Category Archives: Vicuna

Galaxy gazing in Chile

Not being adventurous nor athletic, it’s rare for me to do something completely new. You’ll never hear me say I went skydiving, scuba diving or bungee jumping.    So when we had the opportunity to star gaze, at a real observatory I couldn’t wait.  It was something I had never ever done before.

Chile is known as one of the best places in the world to see stars. Something about climatic conditions and clear skies.  There are several observatories near the town of Vicuna.

We chose Observatario del Pangue.  A minivan drove us from the town to the observatory.   The eleven mile drive felt like eternity.   It was pitch black and the minivan was driving up a mountain on a dirt road with no guard rails. With every switch back I thought the truck would fall off the edge.  I spent the entire ride up thinking,  “They can’t be serious. This isn’t safe. This is not worth dying for. Why did we even do this dumb tour.”

But, then after what felt like an hour we arrived on top of the mountain.  We got out of the car and it was all more than worthwhile.  I actually gasped. How often does that REALLY happen?  The sky looked like it couldn’t possibly be real.   The below photo is from their website. It looked EXACTLY like this.  And this was just standing there.

We were met by Eric, our guide who spoke perfect English. There was only one other couple on the tour, and they went off with another tour guide. So we had our own private tour.  Eric was an astrophysisist who obviously knows his stuff, but was also as excited as we were to just look up at the sky.

Jeff and Eric, our private astrophysisist for the night.

I pretty much said nothing but, “Oh my God, this can’t be real.” over and over and he pretty much agreed with me.

courtesy of the observatorio del pangue website

It was so incredibly beautiful I had such an urge to take photos.   I knew they wouldn’t come out but I couldn’t help myself.

i have about 60 photos like this.

The first question I asked was, “are those clouds over there?” I pointed to two small smudges off to the left.  Eric explained they weren’t smudges, but distant galaxies.   The below photo is from wikipedia, but this is an enlarged version of exaclty what it looked like.

from wikipedia - not smudges, galaxies

It was so mind blowing that I actually sort of lost my mind. Next, I saw the coolest star ever, it was red and blinking and moving fast across the sky. I actually yelled out, “Look at that one, it’s blinking.”    It was of course a plane.

Then it was time to look through the telescope.   He would position it and say something like, “This is a very very nice galaxy. I think you will like it.” We got to see nebulas, star clusters, new stars, old stars and dying stars. But still, nothing was as awesome as just standing there seeing the milky way above our heads…until we got to see saturn.  Eric pointed it out in the sky and it looked like a regular star. Then we saw it through the telescope and you could actually see the rings!!! I seriously got giddy.

Rings! I see saturn's rings!

Jeff on the other hand was unimpressed with Saturn. After all my squealing he was expecting more.

Saturn - I thought it would be cooler - like the Star Trek movie

Although, he did agree with me that standing there seeing all those stars was flipping fantastic.

We were up there for 2 hours, it was freezing but I didn’t want to go back down. Those stars were intoxicating.   Now when I look up at the sky I want more, milky way, saturns rings, nebulas, distant galaxies. I really can’t get enough of it.  We might go back while we’re still in Chile.

According to Travel and Leisure magazine, these are the top 10 places to star gaze:

  • THE ATACAMA DESERT, CHILE
  • YANGTZE RIVER VALLEY, CHINA
  • TUSCANY, ITALY
  • KRUGER NATIONAL PARK, SOUTH AFRICA
  • HAWAII
  • KIRUNA, SWEDEN
  • THE CARIBBEAN SEA
  • NEW MEXICO
  • LA FORTUNA, COSTA RICA
  • LOS ANGELES

Here’s the link to the article. I don’t know how valid this list is, but you can be sure that if I find myself in one of these places I won’t be white water rafting or rock climbing, I’ll be waiting for darkness to stare up at the sky.

www.travelandleisure.com/slideshows/the-worlds-top-10-stargazing-spots/1

Pisco tasting- who knew pisco was so good, or what it even was.

The big drink in Chile is pisco sours. They are offered everywhere and not just for tourists.  Everyone seems to be drinking them.   The first one we had was a freebie in a hotel in
Antofagasta.  We drank it down, thought it was good, then ordered a glass of wine.

But, a few nights ago we tried them again, and were amazed. They tasted similar to a margarita without the salt or nacho chips.

I wasn’t even sure which part was the pisco, was it the alcohol or the juice?   It turns out pisco is a type of brandy made out of muscat grapes.

And, as luck would have it, La Serena is near the Equi Valley which is a large producer of pisco.  And even luckier, you can go pisco tasting in the valley.

I want more, let's go to the source and taste it there.

We drove to the town of Vicuna which was worth the drive in itself.  The valley was full of pisco vineyards


We started our pisco tasting at a distillery called Fuegos.  We pulled up and the guy parking his truck had to run and find the woman that runs the tasting room.  But, we were happy to see it  was open for tasting, more than we can say about our last tasting experience.

This is the tasting room?

The tastes were small, but this stuff is brandy, so a little went a long way for me.

Next up was Capel. They are the granddaddy of pisco in this area.  Every sign in the nearby town of Vicuna had a Capel logo on it.

Capel had a huge facility with a paid tour in  Spanish or English.  The English one was in session when we got there. Turns out it was only 5 minutes into the tour, but not wanting to miss a second of it (since we had paid the equivalent of $3 each) I insisted we go on the Spanish speaking tour.

This meant I didn’t understand a single word for the hour long tour.  From what I gather, they take grapes, ferment the juice, put it in big tanks, then put it in some oak barrels, then distill it…or something like that.

no clue what this is for

This little boy on the tour understood about as much as I did . One thing I don’t think was covered in the tour, although I don’t really know, Peru also claims pisco as their national drink. There is a big controversy between the two countries over pisco.

Then we got to the tastng room. You don’t need to understand Spanish to taste pisco. Well, actually it doesn’t hurt.

The group was ushered into a room where we sat in a circle.  The guide prepared a tray with sample cups filled with different flavored pisco drinks.  They passed around the tray.

I’ve been to enough wine tastings and coffee tastings to know, when presented with a tray like this, you should take one of each to compare.   No, actually not with pisco, you only take one.

Then after the tray went around, the guide opened a bottle of a reserve pisco and started pouring samples behind a counter.  She asked if anyone would like to try this pisco.  Jeff and I ran to the counter. She handed out samples to Jeff and the other guys standing there. She looked at me and said in Spanish, “Are you sure YOU want one?”  I guess women don’t normally drink this kind of pisco.   Not knowing how to answer “Um, yeah, hand it over.”  I just said, “claro.” which means of course.

When the tastings were over the rest of the group went into the sales room. Jeff, me and some others lingered and finished off the left-over samples on the tray, another trick I learned from coffee tastings.

Sadly, our suitcases are too full to bring any pisco home, so I’m hoping we can find it in the USA.

After a quick nap in the parking lot, we went back into the town of Vicuna where I took a lot of photos

They have weird mannequins in Vicuna too.

The pisco tastings were great in that pisco is good, the tasting rooms were actually open, the valley was beautiful, and the town of Vicuna is a fun place to wander around in by itself.