Sunday July 7: Geysers
I slept reasonably well, although every time I woke up and rolled over, I was wondering how late it was, and how much more time there was to sleep.
We set the alarm for 5am and actually had no trouble getting up. We were out on the curb (because the big sliding door was closed) just a little early, but the truck was just a few minutes late.
While we were waiting, we had a bit of a to do with some sort of night attendant. He wanted our key, and we couldn't figure out why. He got out his cell phone and google translate, and with it he said that the girls could not clean our room without the key. I replied (via google translate) that we had not turned in our key for the past few days, and that the room was cleaned just fine. Eventually we straitened it out and kept our key. I'll have to remember to install the translate app before my next international trip.
I had hoped to sleep on the dark ride to the geysers, but I was too awake, and the road was too bumpy and twisty to get any sleep. It took us about an hour and a half to get up there. During the drive, we could see the eastern sky lightening, and by the time we arrived, it was fairly light out, although the sun was not visible due to the mountains.
We were up in the mountains, surrounded by several volcanos. This was the highest point of the trip, and slightly lower than Mount Rainier.
I had worn my big fluffy down jacket, which was much too warm for use in San Pedro. I thought it would be more than enough, but it was barely OK. I think I would have preferred wearing my down vest under it. The temperature was only about 20-25, but at 13,800 feet and no sun, it felt rather cold. I wore my thinner gloves to make it easier to manipulate the camera, and my fingers got a bit cold.
As opposed to Yellowstone, the geysers are mostly steamers or little bubbling pools. One of them periodically erupted to a height of a few feet.
We wandered around, getting pictures, among the somewhat sizeable number of people there. Then I was told to position myself so that the sun would rise on the far side of a steam plume. Shortly thereafter, the sun rose, and I took a billion pictures. I wasn't quite sure whether I should be photographing the steam back-lit (and if so, how to expose it), or to get a larger shot of the back-lit plumes with silhouettes of people around the base.
All in all, it was much better with the early morning light than before.
Amy was definitely feeling the altitude and was having some trouble, but she didn't want to say anything that might curtail things.
We walked past a pool that you could swim in. The question of whether I should try it was moot, because I had forgotten to bring my swimsuit that morning. The water was warm but not hot, and the guides questioned the cleanliness of it.
We walked a bit further to a less-crowded area, where the driver had set up breakfast. It was coffee, bread and toast, some salami and cheese, and some cereal. It wasn't bad for a "picnic" breakfast.
It was amazing at how quickly we felt warm when the sun started to shine on us. Before the sun came up, I was wondering where we were going to eat breakfast, as it was clearly too cold to eat outside. But by the time we actually ate it, the temperature wasn't too bad.
More precisely, the air temperature hadn't warmed up that much, but with the sun on us, we felt warm. At one point, the wind blew a plume of steam in front of the sun, and the temperature seemed to instantly drop 10 degrees, only to rise again when the sun returned.
With the low sun, we expected to see a rainbow in the steam, but we never did. Perhaps the steam droplets are too small.
After breakfast, we drove back down. We stopped at a small pond, which was half frozen, got out, and did some birding. There were lots of birds there. A fair number were still sleeping from the night.
The road made a U-turn around the pond, which was long and thin. We were in the perfect location, with the sun to our backs. We had to laugh at a number of people on the opposite side, who were looking into the sun, and for whom the birds would be basically silhouettes.
We tried to find a <animal>, which is sort of a cross between a rabbit and a chinchilla. Amy thinks she got a glimpse of it once, but she didn't get a picture and I never saw it. Unfortunately, our driver was getting rather antsy by then and wanted us to hurry.
At various points we pulled over and got some animal pictures without leaving the car. This included a pair of fox and some llamas.
Twice more on the way down we stopped for pictures, once above a large gorge next to the road, and once to get a panorama of the salt flats. The cost for these stops was that we didn't stop at a tiny village next to the road, sort of like Rio Grande, but more touristy. I think it was a decent trade off.
We got back to the hotel around noon, tipped the driver and guide, and they were off. I'm guessing that one or both of them had a second job lined up for the afternoon, and so that was why the driver was antsy about the time. There was no rush from our point of view, as there was nothing scheduled for the rest of the day.
I'm a bit disappointed in our tour package. It was fairly expensive, and I don't think we got a good value for our money. The guide (and driver) did all they could within the constrains of the itinerary, but having two of the four days essentially ending at lunch time, with the rest of the day being empty seemed rather wasteful. On the first day, I could attribute it to a slow start, but that would not explain today. Adding in the lack of the originally scheduled visit to the hot springs/spa, and I can't say that I'm very impressed.
I think the main advantage of doing it this way instead of just visiting and getting tour packages from the many companies up and down the street is that we could tweak things more, like stopping on the side of the road for animal pictures. I'm not sure that this would have worked with a van or a small bus full of people.
On the other hand, I'm satisfied with the place we're staying. From the outside it doesn't look like much: just an adobe wall. When I first saw that, my heart sank and I pictured the rooms being primitive adobe rooms. But inside the walls it is fairly modern and not too bad. The rooms are clean and large enough. The shower works and has hot water. The included breakfast isn't the greatest, but it is adequate.
It turns out that few if any places here have running water, as in water piped in. Apparently the norm is to have a large tank on the roof that gets filled with potable water every week or two, sort of similar to people where we live who have propane tanks for their house.
After we got our gear settled, Amy and I put on sun screen, then we went out to lunch. We went to the same empanada place we ate the previous time. Then we saw Sam to the hotel and Amy and I did a walk around town. She did some birding, and we eventually ended up at the town cemetery. A common theme is a small building with a central area a little bigger than a phone booth, in which to put remembrances and such, and then three rectangles on each side, a bit bigger than a coffin. These were backed by hollow spaces that were open at the rear. As people died, they would be put into one of the available spaces from the rear, it would be walled up, and the details would be mounted in the front.
There was one grave that appeared to be an adobe box above ground. A corner of the "roof" had caved in, so that you could see inside. I half expected to see a body there, but I couldn't. I think it would be a rather creepy place to visit at night.
We walked back through town, through the city square with the marketplace.
Then I wrote this up while Amy read a book.
The plan is to have dinner, I hope to go to church, and then maybe try some star pictures if I can find a good spot. Then tomorrow we get up a bit late, pack up, and start heading home.
It will be a bit of a pain at Santiago. I think that we will only check our bags to Santiago, pick them up there, and then hike to the international terminal and check in as if we had just arrived at the airport.
We just had a really wonderful dinner. I almost wish that we were staying here longer so that we could eat there again.
After writing up my afternoon updates, I went for a walk to scope out possible star picture sites. From what I could recall from last night (which wasn't much), the best part of the Milky Way should be heading towards the river side of us, rather than the Andes side, which was too bad because there was a nice prominent volcano there which would have looked good in the picture.
So if I headed towards the river along the main road, there was no good place to take pictures, and I would have to be fighting headlights. So I tried heading towards the river along the next road over. That looked promising in that the lights ended halfway down it, and then the road continued to end at the river. There wasn't a good foreground, but otherwise it looked promising.
On the way back, I scoped out possible eating places for tonight. I went down one nearby road that I hadn't been on before and I ran across an interesting place. It was a hotel, vaguely similar to ours. The outside was a semi-decrepit adobe wall, but inside of that it looked rather nice. In fact, it had a small rather nice looking pool. There was also a restaurant there. They had a menu posted outside, which looked sort of like a pre fi menu: i.e. a choice of 3 appetizers, a choice of 3 main courses, and a choice of 2 desserts. The actual options looked enticing. I took a picture and continued on my way. The place that we had tried to eat at the other day but which was closed seemed to be open. The menu was similar to most places here.
When I got back to the hotel, we took a closer look at the photograph of that menu and decided that it looked really good. We decided to check it out, and if it was too expensive (the menu didn't give any price), we could head over to the other place. My plan was to try to eat between 6:00 and 6:30 and then make it to the 8:00 Mass.
We got there around 6:30 and found that the restaurant opened for dinner at 7:00. The hotel looked really nice. There was a small but clean and tastefully done pool, with a Jacuzzi next to it. All in all, it looked like a step up from where we were staying, although I'm sure it had a price tag that was a step up from ours as well. The price was about $30 per person, which was not unreasonable (particularly considering how we had cheaped out the previous night).
Amy wasn't feeling great, so she opted to just sit there until 7. Sam and I returned to our hotel. Along the way I stopped in an upscale jewelry store. They had some interesting bronze abstract llamas. For grins, I asked how much they were. The answer was about $500! I realized that this shop was clearly out of my league, so I promptly left.
Sam and I returned to the restaurant at 7. Inside it was really nice. The $30 also got us a free beverage, which could be a glass of wine. They had cloth napkins and a waiter who spoke very good English. He served us water flavored with lemon and cucumbers in wine glasses. When he gave us some bread, he provided the typical pebre but also butter. I think that this is the first time I've seen butter since entering the country.
All in all, the dinner was very good, easily the equal of a good restaurant back home. The only downside was that the waiter apparently got Amy's main course wrong, but by the time we knew this, it was too late to do anything about it. Also, the service was a bit on the slow side.
As soon as I finished my dessert, I left my wallet and room key with Amy and scurried out of the restaurant. It was about 8:15 or 8:20. I figured that being late to Mass was better than skipping it outright. I figure that I missed about half of it, which ended up being a bit more than I missed the previous time.
As expected for a Sunday, the church was much fuller than the previous day, although I had no trouble finding an open spot in a pew. One difference between Masses here and back home is Communion. Here the priest dips the host into the wine and places it on your tongue.
There seemed to be a large clump of late teen girls (or maybe mixed gender) in one section of the church. After communion, they spontaneously broke into their own, unaccompanied song. It was sort of strange.
After Mass was over, I returned to the hotel and prepared to head out to photograph stars again. But first I had to go to the front desk and get a plunger to unplug the toilet.
I couldn't tell if the stars were any good from inside the main body of the town, and I wasn't about to hike out to the dark, and if it looked good return for the camera and tripod. So I packed the stuff up figuring that if it didn't look good, I would just return without taking pictures.
Not surprisingly, it looked just about as it did the previous night. The moon was sort of straight in front of me, but the Milky Way was off to my left. This was good because the moon wasn't in my pictures.
When I got to the bank of the river, there was a guy standing on the shore, apparently just looking at the river. I only had moonlight from a sliver of the moon, so I could only see him as a vague outline. He didn't say a word, and I didn't approach him or say anything either.
I just set up my tripod and proceeded to start taking star pictures. At one point, I heard some splashing behind me, and when I turned I saw my stranger walking across the river. It looked like it was only about six inches deep and maybe 10 feet across. He disappeared into the inky blackness on the other side.
I continued taking star pictures. During the exposures, I stood so that my shadow would block the moon from shining on the lens. This meant that my back was to the river.
After a while I began to get creeped out. It might not have been so bad if I had driven out of town to the middle of nowhere, where I would be alone, but I knew that there were people all around me, and that I was all alone in a dark place.
During the exposures, I began to imagine that I heard the splashing of footsteps in the river behind me, but it was only my imagination and the normal sounds of the river. I pictured this (large) silent stranger wading back across the river and being up to no good.
I decided that my current exposure would be my last, when I heard some dogs barking to my left. They were soon followed by dogs barking to my right. I was definitely ready to be out of there.
As soon as the exposure was over, I took the camera off the tripod, grabbed the tripod, and made tracks down the road. I didn't stop to put the tripod in my backpack and just carried it. As I left the beach and entered the road proper, I saw two glowing eyes in a bush. At least I thought I did, but when I looked again, the bush was dark. As I passed the bush, I saw that there were two eyes there, belonging to a cat. A short while later I saw two sets of glowing eyes looking at me from the other side.
At this point I was eagerly looking forward to getting back to well-lit and well populated areas. Of course nothing nefarious happened to me, and I returned to the hotel room quite intact.
I then checked us in for our flight out of Santiago, and wrote up the evening events.