I went to Bolivia for the Southern Skies Star Party, July 14-21, 2012. I flew to Miami and hooked up with Jen Winter's group. There were 8 of us. From Miami, we flew over Cuba, Central America & down the west coast of South America. We changed planes in Lima, Peru, and flew to La Paz.
A van took us to the Inca Utama Hotel on Lake Titicaca, the largest lake in South America. The Southern Hemisphere is a challenge! My goal was to have a second experience with the southern stars and constellations. I was at 12,000 feet in the Andes Mountains.
I took a day trip to Tiwanaku, a pre-Columbian archaeological site. Puma Punku is a temple, meaning "entrance of the puma." I saw ruins, but no signs of ancient aliens!
Myself and 2 others climbed a hill to look at the Andes range. A panorama of Lake Titicaca was on one side and snow-capped mountains on the other. We took the wrong path coming down, and I could see the headlines: "Lost in the Andes!" We kept moving toward the lake and finally came across a farmer, who drove us to our hotel.
Our group toured La Paz, the highest capital city in the world. It sits in a "bowl" surrounded by mountains. Population is over a million. We walked the La Paz streets, where people drive like maniacs and think nothing about walking out in traffic. Dark-skinned women wear wide skirts and bowler hats. Dogs are everywhere, and the Spanish is annoying. Bolivia is a Third World country.
Lake Titicaca is partly in Bolivia, partly in Peru. Bolivia is landlocked. I thought it would be nice if Peru gave Bolivia a strip of land to the ocean. Countries are territorial!
I thought Bolivia would be my last trip out of the U.S. until I decided to go to Hong Kong. Traveling is work! Airport security makes it hard, as do foreign languages. I get a certain knowledge, and it draws me to new experiences.
I have traveled on 5 continents: 43 states and 12 foreign countries. I am an astronomer and a world traveler. An adventurer!
I did not bring anything back. No coins or pictures. I write! Memories are my souvenirs.
We entered a church on the square in La Paz. Bolivians are Catholic, descended from the Spanish conquistadors who conquered the region. Bolivian history is in 3 parts: pre-Columbian, colonial & the Republic. Bolivia got its independence from Spain in 1825, led by Simon Bolivar, for whom the country was named.
I hate foreign languages. Spanish, in particular, gets on my nerves, and here I was surrounded by a million people speaking Spanish. I was nice to the Bolivians, especially to our guide and the ones who worked at the hotel. The hotel was clean and the food excellent. They fed us well. We ate llama.
The Milky Way was a grand spectacle, as it was in Australia 10 years earlier. When we look into its thickest part, we are looking toward the center of our disk-shaped galaxy. There are 400 billion stars in the Milky Way, and our solar system lies toward the outer edge, safe from the chaos in the center.
Alpha Centauri is the 3rd brightest star and closest system to Earth at 4.4 light-years: 25 trillion miles. Alpha Centauri and Beta Centauri were called the "eyes of the llama" by pre-Columbians. I still see those 2 bright stars shining over Lake Titicaca!
Stars are suns, and exoplanets are being discovered. The search for extraterrestrial life is on! There were telescopes behind our hotel, and members of our group located objects and showed them to me. A globular cluster called Omega Centauri stood out. This fuzzy ball is composed of millions of stars.
There is a South Pole star! It is much dimmer than the North Star, but constellations like the Southern Cross appear to circle it.
Earth revolves around the sun with its axis tilted 23 1/2 degrees, causing the seasons. Summer in the United States means winter in Bolivia. Winter in July! It was mild, however, the temperature no colder than 40 degrees.
We visited Tiwanaku and Puma Punku, ruins featured in the Ancient Aliens series. Some people think they were built by aliens. I do not. Nor do I subscribe to UFOs, which are made-up stories. Not to say there is no extraterrestrial life! With billions of galaxies, there may be.