Pisco by the pool

Trip Start Aug 11, 2010
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Trip End May 21, 2011


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Sunday, October 17, 2010

Another long and uncomfortable night bus took us to the beach town of La Serena. Again, we lifted our heavy bag and searched for accommodation. We found a place called Hostel Matte which is recommended in our guidebook. We were welcomed by a slightly crazy but very friendly lady (some might say overly friendly as she nestled into my chest and grabbed Eleanor's hand) who made us feel instantly welcome. We have stayed in many hostels during our travels, some brilliant, some bad. Hostel Matte was one of our favorites and we could’ve spent a long time there due to the space, facilities and friendly staff.

La Serena felt very safe and we enjoyed the long walk to the beach front, passing restaurants and family-focused entertainment events with Chilean bands playing outside. We strolled along the shore and came across areas littered with thousands of white shells, glistening in the sun. The beach there is one of the largest stretches in Chile and offers perfect conditions for surfing. I would like to say that I managed to surf endless tubes of blue waves but no, I couldn’t and didn’t! However, after many attempts, I did manage to surf with some success but I took the session as practice for the many long waves to come in our future travels.

We felt drawn to the ocean and it was hard to decide whether to stop and relax or to leave and spend our fast disappearing days in the nearby villages. We did decide to explore the surrounding area though and left for the nearby village of Vicuna, primarily so we could visit the well-known Mamalluca observatory in the evening for some star-gazing. Before the night-time tour though we explored the small village in the Elqui valley and walked out to the nearby pisco factory where Chile’s famous pisco spirit drink is manufactured by Capel. We took a tour and enjoyed the tasting session at the end- especially the pisco sour. The process to make pisco is similar to that of wine but the end result is a 35 percent spirit, enjoyed throughout Chile and Peru. It is interesting that the Spanish introduced vineyards to the country for wine production but the local people developed this new drink from the same vines. Out of all of the pisco that is made in Chile, only 5% of it is exported. I plan to look out for it when I get home to England. It is very nice- especially when mixed with coke or fanta.

In the evening we boarded a minibus which took us to the observatory. The tour began by having a presentation from our guide. It was really fascinating. We learnt about how there are stars in the solar system that are 10,000 times bigger than our sun and we learnt about how tiny the earth is in the universe. It is like a grain of sand in a bucket of sand which is poured into a lorry of sand, which is then poured on to a beach and then the sand from the beach is placed in a huge desert. It is difficult to comprehend the size of our galaxy, let alone the universe. Our insignificance is overwhelming.

On the tour, the guide pointed out stars and planets in the night sky and we got to look through digital and adjustable telescopes. We saw Jupiter, a closed and open star cluster, Mars and the craters of the moon in close detail. Our guide also pointed out certain constellations including the Southern Cross which can only be seen in the Southern hemisphere, just like the Northern star can only be seen in the northern hemisphere. It was a great night which left us with a lot to think about and a desire to learn and understand more.

The next day after the biggest and most impressive breakfast we have had to date (we are talking bread, muesli, yogurt, fruit salad, cake, juice, ham and cheese) we set off again and ventured further into the Elqui valley. The bus took us past hills and vineyards. We arrived in the small village of Pisco Elqui and walked to a recommended accommodation called El Tesoro. It was really gorgeous. Different coloured roses flanked the gravel path which led to our lovely small cabin that had a skylight and was just in front of the pool and deckchairs. The pool was overlooked by mountains. For most of the day we were alone by the pool. It was bliss. It was also very hot and sunny since the valley has 320 days of sun a year hence the fact that there are many vineyards here. In the spirit of it all, we thought that it was only right to buy our own bottle of pisco to enjoy next to the pool. We wanted as authentic an experience as possible…

Tearing ourselves away from this mini-paradise was more painful than expected, and we didn’t arrive back in foggy La Serena on top of the world. Whilst waiting for our late-night bus, we walked round the mall and went to the cinema. We found the new Travolta film 'From Paris with Love’ pretty racist and would not recommend it. There wasn’t a lot of choice of films for us since they were showing the same ones that were on offer in Argentina in August. The mall was interesting in the fact that it was like being at home- there was even a huge upstairs food court with lots of fast food outlets. The difference here was that there was a big hot dog booth which was extremely popular and lots of ice-cream kiosks. Ice-cream is immensely popular in Chile- you cannot get away from it. In this food court alone, there were three different ice-cream kiosks. Round the corner was a special McDonalds kiosk which just sells ice-cream. Again, we were keen to have a genuine cultural experience here so we did indulge.
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