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  • Day6

    Brrrr . . . Cold all day

    February 21, 2018 in Chile ⋅ 🌙 0 °C

    Pick up in the hotel lobby at 5 am. Seriously? I was assured that seeking the Tatia Geyers was worth getting up literally before the crack of dawn. So, I stumbled out of bed, bleary eyed, threw on every piece of clothing that might possibly keep me warm and made my way to the lobby.

    We were picked up at 5:05 and climbed into a van. We spent the next 30 minutes winding our way through the streets of San Pedro, picking up fellow travelers at different hotels. One couple was a no-show, or maybe the guide just couldn’t find them. Hard to say, although there were many calls back to the office, before Rodrigo announced that they were a no show. So, we were off, as the goal was to get the geyser fields before the sun rose.

    We drove up into the Andes. It was pitch black outside, and I could already tell that it must be incredibly cold outside, as I could feel it through the window of the van. After about an hour an a half, we arrived at the National Park. The sky was just starting to lighten and there were lots of buses, and tons of people. Our guide, Rodrigo, told us that the Tatio Geyers are the third largest geyser fields in the world, behind Yellowstone (no. 1) and someplace in Russia. While I am not one to say that everything is bigger and better in the U.S. of A., I must tell you that after seeing Yellowstone, these geysers were extremely disappointing. Also, because the sun was just rising, and we were at 14,050 feet, it was freezing cold. I was wearing everything that I had that might keep me warm, including a cheap pair of gloves that I’d bought in San Pedro. But, it was far from enough, as it was about 20 degrees outside. We walked around for about 30 minutes, and then I climbed into the van to warm up. Arie eventually enticed me to leave the van with an offer of eggs that had been cooked on a little camping stove and hot tea. With a little warm food in my body, I felt better. While we stood around, a couple from England asked our guide why all of the tour groups went to see the geysers at the crack of dawn. He gave an explanation about being able to see the steam clouds best at dawn. But, by that point, it was pretty sunny and you could see the vents just fine. I think that the real reason is that this lets the tour companies run a morning tour and an afternoon tour. Oh well.

    Next stop was a “pool” at the hot springs. Arie and I decided not to shed our clothes, and instead walked through the nearby geyser field. While this field still didn’t hold a candle to Yellowstone, I thought that it was nicer that the first one at which we’d stopped.

    On our way back to town, we got to see some flora and fauna — a lagoon with coots and Chilean geese, wild vicuña on the hills, and an animal that looked like a rabbit but is actually a viscacha. The coot was pretty interesting to watch, as it we could see it building its nest in the water. This is done to protect the eggs from foxes, and because the grasses combine with some enzyme to create a reaction that generates heat in the cold winter months.

    Not too surprisingly, when we got back to the hotel, we settled in for a well-deserved nap!

    For the evening, we had a star gazing tour scheduled. We were supposed to be picked up at 8:40. But, by 7 pm, the sky was grey and covered with clouds. We were pretty skeptical about seeing any stars, but there was no message from our tour guide, so we once again put on all of our warm clothes and prepared for our pick-up.

    Jorge, who runs the stargazing company, is a one man operation. He books the tours, he drives the van, and then he gives a long lecture about the stars and planets. (The only thing he doesn’t do is prepare and serve the snack, which is his wife’s domain.). As people piled into the van, everyone asked whether there would be anything to see, given the cloud cover. He was very coy with this answer, and told people to get into the van. When we had a full compliment of 13, he headed to the outskirts of town. When we arrived at his property, he told us that the cloud cover was currently making it impossible to see anything, but that might change. He said that his suggestion was that he’d start with an astronomy lecture of 1-3/4 hours, and if the clouds were still covering everything, he’d feed us a snack, and take us back to the hotel, no charge. If the clouds cleared, we could have the star tour. He asked what we all thought, but since we were already at his house, what choice did we really have? Of course, everyone said, sure, why not . . .

    We got out the van and entered into a fenced yard. Once our eyes acustomed to the dark, we could see about a dozen (maybe more, it was dark) telescopes of different shapes and sizes, some chairs with blankets over them, and heaters. We started by looking at moon, which was quite beautiful. Using the telescopes he had, we could see craters and mountains. After looking at the moon in a variety of telescopes, we all settled in for the lecture. Jorge is an accomplished amateur astronomer, and for almost 2 hours we learned about the stars, and the history of astronomy. Some of it was very interesting, and some not so much. As we sat, the clouds seemed to cover the entire sky, including the moon which he had earlier been able to see. I was pretty darn skeptical that we were going to be able to see anything. Then, as the temperature dropped, and dropped, some of the clouds disappeared. The longer he talked, the clearer the sky became. And, by the time he was done, there was not a cloud in the sky — unbelievable. What there was, however, was the Milky Way, clear as a bell to the naked eye. With the telescopes, we saw stars, nebula, the sombrero galaxy, and Jupiter with three of its moons. Super duper cool. But, by the time were were done, it was 1 am and I was once again, freezing.

    A good day, but boy was I cold!
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