The study tour to Chile was unlike anything I have experienced before. This was my second time out of the country, and the culture and landscape were completely new to me. In class during the fall, we studied the geology, anthropology, and astronomy of the area.
Being my first study tour, it was incredible to get the classroom education and then actually travel to the location and see what we learned about in person. It's a completely different experience to physically see something versus hearing about it in class.
The travel time was quite long - starting with three flights from Cincinnati to Atlanta, Santiago, and then Antofagasta. Upon arrival in Antofagasta, we had a chance to explore the city before leaving to see the Paranal Observatory. It was our first real taste of altitude, sitting at roughly 10,000 feet. I was amazed at how large each 8m telescope was, but was blown away to hear that a 40m telescope, the "Extremely Large Telescope," was in the process of being built. We got some beautiful shots of the sunset and headed back to Antofagasta.
The following day, we began our journey to San Pedro, where we would spend the rest of our trip. This was, of course, after my duffel bag ripped open and our tour guide Oscar helped me purchase a new one.
We made a stop for lunch in Calama, and the first thing I noticed was how much the cities abundance of greenery contrasted the barren desert just outside it. There are many more cities and towns like it, following the natural flow of the river.
When we arrived in San Pedro, we were dropped off at Don Raul, which was our hostel for the remaining time there. Throughout the course of the next week, we made trips to see geological features; such as the gravel pit where we saw the imbircation of rocks and made the connections to previous geological events, and the massive meteor crater.
We also went to ALMA, which is a radio telescope array at an altitude of 16,500 feet. First, we had to pass a blood pressure and heart rate screening at about 10,000 feet altitude to be allowed to visit the top. After climbing into the bus and scaling the remaining 6,000 feet, a 45 minute drive each way, we only stayed at the top for 15-20 minutes before descending. The air was extremely thin, and even with an oxygen can I was definitely feeling the effects of oxygen deprivation.
We also woke up extremely early to see the stars in complete darkness and attempt astrophotography, and to visit geysers during sunrise. On our last day we went to the Puritama Hot Springs for a swim, and ended the trip on an incredible note!
Overall the trip was an extremely positive experience. I learned a ton about geology, anthropology, and astronomy, and how they connect and play integral roles in the rich history of Chile. I am eager for my next study tour with UHP!