On August 21, 2017, I viewed my first total solar eclipse from Culver, OR. My best friend, Peter, and I were so awestruck by the experience that we decided to travel all the way to La Serena, Chile to witness the eclipse on July 2, 2019. As we expected, it was an awesome experience that we shared with the 300,000+ tourists and locals from the beach in La Serena. The major reason we decided to visit Chile this summer was to see the eclipse, but what I truly cherish about my Chilean experience was our tour of the colorful seaside city of Valparaiso.
We spent three days exploring the city which is approximately one hour away by bus from the capital of Chile, Santiago. Much to our surprise, we found several vegan restaurants and my new favorite Spanish expression is "veganos?" Apart from the delicious cuisine, most of our time was spent wandering up and down the streets of Valparaiso and stopping to take hundreds of photos of the insanely amazing street art. I wish I could hire some of these talented Chilean artists to paint a mural on the outside of my house, but my neighbors might not approve. My traveling companion was not as obsessed with the street art as I was, but both of us agreed that Valparaiso is home to some unique and incredible pieces of art work that you won't find anywhere else in the world. Almost every block we visited featured extraordinary street art. The art was so mind-blowing that we didn't mind climbing up and down one hill after another in search of the next great piece of art.
The vibrant street art is only a small fraction of the colors that make up Valparaiso. Almost every building was painted a different color which made for some fantastic photo opportunities, especially when viewing the city from one of the many hills. Our favorite way of traveling up a hill was the funicular (a special type of railway that travels up and down steep slopes). The locals call them "ascensors" (elevators). There used to be 31 operational elevators in Valparaiso that operated as a transport network. Now only 15 survive and these old, rusty machines make a great tourist attraction.
Despite our rather limited Spanish-speaking skills, the Chilean people were some of the friendliest people I have met in all of my international travels. The most common question I asked was "banos?" (bathroom) and every local person I approached pointed us in the right direction. At each of our hotels, we received nice thank you gifts such as a visitor's guide to the city, an eclipse keychain, local crystals, and even an eclipse blanket! Disclosure: The hotel in La Serena gave us the eclipse blanket as their way of apologizing for the lack of hot water in our bathroom.
The only problems we experienced in Chile had to do with heat. Due to its geographic location, the coolest months in Chile are from June to September, with temperatures ranging from 47 to 61 degrees F. With the exception of Santiago, all of our hotels did not have central heating. We were given small space heaters, but they either stopped working after only a few minutes or gave off such little heat that we had to wrap layers of blankets around ourselves burrito-style in order to keep warm.
The ugliest part of our trip was the 11 hour flight from Los Angeles to Santiago, Chile. Even though I had a window seat, I was unable to sleep during the overnight flight from Los Angeles to Santiago. When I arrived the next day at 5:20 AM, all I wanted to do was sleep for a few hours. Fortunately, my friend, Peter, arrived in Santiago one day before I did so I didn't have to wait until 3 PM to check into our hotel room. Despite the torturous long flight, we have decided to revisit Chile next year in December for the 2020 solar eclipse, which will take place on December 14 in Villarrica, a small city in southern Chile located on the western shore of Villarrica Lake, 464 miles south of Santiago and close to the Villarrica Volcano.
In order to prepare for this trip, I have decided to enroll in a beginning conversational Spanish class at Diablo Valley College. The class meets on Tuesdays from 6:45 PM to 9:55 PM starting on August 27, 2019. If I like the class, I'll take more conversational Spanish classes next year. Looking back, I wish I had taken Spanish in high school and college instead of French, but back then, I never imagined I would end up living in California.
After the 2020 eclipse, I'll wait until April 2024 before seeing my next eclipse. The 2024 eclipse will take place in Muncie, Indiana, which is very close to the town where I grew up. For the second time in seven years, the US will be visited by a total eclipse that covers a large swathe of the nation. This one will also include Mexico -- where the weather is likely to be finest -- and Canada, where there is a much higher likelihood of cloud cover. Key cities in the path of totality include Dallas, TX and Montreal, Canada, with Niagara Falls also within the stripe of darkness. With Easter early (March 31, 2024), the eclipse will provide a great opportunity for families with school-aged children to see an eclipse.