South America (2): Introduction to Chile and the Solar Eclipse

Valparaiso, Solar Eclipse and the Penguins

Let me tell you about the mega trip of about 6,000 euros for a month in South America, the trip where I visited Buenos Aires in Argentina, Chile, saw the solar eclipse in Chile, went to the desert, took night photos, I saw petroglyphs in the desert but also Easter Island in the Pacific 3,500 km from the coast, I was in the salt desert of Bolivia with its cacti island, I saw Machu Pichu, Nazca and the old pyramids of Caral. Really fascinated.

Most of the South American trip took place in Chile for a two-week period, half of the trip. In Chile we also achieved our final objective, that of observing and photographing the Solar Eclipse 2019 and also in Chile we took the most night photographs in fascinating, interesting, strange places such as the Hand of the Desert monument in Atacama or the formations of semi-precious stones from Death Valley (or Mars Valley) and Moon Valley.

It all started with careful planning, and it was one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had. I had the opportunity to discover the culture and history of these countries. I learned about indigenous cultures and saw how buildings in ancient cities have survived time. I went to Buenos Aires and enjoyed the architecture and lifestyle of the city. We visited museums and experienced the local cuisine. I crossed the whole of Chile and saw how the landscape changes. I spent hours in the desert.

Introduction to Chile

Chile is the most developed country in South America, with a population and GDP per capita, similar to that of Romania (the second poorest country in the EU). The state is located on the western coast of the southern hemisphere and has an elongated shape from north to south. Being on the West coast, it has a large part of the Andes Mountain range, which also includes the peak of Aconcagua (this being the highest peak on the continent) and the territory between the mountains and the Pacific Ocean but also islands in the Pacific Ocean. Incidentally, the famous Easter Island (to which I will dedicate a separate article on the blog, yes, I got there too) is the territory of the state of Chile, although culturally and ethnographically it is much different from the continent, being part of Polynesia.

On June 28th we left Buenos Aires at 8am (but woke up at 4:30am) and landed in the capital of Santiago de Chile around 09.

Our group took over the reserved cars, from here starting a long journey by car through the long state. We had off-road vehicles adapted to our context. Chile being slightly above Romania in terms of economy, it has a fairly good road infrastructure. The main highway runs North-South along the Ocean.

But for now, we took the cars and went to the hotel located in the center of the capital (Capital San Pablo 4* hotel

I haven’t visited anything else in Santiago de Chile except for the Romanian Embassy. At the end of the article, however, you can find a list of what is worth visiting. We haven’t visited anything else since our group was invited to the Romanian Embassy in Chile and that was quite an interesting highlight.

I don’t always have the opportunity to visit embassies and talk face-to-face with ambassadors, although it has happened to me before. The visit was arranged because on the occasion of our group’s excursion organized by the SARM astronomy club from Targovishte, Alexandru Mironov, former minister and former science educator of Romania (the guy who appeared before Star Trek on TVR1) also traveled. Mironov was politically anchored and arranged this curiosity.

He was supposed to go to the eclipse with Cătălin Beldea, amateur astronomer, publicist, and eclipse hunter. But he went with us, probably because he didn’t like the route chosen by Beldea. Finally.

Mrs. Ambassador Monica Mihaela Știrbu was very kind and I spent some time at the embassy. Although in the Wallachian style no one really understood why we got there, why or what we will do more precisely. The result is that we visited nothing from Santiago, but we took pictures in the embassy.

There were a lot of fascinating discussions at the embassy, and I learned a lot of new information about Chile. However, I have included more information at the end of the article. I found out that Chile has a large community of Romanians who seem to be everywhere in the world. Chile is an OECD member, I knew that. And it’s about the level of Romania economically, but that’s what I said before. That doesn’t mean it’s better. It depends from which point of view you look at it. Yes, people don’t have those strange and hunched/aggressive looks in Romania, they have the Andes and Aconcagua and many km of ocean. They also have Easter Island. But they have poor net rare and expensive, high dropout rate. Although Argentina is poorer, it would be the most educated on the continent.

This fact can somehow be seen in the architecture of the capitals. Chile is the richest. It would be 4,800 km north to south. In winter Santiago becomes a pot of pollution especially in winter, that is in August. This is what happens to big cities in the mountains, including Brasov. They have the rule that we had in communism with even odd numbers. The Andes are almost devoid of passing/passing color. Chile applies protectionism with regard to vegetation, the country being in this respect like an island surrounded by the Andes, the Atacama Desert, the glaciers of the South and the Pacific.

My theory is confirmed again that states with a high degree of isolation do well in today’s world. Almost all large island states do better. Relative to what’s around. They heat with wood; they don’t really have centralized systems. I get the electricity from Argentina and the gas as well. They are part of the desertification phenomenon. There would also be many protests, many and often, resulting in significant destruction. You wonder how the hell Argentina is below them, considering everything I said about Argentina and Chile. However, Chile invested and is investing in solar energy, obtained by force some territories rich in mineral resources in the 19th century and yes, the fact that it is isolated and has little migration. There are many countries in South America that are very poor. And I visited two of them, Bolivia and Peru.

Another interesting piece of information is that Romania would have received about 10,500 refugees from the dictatorship in Chile, in full communism.. :))) They would have stayed in the Camp Road. There would still be many Romanian Jews in Chile. I knew that some Nazis hid in South America, but I hadn’t heard of Jews going there in large numbers. Expat doctors form one of the newest diasporas. Among the most successful would be such a Romanian Jew, the second richest there. Direct economic exchanges between Romania and Chile are not large, many Romanian products arriving in Chile after processing or intermediation from other EU states, especially from Spain. Although they have so much Ocean, the fish for the masses would not be that good, being from the breeders. The lamb would be good, and they also boast wine from the San Pedro de Atacama region, next to the desert, normal.

We then went to a meal given by a Romanian settled in Chile, a kind of country party inside a common space of a residential neighborhood. Again, a random Wallachian thing but not necessarily nasty. There was drinking, eating, and playing the guitar. The singing was provided by two senior members of our group, probably some kind of hippies in their youth. Very talkative, very joking, cool for their age.

Chile (brief history)

The territory of Chile is discovered by Ferdinand Magellan in October 1520. It obtains independence on September 18, 1810. The first Supreme Director of the new republic is Bernardo O’ Higgins, in 1817, after a period of government through Government Assemblies (Juntas de Gobierno). Following the victories against Peru and Bolivia, in the War of the Pacific (1879-1883), Chile obtained the Northern area – Antofagasta, rich in ore deposits, permanently integrated through the peace of 1904.

In 1973, General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte overthrew the socialist government of Salvador Allende in a coup, establishing a military government of the Republic. At the head of a military junta, he dissolves Congress, exiles leftist parties, and eliminates all opposition. In the 1989 elections, the military candidate, Herman Büchi, lost to the Christian Democrat Patricio Aylwin, initiating the peaceful transition to democracy. From then until 2010, the Concertation of Parties for Democracy, consisting of Christian Democrats and Socialists, the Party for Democracy (center-left) and the Radical Party (center-left), remained in power. The Coalition for Change, a grouping of opposition parties (center-right), took power in 2010. Executive power is exercised by the President of the Republic, who performs the functions of head of state and government. He is elected by direct vote, the term of office being four years. Legislative power is exercised by the National Congress, which is bicameral: the Chamber of Deputies (120 members) and the Senate (38 members). In December 2017, the presidential and legislative elections ended.

SANTIAGO de Chile (comes from St. James the Great, the patron saint of Spain, he was the brother of St. John the Apostle, his relics were in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, he is the father of the Spanish church) The capital of the state of Chile is the largest city in Chile with a population of over 7 million inhabitants, with a density of approximately 9,000 people/km2, most of the city is located at an altitude between 500 and 650m above sea level, near the Andes mountains and about 100 km in a straight line from Aconcagua (6962 m altitude), the highest peak in both Americas, but also in the southern hemisphere, located in Argentina.

Founded on February 12, 1541, by the Spanish Conquistador Pedro de Valdivia as Santiago del Nuevo Extremo, it has been the capital of Chile since the colonial period. Although it is the state capital, Congress (legislative power) meets in Valparaiso. The city will host the Pan American Olympic Games in 2023.

Santiago de Chile cannot compare to Buenos Aires in terms of metropolis or bohemian character, but it is a developed, clean and fascinating city.

In Santiago de Chile we visited the following:

  • Metropolitan Cathedral of Santiago. Construction of the current cathedral began in 1748 and was completed in 1800. The old cathedral, built in 1561, was destroyed by an earthquake. It is located in Plaza de Armas.
  • Iglesia de San Francisco. It is a Franciscan church located on Avenida Libertador General Bernardo O’Higgins. It was built in 1622 and is the oldest colonial building in the country. The tower was repeatedly destroyed by earthquakes and last rebuilt in 1850 in Victorian style. Part of the monastery houses the Museo Colonial.
  • Iglesia de Santo Domingo. It is located at the intersection of Santo Domingo and 21 de Mayo streets. The church was destroyed by earthquakes in 1595, 1647 and 1730. The current building was built between 1747 and 1796.
  • Casa Colorada. It is a colonial house, built in 1769. It houses five of the Museo de Santiago rooms.
  • National Museum of Natural History. It is located in the Quinta Normal Park. It was founded on mollusks, Mesozoic, archaeology, cultural anthropology, in four departments: botany, zoology, anthropology and paleontology. The Department of Botany has 3,700 species.
  • National Museum of Fine Arts. It is one of the major centers of South American art. The institution was founded in 1880 and the building, Palacio de Bellas Artes, dates from 1910.
  • Museo Histórico Nacional. It is housed in the Palacio de la Real Aduana de Santiago, a building built between 1804 and 1807, in the Plaza de Armas. The institution was founded in 1911 and has over 12,000 exhibits.
  • Chilean Museum of Pre-Columbian Arts. It is dedicated to pre-Columbian art and holds artifacts from Central and South America. It is hosted by the Palacio de la Real Aduana. Its collections cover a period of 10,000 years.
  • Palacio de La Moneda. So named from the times when money was kept there. It is the seat of the president of the republic and three ministerial cabinets. Construction began in 1845 in the neoclassical style. Bombed in 1973, it was rebuilt until 1980.
  • Municipal Theatre. It was inaugurated on September 17, 1857, and declared a national monument in 1974. It is located in Augustinas 794.
  • Estación Central or Estación Alameda, located on Avenida Bernardo O’Higgins 3170. Built in 1885, rebuilt in 1897 according to Gustave Eiffel’s plans. It was declared a national monument in 1983.
  • National Library of Chile. Located on Avenida Libertador General Bernardo O’Higgins, it is one of the largest in Latin America. The building was completed in 1925.
  • Bolsa de Comercio de Santiago. The institution was founded on November 27, 1893, and the building was completed in 1917. It is located on Bandera Street.
  • Plaza de Armas. It is the heart and soul of the city. Around the square are some historic buildings, the Metropolitan Cathedral, the Post Office, the Palacio de la Real Audiencia de Santiago.
  • Parque O’Higgins. It was inaugurated in January 1873. It is the second largest park, with 770,000 square meters. Here is an amusement park in the northwest part, a theater, a private university, a public swimming pool and an artificial lake. It is located in the city center.
  • Cerro San Cristóbal. It is a hill in the north-central area of the city. Here is the Mills Observatory, a sanctuary dedicated to the Immaculate Conception with a rather imposing statue of the Virgin Mary, the zoo, a Japanese-style garden and the largest public park, Parque Metropolitano. You can also reach the top by gondola.
  • Cerro Santa Lucia, right in the center of the city, is a park with a Japanese garden. One can climb this hill for an interesting view of the city center to see that mix of modern buildings and colonial buildings.
  • Concha y Toro winery.
  • It is worth climbing the Sky Costanera (300 m) ) open from 01 to 22 (costs approx. 20 euros. The Costanera is located in an area called Sanhattan, which means a sort of the Manhattan of Santiago, with other glass buildings and a huge mall.
  • Parque Forestal. An urban park created in 1905 on land taken from the Mapocho River, west of Plaza Baquedano and east of Estación Mapocho. Here is the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, which is in the same building as the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo. The feature of the park is given by three rows of plane trees.
  • From Santiago you can take a trip to the Maipo Canyon. Admire the stunning beauty of the Maipo Canyon (Cajón del Maipo). At the volcano of San José de Maipo you can take a 2-hour hike, about 4 kilometers, to a viewpoint where you can see one of the most active volcanoes in the metropolitan region. In the same area are the hot springs of Banos Colina, located about 100 kilometers from Santiago, at an altitude of 2,500 meters above sea level. There are natural pools there with temperatures of 50 ° C, from where you have a view of the Andes mountains.

About Food:

  • Places to eat in Santiago at Mercado Central, Vega Central.
  • Good coffee can be had in Green Coffee Roasters, also here they serve a chocolate soufflé with ice cream.
  • A decent lunch (almuerzo) is somewhere between 6-8 dollars. Each menu starts with an appetizer called Pebre, a spicy sauce with tomatoes and hot peppers. Dinner is around 12-15 dollars. Chileans love barbecues, but salads are not very popular.
  • Mote con huesillos is a refreshing natural drink made from wheat, peaches and water with honey.
  • Pisco Sour is a kind of brandy with lemon juice, egg white and cinnamon.
  • The main dish is avocado with chicken, tuna or shrimp salad.
  • Ceviche is a raw fish salad marinated in lemon juice and served with ginger, onions and peppers.
  • Pastel de choclo is a pie with layers of corn, meat and cheese.
  • Asado are steaks (especially beef) on the grill.
  • A lo pobre (poor man’s steak) is a steak with fried potatoes, poached eggs and fried onions.
  • Cazuela is a kind of beef soup with corn, potatoes, pumpkin and carrot.
  • Empanadas (originating from the Argentines) are pies with meat, cheese, vegetables, fish, ham or cheese.
  • The Terremoto is their traditional cocktail and contains white grape must, pineapple ice cream and bitter liqueur.
  • Chorillana is a large bed of fried potatoes mixed with pan-seared onion strips, thinly sliced beef and eggs on top.


June 29 – Saturday

Wine in Chile

After the atypical and interesting Romanian episode with the embassy, on Saturday June 29, we left by car for Valparaiso, 130 km from Santiago. We went on one of the “wine routes” in Chile, the Casablanca valley. Chile is the fifth wine exporter in the world.

On the way we stopped at the winery below in the pictures, Valparaiso Indomita Vinery. The winery makes about 10 million liters of wine per year. Little compared to Cricova, but they are very proud of what they have there. However, they have very modern technology, although everywhere smells like grandma’s cellar in Dragășani.

They have 5k liter barrels and harvest the wine in March, at the end of summer. I make dry wine and fizz. The vineyard is right in the Casablanca Valley I was talking about earlier and has 244h. Interestingly, 85% of the vineyard and winery are owned by a Chinese company. Speaking of China’s policy of grabbing as much property and business as possible in South America and Africa.

At 17-20 years they would change the vine roots because the area would be wet.

Their quality wine is called Sardos and is pure Cabernet Sauvignon. They also have Carignan dry red wine with fizz. 2013 and 2016 would be very good.

On the way to Valparaiso you can also visit:

  • Pomaire: Chili, Chicha and “dulces de Curacavi” are part of the traditional gastronomy that visitors can enjoy here. Pomaire is one of the most important centers of handmade crafts. The vineyards, fresh air and beautiful water of Laguna Aculeo are other attractions of the region.
  • Attilo & Mochi winery
  • Route F-90 Casablanca
  • Matetic Winery
  • Fundo el Rosario, Casablanca

After the Indomita winery we visited Valparaiso, a city not only with a beautiful name and seven universities but also with an interesting history, a former important stopping point for ships going to the Strait of Magellan and Tierra del Fuego before the construction of the Panama Canal. Valparaiso was known to sailors as “Little San Francisco”. The city was included in the UNESCO heritage list in 2003.

I visited Pablo Neruda’s house in Valparaiso (La Sebastiana) (Ferrari 692, Valparaíso, entrance $12, open from 10am to 6pm except Mondays) or Casa Isla Negra Poeta Neruda.

In Valparaiso we also visited Plazuela Descanso, from here we go to Cerros Alegre and Cerre Conception hills with the funicular.

We also went with the funicular. I also visited a house, built by Sanelli in 1916, the house of Serbian Pascal Baburitza.

Valaparaiso is a port town surrounded by hills (cerros) with colorful houses that you climb up and down rainbow-colored stairs with 19th-century wrought iron elevators and funiculars. The area, like all of South America, is full of graffiti. At the same time, there are local designer shops, art galleries, restaurants and cafes, hostels and craft breweries, Victorian houses, Gothic mansions and street art that give off a bohemian air. Salvador Allende, Augusto Pinochet, Camilo Mori were also born here, Pablo Neruda, Rubén Darío lived here.

The bay was populated by the Pichunches Indians who were engaged in agriculture. The first Europeans arrived here in 1536, aboard the ship Santiaguillo, under the command of Juan de Saavedra, who named the town after his native village in Spain, Valparaíso de Arriba.

Throughout the colonial period, Valparaíso remained a small village with only a few houses and a church.

After independence in 1818, Valparaíso became the main port of Chilean ships and a port of call for ships that circled South America through the Strait of Magellan and the Cape Horn.

It receives immigrants from European countries, especially from Great Britain, Germany, and Italy, who transform the local culture with Spanish and Amerindian origins. 

The city became the heart of the country’s economy. Due to the lack of space, it begins to expand on the hard-to-reach hills and in the swampy area.

But its heyday comes to an end after the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914.

The city has been through many earthquakes. Incidentally, during the night in Valparaiso I actually felt a small earthquake on my skin.

Câteva poze luate de Valentin Grigore:

Valparaiso, like most of South America, is full of graffiti on a completely different level than I have seen in Europe or anywhere else in the world. Graffiti everywhere and each one can very well pass as a work of art. Incredible mix of poverty and talent when it comes to graffiti.


June 30 – Sunday

La Serena

On Sunday, June 30, we left for La Serena, the location from where we would observe the solar eclipse, located 450 km to the north.

On the way to La Serena is the Sand Dune – a national reserve area covered with sand dunes that have formed. Some surf on these dunes, although it is not the only place to do so. Also on the way is the town of Ovalle, which is the capital of Limari province, also known as the land of papaya and cherimoya due to its mild climate. In the area approximately 50 km away is Pichasca National Park, with dinosaur fossils. Also on the way, in Coquimbo, a legend says that Francis Drake buried a treasure.

We didn’t find any treasure, but we came across some very cute and opportunistic coyote or fox cubs.

We stopped to take pictures of course.

In the evening we arrived in La Serena. Near the hotel is Plazza La Recova, where you can find stone handicrafts, pre-Columbian ceramic works, inspired by the Diaguita culture (ceramics with zoomorphic and geometric decorations, similar to our Cucuteni culture), flowerpots, precious stone jewelry made with lapis lazuli, alpaca wool items, huayacan wood, books, musical instruments and everything you can imagine.

The homemade pastries also stand out, especially the sugar-coated papaya.

Locals also offer fruits in syrup, manjar blanco (milk jam) with nuts and goat cheese.

In Serena, the temperature is already changing, towards colder. I met the house cat, white, majestic and with eyes of different colors.


01 July – Monday

After arriving by car in the area and settling in, we divided into teams to identify a good spot to observe the eclipse the next day.

In the area you can also visit the Enchanted Valley (121 km from La Serena) (Valle del Encanto) where traces of the pre-Columbian Molle civilization were discovered. You can also bathe in the thermal springs at Socos.

Humboldt Penguins that are not there

Another attraction in the area, one that we also thoroughly enjoyed and can recommend with full confidence, is the Humboldt Penguin Reserve at Damas Island (114 km from La Serena).

We ate some excellent seafood here before taking the boat to Punto Chorro. Ponti Chorro looks like Old Customs from the 90s.

On the sightseeing boat trip, we spotted all sorts of herons and pelicans whose exact name escapes me, a few dolphins, a bunch of seal families basking on the rocks away from the choppy waters. I saw a funny episode where a baby seal struggled to climb up to the adults. I didn’t really see Coquimbo Humboldt penguins, only two specimens.

These penguins come here from Antarctica, being the extremity of their range, the migration mechanism being linked to the coastal currents of the Pacific Ocean.

An interesting thing but which I did not have time to try is that in the area, you can have lunch in one of the “solar” restaurants, where everything is cooked in the sunlight of Villaseca.

What else I noticed in Chile, but not only, but also in the other states on this trip, they had a lot of stray dogs, like Romania in the 90s-2000s, maybe even more. But none of them were aggressive.

Although they were very big, they were very gentle, some playful and the locals took care of them because I often saw stray dogs with blankets or dog bowls on the street. And the animals were very grateful and gentle.

On a beach near La Serena, we played with some stray dogs as if they were pet dogs for hire. You can almost consider all stray dogs to be everyone’s pets.

A completely different approach than we saw in Romania from both species, humans and dogs.


02 July – Tuesday

The Solar Eclipse

On July 2, we drove to the Total Solar Eclipse observation point. I found the observation and photo spot, somewhere near the town of Vicunia, 7 kilometers away from the city, on a plateau high on the mountain. Vicunia had a large sign installed at the entrance/exit that signaled or promoted the eclipse. I took pictures there too.

The coordinates of the observation site were 30°05’18.2″S 70°43’19.5″W,-70.722079

Apart from the Eclipse photo session I also did evening/night photography in the area. The cacti there were enormous. I discovered, among other things, that the spines of these cacti are of a very hard wood, just good for artisanal descaling.

The city was crowded on the occasion of the eclipse, so we avoided the anthill in the city and found this place, ideal for observing the eclipse.

Chile was already one of the hot spots in the world of world astronomy thanks to the presence of some of the best performing telescopes in the world. Moreover, the landscape of the Atacama Desert offers observation and photography opportunities to amateurs as well, and with the eclipse all this interest became even greater, especially from amateurs and especially eclipse hunters, including Romanian amateur astronomers.

Valentin Grigore’s photos:

The astronomical phenomenon began at 13:01 local time (17:01 GMT) in the Pacific Ocean, and the band of totality, more than 150 kilometers wide, reached the Chilean coast at 16:38 (20:38 GMT), going to cross southern Argentina.

The shadow of the Moon, which intervenes between the Sun and the Earth, thus generated two minutes of total darkness in broad daylight, and the temperature dropped by three to four degrees Celsius.

My Eclipse photos:

Chile is home to most of the world’s astronomical observation systems. Thus, on the occasion of the solar eclipse, along with the more than 30,000 tourists, scientists, eclipse hunters, astronomy enthusiasts or just the curious came to Chile. The north of the country experienced clear sky conditions.


03 July – Wednesday

On Wednesday we headed back to Santiago and as expected, caught some traffic on the highway that cuts through the country north-south. The way back was about 480 km, and we did 8 hours on the road. I was thinking how Chile, a state comparable to Romania in terms of economy, although it is the most developed in South America, still has a few extra things but also a few things behind. So as a detail, there were five crossings on the entire highway, by the way the only one in the long and narrow state, none of the crossings had an advance payment system via SMS or app or anything.

It was a lot but some of the group even made an extended journey because someone in the group forgot an important key somewhere. However, I didn’t see any dickheads giving flashes on the highway, like in Romania, or in Israel for that matter.