Chile 10 – Valparaiso Coast

Quintay is a small town just to the north of Isla Negra, which is 45 km south of Valparaiso. This town was originally a whaling town, with an interesting small museum dedicated to past whaling enterprises (middle-top and left-bottom), and has several seafood restaurants only accessible from the beach at lower tide (upper-right). Along the coast, many tsunami warning signs were posted (upper-left) and one day we heard the horn go off in Valpo.

We were told that the horns are used both to call voluntary fireman and for a tsunami. I asked how to know the difference (thinking it might be a different set of tones), and was told “If you felt the earth move and hear the horn, then a tsunami is coming. If you don’t feel the earth move, then it is a fire.” Very serious earthquakes happen often enough in Chile that the speaker was actually not kidding…

There is a small suburb to the North called Viña del Mar, one of the wealthier neighborhoods created after the devastating 1906 magnitude 8.2 earthquake which destroyed much of Valparaiso. It has some of the best sandy beaches. Since we were there in the middle of Winter, there were only a few brave souls playing on the beach and in the short surf. At one point, I was so involved with photographing the others playing in the surf that a rogue wave drenched me past my knees. Don’t worry though… I kept the camera dry!

We spent two nights in Isla Negra, while we were exploring the coast. Around the corner from our hotel was the most bizarre house we have ever seen. It looks like a scene of the admiral in Mary Poppins. Unfortunately, the owner was traveling, so we were not able to enter.

On our last morning in town, we went down to the wharf on the north end of Valpo, where fishermen come in with their catches. Unfortunately, there had been storm warnings the night before, and very few boats went out. There was very little activity as a result, though we were able to wander among the fishing boats, and even discovered the Evelyn II among them. I had to wonder what happened to the first Evelyn though…?

There was a huge crowd of pelicans, seagulls and sea lions around, clearly waiting for their morning meal, and probably not aware that none would be coming today.

We saw women baiting lines for the next day (bottom row), and men cleaning what reine fish was brought in (middle row).

We barely put a dent in seeing all that Chile has to offer. We have really enjoyed touring northern Chile, and some day plan to return to see the wine crush, more street art in Valpo, the Lake District, watch the fishermen at work, and perhaps see more wine valleys including the pisco region.

Chile 9 – Valparaiso Urbano

We spent four days in Valparaiso at the end of our Chile travels. After visiting eight countries so far in 2019, we were looking for a few days of taking it easy. One thing we have been enjoying are the free walking tours (for tips) in many of the major cities we visit.

In Valparaiso, we again joined Tours 4 Tips to get oriented. Their guides dress as the “Where’s Wally?” character (upper-left), making them easy to find. Their “offbeat” tour was our favorite, showing us more street art in the surrounding hills (cerros), a visit to the former prison which has been transformed into a cultural center, and showing us the cemeteries.

We used public transpiration during the tours, both riding on the many funiculars (ascensors) going up the steep hills (lower-left) and a public bus (middle-left). The bus system here is unique relative to any we have seen elsewhere. The busses all have normal routes, for fixed fares during the day, which is pretty much like everywhere else. However, if you approach an empty bus with a group (as we had with the walking tour), you might be able to convince the driver to switch his sign to go on a different route, and take you where you wish.

Also, each driver has a quota of number of people he must pick up each day. He gets a percentage of all fares up to that quota — but he gets 100% of all fares after that number. By early evening, many drivers are in the total-profit area, and things get interesting. To flag down a bus, you raise one finger, indicating you want to board and pay the normal fare. Or… you hold up two, three, four or five fingers to indicate how much you are willing to pay for the ride (four fingers means you are bidding 400 pesos). After the quota has been reached, the driver no longer needs to stop, so tends to do so for those that bid the highest for the ride…!

Valparaiso was originally founded as a major shipping port. The Golden Age of the city came to an end in 1914 when the Panama Canal opened, and ships no longer had to pass through the Strait of Magellan to reach the US West Coast. There are now container ships transporting goods to and from the Chilean coast, and recently cruise ships have started bringing tourists here. The smaller boats now mostly give short tours of the coast to tourists for about $6 each (lower-left). The container ships are busy 24 hours per day (middle).

Valparaiso is an extremely hilly city with 42 hills (cerros). On several walks, we saw many panoramic views of the city below. From that vantage, you can see portions of the city that are well maintained (lower-left), but can also see dilapidated properties badly in need of renovation (center). We understand that Chile has one of the most stringent structural codes to deal with the more than 8,000 earthquakes a year, including the largest earthquake recorded during the 20th century, in 1960 a ten minute 9.6 quake and tsunami killed 7000 people in this area.

Chile 8 – Valparaiso Street Art 2

Nobody appears to know exactly how many murals and graffiti artworks exist in Valparaiso. We have seen estimates from 1400 to many thousands, and actual number probably depends on how the counting is done. Within the last 5 years, over 300 Chilean and international artists have contributed new works to the cityscape.

It would take months of careful tracking to photograph them all, and would require multiple books to catalog the images when that search was complete. We started exploring them in our first article yesterday, and will have to satisfy ourselves with two blog posts, showing our favorites from wandering the city for four days.

Some of the murals are cartoons and are quite whimsical, as seen above.

We talked about graffiti yesterday. That street art form considered lower than murals, but well above the defilement of tagging (vandalism). Here are a few examples of graffiti that we found. Some skirt the line by incorporating murals into the words (upper-right and middle-right).

Unfortunately, tagging has not been completely eliminated in Valpo. It is rarely found directly on murals though, which is one reason there are so many murals. Property owners would rather have a beautiful piece of art than random tags. The example middle-left is interesting. It is one of the few murals that did not have a painted background, and as a result taggers have created their own ugly background — but they still avoided tagging directly on the mural art itself.

Initially, graffiti artists were viewed as criminals, but now are embraced, as 1000s of tourists now come monthly on various walking tours to view the street art and colorful facades. Home owners now hire the artists to decorate their walls, and shop owners welcome the increase in business. Many in Valparaiso have adopted the concept: If you can’t beat them, join them.

In 2015, we visited Bogota, Colombia. We went on their graffiti tour and enjoyed it. Valparaiso surpasses the volume of art by a wide margin, though both cities have similar levels of quality.

Even on our random walks around town, we came back with close to 1000 photos of street art, and we skipped by most to only capture those we enjoyed the most. If you are a lover of street art and find yourself visiting Chile, be sure to spend some time in Valpo. Parts of the city are still quite gritty, and even the dicey port area is slowly being converted with some new buildings under construction. We found ourselves walking more slowly and discovering different routes just to appreciate what was around the corner. It is easily the street art capital of South America and the largest open air art gallery we have seen.

Chile 7 – Valparaiso Street Art 1

Valparaiso, called Valpo by locals, is one of the most colorful cities in the world and considered to be the cultural capital of Chile. The historical quarter was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003. It is well known for the massive amount of world-class street art throughout the city. In large parts of town, there is barely a vertical surface without such art. This art is broken into three types by the locals — murals, graffiti and tagging. Murals are the elaborate, highly artistic paintings on walls like those shown above. Graffiti is the artistic, highly stylized words on walls, and are also considered acceptable art by many. Tagging is the lowest form of vandalism that simply defaces a property, with no discernible talent or redeeming value.

Street art began in earnest in Valpo during the Pinochet dictatorship, as a form of protest. Though such art was illegal, it could be done clandestinely. Those who were caught often “disappeared.” After democracy was restored, the local government made street art legal, as a form of free expression. Artistic competitions were created, where the winner was given all the tools necessary for more art. People began to hire artists to create unique designs on their buildings.

Besides the general beautification of the city, taggers also respected the art, and random ugly tags disappeared from large swaths of the city, as available surfaces were covered with commissioned art.

Many of these murals are larger than life, as seen in this first photo block. The one covering the side of the entire 22 story Centenario building (center) was commissioned after legalization. The art on the lower left was painted by the legendary Inti, born in Valpo and well-known as a muralist worldwide.

Many of the stairways in this city of 42 steep hills (cerros) have also become canvases for artists. You don’t even notice the art when walking down, but if you turn around, the vibrant art lays out in front of you. Note the image upper-left, and you can see that the stairway is free of tagging, but the surfaces on both sides are badly defaced by tagging, since no murals were created there. To the right of some of the stairs, people playfully slide down the sides (middle-right). Several stairs are decorated in mosaic tile, while others are painted.

Faces are a frequent theme of murals. Some depict local indigenous people, while others are signed by well-known muralists, and still others are merely fanciful. All are beautiful examples of highly talented artists.

The artwork is not confined to the sides of buildings. Even fire hydrants sometimes get fanciful art (upper-right). Many sidewalk vendors’ buildings also sport murals (center column). The local water company truck gets in on the game with murals too (upper-left).

We will see still more street art in tomorrow’s blog, so check back…

Chile 6 – Wineries 2

Viña Santa Cruz Winery

We visited a total of eight wineries while in Chile. The first four were described yesterday. Here are the remaining four. The next one in our tour was Viña Santa Cruz, still in the Colchagua Valley. This tour was not as enjoyable as most, partly because of the large number of children everywhere. This was Winter Break for the schools (remember, July is the middle of their Winter), and many families bring theirs kids here for the cable car ride (lower-left and lower-right), and the open-air museum at the top of the hill (middle and right-top). We purchased a bottle of Makemake, made in the Rapi Nui methods of Easter Island.

We did stop for lunch here, and that was outstanding.

Emiliana Winery

We started our third day of wine tours in the Casablanca Valley at Emiliana, which is billed as the world’s largest organic winery. This tour focussed on the vineyards rather than the production process, since the production is actually done at a different property. Various insects, such as lady bugs act as natural pesticides, and guinea fowl and chicken also play vital roles. We learned a surprisingly amount about organic farming, from a lively guide (upper-left). We bought a bottle of their Coyam, which is a blend of nine different grape varietals. This vineyard produces only 45,000-60,000 bottles a year.

Bodegas RE Winery

The last winery that we drove to was Bodega RE in the Casablanca Valley, which is another very small boutique winery. We were told the “RE” stands for “re-invention,” since the owner wanted to re-invent wine making in Chile. This was the oldest winery of all those we visited in Chile, and we learned that it was one of the first on the Chilean coast, and one that developed the first methods to deal with the coastal frost that had been so devastating to earlier vineyard attempts. Each wine is an experiment, often using old clay pots used to make wine as they did during the days of the Etruscans. We bought a bottle of Doble, a wine made from vines that had two different varietals growing on a single root — Garnacha and Carignan,

In addition to wine, they also make several varieties of fruit liquor and balsamic vinegar (lower-right). All these are experimental though, being made in just six kegs holding roughly 10 gallons each.

WineBox Hotel and Winery

Our last winery was perhaps the most unique of all. It was actually our hotel while in Valparaiso. This was the WineBox. The owner and creator is Grant Phelps (second row-left), a young man from New Zealand who came to Chile 19 years ago, fell in love with it, and stayed. He is great to talk to, and we informally learned the history of how he decided to make his hotel from 25 recycled shipping containers (upper row). The drinking glasses are made from used wine bottles, chairs are made from used wooden wine barrels and sofas are made from recycled bath tubs. He produces only 3,000 bottles a year, and stores the barrels down in his parking garage.

I must admit I was a bit skeptical about staying in a shipping container for four nights. I quickly became a convert though, and we will likely stay here again when we return to Valparaiso for the wine crush in some future year. His guests are sometimes invited to participate in the wine production and crush. The container was amazingly spacious (second row-right was our room), with lots of whimsical wall murals (the zombies third row-right were in our room, and from a famous zombie movie I never saw…).

Grant is actually a winemaker, and sells his wines only to his hotel customers and some local restaurants. He gives a great wine tasting event featuring unique small family-owned wines (second row-left again) on his upper terrace bar (third and fourth row-left). We were already over our limit on the number of wines we could bring back to Ecuador, but his presentation broke down our resistance and we bought three more bottles from him!

After leaving the WineBox, we headed back home to Cuenca. We had 12 bottles of wine, and the customs limit is 8 for the two of us. hmmm… We spread them out among our luggage and “took our chances.” Passing through customs, they only asked to examine one suitcase that had five bottles. The limit per person is four bottles. The Customs officer told me I was over the limit, but when I asked how much the duty was on the extra bottle he had found, he just said (in Spanish), “nothing this time, but next time remember that you are only allowed four.” Thus, we got them all back home with no extra Customs import fee. That was a rather sweet ending to our trip.

Tomorrow, we will continue with a series of blogs describing our time in Valparaiso.

Chile 5 – Wineries 1

Via Manent Winery

What do you think of when you think of Chile? According to one walking tour guide, the answer is “Atacama Desert, Patagonia, violent politics, earthquakes… and wine.” We were on the edge of the desert while watching the eclipse. It is far too cold this time of year (July is the middle of their Winter) to go to Patagonia. Their violent politics is mostly in their past, and I hope not to experience one of their 9+ magnitude quakes.

That leaves wine… so we visited a total of eight wineries to make up for skipping the rest! Having lived near the Napa Valley vineyards in California for most of our lives, we thought we knew what to expect in Chile. Surprisingly though, each winery was different in the unique way they presented themselves, and we learned a lot. There were two common elements though — all tours required an advance reservation, and all tours were expensive, generally costing between $25 and $35 per person.

Our first winery was Viu Manent, in the Colchagua wine valley. The tour itself was pleasant, and included a horse drawn carriage taking us from one part of the property to another. Because it is winter, all the vines we saw during these days are naked and ready for pruning. Unfortunately, our English speaking guide had a soft voice and a thick accent, and I missed much of what she said. They then concluded the tour by letting us taste only their lowest quality wines. This was one of only two wineries where we left without buying any bottles.

Montes Winery

We next toured Montes Winery, also in the Cholchagua valley. This tour was led by a very personable young guide who made everything quite enjoyable. At the end, we were given four reserve (premium) wines to taste, and chose to buy bottles of their Outer Limits Sauvignon Blanc. After the tour, we ate lunch at their restaurant, which was truly excellent. We were introduced to a new grape (for us), carménère, which was introduced from the Bordeaux region in France and is prevalent in this wine valley. We were told that this is the most famous varietal of wine produced in Chile.

Clos Apalta Lapostolle Winery

We did three wine tours that first day… which is something we do not recommend. Our hotel owner had suggested two, and he was right — two is a good limit for a single day of Chilean wine touring. Our third stop this day was at Lapostolle. However, upon following our Google Map, we found only a small wine store, where the owner told us that the tours were actually at their partner winery, Clos Apalta. We arrived a few minutes late, but since we were the only English speaking people taking the tour, the guide was waiting for us. This was the case at all but one winery — this is their off-season, but even so, English speakers rarely visit these wineries.

This boutique winery has a very unique architecture, being similar to an iceberg, in that 90% of it is underground. They produce only about 45,000 bottles of wine each year, and machinery contact with the grapes and wine is kept to an absolute minimum. The wine proceeds to each new stage via gravity, to the floor below, and then to the floor below that, until it is placed in kegs on the bottom of six floors. Actually, there is still one floor even lower, but that is where the owner’s wines are kept, in the wine cellar seen down the stairs in the bottom-left image, while we did our tasting at a table covering that staircase.

These bottles start at $150 per bottle, with some reaching much higher than that. Though we enjoyed the tour and the tasting, the wine was still young and needed several years to age. Since our apartment does not have space for long term storage of wines, we left without buying any bottles here.

Montgras Winery

The next day, we headed out again, but limited ourselves to two vineyards. The first of the day was Montgras. This was the largest winery we visited, producing 8 million bottles of wine per year. Everything here was on a massive scale, with everything clean and as organized as you might expect is needed to run such a massive operation. The barrel room alone (upper-right and middle-right) holds 30,000 barrels of wine. We enjoyed the tour and the tasting so much that we bought multiple bottles of Antu Cabernet Sauvignon / Carmenere, Reserve Carmenere, and Amaral Brut sparkling wine.

Our tour of wineries will continue with tomorrow’s blog post.

Chile 4 – Santiago

Wally Guides from Tours 4 Tips

We spent two days in Santiago — one at the start of this trip, and a second later when returning from Easter Island. On both days, we used “Tours 4 Tips” free walking tours. Their guides dress as “Wally,” playing off the “Where is Wally” cartoon (known as “Where is Waldo” in the US and Canada, but “Where is Wally” in South America). We enjoyed the morning tour enough that we also took the afternoon tour, and later signed up for the same pair of tours in Valparaiso (a future blog). It is easy to spot the guides, as they all wear the striped red-and-white shirts of Wally in the cartoons. Highly recommended!

Seafood at Mercado Central

One of our stops was at the fish market. We often like to wander through the aisles of fish markets around the world, and this one lived up to expectations. Fresh fish with an immense variety, mostly from the local waters, brought in by fishermen that morning.

Fruit and Vegetable Market

We also like wandering fruit and vegetable markets around the world, and watching the vendors and customers. The area near Mercado Central is where immigrants who work hard can make a living. Many operate out of shopping carts or unauthorized food stands, and continually move around when the police come.

Cemetery General

Many cities have very old cemeteries with long and fascinating histories. Our Wally guides kept us crowding closer to hear the various stories they told. This Santiago cemetery shared a characteristic we have seen many places in South America with the condo-style of burials (center). People here are inserted head-first into a small space just large enough for their body, in a structure half a dozen bodies high and a hundred or more long. Burial plots can be purchased (the body is kept there for perpetuity), or rented for a limited period, and then moved into a mass grave if rent is not paid.

Highlights Tour

The Highlights Tour brought us to the more touristy locations, including the Santiago Metropolitan Cathedral (top-right and middle-left), the GAM Cultural Center (La Corporación Centro Cultural Gabriela Mistral) and The Chilean Fine Arts Museum. One building was demolished and rebuilt after Pinochet died, and is now dedicated to openness, visibility, and the arts. There were numerous small groups practicing various arts, as with the dancers shown lower-right.

Fire in the sky

What better way to leave Santiago than with one of the more colorful sunsets. This was one of the evenings when the clouds and temperature orchestrated a Fire In The Sky sunset — our favorite kind.

Chile 3 – Easter Island 2

Sunrise July 10, 2019 at Ahu Tongariki

We went out for a sunrise shoot again this morning. Kim did some modeling for us at one site (lower-left), and as we were leaving the crater, Marc (our guide) posed for a quick shot (lower-right). This was another morning where we were lucky to get some color in the sky (top-middle and top-right). Also, a bit later, I looked up and saw my first “sunbow” where a rainbow completely circles the sun (upper-left).

Men as they come into the harbor after fishing all night at sea

The next morning we went down to two wharfs at sunrise, in search of the fishermen. Instead of always focusing on the statues, we opted this morning to focus on the people, which is what we usually remember the most after trips like this. These workers leave in the early evening, in the small boats seen on the top row here. They then fish by hand and poles in small vessels about 23 feet long (artisanal) where no nets are allowed, all night long. They don’t return until the early morning, shortly after dawn. We were told that the fish used to be found only 10 minutes out from shore. They now have to fish hours away from shore. Congril (moray eels, second row-right) and octopus are regular catches every morning.

The result of that long night’s work is typically two or three bins, holding no more than 150 medium sized fish. However, one morning, when we were photographing moai at sunrise, our guide got an excited phone call from his father-in-law. He had just landed a 95Kg (210 pound) tuna! That was worth as much as a week’s haul of the fish we saw come in this morning.

Sunset on the coast of Rapa Nui

On our last night in Easter Island, we walked down the coast to a restaurant that had been recommended. Along the way, we stopped to photograph the sunset. We rarely get in front of the camera ourselves, but Marc did shoot this one image of us overlooking the Orongo crater (upper-left).

Orongo Crater on Easter Island

The Orongo crater itself was rather hard to photograph in a light that really showed the size and shape of the volcano caldera. This one panorama was as close as we could come. This really called or a drone to give an aerial view, but alas, this is another location that the Rapi Nui have outlawed drones in recent years.

Milky Way at Anakena Beach

We tried on several nights to capture the Milky Way over the moai. Unfortunately, almost every night was either raining or cloud-covered. This one shoot was the only time we had clear skies… and then only for about 10 minutes before it clouded over again.

We have mixed feelings about the weather in Easter Island. We can count on the weather changing every hour, so we were warned to always wear layers and to be patient. We would wait for the right forecast for clear night only to get clouded over a half hour later, then a howling wind would start or a squall would past over. Such is the beauty and mystery surrounding Rapa Nui.

The people were genuinely nice, speaking a blend of Spanish and Polynesian language, and always with a friendly tone ready to help at any time. People are always smiling. Businesses open after 10 AM, take off during lunch, then reopen after 3 PM. Eating out is expensive here, since everything is shipped from the mainland, yet we found some favorite restaurants — Mamma Nui for pizza and Tataku Vave for seafood. We loved staying for a week in our cabin by the sea, listening to the waves crashing every night, watching the skies change every hour. The cabin was constructed for little people, as Burt hit is head on the beams every night, yet the location was easily walkable into town.

A little known factoid: Easter Island is called that because a Dutch explorer, Jacob Roggeveen, encountered it on Easter Sunday (April 5) in 1722.The island is called Isla de Pascua in Spanish and Rapa Nui by the Polynesians.

Chile 2 – Easter Island 1

Individual Moai at the Quarry at Rano Raraku

After viewing the total solar eclipse last week, we decided to spend a week on Easter Island, which was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1995. Since this island is owned by Chile, it is considered a domestic flight, despite taking 5 hours to reach this Polynesian island. Chile is the nearest landmass, but at 3526 km (2191 miles) away, Easter Island is the most remote populated land mass in the world.

We spent the entire week with Marc Ross Shields from Green Island Tours, going out at least once per day (other than the day we were rained out). Marc was easy going, relaxed, and made the entire week feel like we were visiting a long-time friend who lived on the island and knew his way around. If you visit Easter Island, we recommend using his tour company, which also specializes in star gazing. Marc is a photographer who has published two books on the island.

The island is most famous for the numerous stone statues (moai) carved by the Rapa Nui people that appear mysteriously over the entire landscape. The Moai are stone statues that represent the spirits of chieftains or high-ranking male ancestors, with most being placed facing inland with their backs to the sea. The official count is 887 moai, though we were told that the historian who established that number has since revised it to over 1100. with scores of them still located at the quarry. Many of the moai are broken, fallen over, underwater, or in hard to reach places though, so the typical tourist probably sees closer to 100 or so.

Many of the moai at the quarry show only the exposed heads, with the torso still unexcavated below the surface. When we asked how a massive stone statue could be half buried, we were told that the sculptors would carve the head, then dig a hole next to it. They would then tip the massive piece of stone into the hole, giving them access to carve the back of the statue, before rolling it down the hill to its final location, where it was to guard the village. The statues range from 13′ in height, to the largest of over 30′ weighing more than 80 tons each.

Groups of Moai at the Quarry at Rano Raraku

Rano Raraku volcano is the quarry where the moai were produced, being carved out of the hillside from Lapilli tuff (a solidified volcanic ash). The monolithic statues were all carved between 1100 and 1500AD, though it appears that several dozen were being made at a single time when all production suddenly stopped. Those are the ones scattered in various states of completion here at the quarry. In 1862, large numbers of Rapa Nui males were captured by Peruvian slave traders. The dozen that managed to return to the island brought smallpox, which dramatically reduced the remaining island population. Between 1774 and 1830, most of the moai had been toppled, possibly due to internal tribal warfare. Many of those were restored in the 20th century by European archeologists.

There are also many wild horses on the island. As we left the quarry late in the afternoon, we came across a small group of them backlit by the setting sun (lower-right).

Sunrise with the moai

We got up several mornings before sunrise to capture the morning light behind the moai. Our first sunrise was at Ahu Tongariki, where we saw 15 statues lined up, with the sunrise colors a phenomenal bright orange. We had overcast weather for most of the week, and only got “fire in the sky” colors a couple of times. Fortunately, sunrise occurs pretty late here, due to some timezone gerrymandering to keep Easter Island only two hours apart from the mainland (to make business between the island and mainland easier). Thus, sunrise occurs at a leisurely 8AM or later.

Aerial views from a drone

We brought along our drone for some aerial views of the island. The Rapa Nui (local ancestral tribe) that rule the island have recently forbidden drones over most of the landscape, though they had been allowed a few years ago. The flight above was made over a part of the island rarely visited by tourists, and is one of the few legal places to fly.

Watching the sunset

Most days we also went to view the sunset at Ahu Tahai, Anakena Beach or along the Polycarpo Toro road on the island, usually with moai in the foreground. We had some settings to ourselves, but the more popular locations were shared with others there for the same reason (top row).

Kari Kari dance

We have found the “local traditional dance” shows to be hit-or-miss. Some are tired and purely tourist come-ons. But then, there are some that we have enjoyed, such as the one on Sri Lanka, and the one we saw tonight in Hanga Roa on Easter Island. There are several such shows here, but we were told that Kari Kari cultural ballet was the most authentic, and that the dancers appeared to be quite spirited. They were right, and the show was quite enjoyable.

Chile 1 – Total Solar Eclipse 2019

Total Solar Eclipse Sequence in Vicuña, Chile, July 2, 2019

We have both experienced partial solar eclipses a few times when they happened to occur where we lived. This year we decided to “chase” an eclipse, and traveled to Vicuña, Chile to experience our first Total Solar Eclipse. To do so, we joined an exploratory trip being set up by Loren Fisher — the tour leader we used to show us the Fall Colors of New England last year. The long range forecast was for 60% chance of cloudy skies during the winter in this location. We got lucky though, and had 100% clear skies that day.

The sequence above is a composite of images we captured during this event, from normal sun on the right, through occlusion by the moon, until totality is almost reached and the “diamond ring” effect appears for a brief moment. Totality is then reached, where only the outer corona is visible — a period that lasted 2-1/2 minutes at ground zero, where we were. In the middle of totality, I shot 15 images with a 30 f-stop exposure range, from which I created the detailed coronal image in the center (and shown again in more detail at the end of this post). As the moon passed, the entire process was repeated until we had the full sun again. (Actually, that last image is a bit of a cheat, since the sun had actually set behind the hills at that point, so I substituted an earlier full sun to complete the sequence.)

There are many technical aspects to photographing an eclipse. First you have to find the proper location to see the entire sequence from C1 to C5. Special filters must be made to protect the camera sensors, and another set to protect your eyes. Then you must learn the correct speed and aperture settings for the proper exposures. The 30-stop HDR is particularly tricky. Timing is difficult to capture Baily’s beads (third from center on entering and leaving totality above). The filter must also be removed from the camera at just the right time, and then replaced at a specific time too. Finally, there is a lot of specific task-learning to process the sequence in Photoshop (which took three days to complete).

It is not just a simple process of aiming a camera lens and shooting.

Ls Serena at Sundown

We arrived early in the region of the eclipse, so that we would have time to scout around for a good location to set up the cameras and relax a bit. We were staying in La Serena (where Loren had booked a condo a year earlier in anticipation of the Eclipse), and decided to photograph the lighthouse one evening before dinner. When we arrived, we discovered there was major re-construction going on, with heavy machinery around the base. Walking around, we found angles that would hide the equipment (lower-left and lower-center).

A bit more exploring found some dilapidated walls nearby that had interesting graffiti and murals on them. As we watched the sun lower, we also realized there were plenty of photographic opportunities in the beach sunset.

Third Millennium Cross (Cruz del Tercer Milenio) and Local Fish Market (Coquimbo)

We continued to explore the area the next day, and visited the “Third Millennium Cross” (upper-left quadrant), which is a cross that was built to commemorate year 2000, which declared the beginning of the third millennium since the birth of Jesus. This location provided a panoramic view of the city, although it was covered in plexiglass, making for poor photography.

We then decided to go down to the wharf in Coquimbo to have lunch. This is a colorful small-town fish market, where three of the vendors are captured above. The vendors enjoyed posing for photographs, and our waitress in the restaurant was singing and dancing with the local musicians while we ate a delicious meal.

Mamalluca Observatory Where Scientists Viewed Eclipse

We had ideally wanted to shoot the eclipse from the Mamalluca Observatory. Discussion on Facebook had indicated that it would be available on a first-come, first-served basis, so we headed there early the day before the actual eclipse. We found an array of scientists and graduate science students set up with advanced equipment on the grounds. We were told that the entire observatory property had been reserved for such scientists, and that we would not be allowed there on eclipse day. Bummer…

As we drove down from the observatory, we passed a small campground with a sandwich board showing food for sale, just yards from the entrance to the observatory. There were no signs indicating it had any available parking spaces nor rooms for rent. What the heck? What have we got to lose? We drove in and asked.

It turned out to be the perfect location for an unobstructed view of the entire Totality phases. Not only did they have parking spaces available for rent, but they had just finished a new cabin that day and had not rented it out, not being sure if it would be ready in time! They started asking $900 for the night… Yeah, a bit steep. Hum, Hah, Well… and the price dropped to $300 with two bottles of wine tossed in. OK. Deal was struck! We would not be camping and using the nearest cactus for a restroom. Instead, we would be in the lap of luxury (well… in a two bedroom basic cabin for four anyway) with lounge chairs, Chilean meals from their restaurant, a refrigerator for cold Coke Zero and beer, plus a flush toilet. We were blessed, and were within a stone’s throw of the observatory we had first wanted.

Starry Night Over Our Cabin in Vicuña, Chile

On the night before the eclipse, we went outside our cabin and attempted to capture the Milky Way. We rarely get a chance to shoot the night sky in a cloud-free dark-sky environment, so we stayed up most of the night photographing what we could. Our cabin can be seen as foreground props in the photos on the bottom row.

Eclipse Day!

Eclipse Day Came! Everyone had two cameras running. I can be seen controlling the long lens camera that created the composite on both top and bottom of this post from the comfort of our cabin (top-middle). Loren is seen setting up one automated camera (lower-left) and manually controlling another (center). Others who gathered at our location to see the event are seen lower-center (taking group photo) and lower-right (using a solar glass to photograph with his point-and-shoot camera).

The Peak Result From Chasing an Eclipse

Some people report “life changing experiences” during solar eclipse totality, though I can’t honestly say I felt that. During the period of totality, the birds did begin acting strangely and the color the sky was quite eerie, not like the colors you see at sunrise nor sunset. It is easy to understand why so many people chase eclipses around the world. We met people who have seen totality nine times, and one couple that has already lined up their hotels for the next five total solar eclipses around the world.

I did take the brief time during totality to do a 15-exposure, 30-stop photographic image of the total eclipse. That was later processed in Photoshop to create this image of the corona of the sun — a scene not normally possible to see because of the extreme brightness of the full sun.

Couple outside our cabin watching the eclipse develop

Photo Galleries

At the top of this page is a menu that will take you to a variety of galleries showing our favorite images.

The most recent galleries include our recent trips to Thailand, Sri Lanka, Iran, Jordan, Israel, Egypt, Galapagos Islands, Easter Island, Chile and Mexico. You can see all our favorite images from our 2019 travel here:


ExpatsBlog - Where Expats Blog