Chajnantor Observatory, Chile

In San Pedro de Atacama – the biggest tourist trap in the north of Chile – I managed to get to the entrance of one of the European Southern Observatory sites here in Chile, the ALMA and top secret APEX at 4.800m above sea level on Chajnantor plateau. The observatories are above 5.000m and even at the sneaky “back entrance” I found it was blocked for the public and had all these warning signs telling me that I probably can’t even breathe up there. That explains why outdoor shops were selling “Oxygen Mouth Spray” to the general population. You can see I was totally prepared for the weather up there by my outfit, especially the thermo headband and windproof shorts… yeah, the idea to go camping under the stars at an observatory with a bunch of scientists and sensitive data at such an altitude required a little less dreaming and a little more actual research beforehand. Luckily, this isn’t the only night-sky observatory in Chile and on my way south I will at least try to get access to the Paranal Observatory, which seems a little more open to the public than this one. I did go camping in the San Pedro de Atacama area, but at a lower altitude in the valley that has a more moderate climate. The city of San Pedro was like a bad movie set full of gringos and people trying the sell you tours to valleys and telescopes about 2000 times smaller than the big guns the scientists are toying with. Thanks, I’ll pass. The one and only upside of going the gringo trail was the presence of WiFi and something advertised here as “Real Coffee”. I’m happy to have skipped town now so I can explore areas that do float my boat!

 

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