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. To be specific: they’re the ALMA and top-secret APEX at 4.800m above sea level on the Chajnantor plateau. The observatories are above 5.000m. Unfortunately, they even blocked the sneaky “back entrance” I found on my map for the public during my attempt to approach. There were all these warning signs telling me that I probably can’t even breathe up there. Yes, the air is that thin. 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 were a bad call. 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. Next time I’ll prepare better!
Luckily, this isn’t the only night-sky observatory in Chile. On my way south I will at least try to get access to the Paranal Observatory. That observatory seems a little more open to the public than the Chajnantor observatory. 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 looked like a bad movie set full of gringos. There were many 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 the only upside of traveling the gringo trail was the presence of WiFi. Oh, and something advertised here as “Real Coffee”, which gave me a giggle. Nevertheless, I’m happy to have skipped town now so I can explore areas that do float my boat!