Tuesday February 15, 2005
Awoke in La Serena to the sound of surf pounding a deserted beach which slowly came alive as the next few hours passed.
We sat eating dulces - with peanut butter and honey - and had our coffee, played with the electronic Spanish translator and slowly lazily started the day. We had told the hotel lady the night before, "We will be leaving fairly early - around 10!" and we were not headed toward disappointing her!
Finally piling everything into the car we headed out of town, east toward the Elqui Valley. Lush green landscape filled the valley floor as we passed through little settlements like Coquimbito, Altovasol, and Las Rojas on our climb eastward. Farming country here - lots of orchards, grapes, and other crops planted along the valley floor and up the sides of the surrounding dry hills as high as the bombas, (pumps) would take the water!
A huge dam spanned the valley at one point, built about 6 years ago to assist with power and irrigation. One of a three dam project from the 1990s, the Puclaro Dam served as a resting and vista point for us. We sampled the little cactus appetizer that was being sold - a sweet mix of fruit served in the cactus bud itself!
We then passed several cute quaint towns (Peralillo, Arcacollo, some unnamed) as we drove along and finally felt the need to stop for lunch. We asked a kid manning a fruit stand and he sent us in to the nearby village (a one street, picturesque little thing named Rivadivia!). We found the only restaurant, Ignacio scouted it out and returned with a negative report (not clean enough). Outside we saw a man delivering supplies to the mini-market and he suggested another town, about 15 minutes away, Paihuano.
Off we went and we found the most delightful restaurant waiting for us. Entering through a dark wood paneled entryway and on through a dark passageway we were greeted by a faint smoky appearance to the air and a warmly delicious smell of barbecue wood coming from the open staircase leading down to the restaurant seating area. The barbecue pit was visible to the left at the bottom of the stairs and the seating was in an open air space covered with a light cloth for shade.
What a delight! We had a great lunch of lamb shank, vegetables, juice (watermelon; melon; cactus), wine, potatoes - a feast and very relaxing. At the table next to ours was a Chilean family of 8 or 10 people. The dad in the family spoke to us in English - almost perfect - and we enjoyed visiting with him and his family (in both English and Spanish). He was obviously very proud of his English, which he had learned in the United States, and which his family had never heard him speak. For us to carry on a conversation with him was clearly something he and his family was excited about! The young children were all eyes!
Then on the road again. On to Pisco Elqui - the end of the valley! On the way we were on the lookout for artesanias - the area is noted for these people that make woven goods, tapestries, and the like. We eventually were directed to a house where one was reported to live. Off the "main" road onto a dirt road twisting down the dusty hillside we found a small adobe house with a cool walkway shaded by a grape arbor leading into a small living room in which a cute little woman had arranged her goods. She and her daughter showed us their wares - scarves, shawls, bolsas - I bought a scarf and a bolsa and Ignacio bought a cape or shawl for Lana - and we learned that she bought local wool from the sheep farmer, dyed it herself, spun it into thread, and then wove it on a loom located at the back of her house. She led us through the kitchen to the back and graciously showed us how it worked.
Reaching Pisco Elqui, we looked at a beautiful bountiful wine valley, found the winery (specialty beverage? Pisco, of course!), and visited the large church off the town plaza. Very Catholic, beautiful statues/icons, simple yet solemn in tone. Very beautiful, actually. While sitting in the plaza we met a young man who spoke perfect English yet was Chilean. He, a vegetarian yoga instructor, was also visiting the area, as were many mystic types - the area is known to attract these because of its perfect rare atmosphere which somehow creates an environment more conducive to contact with the heavens.
We looked there for lodging but found none and decided to drive part of the way home to look in another place - Vicuña. There we found a cabaña on the edge of town - gorgeous, spacious, well kept and comfortable. Three bedrooms, two baths, kitchen and living room in its own little building on the edge of the property well away from the main hotel.
Skip and I sat on the veranda watching the dark settle down upon us, taking our wine and Pisco Sour, as Lana and Ignacio readied themselves. They joined us and we retired to a comfy room in the lodge to continue our drinks and some munchies. After a time we headed off to the dining room, where we had beef with capers, fish, vegetables, wine, bread - all delicious and great fun!
We took this opportunity to star gaze, since we were in the clearest skies in the world - hoping to see a shooting star to no avail. The sky, though, as it made its way from dusk to dark, passed through some incredibly unusual and beautiful shades of blue/violet until it achieved the clear black we had expected.
I slept soundly, and awoke to the sounds of roosters in nearby fields and song birds in the hedgerow next to our window.