Friday, April 29, 2005

Stars & Geysers

Please forgive any misspellings and non-sequiturs in this post. I got up at quarter to three this morning for an excursion to see some sunrise geyser activity at El Tatio, at 4200 meters above sea level, about two hours from San Pedro. While there were no Old Faithful-type geysers shooting into the air, the scene was quite impressive. Hundreds of bubbling and spurting holes in the ground letting out towers of steam and creating colorful mineral deposits. It was very cold, around freezing, but the tour agency provided breakfast and when the sun rose it started to defrost the chill in our bones. If that wasn´t enough, there was a thermal bath to swim in. The idea of getting into bathing suits in the chilly weather wasn´t that appealing, but how often to you get the chance to swim in a naturally-heated pool at 2.5 miles above sea level?

Yesterday evening´s star-gazing expedition was one of the most interesting and educational things I´ve done in a while. Our guides used the coolest, largest laser pointers I have ever seen to point to individual stars to show us constellations and other features of the sky before the moon rose. We checked out lots of celestial bodies, including galaxies, stars, and planets (Saturn´s rings and Jupiter´s moons) with super-high-powered telescopes. I can now finally identify the Southern Cross, and use it to navigate, if ever I found myself on a ship in the southern hemisphere with no navigational equipment. I saw Gemini, Libra, Scorpio, and Virgo, and learned how these star signs relate to the Chinese calendar (e.g. Year of the Rat). I watched the moon rise through a telescope, close enough to see all the craters. I also learned about how our view of the stars differs in the Northern and Southern hemispheres, and how it changes with the movement of the earth. I learned so much that there´s no way I´ll ever be able to remember it all, but suffice it to say I now look at the night sky (which is beautiful and clear out here in the desert) in a completely different way.