Friday, June 5, 2015

Bulletins From BA #43

Bulletins From BA #43
05 junio 2015

Photo Update Alert:
  “Valparaiso y Más”

Extended Posting Alert

¡Hola! there… Rodger French here.

Those of us who have had the dubious privilege of military service are familiar with the appellation for one whose period of enlistment is almost up. S/he is a “short timer,” ergo “short.” At this writing, A.J. and I have 14 days and a WU (Wake-Up) before we leave Buenos Aires. Our apartment is littered with boxes, bags, and bubble wrap, with packout scheduled for next week. We are very short.

But, ever intrepid, we did manage to get in a final South American jaunt, this time to Chile. It was Anne’s last official business trip, onto which we cobbled a few extra days for tourist activities.

Valparaiso - Located in the north, Valpo is Chile’s largest port and was, until the advent of the Panama Canal, one of the busiest harbours in the world. The waterfront is still very active. In addition to humongous cargo ships, the Chilean Navy is headquartered there, as is Cuerpo de Voluntarios de los Botes Salvavidas, the volunteer coast guard. Like the National Sea Rescue Institute in South Africa, these folks donate their service to monitor thousands of kilometers of coastline. We wandered into their HQ and were immediately given the grand tour. I love port cities.

[Naval Serendipity Sidebar - Also in port, the Esmeralda (BE-43), a four-masted schooner and naval training ship. We first encountered her several years ago in Cape Town; a beautiful vessel, regrettably fouled by use as a floating torture chamber in the 1970s.]

In addition to being Chile’s major port, Valparaiso is a tourist mecca, with oodles of interesting shops and good restaurants and a decidedly artistic/bohemian/hippie vibe. Also, Valpo is Very. Steep. So steep that people rely on the numerous and affordable funiculars to manage the steepitude. One of these, the Ascensor Artillería, clambers up to the Museo Maritimo Nacional, where we whiled away a couple of hours basking in the historic greatness of the Armada de Chile, which apparently spent most of its history squabbling with Bolivia and Peru about access to the Pacific Ocean.

[Naval Serendipity Sidebar II - The coolest thing in the Museo was a display of one of the vehicles, designed and built by naval engineers, used in the rescue of “Los 33,” the men stranded underground in the 2010 Copiapó mining accident. It looks rather like a rocket.]

Santiago - We had less than 24 hours in the Chilean capital, so while A.J. did her bidness, I strolled around downtown, passing some time contemplating La Moneda, the palace that houses the offices of the president and site of the 1973 CIA-fomented coup that resulted in the overthrow of Salvador Allende and the systematic torture and deaths of thousands. Situated on a broad empty plaza with a shitload of security, it is an unsettling place.

[Related Rant Sidebar - It may well be that no one gives a damn anymore, but the fact that Henry Kissinger, aka “The Most Overrated Man in the World,” has yet to be frog-marched to The Hague for his role in bringing the iniquitous Pinochet regime to power in 1973 remains an injustice in the first degree.]

Nonetheless, there was joy to be had in Santiago, specifically lunch at Confiteria Torres, an old-school (1879) café, where I savored a President Barros Luco sandwich. Sort of like a Philly cheesesteak, only with real cheese. Esplendído.

La Serena - In Santiago, we hooked up with Marco, the local IRC Director, and our excellent travelling companion for the rest of the journey. We flew north to La Serena, which boasts a bunch of universities, dozens of churches, and no fewer than 12 beaches. It is situated adjacent to the town of Coquimbo and Anne gave presentations in both locales.

In my indispensible capacity as wingman, I basically just hung out, although I did make friends with a professor of mathematics who is also an avid musician. We had quite a nice discussion (¡En español!) about the relationship between la música y las matemáticas, including the intricacies of the accordion, specifically the Stradella 120-bass system. Music. Geek. Bliss.

Speaking of science, the area upland from La Serena, La Ruta del las Estrellas, is home to numerous seriously large telescopes. Chile, like Namibia, has some of the clearest skies in the world and astronomical tourism is thriving. For us, the closest and most accessible (and really, you can’t just wander in and take a peek) was the Mamalluca Observatory.

Developed specifically for touristas, Mamalluca houses a 16-inch optical telescope. Volunteer amateur astronomers, who are very knowledgeable, conduct tours in both español and Inglés. The English-speaking tours groups are much smaller, with more quality time to actually, you know, peer.

The moon was 70% full, so we couldn’t see all the Milky Way and other individual galaxies. But we did manage excellent views of Jupiter, Saturn (¡Sí!), and assorted star clusters and constellations, including my favorite, the Southern Cross. (Fun Fact: The star at the base of the Cross? Binary.) Now, if only they had a gift shop.

On our final day in Chile, having several hours before our flight, we repaired to the beach, where we happened upon a wake being held in honor of a recently deceased local fisherman. (It being a dignified sendoff, they naturally had an accordion player on hand.) Then, after lunch at one of the many excellent seaside restaurants, we taxied to the airport, bid our despedidas (farewells), y volvimos a Buenos Aires.

Where both the days, and we, grow shorter by the minute.



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