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Tag : Chile

03 Jul 2019

Stunned by the total solar eclipse

I saw my first total solar eclipse while in the Oregon desert in 2017 and decided right then that I would an eclipse chaser. I started planning for the next one as soon as I got home. Well, it was yesterday and pretty much all I can do is say WOW!

I was concerned that maybe the first eclipse would be the best and seeing another would be a let down. It sure wasn’t. The impact of seeing the moon move in front of and totally block the sun isn’t something I can do justice in words or pictures. 

This time I went to the desert of Chile, which is the ground zero for astronomy in South America. I hadn’t been to this part of Chile before and I didn’t have a local guide, which added to the adventure. I was lucky to find a cool cabin for our group to stay Monday night and during the eclipse, so logistics couldn’t have been better. (See blog post)

So yesterday was all about making sure my workshop group was ready. I had made solar filters for each of their cameras along with my own. Each person in the group shot with two cameras, I was using three. I had one with a 70-200mm and a 2X teleconverter giving me a 400mm lens. This one was mounted on a star tracker so it would follow the sun as it moved across the sky. Once totality began, I set it to shoot non-stop during the entire 2.5 minutes. I had another camera with another 70-200mm lens ready to shoot the landscape during totality. Since we knew where the sun would be during totality I set it in a fixed position on a tripod and manually fired it during totality.

My third camera had a 400mm lens with a 1.4X teleconverter giving me a 560mm lens. This was my main camera and I manually tracked the sun during the eclipse and shot all the phases. During the partial phases of the eclipse you have to use a special filter to keep the sun from burning out the camera’s sensor. The same for your eyes. But during totality the filters come off. I had my laptop running an eclipse countdown program that showed when each phase was happening, which is important to know.

Just like in Oregon, the partial phase of the eclipse is cool but not overly compelling. For this eclipse it was an hour and 16 minutes from the start until totality began. People watching are excited for the first few minutes as the black disc of the moon slides over the sun. They people tend to stop looking much and wander around. There were about 40 people in out little compound, all of them family or friends of the owners. For all of them it was their first eclipse. At one point I went over and showed a 10-year-old boy how to hold his hands so the shadow from the partial eclipse would make a very fun design on the ground. He liked it for a few minutes. But I knew the best was yet to come.

About ten minutes before totality things really start to change. We were out in a mountain desert that didn’t have many trees or wildlife. July is winter in Chile but we were so far north that the temperature was in the upper 60’s. As the totality became more imminent the air quickly cooled and suddenly birds started fluttering around. I hadn’t seen any all day but now they were appearing from nowhere. 

One of my favorite things of totality is the light. Being a photographer I appreciate light daily and love sunrise and sunset for the quality of light then. Right before totality the light gets this amazing color. It is dim but it isn’t the same warm color like a sunset. It is incredibly unique and all I could do was smile and spin around looking at the surrounding mountains.  It all happens so fast and lasts such a short time that it is hard to take it all in.

Then totality happens.

My one mistake was having the camera with the tracker too far away from me and I had to run over to it to take off the filter. There are two cool shots to get at the edges of totality. The first is called Bailey’s Beads which looks like little beads at the edge of the sun. The other is Diamond Ring, which is a very short moment when the edge of the sun is just sticking out from behind the moon creating a cool glow. At the start of the eclipse I missed both of them running from camera to camera. But I got them as totality ended!

I had told the other photographers in my group that I was there to help them get the best photos they could but during the 2.5 minutes of totality they were on their own. If there was a problem at that point it wasn’t going to be something I could fix so they should just not worry about the camera and take in the eclipse itself. I also told them to plan on not making pictures during at least half of totality so they feel what was going on around them.

As totality began I looked and the other photographers looked like they were doing ok. I realized there was suddenly a lot of noise. People in the compound and other camps down the mountain were yelling wildly. Their exuberation was contagious and then cheers of “Chile, Chile, Chile” broke out. It was a great scene. I was having a hard time monitoring the cameras and taking it all in.

I wish I could describe in words or pictures the feeling I get during totality. Many times during the planning and worrying about logistics I wondered if it really was worth all that time and effort just to see something for 2.5 minutes. There is no doubt it is worth it. After totality ended and I got the camera filters back on for the rest of the eclipse I just stood out in the Chilean mountain desert and looked around thinking how absolutely fortunate I am. I got quite emotional. This was special. Incredibly special. Amazingly special. 

The next total solar eclipse is in southern Chile and Argentina in Dec. 2020. I scouted the area last year and I can’t imagine missing it.

01 Jul 2019

The perfect place for eclipse viewing


Running around Chile without speaking much Spanish is a bit intimidating but what a great adventure!

This is the first time I’ve done a workshop and hadn’t either been to the location or worked with something who knew the area. I billed the workshop as an exploratory adventure and so far it has been fairly free anxiety or stress. I did a ton of research before going so I had a good idea where the best viewing locations would be but not exact places. I’m on a Facebook group of hard core eclipse chasers and they helped with pre-arrival scouting and logistics. The hardest part was finding hotel rooms around La Serena, they were sold out early but I found accommodations through AirBnB. All I could get was a three bedroom so I only brought three other people with me, Burt and Evelyn, an American couple living in Ecuador and Jane from New York City.

Sunday I took the group an hour east of La Serena to the Eliqui Valley and the town of Vicuña, near several international observatories. It is one of the darkest places in South America and is well known among people who care about that sort of thing. I knew I wouldn’t be able to get into the big observatories but I had read about a smaller one run by volunteers. We drove right up to it, ok, we had to kinda open the gate, but there weren’t many people around. We tried talking to a guy wandering around but he wasn’t a whole lot of help. A woman came over and said she heard English being spoken. She was from Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts and working with other universities around the world to film and study the sun during the eclipse. She told me what experiments they were doing but it was way too detailed for my brain to handle. I told what we were up to and while obviously not impressed, she asked if I had heard of Fred Espenak. Yea, he is the king of eclipse photography. She said his group was using one of the three buildings on the site. If Fred is here, then this is the place to be. A while later the observatory’s head guy arrived and told us the place would be full for the eclipse and we couldn’t be here. Drat.

As we were leaving there was a small camp next to the observatory and they had a little sign selling food. There were several small buildings in the complex and it looked like there might be room for our group to hang out on eclipse day. I had driven past it a little bit but we thought it might be a good idea to see if we could come back for the eclipse. I pulled the van into a dusty area near a tent and a couple of very friendly young people in their 20’s came over. They spoke great English, which makes things so much easier. We asked them what the deal was and the guy said they had two cabins for rent. How interesting! He gave us a tour of a newly constructed cabin and it was barely large enough to hold our group. It had two bedrooms and futon in a small common area. I was thinking the others could have the bedrooms and I’d take the futon.

One of my main concerns about any location was going to be traffic from La Serena. For months the government issued warnings about how bad the traffic would be since there was only a two-lane road out to Vicuña and the Elqui Valley and that they would be making much of it a one way road before and after the eclipse to handle all the traffic.

If we could spend Monday night on location and not have to fight traffic in the morning, I’d have no stress at all. The weather forecast was perfect and there wasn’t a better place to view the eclipse. I asked how much for the little three room cabin and he said $900 for a night. Ouch! I let him know that was way too much and I offered $200, pointing out that it was only two days away and $200 was better than nothing. His whole family lived there and he went to talk with his mother and aunt, the “chef” at the “restaurant.” He came back and said $300, telling us how good the food and wine was. Toss in two bottles of wine and we’d do it. We shook hands, I gave him a deposit and I was thrilled to be in such a great spot. It would also allow us to be out in a dark place for the night to shoot the Milky Way and stars. As we were walking out, workers were coming out of the second cabin, they had just completed both of them and we were their first guests.

We came back Monday afternoon in time to see exactly where the sun would be during the eclipse. Totality was at 4:42 p.m. so the sun would be pretty low on the horizon. I had found several maps online that showed where the shadows would fall at that time of day, which wasn’t a place I wanted to be. Interestingly the government had set up 11 official observation locations that had restroom facilities and most of them would be in shadow during totality, which was going to disappoint a lot of people. 

Our compound was near the top of the mountain and it was a windy dirt road to get there. I had noticed there weren’t any utility lines to be seen and asked about the electricity. The camp ran on a generator that they turned off at midnight. Since we wanted to be out photographing stars, I was thrilled the place would be dark. They did have great cell phone service, so all was wonderful in the world!

The brightest and most colorful part of the Milky Way rose above the mountains around 8:00 p.m. so we made sure we were out there. Several camps had sprung up in fields below us and they had generators too. And they created a lot of light. I was hoping for legendary darkness but we could see town down in the valley and light from the other camps. It didn’t bother the Milky Way though, it glowed brightly in the sky. I wanted a photo of the complete Milky Way arch, which is hard to photograph in the Northeastern U.S. I have cell phone apps that show stars’ locations and knew the shot I really wanted was going to be between 3:00 and 4:00 a.m. It was a perfectly clear night and I have never seen so many stars.

I used a flashlight to illuminate our cabin as a foreground and made some fun shots. I had also wanted to do some star trails shots. In the old days you left your camera’s shutter open for a couple of hours and hoped the film could handle it, which usually wasn’t the case. Now with digital it is a matter of making a bunch of photos and putting them together in the computer. If you aim the camera at the North Pole or in Chile, the South Pole, the stars rotate around it. Yes, it is actually the earth’s rotation that causes the starts to move. Earlier in the evening I aimed a camera at a mountain to the east and let it shoot for a couple of hours. I did 30 second exposures with a gap of 10 seconds between shots to give the camera time to process. You get a weird effect shooting to the east rather than the pole. Before I went to bed for a few hours I set up another camera behind the cabin aiming south and let it run all night. I set an alarm to get up at sunrise to fetch the camera before somebody else saw it and it was still firing away.

It was the perfect lead up to a total solar eclipse.

29 Jun 2019

From street art to Milky Way

This Chile adventure keeps getting better. Today we made the journey along the coast from Valparaiso to La Serena. It is more than a five hour drive on the Pan American Highway, I thought about flying but seeing the country from the ground seemed more fun. We didn’t stop a lot, I wanted to get to La Serena, get settled in and go out do some night photography.

We stopped at a little fishing village that was pretty fun. Chile is a modern country, you won’t find carts pulled by mules through dusty villages. Cell phone coverage is better than in the U.S. and although there is some poverty, Chile is one the most affluent in South America. This town had a marina and nice park along the ocean. There was a helipad with horses roaming around it. They weren’t really fenced in, they just kinda stayed along the ocean. A couple of them wandered over into some cactus and found something to eat. They were pretty good at not getting their noses pricked.

After settling into our apartment we headed out to a lighthouse I had found. It was on a beautiful beach lined with hotels and restaurants. The lighthouse is being renovated so it made for tough photography but the sunset was spectacular and there were plenty of people on the beach even though it is winter in Chile, although the temperature was in the upper 60’s.

We had dinner near the beach then went into the countryside to find a dark area to shoot the Milky Way. This area is one of the darkest places on earth but La Serena is a city of 200,000 and the area has 400,000 and getting away from the light pollution isn’t easy. I took a dirt road east of the city for about 30 minutes. I had done some research on Google maps and found an intersection with another dirt road that looked interesting. Even that far away from the city there was plenty of light on the horizon but it was dark enough. There happened to be an old stuffed chair where I pulled off the road. It was a perfect place to sit and do some stargazing but we weren’t going to touch the old thing. It did make for a great foreground under the Milky Way.

28 Jun 2019

The capital of street art

This is the first official day of a photo adventure in Chile as we went from Santiago to the artsy town of Valparaiso. I had read plenty about Valparaiso and saw many photos but I wasn’t prepared for what was there. Most of the old part of the city is painted with murals by amazingly talented artists. Walking from our hotel, we took a funicular up a steep hill and everywhere we looked was street art. It looked like much of it was authorized but there was a good deal that looked like it was done when there wasn’t anyone official looking. 

There is also plenty of graffiti and tagging but it seemed like there a respect of most murals and they didn’t get tagged. We walked and photographed for several hours but didn’t see nearly all of it. For blocks and blocks every inch of wall had something painted on it. There were some that were political or social in nature but much of it was beautiful art that could be hung in a gallery if it was painted on canvas. Several places long sets of steps had been painted on the front of each step so when you were at the bottom you could look back and see the mural.

There was so much art that the novelty wore off but the amazement didn’t.

I could spend days here.

27 Jun 2019

In Chile for another photo adventure

I’ve been looking forward to this trip for a long time, almost two years. I’m in Chile leading a workshop that will climax in photographing the total solar eclipse on Tuesday. We are meeting today in Santiago, going to the cool town of Valparaiso tomorrow and then driving up the coast to our base in La Serena for the eclipse.

I had flown through Santiago when I came to Chile in December to scout next year’s eclipse in the southern part of the country but this one is in the north and I haven’t been there. It will be a true adventure.

My plane arrived around 7:00 a.m. and I met one of the participants, Jane from New York, at the airport. We got the rental van, checked in to the hotel and I took a nap. Overnight flights are tough and even though I slept a good deal I wanted to make sure I didn’t start the trip sleep deprived. Jane joined me a little after noon and we went into Santiago. I had done research on places to go but it always hard. I read about a park on a mountain overlooking the city. It was cool but didn’t make for great photos. On the way down there was a Japanese garden that looked interesting, so we stopped. It was pretty but it is winter in Chile so the plants were very vibrant.

We went over to a neighborhood where there is a lot of street art. There happened to be a street market but it was shutting down by the time we got there. There were a series of multi-story apartment buildings with windowless walls on the end facing the street. A local art museum paid artists to paint murals on the walls and they were spectacular. It was a great place to make some fun photos. The locals were extremely friendly, many hamming for photos when they saw our cameras. It was a great experience.

We then went to the heart of old Santiago to a tourist area around a large open square surrounded by a cathedral and old government buildings. Street parking is different in Chile. Rather than have meters they have people come around as you park on the street and print out a ticket. When you leave you pay the street attendant. I had experienced it once in December but didn’t quite remember that was the way it is done. The attendant didn’t speak much English and I didn’t pay enough attention in my high school Spanish class to really get by. I finally understood what was going on and we were off to see the sights.

There is a large street closed off to traffic and lined with vendors. A large number of the vendors were in wheel chairs, to the extent that both Jane and I wondered if it was a marketing tool more than a necessity. I wanted to stick around long enough to see if they walked away when they were done selling. A couple were obviously in need of the chair.

We were there as the sun went down and the sky took on some wonderful colors. New, modern buildings had sprung up next to the old ones and made for a striking contrast. After the sun went down the lights came on and the colorful sky made for some nice photos. We were meeting the other participants back at the hotel for dinner and it was a great start to a new photographic adventure. 

10 Dec 2018

Looking forward to returning to southern Chile and the solar eclipse

Now that I am back home and had a chance to catch my breath and reflect on my quick southern Chile adventure, it seems unreal that how far away

I went to the lake district of southern Chile to scout photographic locations for a workshop I’m leading in December of 2020. Several years ago a friend told me about this area, her husband is from there and they had a house in Pucon. She told of the beautiful lakes in the edge of the Andes mountains and how great the climate is. Her husband Fito still visits family regularly and will be my guide in 2020, it will be great having a native along side, I hope to be able to communicate better in Spanish but I have a long way to go. Fito will solve that problem and many others I’m sure. The reason I’m holding a photography workshop there in December of 2020 is that is dead center of the path of the total solar eclipse. After seeing my first total eclipse last year I decided to see as many as I can in the future, I can’t put into word, or pictures, why, but believe me that experiencing a total eclipse is something special. I’m going to the northern part of Chile for another eclipse this July, it will be a totally different experience than this area since that is in the desert and during their winter months.

My friend Bob Wagner was kind enough to join me on this scouting adventure, I don’t think he knew what he was getting into, this wasn’t a normal vacation. There is always a lot of driving when scouting because I want to see as many sites as possible so I know if they make good photo locations. That means going to places a person might not normally go, which is good and bad. I’m sure there were times when he wanted to stay in a place longer to make more photos but I needed to get one decent shot and seek out another location. Several places we went weren’t what we hoped for but the drive was alway lovely. Bob is a good travel companion and it was great having him along. 

This part of Chile didn’t disappoint, the scenery is stunning. The people were friendly and even though there wasn’t a lot of English spoken, they tried their best to communicate with me. They are proud of their area and it will be fun bringing more people to their country. I found a great hotel for us to stay at right on the edge of the large Lake Villarrica with a great view of the iconic snow capped volcano. The hotel is dead center of the eclipse’s path, we can even photograph it from the hotel’s deck but we’ll probably walk down to the beach. It will be a great way to end a week long workshop in a stunning place.

Below are some photos from my adventure that didn’t last nearly long enough. It will be fun returning in two years. I hope you can join me, I’ll have details posted in early January.

Click on a photo to see a larger version then you can scroll through the images.

09 Dec 2018

Taking in southern Chile’s coast

Today I drove from southern Chile’s lake region over to the Pacific coast. I had seen some pretty cool photo of the unique coastline and thought it might be a good day trip during my workshop here in 2020. Where I wanted to go was a little over two hours from Pucon and the drive was pretty easy. The land was fairly flat and this is cattle country. We had steak for dinner one night in Pucon and it was great and this was where it came from. 

Bob’s research turned up a little island of Maiquillahue that looked pretty cool and we made that our destination. We pulled into a little fishing village with a small harbor filled with boats. These obviously weren’t for recreation, they were working boats but there were colorfully painted. One boat had a couple of men working on their nets but the rest were just floating. The road went right along the ocean and just across the street were 25-30 picnic tables with small roofs over each one. It being about noon on Sunday they were filled with families picnic, laughing and some kids were kicking around a soccer ball on the not too level ground. I wished my Spanish was good enough to talk with them and make some pictures but I didn’t want to intrude. 

Interestingly, the town’s name is Mississippi. I have to do some research and see what that is all about and I saw a couple of signs that didn’t have enough s’s and p’s but most of them did.

The beach was gravel and stones and there was one little boy playing around several ropes tied to boats. He was cute and didn’t pay any attention to me with my large tripod, the boats were much more interesting. His mother was back up by the road in a stand selling fresh fish and vegetables. Several woman were working cleaning fish and cutting the veggies, I guess they didn’t get Sunday as a rest day.

We could see the island from the beach and it was much small than we thought. The map showed a road that would up a mountain and back down to another beach near the island so of course I had to take it. It quickly turned to dirt and we started climbing. There were several vantage points to look back down on the Mississippi beach. We got to the top of mountain and started heading back down. Google Maps said it was only 1/4 mile down and we had driven several miles up some pretty steep inclines. I knew this would be pretty steep but what the hell. As we were driving down the very steep dirt road I had flashbacks to the rental car’s tires spinning in the dirt a couple of days ago. There wasn’t any turning back now and when we got to the bottom there were a couple of four wheel drive SUVs and a boat. We had thought we could go out on the island but there wasn’t any way. It didn’t have any beaches we could see, only rocky ledges. We shot some pictures but it wasn’t anything great. I figured I better try getting the rental car out of there while there were still a couple of vehicles that could help. The dirt was tightly packed and the little Peugeot climbed right up. We got to a sharp turn and I could see the gravel was loose there from other vehicles spinning their wheels. I told Bob to hang on and got as much speed up as I could. The front wheels spun a couple of times but we had enough traction to make it out.

We went farther north along to the coast toward some other places we had scouted. We stopped at a couple of scenic overlooks that were pretty nice. We were getting pretty hungry and fine eating establishments weren’t plentiful. As we were driving along a nice looking restaurant popped up. It didn’t seem to be near anything but looked nice from the outside. We went in and it was empty, but it was around 3 p.m. and we were famished. The sweet young woman gave us a nice Hola! and we took a seat. Once again she spoke no English, which is what I expected. The menu was on the wall and I could read enough to know a little what they had. I thought salmon would be good since I had seen some fresh back at the little roadside stand. The waitress starting talking fast, smiled when we didn’t understand each other and asked us several questions which I always answered Si! I asked Bob if he would like some empanadas, so I ordered some, which thought were salmon. She asked a few more questions and it seemed like our order was complete. In a while she brought out a large plate of empanadas, which didn’t seem like salmon but were pretty good. Bob and I thought a meal of empanadas wasn’t bad and as we nearly finished the waitress brought out a large salad. Ok, that’s good. We started into the salad and then came plates with large portions of salmon and french fries for each us. I guess I did order salmon after all! Now we were getting stuffed and then came the dessert. It turns out the waitress upsold me on a five course meal! But it was good and only cost about $20 for the whole thing.

We went to the coast where there was rocky ledges and black sand. Some men were fishing on the rocks and kids were playing in the surf. It was a lovely scene and we made pictures there for a while. As we were leaving I saw a lone tree that was wind blown along the beach. We stopped and made some photos and I could see more unique trees in the distance near the water. The map showed a road being there and I put the rental car through a little more than I would my own car. It was a long day and time to head back to Pucon. 

08 Dec 2018

Exploring a thermal spring in southern Chile

After leaving the large lake today I went to one of southern Chile’s more popular attractions, a thermal bath. Since this area sits on an active volcano, there are many hot springs and baths around. Termas Geometricas is one of the more popular ones and there are plenty of tours that go there. That usually keeps me away, I try to avoid the crowds but the photos I saw of this place were pretty unique. Getting there required another long drive over dusty dirt roads that wound through the mountains and were only one lane at times. Once my Google map said I was there it was still another 15 minutes of kicking up dust, thankfully there were signs.

It was fairly late in the afternoon when we arrived, there were a couple of tour buses in the parking lot and quite a few cars. More people were leaving than arriving so Bob and I went to the entrance booth where I hoped to talk them into letting us go photograph the area without paying. Once again the young woman spoke less English than I do Spanish but I was good enough to be able to say that we only wanted to take pictures. It was a nice try but we needed to pay, so we kicked over the $30. An interesting thing in Chile is they use the $ sign for pesos and one American dollar equals about 650 Chilean pesos. I had to look that up when I hit the ground at the Santiago airport because I was buying a sandwich and the sign said it was $3,000. That must be a good sandwich.

Anyway, once we paid our fee the woman gave each a big thick towel and pointed up the boardwalk. We didn’t bring our bathing suits and we both wished we had. The boardwalk is painted red and runs along a stream up a narrow canyon. As you walk upstream they have built lovely pools that fill with hot water coming out of the mountain. There was a fairly large pool right away with several people in it and a nearby grass roof lodge building with a bar and snacks. Several more pools were right there but the boardwalk kept going and after taking a few shots I followed the boardwalk. Smaller pools were dotted along the boardwalk and it kept going. Each pool had a sign showing the water temperature. As I walked up the boardwalk and the canyon got narrower and more lush. Steam was rising from hot water and it made for a wonderful scene. I finally came to the end and it had to be almost 1/2 mile from where we started. The walk was worth it, there was a beautiful waterfall dropping out of the lush green growth. I checked to see if it was hot water but it wasn’t, it was pretty cold. The hot water was coming from springs in the mountain and being diverted into the pools. But the sight of the waterfalls, beautiful green plants and the red boardwalk was quite a sight. 

08 Dec 2018

I know why they call it Chile’s Lake Region

While eating dinner last night Bob and I were talking to our waiter, a young guy who spoke very good English, which isn’t overly common in southern Chile. He told us about a town to the south that is on a large lake and has yet to be spoiled by tourism. It has an unusual church and it was in the direction of the thermal spring we didn’t get to the other day. The road to Panguipulli was scenic, starting with a fairly flat drive through farmland and then we hit some hills and the pavement went to dirt. That was OK, that usually means more scenic and remote and it sure was this time again. We were on a narrow road high above a large lake. The day had started cloudy but the sun was breaking through and when we came across an overlook the light was great. Streaks of sunlight poured through the clouds lighting up green meadows, mountains and the lake. It was quite the scene and we made a ton of photos before driving on into Panguipulli. 

The town is right at the northern end of the very large Lake Panguipulli. A lone tree stood on the town’s beach but it didn’t look like a place where there was a lot of swimming. I didn’t dip my toe in the water but I’m guessing that since it was glacier fed it was pretty chilly. We then went into the main part of the town and saw the church. It, like much in this part of Chile, has a strong German influence in its design. It has two large steeples on the front and a smaller one on the back. The colors were tan, red and black, quite different from what I would expect in South America.

It looked like it could be in Bavaria and is in need of a good coat of paint. Like most of Chile, the town is modern. My research told me that I wouldn’t likely find donkeys pulling carts on dirt streets and that sure is the case. Cell phone signals were strong everywhere except the most remote areas and people take pride in their buildings and the streets are clean. Many homes aren’t fancy, they look like they are on a subsistence level but that is fine. We didn’t feel threatened anywhere we went.

On the map I saw a cemetery on a hill above the town and we drove up there. It was a large cemetery and full of well kept memorials to those who had passed. Many were decorated, there were lots of photos as part of the headstone and quite a few large structures to honor the dead. It was a lovely scene overlooking the town and the lake. I wandered to one corner and came across something I hadn’t seen before, a children’s section. The graves were small and many had little fences around them. There were at least 100 of them, some look like someone came every day. Others were rather neglected. It was a sobering sight.

We left town and drove south along Lake Panguipulli, which is 8.5 miles wide and 19 miles long. It is surrounded by the Andes Mountains and amazingly beautiful. There are several scenic pulloffs above the lake that give you a view out over the lake and can make for nice photos. At the end of the lake is the small village of Choshuenco, only 20 miles from the Argentina border. I considered driving over to Argentina since I’d never been there but this is a scouting trip and I don’t think I’d take the group there during the workshop, so I tried to stay focused on my mission.

There wasn’t much in Choshuenco but the beach on the lake was lovely. It wasn’t the prettiest or warmest of days so the beach was pretty much empty. As remote as this location is I don’t think it could ever be a packed beach. On the beach there is a wreckage of an old steam boat, it has been propped up so people can climb on it and there is a sign telling about the life of the ship. Of course the sign is in Spanish so I didn’t understand most of it.

Also on the beach is a lone tree, which always captures my attention. I don’t know why but I love to photograph a tree that separated from others. There was one on the other end of the lake on the beach at Panguipulli, but the light and clouds were better for this one. The green of the tree stood out from the lake’s water and surrounding mountains and I just like the way it all came together.

07 Dec 2018

Dust, waterfalls and lakes in southern Chile

The purpose of my trip to southern Chile is to scout the area and see what great locations I can bring clients to in 2020 when a total solar eclipse passes through the area. Well, I saw plenty today. I had done extensive research before coming and had a pretty good idea of what is here and where I should go each day. About 15 minutes into my planned course I saw this dirt road along a beautiful river, so of course I had to check it out. I wanted to head north of Pucon to some large lakes but we were suddenly heading south with no other roads around and I didn’t feel like back tracking. The road went for miles along the river offering occasional views of the volcano but mainly fenced properties. It seems that every property, even in town, is surrounded by a fence. They have some grand entrances and some of the fence posts are thicker than utility poles back home.

After driving for an hour on the dirt road we finally came to another road and I pulled out my Google map to see where we were. I had marked several waterfalls on the map and we were fairly close so we went that direction on more dusty, dirt roads. There was a sign to one I didn’t have marked and the picture on the sign looked pretty cool so we drove down another dirt road to check it out. We got down to what looked to be a parking area and several signs in Spanish and nothing in English. I could make out enough words to know that somebody wanted paid but there wasn’t anybody around and no other cars. A guy came out of a house up the hill and he broke into fast Spanish. I didn’t have much idea what he was saying and my cohort Bob didn’t have any clues. I finally figured out the waterfall was a 15 minute hike up a narrow trail and he wanted about $3 each. It turns out that most of the waterfalls around here are privately owned, or at least managed, and you have to pay to go look at them.

The hike was a little steep in places but not bad, even while carrying camera gear. When we could hear the falls I knew it was going to be worth $3. There were railings and steps down to an overlook that had a couple of viewing platforms with railings made from small tree branches. The falls was fairly large but the way the sun was hitting one side of the gorge it didn’t make for great photos but I was fairly happy with the shots I made.

We stopped at a couple of waterfalls I had marked on the map and they were the same, we were the only ones there and the person collecting money didn’t speak any English, but we made. The last one we went to was a huge falls and you hiked to the base of it. The wind was blowing all the mist from the falls right where you wanted to be to make pictures and I went back to the car to get my raincoat so I wouldn’t be drenched after going to the end of a boardwalk. The sun was shining bright from right above the falls and with the heavy mist it wasn’t possible to make a shot. On a cloudy day with the wind in the other direction it will be a great photo, but not today.

Last night while watching the sun go down I talked with a guy from Argentina who told me there was a big road race the next few days with 3,000 runners. He said they were running up toward the volcano. I knew I didn’t want to get caught up in that mess and my plan to head north fit in perfectly. My detour to the south was a different story. On my map I had located a thermal pool I wanted to see and we headed that direction right into the race. We didn’t see 3,000 runners but we were driving on a very dusty road and kicking dirt in their faces. I went as slow as I could and eventually there was a fork in the road and I went the direction that they weren’t coming from. The bad part was I didn’t know exactly where it went. It headed deep into the Villarrica National Park and the dirt road became a path that wasn’t much wider than the small rental car. At one point I was spinning the wheels in loose rocks getting up a hill. I had to back down and take a second running start at it, made it up around a corner and the road was basically two ruts in the dirt. That was far enough. I turned around and went back and kick up more dust in runners faces. 

I got back to civilization and went toward the large lake that I originally planned on visiting today. I had read about a beautiful white sand beach on one side of the lake. Like a lot of lakes back home, access wasn’t easy. To get to the beach I drove through a narrow residential area that had no parking. There was an access path to the beach between houses and I found a little spot to stick the rental car. It was a beautiful, sunny days, this is summer after all in Chile and the temperature was in the mid 80’s with a nice breeze and no humidity. There were quite a few people on the beach but it was expansive. It turns out it to be a place that would be great to have a picnic, relax and enjoy the scenery but wasn’t a tremendous photo location. I made some shot but didn’t stay very long. I drove to a little town that has what looks to be the only other beach on the massive lake but this beach wasn’t nice sand and you could drive right up to the water. Fun but not what I hoped for photography wise.

I took the scenic route back to Pucon to stop at a set of three waterfalls I had read about. Again, I had to drive a dirt road that wound between a house and their back. There were some pylons in the road and as I approached a very old lady came out to collect our fee. She wasn’t overly friendly but pointed me towards the falls. The first one was next to the parking around and again it wasn’t the right time of day to be there. There was a sign pointing up the hill to the second and third falls. I hiked up the path a ways and then got into the switch backs and noticed my heart rate has accelerated. This was a pretty good climb! As I puffed up the trail there were some tremendous views of the valley and the volcano in the distance. Well worth the hike. The second waterfalls had a couple of viewing areas with railings but you couldn’t get a clear shot of the falls, so I didn’t even shoot any pictures. I decided to take my chances and check out the third falls, hoping it wouldn’t be as far as the second one. It wasn’t too far but it was very cool. It wasn’t a large waterfalls but the scene couldn’t be nicer. The only sound you could hear was the water and everything was green. It would be a great place to go and just ponder. 

06 Dec 2018

Venturing to the lake area of southern Chile

After my experience photographing 2016’s total solar eclipse in Oregon, I decided I was an eclipse chaser and made a personal pledge to see as many total eclipses as I could. Since the experience was so cool I want to share it with others so I came to Chile today to scout locations for the eclipse coming through here in 2020. This is the beautiful lake region of southern Chile, a long way from home. It took 24 hours, three flights and a long drive get to the resort town of Pucon but boy is it worth it.

Pucon sits next to one of the five most active volcanoes in the world, Villarrica, and on a large lake of the same name. This is where many people from South America and around the world come to enjoy pure nature at its finest. This is a mecca for outdoor adventure activity, the ultimate being hiking up the volcano and looking inside. I won’t be doing that, it is quite the hike and even though it is summer here, plenty of snow caps the mountain. It doesn’t really take that long to do the hike but everything I read said you better be in pretty good shape. I’m thinking that being in shape ten years ago doesn’t count.

I came with my friend Bob Wagner who is excited to make some photos of this part of the world. Our final flight landed in Temuco, about a 90-minute drive from Pucon. Before getting to Pucon you drive through the town of Villarrica, which is also on the lake and has a magnificent view of the volcano. We went to our hotel in Pucon and immediately came right back to Villarrica for a lovely dinner along the lake and photographed the volcano and lake as the sun set. The light was magical, especially after sunset when amazing colors filled the sky and lit up the water.

We did plenty of shooting, made the drive back around the lake to Pucon and after editing some photos, I’m ready for a good night’s sleep.