Visiting VLT - very large telescope




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Antofagasta 23.07.02 6.15 p.m.
I'll stay two more days in the city with the strange name, but here's another letter.

The dust Mountains - Rocky Plains 30.03 km
I awoke like the night before around 1.00 a.m. and it felt like I didn't sleep since then, but the watch showed 6.30 a.m. Time to get up. Just 8 degr. inside the tent, but nice and warm in my sleeping bag.
Outside it's 2 degr. Two cups of coffee today. Inside the tent. It's all dust outside, nothing to sit on. The rock I found yesterday to hammer down pegs must have been the only one. All is gathered inside the inner tent, that has been declared dust free zone, and all has to be carried out and put directly on the bike. It's leaning against a slope. I recall yesterday. It was like a time trial on the Mt. Ventoux: You have to go with all you've got, but you have to save a bit for the end.
I leave at 8.35 a.m. The milage must have been wrong. Even if my meter is showing a bit too much, it can't be right. The distance I can see straight ahead, downhill and uphill might be 10 km, but I havn't the faintest idea how far it is till the last 10 km of asphalt road. Since the mine Yumbas, where my friend from the bus worked, and that I recently saw down a valley to the right, there have been scattered pieces of old asphalt. Never in the total width and of extremely poor quality but never the less. I pass over the ridge and within short I see the wonderful sight of a long, straight white line going up the mountain in front: crash fence. Before I have to overcome a piece of the worst kind with loose gravel all over. It's shear speedway but at another pace. It's all about finding the line with the best grip. From time to time I have to cross the road to find a better grip. You have to concentrate cast a curse and keep pace through the piles. My shoulders hurt because of my convulsive grip at the handlebars.


Going towards the top Among worlds biggest telescopes

At 9.35 a.m. I'm near the most charming asphalt road going to the mountain top. 2050 m at the altimeter. A climb of 600 m in 10 km: 6%. The milage meter says 11.44, so it should have been 37 and not 27.
Up it goes. A sign tells of a hard climb for the next 3 km, my bellows are working at full speed, the pace is 5-6 km/h, I think it's the thin air that does it. Frequent stops. I don't have to hurry.
I put on the pulse meter, the pulse stabilizes at 151. Under normal circumstances it would be 171 I estimate. I think the pulse lower in the heights. The heart needs oxygene and when the amount of oxygene lowers, it has to beat slower and the performance lower too?
When the road turns and I get a headwind, it accelerate to 159 and I feel like taking a break. A hard headwind - but the road inclines too - try to prevent me from reaching my goal, but I fight my way up across the ridge and now I see the telescopes on a flat summit ahead. I'm close. How close I realize a moment later, when it shows that the entire village is under me and the gate is there 300 m straight ahead. I've done it. It's 10.45 a.m. and the meter shows 27 km. The guard looks like someone I once knew and speaks spanish, but understands easily, that I'm just a little early, and I'm shown to a small waiting room with toilet, sink and hot and cold water. I succeed in washing my hair and most of my upper parts in the small sink, but I tidy up the floor with some paper that's there to dry your hands in.
It's strange to sit here with all modern comfort in the middle of the dust hell I've been travelling the last two days. Contrast after contrast...
All incomers are controlled. I've just filled in a form and has received a 'visitors card no.2 visita turistica'. The truck drivers, that arrive with fx. water - there have been two already while I've been here - get a magnetic card, they have to drag through the cardreader outside and turn in something which is probably a receipt. One of ESO's cars arrive, I guess an employee is bringing some visitors. All, even 2 small children at the age of 3-4 have a visitors card. It's not because of secrets, you're free to take photographs, this is science not miltary secrets. Within science you cooperate, except sometimes, when it gets to winning prizes.
Quite a number of visitors have now come, some in private cars others in a bus. I hope the tour is not in spanish. I'm dressed in the almost white Helly Hansen fleece jacket and have swept the worst dust off my trousers, the boots are ideal for this trip they're same color as the dust. Of all the investments I've done the most beloved are: the sleeping bag, the watch, the Vaude panniers and the boots, priority sequence. The cars go into the area now at 2.00 p.m. I was asked if I'd go by bike or go with the tour leader and I chose the last. The last 300 m would take me half an hour - at least. Now we all 40? sits waiting to hear about security. There is a pile of crash helmets, so I guess we're all going to wear one...
We are having the full tour: introduction, telescopes, control center and as an extra bonus for me: the hotel, which Mauricio usually just shows for his students, but I look like I don't want to hear more about birth and death of the stars, which I probably know as much about as the guide, so I join them and end up at my bike an experience richer. I don't think I've learned anything I just as well could have learned from home, but I have with my own eyes seen these huge electronic wonders, the most advanced humans have createed so far, or nearly - there is one extra speciality beside the telescopes. They can be connected and something called interferometry can be done. And what's more all this high tech equipment has been brought up here
one of the most inhospitable spots on earth, which I have felt on my own body.
Mauricio is a teacher in architecture at the university of Antofagasta and his students have mainly come to see the hotel, which is created by a famous german architect. It's one more jump in time and space. A cold wind was blowing on the mountain top and in contrast to the telescopes where the temperature had to follow the outside temperature, we now enter a tropical paradise of cirkels, arches, tropical plants and a swimmingpool. Such a contrast to the outside - and it's no doubt meant to be - that it's hard to believe.

When I 4.45 p.m. roll down the mountain I've had another splendid day, and I have Mauricios telephone number in case I have problems in Antofagasta. I'm aware that I won't get far, but a pretty hard wind is blowing, so I want some shelter and hopefully some big rocks instead of the pegs. I find a real nice spot. On top I had the first encounter with the heights and how it feels. On my way up I've been panting a lot, but the road WAS climbing, but in the building for the administration (300 m extra) we enter a stair, and that can be compared to normal. I get breathless at a normal pace. That was also close to 3000 m.

Landscape on Mars - in the Atacama dessert

Rocky plains in Dust mountains - Antofagasta 1915 m 33.33 km
It's 6.45 a.m. and it's getting lighter. It's 3.9 degr. - inside the tent. Won't somebody put the kettle on? Not a sound can be heard. No wind is blowing, no sounds but the scriple of the ballpen against the paper. I have to step outside and look at the morning! The first act is to put on the pillow - my HH sweater. My lower parts doesn't feel like leaving the sleeping bag, but someone has to make the coffee.
It's hard to believe that it'll be steaming hot in 2-3 hours. Now I long for it, at that time I'll long for the cold. My exquisite sleeping bag has a collar, that can be closed, so the body heat stays down there and only the head sticks out. Further more you can close it above your head if it also feels cold. This night I felt like tightening it, and when I measure the outside temperature I understand why, -6.4 degr., but imagine that I - so sensitive to cold - just dressed in normal underwear, can sleep in nature at such temperatures! My equipment has proved its efficiency. So now I just lack to buy a pair of longjohns till when we reach -20 degr.
The sun shines already at the mountain behind me, I can watch the shadow moving downwards. A twining path inclines, how long will it take for the sun to reach the turning. One, two - I count the seconds - nine, ten, now it's there, and soon after the tent too stands in the shine from the morning dessert sun. I leave 9.15 a.m. The road goes straight, but unfortunately not at constant height, I have to climb again.
2065 m now I'm up, but only to see an even worse climb far away. Will it never end?
There's more than 16 km before I get there and the last bit (only 50 m) is VERY steep. HH now shows what it's worth. Having no shirt I use it to have my arms covered, and here it shows what it's worth. At the same time I think it lowers the evaporation from the arms, so with an open HH to get some cooling, I reach the top. From 1880 m I'm now up in 2135 m. Far away I see damp clouds lying in the valley (30-40 km?)

11.15 a.m. 23.83 km
The milage meter stops around 27 km. Then something happens. A big van (camioneta) going my way stops and from the drivers gesture I understand that he offers me a seat and that the bike can lie in the back. I shrug my shoulders. I'm feeling good, the road has been a mixture of qualities, not as good as I hoped, and I make a quick decision, even I find it a bit unsporty. Yes, thank you. We lift up the bike and put it in the compartment and set off. The first 5 minutes I cling to what ever I can: the seat, the handle in the door. I have seen them going fast on this road, but the experience of how it feels is new. Horrifying. The car is hopping and bobbing down the road. I glance at the meter, hm we're "only" doing 80 km/h, but it feels like 100. In this way we advance and I get acustomed. Nothing changes for the next 40 km until we reach ruta 5 except that we don't have to cross any ridges, the road declines steadily, but the surroundings are just as brown as always, nothing is living here, and the road is just the same with scattered stimulating pieces where the surface asphalt is not broken.
I would have taken 3 hours + lunch break for me, we do it in half an hour. Then we enter ruta 5, wonderful road, but the landscape I had expected to change is the same brown color. He's going all the way to Antofagasta, and now he can do 100, it only takes another half an hour, then we ARE in Antofagasta. At the road are, beside the usual commercials, which often are placed for every 200 m, only two plants: a mine of some kind and a concrete factory, a Copec and a Esso gas station beside each other and a restaurant, where most of the name can't be seen, so either it's closed or not existing. I thank myself for the quick decision, one thing is to go through the desserted mountain looking at such landscape, another is doing the same on the carreterra.
The last 16 km the road to Antofagasta split and entwines down the dead mountains till we at last see the first houses high in the distance. We carry on to the right (north) at the sea front where the buildings in normal chilean style are equal ramshackle blocks and luxurious houses and hotels.
And this way I arrive to Antofagasta one day before planned at 1.00 p.m. Unfortunately it's a sunday. The tourist information is as I expected closed. Now Lonely Planet Chile would have been a great help with map and cheap hotels, but I roll around a bit with a clue of what such a place will look like and find one, which looks a bit expensive. When I later ask a man that's the one he suggests. It's cheap. So now I stay in Residencial El Cobre in ANTOFAGASTA. Without having been to San Francisco I think that's what it compares to. Steep streets, ending high up on a brown mountain.
That's where the poor people live, I can tell from the looks of the houses - fin with a fine view!

Antofagasta 22.07.02 0 km
It's 1.50 p.m. and I've just had, literally, a cup of beer and some cheese and bread. A nice change from 'el mermelada durazno'! Next will be coffee and two coco cakes. Being in a city is tiring because I always have to buy things and get information, and both can take a lot of time. The size of this city
is more convinient than Santiago. I have had all my losses replaced. Today the matter was: a better mattress, sun creme, dictionary, CD's to save pictures, longjohns, shirt, charger and information on the area bordering Bolivia. The mattress is a catastrofe. Selfinflating matrresses can't be found here.
Was lead to a shopping center the size of my hometown in Bornholm. Not even Bilka or french supermarkets can match this. When I looked along a passage inside I would have taken a photo, but I had to hand over my bag (I ALWAYS carry the handlebar bag) before I entered. Would fetch the camera but when I stepped outside I made the alarm sound. My right arm without any metal only dressed in the HH jacket could make it sound!!??
Having been detained for some minutes under much laughter, I was released, but didn't think I had time to repeat the scene. On my way back I passed a newspaper stand and NOW was the time. I had to be updated on the Tour de France. Tried to ask for it, but even we reached 'carrera', 'bicicleta' and 'en Francia', no bells rung. (No chileans are participating, but Schumacher they could write about!)
When I had given up and continued, who do I meet 100 m's later? My new friend Mauricio, who I have invited for dinner tonight. In a town with ½ million inhabitants! With his help I had a paper ('Tercera') with a sports part and an entire page about the Tour. And what is the headline? 'La batalla de Mont Ventoux'!! Incredible. But I don't find CSC-Tiscali anywhere?
The plan for the next stage is emerging: From here the day after tomorrow heading for Calama. To the mine (the worlds biggest open mine) in Chuquicamata, on to San Pedro de Atacama, which is one of the tourist attracctions (luckily it's winter). In this area I'll spend a week on 'Valla de la Luna', the flamingoes and the small villages. On a tour to the geisers at the bolivian border if it's possible. I can't go there by bicycle. The road is, I think, officially closed, but local drivers in 4WD are allowed to go there. Costs probably a fortune. Back to Calama to go by train to Uyuni near the Salar de Uyuni. What is next, except Isla de Pescadores in the salar, I don't know, it depends on the wheather and the temperatures. It's much colder in the northern part of Chile than usual due to 'El Niño'. Maybe a longer tour with a 4WD in the south western desserted part of Bolivia? Under all circumstances towards La Paz around the 18th to confirm my return ticket and  go to Machu Picchu in Peru, if there is a bus, and the Titicaca lake. Here ends diary no.1. A new one is already bought.

Back in a city.... ....among dogs and cars