After visiting Santiago we intended our next stop to be San Pedro de Atacama. However the prospect of facing another 24hr plus journey didn’t appeal to any of us. Also since Sam had only just joined us in Santiago we figured we had better break him into South American bus travel slowly. So the three of us, with the advice of our good friend Tomas, settled on breaking the journey in lovely La Serena.
La Serena is one of Chile’s coastal cities. Situated about six hours north of Santiago, it made the perfect place to break our journey. It is Chile’s second largest city so offers the usual supply of city comforts, decent restaurants, shops etc. As well its fair share of beautiful architecture and churches.
During the summer people flock to La Serena for the beaches. It being winter we choose to admire the empty beach (and the wind) only briefly. Nevertheless the beach and the walk from town are definitely worth stretching your legs for.
Apart from being a base to frequent the beaches, La Serena is also used as a base for exploring the Elqui Valley. So on our full day here we set off on one of the many tours.
Upon greeting us, our guide inquired if we all spoke Spanish – “Hablan Español?” I jumped in and replied “Hablo un poquito” or “I speak a little”. Understanding me, the guide unfortunately took the others silence to mean they were fluent…most were not.
First stop was to a Papaya Farm. Unlike the Papayas that spring to mind, these Papayas are smaller, sour and are used mainly for tenderising meat or making many Papaya based products: Jams and chocolates etc. For my benefit alone the guide continued to speak his clearest and slowest Spanish. However as Iain and I understood more than most of the Brits, at this first stop on the tour we quickly became interpreter for the group…
Further into the Elqui Valley we stopped at a hydroelectric dam for a few photos. The electric station was a bit of an eyesore but the view over the valley was worth the visit.
Next stop was the Aba Pisco distillery. It is one of the smaller family run distilleries in the area but gave us a good overview of the Pisco making process. Fermented from grapes and often matured in oak barrels it is not unlike the wine making process.
Naturally we took the opportunity to stock up on a few bottles after the tasting, thinking we’d try our hand at making Pisco Sours later…
On route deeper into the Elqui Valley we stopped at a viewpoint to admire the vineyards growing in the base of the valley. Having gorged myself on Avocados whilst in Chile and Argentina (they are 100 times better than any in the UK) I was interested to learn they grow on the mountainside in the valley, note the dark green triangle in the picture below.
A quick stop off in the sleepy towns of Vincuna and then Pisco Equi concluded the tour. Over lunch in Pisco Elqui the “fluent” Brits were exposed. The guide asked our friend Sam where he had learnt his Spanish and the game was up. The guide, of course, was fluent in English and thought it was fairly amusing that none of us had had the heart to correct his assumption.
After lunch there was just enough time to take in a few sights and the Gabriela Mistral Museum. Gabriela Mistral is Chile’s Nobel Prize winning poet born in the Elqui Valley.
It’s also worth noting the Elqui Valley is one of the worlds top star gazing destinations…unfortunately for us, our trip to one of the many observatories that evening was cancelled, as we had managed to visit on one of the rare cloudy days! This would have made the day perfect but we hear there are plenty of other star gazing opportunities in San Pedro, so look out for the next blog!