Thursday, September 27, 2012


Last week, Chile celebrated its Fiestas Patrias, or independence day. Due to the holiday, schools were on vactaion last week (and in some cases, the week before as well), meaning that my involvement in school activities have been extremely minimal. However, the holiday also meant that I had the freedom to explore the city, and also take a 3 day trip to San Pedro de Atacama.

Every year for the week of Septembeber 18, cities in Chile transform to include spaces to celebrate. In Antofagasta, there was a huge fair with rides, games, craft sales, and a stadium for music and dance. There were also the ramadas, a carnival-type space set up with booths of traditional foods, drinks, and games. The majority of my pictures from the celebrations got lost (my phone has recently "moved on," so to speak), which is a shame, since I had many pictures of adorable children in traditional dress dancing the cueca. But here's one that remains of what the fair looked like during the day:

Because my roommates were on vacation, too, they were nice enough to take me to la Portada ("the Gateway"), the main tourist attraction in the Antofagasta area. The Portada is a natural rock formation and also a natural monument of Chile.

 The area also attracts a lot of great fauna, including these PENGUINS!

 After the main celebrations on Tuesday and Wednesday, I took a three-day trip to San Pedro de Atacama with an American friend from La Serena. San Pedro is a tiny town in the desert, which has preserved much of the tradtional architecture of Chile. Because of this, and because San Pedro is close to some incredibly beautiful natural landscapes, the town has been taken over by tourism agencies which book tours to lakes, salt flats, geysers, valleys and flamingo preservations, to name a few. With only three days and limited funds, we had to pick and choose which adventures we signed up for, or took for ourselves.
First, we biked to Valle de La Luna which is famous for its stunning sunsets. The bike ride was windy, dusty, and mostly uphill towards the Valley, but it was also really fun and awesome to be a part of the daily pilgrimage to the sunset, without having to be a part of a specific bus tour.



Friday morning, we woke up early (by my standards, not my mother's) to go to the El Taito geysers for sunrise. When the temperatures are low before the sun comes up, the geysers apparently go much higher. I've never seen anything like this. Despite the bitter morning cold, the crowds from the numerous tours and the early wake-up, this was definitely a highlight of the trip.
Note Venus in the morning sky


After getting a full tour of all the geysers, and once it warmed up to a steamy 40 or 50 degrees Ferenheit, we were invited to go for a swim in the natural pool. It was either lukewarm or boiling hot, but I'm glad I took a quick dip. Once in a lifetime experience, right?

Also included on the list of once-in-a-lifetime opportunities that I felt that I had to seize in San Pedro was SANDBOARDING. Too much fun to describe with words, so here are some cool pictures instead:

The tumbles I took and the sand that made it to every part of my body was well worth the adventure.

Through my connections in Antofagasta, I also had the opportunity in San Pedro to meet Alain Maury, a French astronomer who decided to leave his work at ESO with La Silla to move to San Pedro and start his own public observatory from scratch. He's built over a dozen telescopes himself, and created the perfect set up for what has become the most well-known and respected astronomy tourism site in the country.

About 10 telescopes set up ahead of time to objects of interest. With more telescopes, that awkward time waiting to focus the telescope on the next object is eliminated. All of the telescopes are kept  outside, due to the naturally dry nature of San Pedro, additionally allowing tourists to experience the whole BIG SKY experience when not observing through an eyepiece.

Dr. Maury also provides domes for astronomers to observe in the pristine Atacama skies without the hassle of traveling to the site themselves. These telescopes are remotely operated from around the world.

Tree, moon, and most of the Scorpio constellation in between. Can you identify the head and body of the Scorpion?

My very own moon picture! Visitors on the astro tours loved this part.
 I was inspired by how interactive, interesting and truly funny these tours were. The visitors were really engaged in both the hour-long overview of astronomy and the observing itself. While my project is focused on how children engage with astronomy, I'm also generally interested in how astronomy is effectively communicated with all parts of the public. Dr. Maury's observatory and astro tour taught me a lot about how to create positive and educational astronomy experiences for the public. It's clear why he's considered to be the best.

Now that I'm back in Antofagasta and schools are back in session, I'm hoping to get going full-speed with school visits and project related things in my remaining three weeks in Chile... stay tuned! And please leave comments. It's great to hear from people reading and get feedback on what you think about the blog!


  1. Holy crap Maya! So cool!

    Espero que estés aprendiendo español rapidísimo

  2. gahhhhhh maya!!! so impressed with your night photography. the pictures are amazing (as are the pictures of geysers). i want to see them all projected on a giant screen. that needs to happen sometime in the future... just sayin.

  3. not sure why blogspot can't figure out who i am... the comment above was me.

    love, maddie