Yesterday, I drove six hours to the Hurtado Valley, dragging a pile of work to do in the downtime of what I hoped would be a busy weekend of observing. I was stunned on the drive as, in places, it reminded me of Ireland, with strange plants. The hills were green with fresh grass – winter just started, recall – and, as Ruta 5 comes down to the sea, there were majestic sea vistas on my left with green hills rolling as far as the eye could see to the right.
It was beautiful. And, vaguely, I was discomfited by it.
It turns out that this is the rainy season here and they are getting a lot of it. On the one hand, the rain ends a long drought as the last few rainy seasons have been dry. On the other, massive rains (over 200cm in one 48 hour period) cause their own sort of trouble. Flooding, power lines down with felled trees, washed out roads. All of this and more. Fortunately, it’s dry now but it is still cloudy. It’s cloudy up and down the Andes from a few hundred miles north of the valley to far in the south of Chile.
I had a choice when planning my last new moon weekend journey to return to San Pedro or back to Hacienda Los Andes. The Hacienda is much closer, I could drive, which means more gear and no need to stock up upon arrival or check things through the airport. The cash for the flight and taxi could be put toward telescope rental. It seemed a no-brainer.
As I write, it’s clear in San Pedro.
There is a chance at some clear patches tonight but there won’t be a perfectly clear sky while I’m here and I’ll likely head back early. As a wise man once said, “I can’t complain but sometimes I still do.” In my time in South America, I have planned five astronomy trips covering 13 nights. I’ve observed for several hours on 9 of them and pulled three all-nighters. This assumes the most pessimistic view of my current trip, which still has an outside shot at adding a couple of hours. I’ve also added three “bonus” nights of unplanned observing and imaging that came about, more or less, spontaneously. That’s a far better record than I normally achieve in North Carolina. It’s been enough that there is a fair patch of southern sky that I’m now familiar with.
Still, it’s tough not to be pretty disappointed at the moment. Of all my astronomy doings, and, perhaps, all my South American activity, my first weekend at the Hacienda is at the top of the list. It’s a beautiful place with a great set up for astronomy. On my first trip, the place was full of astronomers and staff and it had a great energy. Now, I am the only guest, which is weird in itself. I have someone putting out breakfast for me and cooking dinner in the evening. I hope they’re not maintaining the fire just for me. I also hope they continue to maintain it.
Anyway, I will now set about writing exams and finishing up some other work that needs doing. I’ll let you know if it clears off. If you’re pondering a journey in amateur astronomy, know that there sometimes are clouds.