we should be able to drive 283 km from La Negra to Monturaqui Crater and return to Antofagasta. We have explored the map previously and we know that there are no petrol stations on this road section.

At about 7.20 we are ready to proceed further. The first 140 km to the Minera Escondida mines are easy for us because the road is mostly very good. In the last kilometers the road’s altitude increases sharply, and I watch from time to time the altimeter of my Garmin smartwatch, which shows 2500, 2600… 3000 meters above sea level and then stops at 3050m when we reach Minera Escondida. Next, we need to exit this road and continue on the bypass, because the main road leads to the mines where we are not allowed to enter. For the time being, it seems that we will get to the destination sooner than the estimated 10 hours of the navigation application.

Here, as we continue to ride uphill, the road surface in the beginning is still good, but when we reach the top of the hill, the road becomes bumpy and rugged. Although I drive as the first and the second car gets all the big dust, we are also starting to breathe in dust in our car. Road quality also affects the speed that drops to 50-60 kilometers per hour or sometimes even less. After we’ve enjoyed such a road conditions for 20 minutes, we are surprised by a new obstacle. We have reached the intersection with traffic lights and a barrier and some plaque with text in Spanish. In the traffic light, the red light is on and the barrier is closed and we do not know whether it is possible to continue our trip or not. Nothing happens for a few minutes and Agnese goes to the nearby booth to find out what’s happening. She returns with the message that we have to wait because the barrier will open in two minutes. It seems to me, however, that we are waiting a little longer, but the traffic light finally switches to green and we can continue. Next nearly 17 km we drive along the same bad road and after half an hour or more we reach the railway station Imilac. It seems that his place has been abandoned by civilization. Maybe the mine train still goes by this place, but some of the buildings here are abandoned and they don’t have windows nor doors anymore.

According to the instructions of the navigation application, we still have to drive more than 40 kilometers and then we will reach the hardest part of the road that leads into the mountains. So far, we have no idea whether it is possible to get where we want.
Further the road leads us around two salt lakes and after that we reach the intersection with the road sign pointed to the Monturaqui. This is a bit misleading, because we need to go is in the opposite direction as this is not the Monturaqui we want to visit today. We continue to rock while driving for some kilometres as the road is still rugged and at 10.30AM we finally arrive at the place where the power line crosses the road. Around one and a half kilometers away in the valley, we also see a power substation. We start driving along a road that runs parallel to the power line, but after a few hundred meters we find that we will not be able to proceed further, because in some places there are deep ditches washed out by spring streams. We turn back to the the big road and, surprisingly, find a relatively better driveway, which leads us to the power substation. In order to be sure that we are heading in the right direction, we stop to have a conversation with the workers on the roadside. I must say that communication when part speaks mainly English, but other part speaks only in Spanish, is not easy. Workers are trying to convince us that there is no road in the mountains and that we have to go back to Monturaqui. It takes some time to impress that we are looking for a crater with such a name, not a populated place.

Following the navigation app we are going over all the valley and again along the power line. After that the road winds a bit and brings us into hills where it gets barely visible. We need to rely on the direction showed by the navigation device and try to find the flattest surface in the valley which resembles a dried riverbed. The driving is slow, but not too hard. The main thing is to avoid big stones and holes.

We stop for the first time when we have gone about 17km from the official road. Here we take pictures of the mountain on horizon and the scarce but colourful plants. For the second tie we stop in another 7km when we have reached the highest point of this road. Here we take a group photo and prepare to leave when the 2nd car messages that their Brilliance has got the check-engine notification lit on the panel. While inspecting the car visually we do not find any mechanical problems. We discuss together what to do next – turn back, go forward by both cars or divide in two groups and go forward by one car since there are still about 18km till the crater.

After the discussion we decide that one group continues going to Monturaqui crater by the first car Suzuki while the 2nd group walks along the same route. When the first group will have gt closer to the crater, the car will return and get the second group to the crater.
I take the first group further to the crater and we spend about 1 hour on the way. Twice the passengers have to get out as deep riverbeds need to be crossed perpendicularly. Here it shows clearly that our second car Brilliance even without any technical issues would not have been able to get the job done. Also with Suzuki these places can be only safely negotiate in 4×4 mode.

When there are about 2.7km left to the crater, one can see a footpath to it in the map. However, it is clearly visible that cars have been driven here, so we follow the tracks, and thus arrive at the very edge of the crater. We have reached the crater at 13:30. This helps to make a tactical decision that the car will not go back to the second group right away, but will return with the first group aboard. And in the meeting point they will switch places.
After viewing the crater we go back to meet the second group. Not far from the crater we spot a nandu who flees into the mountains after noticing the car. Soon after that we notice a vicuna on the roadside and a bit further away on a mountain ridge stands also a guanaco.

The second team has walked about 6km and we meet them at the place where the last and the worst 12 km of road starts. I take them to the crater, where this time we meet another car with Japanese tourists, who have come to the crater by a different road. There is also a German tourist in the crater, who asks us if we have seen a red pick-up car, which, apparently, had taken him to the crater. Again and again we try to explain to him that we came by a different road and haven’t met anyone else on our way. When we’re getting back to the spot where we left our Brilliance, we pick up Ilgonis who has fallen behind the other walkers. The others have gotten further and have almost reached the car. After a short while of rest and snacks we start our way back to Antofagasta. Brilliance manages to move unaided, which brings us hope that we’ll get to the end without towing it or looking for any other technical help.

We get from the highland to the power sub-station much faster – in only one hour. Just a little more and we are back on the theoretical main road. Even though we have already driven a lot today and are tired, we have about 265km more to go to get to our housing.
On the way we eat up the remaining sandwiches, nuts and other snacks as we don’t stop anymore to eat. The only stops along the road are during the sunset at the salt lake and later already in the dark at a spot next to the road where it might be possible to find meteorite’s debris.
I drive till Minera Escondida and then around 10km of the further downhill. To keep everyone awake Agnese continues country and capital quiz which I don’t really participate in anymore. Finally I feel tired. We stop and I help Anders to fill up our Suzuki from the petrol canister we took with us and then get into a passengers seat. Soon I fall asleep and thus cannot tell what happens till Antofagasta.

4.07.2019 – Fogbow, hand and other miracles of desert

Andra is writing:
The morning starts in an unusual way, no smell of omelette made by Ilgonis. For the first time during the trip we are not preparing breakfast and there is no need to wash dishes either. We leave Copiapo to go to Caldera. Desert is all around, not even cactuses visible, nor a donkey in fog, only sand. Suddenly Sun beams start to break the fog, Ilgonis stops the car so we could observe a full fogbow crescent over desert.

At the midday we stop in the Pan de Azucar national park. Ilgonis is checking out the beaches very carefully. It turns out he has decided to go for a swim no matter what the temperature of the water is. When an appropriate beach has been found, Ilgonis is not going swimming by himself, but inspires Agnese, Dora and Imants to join as well. The others not swimming and watching the spectacle from the sidelines think that the photoshoot has been a success, and, even though the water indeed isn’t warm, the swimmers seem happy and satisfied after fighting the big waves.

Soon after the swim we stop at the Mirador trail, but decide against going to look at the scenery, as it would take more than 2 hours, however we can afford to eat well at this nice place. We continue our way over the desert. Now we understand what a real desert is like – during our drive we see not one speck of green, no plants, just sand and bigger or smaller rocks. When we have a need for a green stop, the only option is a big green roadsign, as there is nothing else green. However it is warm. In the afternoon sun in the desert the temperature has reached about 20 degrees.

Moving on we get in a traffic jam. When an icecream seller appears from behind a truck (i’ll remind that we are in a desert), we understand that we’ll need to wait for a while. Ilgonis is getting ready to get out to see how many cars we have in fron of us and Juris kindly offers him the binoculars. It turns out there is no need to worry, as due to some road construction, there are just a few cars ahead.

The next sightseeing object is the Hand of the Desert. By Dora’s calculation the sculpture is about as high as five Agneses and is made by Chilean sculptor Mario Irarrazabal.
Now we are very close to Antofagasta, the second largest city after Santiago. As per usual, one team goes shopping, but the other – to the housing. The them in the store are waiting for news about the dinner preparation options, but gets only a message saying that the owner of the hostel doesn’t want to know anything about booking.com anymore. Some thought about sleeping on the beach arise, everyone is showing sings of tiredness, we are waiting. But as we all know there are no problems that Agnese can’t solve, and an hour later we are already in a different hostel.

3.07.2019 – The day after The Day

Juris is writing:
After the eclipse day, the morning is a bit slow as we finished last night quite late, due to the usual after-eclipse traffic jams.

We start the morning with packing and later split up- some of us top up supplies in a nearby supermarket, others deal with postcards, stamps and post office.
Today we have to do the first leg of our long drive north to Antofagasta. Today’s aim is to reach Copiapo, some 350km from La Serena.

We start by visiting a small coastal town Huasco and have the first short stroll near its lighthouse. Probably no longer functional, it has become a large scale canvas for wall paintings.

In early afternoon we find a splendid spot for picnic format dinner. Slightly off the road, on little hill, with a view towards the ocean- everything tastes great- how could it not, in such a place?
We continue our drive North, spending hours with different shades of ocean on the left and desert and mountains on the right.

Couple of hours later we arrive at Playa Chorillos, where we have a plan for couple of kilometres walk near ocean. The place is beautiful, and our usual “arrive-get-things-done-check-leave” tempo, turns into leisurely and reflective walk, picking stones and seashells, listening to waves and watching birds.
During the walk we notice two guys, chopping and gathering seaweed on the stones in water. On her way back, Andra asks them what they are for- turns out they are using them for mattresses and pillows.

We leave the beach only after sunset and continue our drive, arriving in Copiapo later in the evening.

2.07.2019 – The day of the Eclipse

Dora is writing:
The planning experience of previous years serves as the proof for the proverb: “The early bird does not sit in the traffic jams and first gets to choose the best eclipse-watching spot”. Thus, we get up early, as we plan to depart at 6:45. No time for elaborate breakfast, it’s everyone for themselves and their sandwiches. The day seems promising – warm and with no clouds. We have made some sandwiches the previous night, so it’s just taking those and some chicken for lunch and by 7am we are ready to leave, even though there are some 8+ hours until the eclipse and we’re not going THAT far away (possibly, the Apple fanatics, who go to sleep in the queue for the newest iPhone the previous night, will understand this)
Everyone has their jackets and sun watching glasses, cameras and tripods are packed – we are ready (at least I don’t know what else we need to be ready). While leaving La Serena all around we see fog and clouds still sleeping in their mountain beds.

The road is quite empty so we’re moving briskly until we catch up to a line of cars going the same way – nice and slow. Meanwhile the clouds have left the mountains. At around 8am we have spotted a nice place, which gets an approval from Ilgonis after assuring the correct azimuth and degrees. Parallel to the main road, mountains in the background, a small river and some vegetation makes a nice view. At half-past-8 we have parked the cars for staying and upgraded our path over the stream. The Sun is rising over the mountaintops and illuminating the opposite ranges. Everything is beautiful; time to wait about 8h till the beginning of the totality.

Shortly before 10am I notice a slow line of cars on the main road to Vicuna, however soon the road is empty once more. There are only some pedestrians and a few cars passing by on our road. The inhabitants of the white car want to stretch their legs and walk to town to take a look at what’s new; we stay to guard our spot. When they come back it’ll be our turn to stretch our legs. With the passing of time more and more teams of cars appear and park on our road. At noon there’s a new line of cars on the main road going to Vicuna. Everyone wants to find their place in the Sun. Half an hour later the White team is back, and we go to look for some postcards – we have 3h. It’s warmed up quite a bit by then and it’s hot even in our t-shirts. At one point we split up and Agnese and I go to the post office hoping to find the postcards, but it turns out to be closed. Next we go to the central square to the touristic market – no postcards there either, but we find ice cream (the cinnamon one is, disappointingly, kind of meh)! We walk around for a bit and I’m surprised about the number of people, which is smaller than I imagined it would be in the World Capital of Astronomy (as they call themselves here). We meet up with the others, and, while we are walking here and there, someone passing has a case of light fingers and our team now has one wallet less. Agnese and I go to look for a police station to write a report, hoping it might help if even a little. First time in a police station; at least I’m there willingly.

As the partial eclipse starts, we leave the police office and hurry back to our watching spot. As the thought about my watching glasses left in the car passes through my mind, we happen upon the very nice gas station people giving some glasses away for free. Happily, we take them. I look at the Sun – yes, someone has bitten the pie (I was very hungry, that’s why the g-astronomical associations). IT has really begun! There are quite many cars on our road now and people have settled for watching. We get to our basecamp, where the Latvian flag is proudly blowing tied to the bushes (later in the evening I see a tweet by Juris, stating that he has proclaimed this little bit of Chile as more Latvian). Ilgonis and Imants have set up their cameras and started to photograph the whole event. Everyone is wearing glasses and watching the Sun pie getting smaller and smaller. Everyone has their jackets on as it has gotten chilly. A while before 4pm, dusk is setting in, but, somehow, it’s different from the other times, different shades. The crust is all that’s left of the pie now, weird shadows games happening in the sand. Just a little while until that too will be gone, people around are happy and applauding. Just one more flash and the pie is gone, the evening has set. I take off the glasses, look at the sky and.. it’s really gone. There’s just a black hole with a silvery outline.

My brain has been getting ready for this moment for more than 6 months, but it still can’t process what the eyes are seeing. Solar corona. Just a moment to take a closer look through the binoculars, trying to find some truth or explanation, yet the corona is already being replaced by the diamond ring – so bright, as if real, adorning the sky. One more moment (although Agnese is very sure that it was a relatively long time) and it’s over. Did it happen? I think I missed it. Could someone please rewind and still the picture?

The light is coming back, must put the glasses back on to see.
Have to go next year to watch it again, otherwise it seems impossible to understand what a total solar eclipse is, what it means. What forces of the universe have come together to make the Moon just the right size and the right distance away from the Earth to cover the Sun disk just so much to make the corona visible on the planet that is situated at the right distance away from the right kind of star to make it habitable and already inhabited by [relatively] sapient life forms. And what forces of nature have worked so that I (we all) could be there – thousands of km away from home – just in time, where there are no clouds, and everything is clearly visible. How?

Afterwards.. it’s not really important what happened, but for the sake of order I have to write it.
Ilgonis is hopping happily. Hugging, toasting, happy exclamations, discussing what everyone saw, eating sandwiches (because we left the chicken at home and I’m still hungry) and group pictures with our blue jackets on.
Instead of turning homewards (there’s a traffic jam anyway), we go to the town to look for Agnese’s wallet, but we do not succeed. After that, we do get to join the long caravan of cars towards La Serena, logging in another geocache on the way. Every once in a while, someone asks me if I liked the eclipse and what are my thoughts, as this was my first total solar eclipse; but all I can reply – still processing data.
In the car we play the capital quiz (the next year will be spent learning the world map) and the night is not over yet as we get back home. No one wants any chicken anymore, just a glass or two of wine or beer or pisco and we go to sleep. Tomorrow life goes on. Theoretically.

I’m still stuck in the moment. For me it was like welcoming the sunrise on John’s day, the first minute of the New Year and passing the last minute of my birthday all at the same time. The life does not simply go on after that, it starts anew. The cycle is over, the inner clock has been reset. I’m glad that this eclipse happened in the late afternoon, as there is time to enjoy and muse over the experience undisturbed and there are no new adventures that would take my attention away from it. Not enough ROM and RAM space to process the information so fast and gracefully save it on the HDD.
In conclusion: an inkling has been gained that the Total Solar Eclipse is a magical moment, but further repeats of the experiment are needed to get a more detailed and precise result.
Thank you for your attention!

1.07.2019 – A marine safari

Anders is writing:
We wake up unusually early. Most of us at least. Imants and Dora are still sleeping when the rest are finishing breakfast. They are handed sandwiches and then we are off. But not before Imants has got a song and a present. It is his nameday after all. We want to reach Punta de Choros, some 1,5 hours drive away, before 9.00. When we get to the Choros valley there is thick fog. To make things worse, there are donkeys by the road. “Donkeys in the fog”. We arrive just before 9 and there are quite a few people in the harbour. Tours are being arranged, boats are leaving for Isla de Damas. We get our tickets to go out with boat Josefa Valentina.

The boatride is a bit bumpy at first, going straight against the waves. First we go past Isla Gaviota. A few oystercatchers on the beach, but not much else. We go a bit further and it appears our guide is looking for something, dolphins probably, but there are none. But when we’re coming closer to Isla de Choros, we can see there’s more activity there. The first mammals we see are bottle-nosed dolphins, swimming next to our boat. There are some birds as well, gulls, boobys, cormorants and not to forget, some Humboldt penguins. Vultures circle above the steep cliffs. A little later we go past a sea lion, resting on a small rock and later there are more. Two otters are possibly the cutest sighting of the day. The third island is Isla de Damas, where we land, after spotting a pelican. We have an hour to walk around, where flora and fauna of the islands are presented on posters along the trail.

After coming back to Punta de Choros Imants, Agnese and Dora goes to find a geocache. I join them, Dace and Andra follows as well. It’s a nice walk some 700 meters out of the town, with views out over the ocean and the harbour. The cache was not easily found though, but Imants gets it after a while.

On the way back to La Serena we stop by some sand dunes. At first I’m thinking, what fun is that? Once by the dunes, my view on it changes. It was very interesting to study the shapes and ripples made by the wind swept sand. Some people walk off into the sand sea, I sit down by some cactuses and take pictures.

We see some foxes and guanacos along the road and then turn to go up a hillside on a small dirt road. There is a small cave or dig here, we get out and wander around a bit. Some walk upwards to get a better view, some are looking for samples of rock to bring home.

In La Serena we park the cars at a supermarket, then one group goes for groceries and the beach, one goes to the center for Eclipse stamps and shopping at the Recova market. When my group arrives at the apartment, dinner is ready. There is even ice cream and fried platano for dessert!