Posts from the ‘South America’ category

The Antarctic flyby, QF63 SYD-JNB

On a plane again: it’s either a prayer or a curse.

I summon the sleep gods on this 14-hour flight, and going over this very large body of water seems like an eternity.

Over the last few years, I’ve become accustomed to 10-hour “shuttles” between Chile and the United States, and I’ve trained mind and body to divide 10-hour flights into three easy-to-digest chunks between take-off and landing: (1) dinner; (2) an attempt at sleep, movies, or reading; and the final third that is (3) breakfast.

But it’s always been the case that the extra flying hours beyond the 10 mark can be a big mental block.

Sometimes, the goal is the motivation. On this 14-hour flight, Cape Town is the destination.

Qantas flight 63 is a non-stop flight from Sydney, Australia to Johannesburg, South Africa, and it’s at the latter where I’ll transfer onto another plane to Cape Town.

Grazing Antarctica over the Indian Ocean, QF63 SYD-JNB,

Grazing the continent (Instagram)

This ‘marathon’ flight takes place mostly over the Indian Ocean, the third largest on the planet.

On a flat surface, the shortest route between two points is a line, but on a curved surface, the shortest route is a curved path (i.e., great circle). QF63’s flight path takes us over the South Indian Ocean, and the plane skirts past the edge of Antarctica, on the side opposite to South America.

About halfway into the flight, I’m standing in the rear galley of this jumbo jet plane, and I’m looking out the window. The optics through the window are weird, giving a weird warped view of the world outside. I’m leaving nose prints on the interior plexiglass screen.

Sure enough, there it is.

Grazing Antarctica over the Indian Ocean, QF63 SYD-JNB,

Grazing the continent (Instagram)

Peeking under cloud cover is a hint of land below.

Under the rippling deck lies the great southern continent of Antarctica.

That’s what the plane’s in-flight displays say, too.

Our plane’s path glances over the continent of Antarctica; the display helpfully supplies geographic information, locating Argentina, Brazil, and Chile as well.

How do I feel?


There’s loss, too. I’m not going to see Antarctica on this trip, and I have no plans to do so in the near future.

After 5 years in Chile, what I miss most are the people with whom I worked, my friends and colleagues. Perhaps this “near miss” is a reminder, that I should return to South America sometime soon in the future.

Approaching South Africa, I’ve just departed Australia, after ten weeks among friends in some of the most beautiful spots around. I feel loss and separation from friends and country.

As sure as I’m moving forward on this around-the-world journey, I’m confident I’m coming back someday soon.

On board Qantas flight QF63 SYD-JNB, I made the photos above on 10 October 2012 with a 4th-generation iPod Touch. This post appears on Fotoeins Fotopress at

Chilean morning send-off: under the Andes with Atacama minions

Cerro Tololo, Región de Coquimbo, Chile

Valley morning fog below Andean foothills

The morning creeps gently forward, up and over the desert sky. Sounds? What sounds? What scarce sounds there are, they pierce the silence with soft whistles and drawn-out wails. Alternating light and dark horizontal streamers, known also as “the rays of God,” mark the first light of dawn. Small clumps break loose, as the overnight shroud of valley fog pulls back slowly from view.

The sun climbs higher, the shadows grow shorter, the cotton patch dissolves. It isn’t long until a spectacular sight is revealed. This is what you get from a height of 7500 feet above sea level.

Dry river beds twist and sweep and stretch along canyon floors. Cactus and desert scrub carpets the surrounding hills in faded greens and dusty browns. To the east rise jagged rocky teeth capped with white frosting, fixing the location of the Andes along the Chilean spine.

In this desolate and isolated part of the world, I’ve often wondered about the few brave souls who make this place their home. They’re prospectors, miners, even some farmers, all of whom carry their burden for financial endeavour. People have been digging around in these parts for centuries, whether it’s plant, mineral, or some kind of monetary paydirt.

But there’s another human enterprise with different rewards, a quest that asks questions on a much larger scale.

How do planets take shape?
How do stars form?
How are galaxies assembled?
Is there life elsewhere in the universe?

These issues occupy astronomers from all over the world. Many astronomers go up onto mountains, just like this one, onto the summit of Cerro Tololo, peering into the skies. The telescopes point straight up, reaching out like outstretched hands, wanting more.

Cerro Tololo, Región de Coquimbo, Chile

Illuminated telescope domes on Tololo

I’ve been coming here since 1995. I’m never bored of Chilean sunrises, impressive in the daily entrance over the tall Andes mountains. I’m never bored of Chilean sunsets, providing as always some measure of peace in the daily exit over the waters of the Pacific.

And so, I’ve witnessed hundreds of Chilean sunrises over the years, but today, this special sunrise stands out from the rest.

Today, I’m leaving the mountain for the last time. Soon, I’ll leave Chile, my residence of 5 years. Soon, I’ll leave behind astronomy, after 15 years in the making.

I’m fortunate I recognized change was coming in my life. All the signs were present, even though trying to stick around was undoubtedly the safer choice. Any despair I had about leaving astronomy has transformed into something resembling relief. I have no regrets about astronomy; it’s time for something new.

I have a new journey to take on: one full year around the world. I’m okay with jumping into the unknown; I get to ask different questions, even if I receive few answers in reply. I’m reminded the journey itself will be the most important thing.

Some furry four-legged creatures have arrived to greet the sunrise here on the summit of Cerro Tololo. A scruffy mountain goat moseys up, lifting its head to gauge my morning mood. Three desert foxes about the size of small dogs have also joined the party. They all leave disappointed; I have nothing for their attempts to beg for food.

It sounds strange, but this all seems to fit as my way of saying goodbye to Chile.

But a ‘goodbye’ to the old implies there’s a ‘hello’ to something new.

Well, what’s it going to be?
What am I going to be?

Recovering astronomer.
Language collector.
Aspiring writer.
Enthusiastic traveler.
Passionate photographer.

We are all the same, under the same sky.

Cerro Tololo, Región de Coquimbo, Chile

Mountain goat (cabra) on sentry

Cerro Tololo, Región de Coquimbo, Chile

Yappy desert foxes (zorros culpeos)

More from Chile

•   Fotoeins Friday: Asleep at the Atacama view
•   Chile’s Elqui River: World Tourism Day

I made all of the photos above. A version of this story appears on World Nomads (May 2014). This post appears as part of the Sunday Traveler series. Appearing on Fotoeins Fotopress at, the present version is a transcript of the reading at the Vancouver launch for Debbie Wong’s book, “The Same Sky” on 30 July 2014.

Fotoeins Friday: Asleep at the Atacama view

Chile’s Elqui River: World Tourism Day

Embalse Puclaro, Region de Coquimbo, Chile

27 September 2013 has been earmarked by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) as “World Tourism Day 2013″. Various tweets throughout the day have highlighted responsible water usage around the world.

The Elqui River in north-central Chile begins in the mountains of the lower Andes, and flows west to the Pacific along the southern edge of the Atacama desert through the towns of Vicuña and La Serena. The average annual total rainfall in La Serena is 10 to 13 cm (4 to 5 inches), less than one-tenth of the total for Vancouver, Canada.

The Elqui was dammed by 1999 to control water usage by farms in the lower valley and by pisco vinyards in the upper valley; however, construction of the dam displaced people in small low-lying towns on both sides of the river. Behind the dam in the Embalse or reservoir Puclaro (photo above), the water level has declined with lower annual snowfall in the mountains above and higher usage by farms and the increasing population below. The price for water continues to rise due to competition from mines, farms, and the growing population. Numerous research visits and five years living in La Serena emphasized the contrast of the importance of water to people’s lives in the region with the dominant presence of the neighbouring Atacama.

I made the photo above on 9 August 2008; the photo is also available here. This post appears on Fotoeins Fotopress at

7 SuperShots: fotoeins’ super-7

Thanks to Christina Hegele’s kind nomination in her post, I’m participating in “7 Supershots”, organized by the folks at HostelBookers.

I’ve had a lot of fun with this exercise, as I’ve had to peruse and think, select and ruminate through a truckload of photos. I hope you enjoy my “super seven”!

1. “A photo that … takes my breath away”

Prague at night, Prag, Praha, Czech Republic

Míšeňská, Malá Strana, Prague, Czech Republic – 9 October 2009

This has always been one of my favourites, because the photo always evokes memories of the “open city that is the museum itself”. At night, the place calms down, and visitors and residents head back inside. In my view, the late hour is the best time to explore the beautifully illuminated parts of Prague.

2. “A photo that … makes me laugh or smile”

Sandtorhafen at sunset, Hamburg, Germany

Speicherstadt, Hamburg, Germany – 2 October 2011

As the sun set over Hamburg harbour, I caught sight of this young family in silhouette on one of the bridges in the Sandtorhafen district. I like the juxtaposition of living people big and small with the mechanical cranes of the working port in the background.

3. “A photo that … makes me dream”

Vaxholm, Stockholm archipelago, Sweden

Vaxholm, Sweden – 26 June 2008

It’s summertime in Stockholm’s archipelago – long hours in the warm sun, beautiful blue skies, smooth calm waters, cozy cottages on little islands, with boats darting here and there. I dream of spending summers in Scandinavia – how about you?

4. “A photo that … makes me think”

Opera House, Sydney, Australia

Tiles on the Opera House, Sydney, Australia – 8 October 2010

When you hear the words “Sydney Opera House”, the curved shells which make up the roof come to mind. But you don’t often think about the details. The symmetry and geometry shown here come from the individual glazed ceramic tiles which make up the shell-roof surface.

5. “A photo that … makes my mouth water”

Hon's Wun-tun House, Vancouver, Canada

Hon’s Wun-tun House, Vancouver, Canada – 4 May 2010

It seems all too simple: pork and shrimp dumplings, soft thin egg noodles, chopped green onions, all in a light savory broth. Once a favourite meal as a boy, I’ll now devour bowls of wun-tun noodle soup. That is, if I’m not distracted by the BBQ-pork rice-plate …

6. “A photo that … tells a story”

Grouse Mountain, North Vancouver, BC, Canada

Grouse Mountain, North Vancouver, Canada – 7 February 2012

The “blind” skiier is at the top of the downhill run called “The Cut” (easy-level); their seeing-guide is in front and off to the left. Did blindness come early or later in life? Has this person always skiied? If not, how did they learn? What other senses are accentuated while skiing?

7. “A photo about which I am most proud (a.k.a. shot worthy of National Geographic)”

lights, Coquimbo, La Serena, Chile

The lights of Coquimbo from La Serena, Chile – 7 May 2011

By experimenting with “focus-pull” on a zoom-lens and a steady tripod, I wanted to see how the lights in neighbouring Coquimbo would appear on photographs with minute-long exposure times. As you can see here, I was satisfied with the result.

What do you think? If you have any favourite(s), please take a moment and leave your impressions in the comments below.

Although they may already have existing requests, I’m still passing the torch to the following people:

  1. A Dangerous Business – Amanda Williams
  2. Cheryl Howard
  3. Monkeys, Mountains and Maultaschen – Laurel Robbins
  4. Nomadic Samuel – Samuel Jeffery

I made all of the photos shown above with the Canon EOS450D (XSi) camera. This post appears on Fotoeins Fotopress (


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