Thursday, October 11, 2012

La Serena to Santiago

Hello loyal readers! We've been extra touristy these past few days and have done so much! Let me dive right into it... After a rainy Sunday in La Serena, my hopes of seeing the stars from the famous observatories in Chile were dashed, but with great luck, Monday was suddenly sunny and clear. We made our reservation to head to Mamalluca Observatory, outside of Vicuña, about 45 kilometers from La Serena. We left town at 7:15 and drove to Vicuña. Our driver became nervous as some clouds started to fill the sky, but the observatory assured us we could continue with our tour. It turned out to be wonderful! We saw Mars, two nebulas (M17 and M27), Beta Cygnus (which is actually two stars), Alpha Centauri (which is actually THREE stars, and the closest stars to our solar system), and two star clusters (M7 and NGC 104, I believe) through two pretty large telescopes. We also looked at some constellations in the sky, such as scorpio, and learned a little about Incan and other pre-colombian constellations, including the "dark" constellations, which are not made by stars, but rather seen in the space without (visible) stars in the Milky Way. I also learned how to find south by using the Southern Cross constellation. (Once you´ve located the southern cross in the sky, look at the long axis (head to foot as the guide said, as opposed to the arms of the crucifix), and go 4.5X of the length of the cross away from the head and that is the approximate location of where the southern star would be if there was one (opposite of Polaris). Drop a perpendicular line to the horizon from there, and that´s south!) Though it was quite cold, the tour was spectacular and I am really happy we had a chance to make it out there. Tuesday, we meandered over to the Japanese garden and took in the tranquil scenery in the morning sun. We also made friends with a Chileno couple staying in our hotel that gave us their Bip! card to use in the Santiago metro. Since they "never" go into town, they seemed happy to make a present out of it! That night, we took a bus to Santiago, leaving at 11 PM and arriving here at 6 AM. Thanks to our new Bip! card, we were able to take the metro from the central station straight to a new hostel in a really hip area known as Bellas Artes. We took a walking tour of the city with Spicy Chile tours at 10 AM and saw many different neighborhoods and had a great time. But by the time the tour was over at 2, we were exhausted from lack of sleep and all the walking! We headed back to the hostel and took some naps. Wednesday nights our hostal offers FREE wine and pasta dinner, so you know we took part in that, as well as some rousing conversation with fellow hostalers helped along by the wine. Speaking of wine, we decided to check out the infamous Chilena Wineries in the area, and headed to the Valle de Maipu to check out the Viña de Concha y Toro. Again, we used our Bip! card to take the metro to the south of Santiago, but had to taxi it the final leg. Luckily, our taxi driver was very knowledgeable about the area and pointed out many interesting sites on the drive. The tour cost 8000 pesos (about $16) and included two tastings and a tour of the properties. We learned some interesting things about growing grapes in Chile, such as how the natural barriers protect the grapes from diseases that plague produce in other countries. Concha y Toro make the "Casillero del Diablo" brand, and we tried their Carmenere varietal, as well as a cabernet sauvignon and shiraz blend (The Carmenere is fruity and a little sweet, while the blend was more robust - both were enjoyable!). On the way home on the Metro, the train had to stop for a minute and we couldn't understand the muffled explanation given over the speakers. When we got back to the hostel, we learned there had been an earthquake, magnitude 5.7, in Valpairiso, but shaking could be felt in Santiago. We didn't feel it and there appears to be no damage here. After our tour, we headed back to the centro for lunch in the Mercado Central, well known for its excellent and fresh seafood. When we first entered, we thought this was a standard market, with fish on ice and fruits in baskets, ready to be sold and brought home. But once we entered the center of the market, we realized this was no ordinary market! There were fine and fancy seafood restaurants set up in the center! Serving gourmet and fresh seafood, with less expensive and more rustic restaurants set up around the edges. Imagine if McCormick and Schmicks were set up in the middle of Pikes Place Market in Seattle, and you have an idea of what this market is like! We picked a smaller, and let's be honest, less expensive, restaurant on the side and shared a Paila Marina, which is a traditional Chileno seafood soup, with crab, clams, mussels, and fish in a hot broth. YUM!! After, we topped ourselves off by heading back to the Bellas Artes neighborhood for some gourmet ice cream. We are about to head out to meet a couple who will be hosting us for Couch Surfing for two nights. We bought them a bottle at the winery, so we hope for a good experience! Thanks for reading and we'll be sure to write soon!

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