January 15, 2019

Greetings fellow Earthlings. I’m in Vicuña, northern Chile, a smallish town set in the bottom of a valley in the foothills of the Andes about 40 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean. This area is famous for three things: Pisco grapes are grown here, everywhere that there is ground to till. They are made into a brandy that is unique and loved around the world. It’s a miracle that they grow because it barely rains here and, as you’ll see in the photos, even the brush on the steep mountain sides looks dead. Number two: the road into the Andes is known as the ‘Route of the Stars” because the very dark skies and almost always clear nights and a unique combination of humidity and low particle amount in the air provide the best viewing of our universe for astronomers, anywhere on earth. I joined a tour group (nine French friends) last night and rode to an observatory high in the Andes where we viewed the half moon, several nebulas, a dying star, a pending supernova that will fill the night sky with light brighter than the full moon for a few weeks when it explodes. This could happen at any time and astronomers are keeping a constant ‘eye’ on it. Also the megellanic clouds – galaxies that look literally like clouds in the sky, unbelievable, the southern cross, and Alpha Centauri, the closest star to earth (4 plus light years). All of these objects (except for the moon, of course) are only visible from the Southern Hemisphere. When the supernova explodes it will be seen from the entire galaxy, just in case you were planning an interstellar journey and were worried about missing it. The French group had a French astronomer – interpreter and I had an English speaking astronomer to myself and I asked a zillion questions. We were up there until after midnight and this changed my life, my universe is a hundred million light years bigger!Number three, Gabriella Mistral was born in the small town of Montegrande, just up the road from Vicuña. She was the first Latin poet to win the Nobel prize in literature and traveled the world as an ambassador for children’s education and women’s rights from 1914 to 1957. I’ve been a big fan of her poetry for years! She spent several years in Mexico working on children’s educational system and is super loved there by many. I’m headed to Monte Grande today, deep in a mountain valley. I was in a town called Pisco Elqui yesterday (photos), I’ll let the pictures do the talking, it was crazy beautiful. The people here are kind and hard working and family life is amazing, children are on summer break, the plaza in every town filled with their musical laughter. I’ve walked many miles and I get lonely but I accept this and the land and the people seem to absorb my loneliness and I walk on.

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