Given that our blog is freely available for the whole world to see, some of the following baby posts will be password protected, in particular those containing a lot of photos.
They will all have the same password: Hendrik’s full name starting with his middle name. Email us if you can’t figure it out
After some consideration, we decided to have our baby in Santiago. We heard good, bad and even scary things about hospitals in La Serena. At least when it comes to giving birth. The bruises after my dog-related bike accident were taken care of very well in Clinica Elqui in La Serena. I can’t complain about that, even though one of the nurses in training almost covered my mouth and my ear as well when putting plasters on those few stitches near my eye. Like, “there is a plaster, so I have to put one next to it to make it stick in place”, and then another plaster to hold the plaster that holds the first plaster.
Anyway, we didn’t want to run a risk with our first baby, so we went to Santiago two weeks before the predicted delivery date, where we rented an apartment in Las Condes, one of the new shiny fancy quarters in Santiago near Clinica Alemana. The apartment was in the 21st floor, so we had a good view!
Hendrik made sure his birth would be properly noticed by everyone… the day we arrived on March 25 there was a 7.0 earthquake 200km South of Santiago which caused some local damage. We were just having dinner out at Pizzahut when the place started wobbling softly. First we thought it must be the subway running right under us at Manquehue Metro station and we ignored it. But it didn’t stop and got stronger until about a minute later the buses and cranes outside started swaying noticeably, pedestrians stopped, etc. The epicentre was far away and here in Santiago it felt like a good rolling forth and back, without any noises. Later, two weeks after Hendrik was born I was putting him back to bed just before midnight (changing his diapers) when there was another one, this time a 6.7 about 100 kms North-West near Valparaiso. The experience was totally different from the first one. It started right away with full strength and was on the edge of being scary, the noise was impressive. Walking was difficult and the power went out but came back soon thereafter. Not much else happened and hardly anyone got hurt.
But I get distracted. A few days after we arrived in Santiago, Andrea, Dan and their baby Lizzy came visiting from La Serena (Dan was running the half marathon in Santiago), and we went for a day trip to Valparaiso. That’s a 1.5 hour drive West towards the coast. Valparaiso has quite some history and is worth a visit. In the second half of the 19th century Valparaiso was a very important harbor city and booming a lot, as all ships crossing from the Atlantic into the Pacific and back stopped there. Citing Wikipedia, “Examples of Valparaíso’s former glory include Latin America’s oldest stock exchange, the continent’s first volunteer fire department, Chile’s first public library, and the oldest Spanish language newspaper in continuous publication in the world.”
The 20th century didn’t begin very well for “Valpo”, as it is often called by Chileans. First, in 1906 it was totally flattened by a quake, but recovered within 3 years. Quake-safe building standards for wooden houses were developed as a consequence of this. In 1914, the opening of the Panama Canal was a huge and permanent blow to the city, as it lost a great deal of its importance and financial income. Valparaiso has seen some important historical figures. Salvador Allende was born there as well as Augusto Pinochet. Allende killed himself in Parliament during the Pinochet coup 1973, just after giving a now famous speech about freedom.
Pablo Neruda, a famous and very politicised Chilean poet and Nobel Prize Laureate lived in Valparaiso as well. In 1948 president Videla outlawed the communist party, and Neruda went into hiding. After more than a year in the underground he escaped through the mountains far South into Argentina. After a few years he managed to travel to Europe using a friend’s passport, and made a surprise appearance at the World Peace Congress in Paris helped by no-one less than Pablo Picasso. The Chilean government of course denied Neruda was in Paris as they didn’t even know he escaped the country. Eventually Neruda returned to Chile where he became a close associate with Salvador Allende. Neruda died in 1973 from cancer. Rumours that his last days in hospital were “shortened” by the Pinochet regime are still being investigated today. His biography is worth checking out.
Nowadays, Chile puts great effort into reviving the city as a cultural and political centre, with quite some success. Yet Valparaiso still bears the marks of the earlier bad years. Walking up the hills and looking at the houses clinging onto the steep cliffs is impressive. So, when you come to Chile, don’t miss paying Valparaiso a visit
Early in March 2012 we joined a group of astronomy students, who were coming to La Serena for a few months, for a tour to the Las Campanas and La Silla observatories. It’s about a two-hour drive on Ruta 5, winding its way up into the desert, falling some 50km short of Vallenar, the next largest city.
First we went to Las Campanas where we visited the two 6.5m telescopes which have a suite of some very nice instruments. The telescopes are privately owned by University of Carnegie, hence usually only their staff gets observing time (apart from Chilean astronomers, who get a 10% share at all telescopes in Chile in return for Chile providing the site and possibly infrastructure). The tour was excellent, and we were even allowed in the other 6.5m dome where they prepared to remove the primary mirror for recoating (usually, only trained staff is allowed in there during such a process, so we had to stay back at the wall). The tour was excellent and very informative, and we even got a good look inside the guts of the IMACS instrument/spectrograph with lots of filters, grisms etc.
Afterwards we visited La Silla, formerly the prime site of the European Southern Observatory, who now concentrates all efforts further North in Paranal, Chaijnantor, and Cerro Armazones for larger telescope projects. Still good science is done in La Silla, but the site appears pretty abandoned and almost forgotten compared to what a buzzing place it was just 6-7 years ago. We have been there before several times, so there wasn’t really anything new to see for us. The tour guide whom we joined wasn’t very knowledgeable from an astronomical point of view, so it was a bit boring. Still, looking at the 3.6m telescope in its totally oversized dome was quite a sight (nowadays telescope domes are built in a much more compact fashion), and so was running around the catwalk outside, several dozen meters above the ground.
I (Mischa) personally don’t like fish. Yes, I admit it. I mean, I like watching them while scuba diving, and I allow the one or other curious trigger fish to nibble on my finger (yes, I did get bitten), but I don’t like them on my dinner plate. Nor can I stand the smell when they are dead. So, in a physicist’s language, the square of my quantum mechanical wave function has a global minimum near fish markets. If I get too close to one, there is a non-zero chance that macroscopic tunnel effects will make me disappear instantly, and I magically re-materialise on the other side. On such occasions I don’t have a recollection of what happened, so don’t ask me how I did it, nor how hyperspace looks like, nor how a quantum mechanical operator feels like. It makes me dizzy, that’s all that matters. If you haven’t understood what I just said… I don’t like fish markets.
Other people do like fish, and from what I hear Coquimbo has a very nice one where you can not only buy the catch of the day, but also eat it right away in a restaurant. And it’s supposed to be good. So, if you do like fish on your plate, that’s where you go! Karianne, Wenche and Bjørn went visiting and took some pictures of fish, birds, and sea lions. The latter of which usually stink even more than dead fish, but can be spectacularly big beasts. No wonder, they get all the scraps that don’t sell. Lucky them, lucky me!
After our dusty trip to Parque Nacional Tres Cruces we added two relaxing days on the beach, some 70 km North-West of Copiapo. Outside the main tourist season the place was totally deserted and there was no problem finding accommodation. We chose Cabañas Paraiso, 6 or 7 little cozy cabins built directly onto a wide and 7 km long beautiful beach. The cabins are run by an elderly nice couple who lives right next to the cabins. We were welcomed with a few cool beers from their private fridge and asked to get them some in return on our next errand trip to Caldera (the next larger village with a supermarket), which we gladly did. The cabins are well-kept and we highly recommend them should you go there!
At the northern end of the beach is the tiny village of Bahia Inglesa, which consists of a short string of restaurants and bars along the beach, and tourist accommodations, but nothing else. You can’t even buy bread or water there, for that you’d have to go to Caldera. The place was rather empty, but all food places opened in the evening. We went for ‘El Plateao’ near the middle of the beach front, where the food was absolutely excellent. I had a Thai Curry made by a cook from Ecuador that was definitely amongst the best I ever ate. And that means quite something in Chile, where even in Santiago with uncountable good restaurants really exotic food places are scarce.
The next day we went to visit the “Santuario de la Naturaleza Granito Orbicular” a bit North of Caldera, which was supposed to display “fantastic black granite rock formations making geologists go crazy”. We were quite disappointed. The place was rather large, there were no signs as of what to expect or look for, lots of sand and grey or black common rocks. Besides, it stank like dead fish. We walked around a bit for 20 minutes and then turned around shrugging our shoulders, as obviously there was nothing special to see, so why do people make such a fuss about it!
Later on, searching some more information about those boring rocks, we found out they were actually quite spectacular had we gone only a bit closer! See this one here, or google for ‘orbicular granite’ to see and learn more about it. Apparently, the stuff forms in magma chambers during slow cool down processes. Near Caldera is the only place in South America where these rocks can be found, scattered across a few dozen square meters, and there are only a handful more world-wide, like in South Africa, New Zealand, or Finland and Sweden. So, next time we are back we are going to have a closer look!