Monday, June 15, 2015

What Time Is It? Chile Declines To Reset Its Clocks

In less than a week, the northern hemisphere’s summer solstice will bring the longest day of the year – in Northern California, where I am spending the season, sunrise will occur at 5:47 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time and sunset at 8:34 p.m. A hemisphere away in Chile, though, things will be very different despite the current government’s measure to institute daylight savings time throughout the year – presumably to reduce energy consumption in a country that still imports nearly all of its fossil fuels.
Whether daylight savings time is actually an energy saving measure is debatable, but the general topic is interesting here. Personally, while traveling in Chile, I’ve always preferred daylight savings because I could get breakfast earlier, with more daylight to explore the cities and the countryside (some accommodations will not serve breakfast until 9 a.m.) while researching my books. Also, because of the country’s string-bean geography, it consists of a single time zone (with one notable exception), so that daylight hours vary dramatically in different parts of the country.

Traditionally, daylight savings started in December and ended in March (in time for the new school year), but it’s gradually expanded. Now, with uniform time throughout the year, this morning’s sunrise in the coastal city of Valparaíso – whose landmark clock tower the Reloj Turri appears above – was at 8:46 a.m., with sunset at 6:47 p.m. Valparaíso’s latitude is roughly comparable to that of San Francisco.
Farther north, though, it’s a rather different story because, in subtropical latitudes far closer to the Equator, the length of day varies little throughout the year. Today’s sunrise at the remote settlement of Pisagua – a tiny seaside community that was once a thriving nitrate port – was at 8:11 a.m., with sunset at 7:10 p.m. The structure above is Pisagua’s own historic clock tower, though the clock itself no longer functions.

By contrast, in the southern city of Punta Arenas, this morning’s sunrise did not take place until 9:55 a.m., with sunset at 5:33 p.m. At a latitude comparable to British Columbia’s Moresby Island, Punta Arenas enjoys long summer days but, at this time of year, children are arriving at school well before daybreak. Today, the modest clock outside the city’s Muelle Prat commercial pier is probably covered with snow.
For most visitors, Chile’s time change has one big advantage. I’ve written before on the jetlag issue when traveling to southernmost South America, and this changes things a bit, for the better. Effectively, Argentina and Chile are now in the same time zone – four hours behind GMT or UTC – which will simplify scheduling on trips that require border crossings. It also means that, when most of the United States is on daylight savings time from early March until November, Argentina and Chile will be on the same schedule at the US East Coast. Though it may still be a long overnight flight from anywhere in the US, that eliminates or at least reduces the jetlag problem.

Of course, there remains that one exception I mentioned above. Chile’s Pacific outlier of Easter Island (pictured above) is five hours and two times zones west of the South American mainland.

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