PVX: Hostal Casablanca, Arequipa Peru (Camera Obscura)

Posted by Arlo on Jan 16, 2011 under Postcard Valet, PV-Podcast, Travel, Videos

We arrived in Arequipa early in the morning after an all-night bus ride from Nazca.  The bus wasn’t so bad, but we were led to believe we would have fully reclining beds, like we did coming down from Máncora.  Instead, we found ourselves with semi-reclining seats, not that far off what you’d get flying couch.  All that is to say that we arrived tired.

The first hostel we looked into was the Casablanca, right next to the Plaza de Armas.  They had a room, but it was a whopping $35 a night, twice what we were expecting to pay.  On the plus side, they had a room available and were willing to let us check in at 7am so we wouldn’t have to kill time until the noon-hour changeover. After a quick sidewalk consultation, we decided to take it for at least one night.

Our room was nice.  A little on the small side, but with a balcony looking out on the street, a private bathroom (with both hot water and pressure), a desk, and a relatively fast wi-fi network.  After that bus ride, though, all we cared about was the comfortable bed with the fluffy pillows.

Oksana crashed right away, while I ran out to the store to get us some drinks and some semblance of breakfast.  A little while later, I closed the balcony doors to darken the room and climbed into bed beside her.  I laid on my back for a few minutes and, eventually, my eyes because accustomed to the dark.

Above me, projected on the ceiling, was the street scene outside!

It was an incredible reproduction, but I couldn’t figure it out at first!  People walked on the opposite sidewalk, cars moved along the one-way street.  The image was a little stretched, but it was in perfect focus.  It really was like someone turned on a projector, aimed it at the ceiling, and connected a camera to it.

I debated not disturbing Oksana, but then decided that I just had to share my discovery.  I nudged her awake and told her to look up.  Still half asleep, she couldn’t make heads or tails of it at first, either, but we sat and watched…

I had no idea if it was a transient phenomenon or not.  Could it be because the sun was hitting the glass in the door exactly right?  Would the time of day matter or, for that matter, the time of year?  I didn’t even want to touch anything before trying to capture it on film.  I got out the 5D, our camera with the best shot of resolving such a low-light image, and tried to record some video first.  Even at ISO-6400, with the aperture wide open, I could barely resolve anything.  The resulting video, even after a little brightness correction, only gives a hint of what we were able to see.  Still, I thought you might want to take a look:

After the video attempt, I opened up the door again, just a crack.  There was absolutely nothing like a lens of any sort.  No mirror, no beveled glass edge.  In fact, after I closed the door again and waved my hand in front of its upper edge, I discovered that the entire image was coming from a small notch cut in the wood.

How in the world the street image could be projected on the ceiling, in perfect focus, without a curved piece of glass of some sort, is beyond my understanding.  I expect it’s something like a pinhole camera, but I really have no idea.

I took the 5D up again and set it way back in the corner of the room.  The images I got out of a couple-second exposure are a much better representation, but unfortunately the people and cars move too much over that amount of time and they blurred out.  Still, I think you can get a hint of what we saw.

The good news is that the projection lasted as long as the sun was up.  Every time we turned off the lights and let our eyes adjust, we could watch the comings and goings of the world outside our balcony.  It sounds strange – you wouldn’t think it would be that captivating – but we spent quite a bit of time, lying on our backs, staring at our ceiling.

The next day, we had to change rooms because another couple had reserved the “matrimonial” ahead of us.  After we checked out, I asked a woman who worked at the hostel, in broken Spanish, if she was aware of what was going on with the ceiling.  She looked at me funny, so I took her in there, closed the balcony doors, and shut off the light.

She was just as amazed as we were.