Tuesday July 2: Vicuna
Like Nothing I’ve Ever Seen Before
Today is turning into a glorious day.
I got to bed just after 10 last night. Normally I would be paranoid about needing to get up early the next day, but since I've been waking up around 3 or 3:30 lately, the thought of getting up early did not stress me out.
I slept OK until about 3:40. I hoped to be able to fall asleep again, but I didn't. I was perhaps just falling asleep at 4:45 when the alarm went off, but I am far from sure. I viewed it as 5 hours of sleep. Normally the thought would make me cringe, but compared to the previous day, I felt wonderful.
We loaded up and got on the bus. For a change, we weren't the last ones straggling, but rather one of the first.
We drove around and picked up some of our people from other locations, then headed up to the Elqui valley. It was still dark and cold outside. I was wearing my two tee-shirts, fleece shirt, vest, and light down jacket. I was fine to warm in the bus.
We were supposed to meet up at 5:15, and we probably left around 5:45. As we had hoped, there was very little traffic at that time, and so we had little trouble getting to Vicuña. I reclined my seat and dozed most of the way. I don't think I'll have trouble sleeping on the bus on the way back. It is rather comfortable, particularly as compared to airline seats. The seats are bigger, there is more space between them, and they recline more.
We actually got to the place earlier than they were expecting us, so we sat outside for about half an hour. I was just as happy because I could just rest in my comfy seat.
We're spending the day at an upscale hotel/restaurant a few blocks from the town square. We (and a few others) have exclusive access to the grounds. We got arm bands to allow us to get back in if we wander out. The upshot is that we can leave camera stuff lying around without fear that it will be stolen.
We went in and had a very good breakfast--the best that I'm likely to get on this trip. I found that scrambled eggs with mashed avocado is really good. It was still rather cool, so the tables closest to the fire were grabbed first.
They built a long fire outside, and then set up some racks holding lambs to cook. I don't know if this is going to be for lunch or dinner, but I'm guessing the latter. There is also a bunch of musicians playing on the patio.
Afterwards, we got our camera stuff out of the bus and set up out tripods to claim a spot.
It warmed up noticeably once the sun came up. Under the sun it is almost hot--at least for my fleece shirt. I'm currently hiding indoors as I type this, to get away from the sun. As expected, the sky is pretty cloudless. Hopefully it will stay that way until sunset.
Amy, Sam, and I took a stroll into the town square. Amy's camera takes rechargeable AA batteries, and she didn't charge them last night, so we bought some alkaline ones for the main event. There is a big party atmosphere all over town. This is probably the biggest thing to happen here in years. It is sort of like going to the Esplanade on the Fourth of July.
It has been a fantastic day--easily the best of the trip, and for obvious reasons.
We set up the camera stuff, and watched them grill some lambs over an open fire. Then they grilled steaks, make some sort of scallop appetizer, etc.
There was an open bar, but I didn't take advantage of it because I didn't want to be muddled during the eclipse. Overall, there was the atmosphere of a large, day-long party.
The only real issue is that lunch was late. It was sort of scheduled for 1, was expected around 2, and didn't actually start until 3 or later. Most people were still eating when the eclipse started.
The food was generally very good, and Amy raved about the lamb, but my piece of lamb wasn't that good. It was a bit tough and chewy, but my goal was to scarf it down and head out to the eclipse, rather than taking my time and savoring the meal.
Unfortunately, we didn't get tee-shirts when we were out before. After we decided that we wanted to get some, we didn't want to run out, because we thought lunch was imminent. Unfortunately, it was "imminent" for several hours. By the time it came, the eclipse was basically starting, so we didn't want to run out then. I ran out as soon as the eclipse was over, but by then it was too late. I only found one vendor, and they were sold out of any size that we might want.
The eclipse itself was totally amazing. Words cannot describe it. I've seen pictures, and I always felt that they were photoshopped, but they were not. My best description is a "hole in the sky". I'm tempted to say that the sky was deep blue rather than black, but the moon was black. But I think that it might be that due to the corona, there is lightness around the moon, but the moon is totally black. In any event, I had sort of assumed that it would look mostly like a night sky, but it didn't in the slightest.
There were a lot of interesting things that happened just as totality started, but it happened so fast that I missed a lot of it. There were supposed to be "shadow bands" that occur in the two minutes before totality, and I saw some faint things, but I was too busy to notice more.
It is striking and obvious when totality occurs. I took several pictures through the filter before I took the filter off. They all came out essentially black.
I took a lot of pictures. I'll have to wait until after I get home to see how good they came out. I might have gotten a picture of what I think they call the diamond ring, but I'm not sure.
As described it did cool noticeably, but I was sort of too busy to notice. There were strange calls from the animals (mostly parrots I think) during totality. The parrots seemed rather agitated afterwards.
One of the guides said that there was going to be a dinner around 8:00, but all that seemed to be served was first dessert, and then some leftover meat from lunch. Right now it is about 7:15, and people are just socializing (and drinking). We're expecting a 6-8 hour drive back to Santiago, and we expected to get there around 4am. We need to leave for the airport around 8:50, so we'll do most of our sleeping on the bus.
In one sense, it seems odd to put this much effort into seeing something that only lasts two minutes, but I think it was worth it. During the partial before and afterwards, the lighting was a bit strange, but the totality was an experience outside of anything that I've ever experienced or imagined. It is too bad that it happens so fast, particularly the transition as the totality starts and stops.
Even Sam was impressed by it. He's spent the past few days saying how bored he was, how he wished he hadn't gone, and how boring eclipses were. But during the run up to the eclipse, he got caught up in the excitement along with everyone else, and he found the totality itself totally awesome. Of course, now that it is over, he is lamenting that we're not heading directly back, and spending another week-ish in the Atacama. I'm really hoping that he finds what we do there somewhat enjoyable.
So the high point is over, and hopefully the rest of the trip will be more low key but still enjoyable. Still, the next 12-18 hours are going to be a bit of a challenge, with the drive back, and little sleep (maybe), a flight to the Atacama, and then a drive of an hour or two to our hotel. At least we're staying in the same place for the whole time and not jumping from hotel to hotel.