Coquimbo, Chile


Stop 13

Chile here we come….rockin and rollin all the way… or as they say onboard “motion from the ocean.” We have had some pretty rough seas, 10’ waves, 17 mph winds traveling against the wind and the currant …

not a great sign when they put airline paper bags by the elevator … thank god ….other then some serious queasiness from our infamous plane ride we have been fine.

So we have traveled 690 nautical miles from Peru to Chile. The depth of the water is 15,000 feet….. that number still boggles my mind.

Chiles’ an interesting country… quite different then Peru and El Salvador….Chile started with a mix of early civilizations, including Incas….but the predominant group in the south central regions were the Mapuches … a fiesty civilization that effectively fought off the Spaniards for over 200 years. Spain conquered the rest of Chile in 1540 and shortly after ….the Germans and Brits migrated to the region.

In the 19 and 20’th century, Europeans, Middle Easterners, Latin Americans and East Asians (Chinese and Korea) also migrated to the area….so today’s population is very much of a cultural melting pot. The primary language is Spanish.

The flag like ours, is red white and blue…white for the snow of the Andes, blue the Pacific Ocean, red for blood in the fight for independence from Spain.

Chile is known as the “skinny country” because of its long narrow shape….with 3600 miles of coastline, 4x as much as California. Locals think of Chile as an island because it has the pacific on the west, a wall of mountains, the Andes, on the East, Antarctica below and Bolivia/ Peru on the north corner.

Chiles’population is 19M tripling since the 50’s. Chile is the copper mining capital of the world….99 percent of the copper goes to China and then ….comes back to us in in the form of electronics … small world it is

….but Chile is best known for its wines, pisco, a brandy like drink made from a sweet locally grown grapes and beer. Yes Beer ….from the German influx in the 1850’s.

Chile is considered a high income economy, one of the most prosperous countries in South America…..Ranked thirtieth most competive country in the world and number one in South America

So enough on the country ….and into the port of Coquimbo. Coquimbo means “a place of quiet waters” ….. and after our last sail we could use some “quiet water”.

… we enter Coquimbo we are greeted by a Massive Cross built in the hillside in 2000 to commemorate the third millennium. ….

3’rd Millennium Cross

Religion is an important part of life in Coquimbo… small makeshift shrines of the deceased are everywhere along the roadside…. cemeteries are full of flowers… literally every headstone has fresh flowers ….looks like a flower show…. on Sunday the cemeteries are full of “live” people refreshing the flowers.

Entering the city of Coquimbo

Coquimbo is located on the pan American Highway ….. the population is 400,000 in the winter ….800,000 in the summer …. tourists come for the beaches and pleasant temperature…. due to the areas popularity houses have doubled in the last 10 years from an average $35k to $75k.

City of Conquimbo

The main industry in Coquimbo is mining copper and iron ore. The area is known for the Los Palambras copper mine, one of the largest mines in the world with 2,100 tons of reserves.

Along with copper and iron ore, agriculture is big in the region (specifically grapes and papaya) … the region has ideal terrain for growing grapes because of the Elqiu valley.

Miles of vineyards

The Elqiu Valley is cooler in the northern areas…(better for red grapes)… and hotter in the southern areas (better for white ) ….it has ideal weather …. a frost free zone …. almost no humidity (5 to 8%) ….producing some of the best wines in Chili.

The wine industry took off in 1990. A variety of wineries and pisco distilleries were established.

Pisco sour

Pisco is “the wine” of the region and a popular drink, “Pisco Sour”. Pisco sour is a mixture of pisco wine, sugar and lemon juice and is 35% proof…..pretty potent … tastes like a whisky sour.

Winery grape growers

The vineyards are fed from a sub-terrain irrigation system …..a reservoir was added to create a water source in times of drought. A damm was built in the Elqiu river creating a manmade lake 7 km (4.2 mile) long…

Manmade lake from the Elqiu River

The water is a pure beautiful bluish color

The damm holds water at 80 to 90 percent capacity and is released during periods of droughts

Damm from the other side

The Elqiu valley is also the base for a number of observatories…..the valley, surrounded by the Andes, captures cool air, creating cloudless sky’s. The surrounding mountains have a desert type arid climate so sky at top is clear and dry, ideal for astronomers.

World Astronomy Center for the Southern Hemisphere

In 1959 a team of scientists looked for the best place to study the skies of the Southern Hemisphere. …. they found Tollo, a 7000’ mountain in the Elqiu valley. Tollolo (meaning “side of cliff “)….is part of the Atacara desert…the driest desert in the world.

So the researchers chose Tollolo as the best place in the world to study the Southern Hemisphere…..

….so time to check it out….

Desert Road to observatory

in a bus ….on a dirt road ….on the side of a cliff ….7000’ up …. Luckily there are no other cars …only one vehicle that takes employees up and down the mountain …

Hills to observatory

it makes the road to Hanna seem like a cake walk…and there is not a soul to be seen (man or animal…not even a bird).

Tollolo is without clouds 300 days a year…guess we were there on the three hundred and first day because it was cloudy.

Going Up …looking up at the telescope

The Atacara desert is the driest desert in the world with almost no precipitation. It is at least 3 million years old…. a strip of 600 miles with temperatures low at night … a microclimate ideal for studying the stars….

Hard to believe in 1959 the researchers walked 7000’ to the top….and camped out under the dark clear sky …

Getting closer

…but it is worth it. The terrain is actually beautiful…. the ground is stony and because of the extreme dryness very dusty

Outside telescope 1 and 2

….It is amazing ….it looked like we pulled up to the moon.

Both telescopes

The top of the mountain is known to have the cleanest air in the world.

….Construction of the first telescope began in 1963. It took 11 years to set everything up…the telescope was operational in 1974.

Inside telescope 1

It weighs 600 tons… the camera 300 tons … hard to comprehend how they got it up the “cliff”back then

Inside Telescope 1
No idea what this is but it makes a nice picture
Inside Telescope 2

The second telescope “records” up to 7B miles away 180’000 galaxies every 17 seconds.

Observation room

….the telescope rotates with the planet. Todays’ scientists know longer actually go there to study…..they work from their computer all over the world.

Leaving Outside telescope 2

….Tollolo is such an unusual environment that it was chosen as the site for filming Space Odyssey: Voyage of the Planets. NASA is also testing future instruments for Mars missions there ….and it is funded for UFO research.. finding new planets and stars

So that’s it for today’s history/geography/astronomy lesson… Or maybe better said… my own lesson … I have been challenged in these areas my whole life….so each stop has been a big learning curve…

And that’s it for Coqimbo. Very interesting to see first hand how much the characteristics of the geography still play such a significant role today into an areas economy. Our world is now so technology driven ..anywhere, anyplace ….it is easy to lose the connection with our planet.

…my apologizes this post is so long winded. I promise next post will be shorter.

Next stop Santiago!

One thought on “Coquimbo, Chile

  1. Fabulous pics of the observatory on your Coquimbo stop. The sky is so blue! Really interesting about the driest desert in the world. Well, I’m learning a lot about Chile and looking forward to your Santiago visit.


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