Valle del Elqui, Chile
My alarm went off early 7AM I set it in order to pack to stay the night in Vincuña. Hitting the snooze, I inadvertently (or purposely) turned it off. I woke up at 8:50. Doh! Whatever, no need to be crazy. During my 2 hours extra of sleep I made the executive decision to fuck packing and just take a day trip instead.
I told Gustavo my plans to quality control some pisco before gazing at some stars. He said I should be able to do the first observatory tour and make it back that evening. First, he told me, to stop in Vicuña and book the night tour then continue down the Valley. Also, he told me I didn’t need to go to the bus terminal, I could catch a colectivo on the corner that would take me to Vicuña.
It took me about 5 minutes to figure out that the colectivos here were taxis with designated routes. This reminded me of the bitter debate in Krabi, Thailand when I tried to convince my travel partner for an entire hour that what the Thais called buses were the pick-up truck.
The taxi whisked me and 3 strangers off to Vicuña. Within 40 minutes, we were dropped in front of the bus terminal just steps from the Plaza de Armas. Before leaving the terminal, I saw the last bus to La Serena left at 21:45.
Per Gustavo’s instructions, I went into the in town office for the Observatorio Mamalluca that is open for tourists to poke around. There are several observatories in the Elqui Valley due to the area’s prime geographical location with 360 days of clear skies and the lack of any large cities that create light pollution. The earlier tour at 19:30 was not available but there was space for the one at 20:30. What time did it end? 23:00. Doh! Miss the tour or miss the bus?
Answer? Miss the bus. Stay the night. I found a cheap room for 6 Mil CLP. The downside, no locks to the door. No worries since I just had my day pack which would be on me all day. The upside was a room with not just one but THREE beds and a private bathroom. Tonight, there were 4 beds with my name on them, including the one in La Serena housing the rest of my belongings.
With matters settled in Vicuña, I continued the lovely journey through Elqui Valley. A river flows from the Andes through the valley all the way to La Serena. Much the weekends in June and July I escape foggy San Francisco to the sunny wine country less than an hours drive, I left the fog in La Serena and was greeted with a beautiful sunny valley home to the perfect landscape to produce pisco which also starts with grapes.
There are several major pisco distilleries. CAPEL is the largest and near Vicuña but I wanted to go to Pisco Elqui to compare how the Chileans produce their pisco compared to the Peruvians in Pisco.
Before I toured the facilities of Pisco Mistral, formerly Tres Eres, I toured the village. It took less than 15 minutes only because I did 2 rounds looking for something to eat. After the mind-blowing mushroom empanada the other day, I was craving another. No luck, all the shops only had meat not even cheese. I ended up getting something much better for me a papaya licuado. This area produces a ton of papayas so this choice was a more appropriate and local option.
The Pisco Mistral tours were on the hour every hour in Spanish and with only one in English at 3:30. I opted for the 2PM. Even though I may miss some things at least I would learn new words. Plus, my other tour in Pisco, Peru was in Spanish. The tour of the facility took much longer than my tour of the town.
I got to see the antique items used produce pisco including old school stills. I learned about the history of pisco, the legend about the founder of Tres Eres and the reason behind the name change to Pisco Mistral. Not only were there antique items on display but there was a section showcasing modern art made from spent barrels. One exhibit was simply a barrel thrown on a mattress: passed out after too much pisco. I was amused when I viewed the photo, a well-placed orb made it look as the the barrel was drooling. Another exhibit I entitled: “Rocketfuel for Jackass 4.0”.
As I sipped and savored my several samples of strong pisco, I pondered the name change. Gabriela Mistral, born in Vincuña, was an important female in Chilean History. She was a poet, the 5th female to receive a Nobel Prize in Literature before women had rights in Chile. Thus, she was also an active feminist. She is well respected and her name and face appear everywhere throughout Chile including the 5 Mil bill to honor her. Salud to Gabriela! However, my nonpolitically correct mind thought, “Damn you would really need to drink a lot of Pisco to find her hot.”
Once back in Vicuña, I chilled in the living room of the guesthouse for a bit with Mac. We were joined by a cute 5 year old girl Sophaelle. She was intrigued with my blond hai and Mac. I have referred to my Spanish competency as being at par with a 5 year old. Ugh, may have to bump myself down to 3. I could barely understand her at times. But then I remembered, half the time I don’t understand 5 yo kids who speak English. She found the photo booth function on my Mac and we had fun in our photo-shoot.
She was not pleased when I had to go catch the sunset and grebe some grub. The only restaurant that was open was Halley’s Restaurant. My waiter was really friendly and he told me everything he knew about the States based on his visit and told me that even though there were several vegetarian options on the menu, the only item they had today was Vegetariana Pobre. I gave it a go and ordered a pisco drink the way some Chileans do it: as a Piscola (Pisco + CocaCola). Once I received my meal I understand why they call it the poor man’s vegetarian dish: rice, french fries, carmalized onions with a fried egg on top. Of course with a side of bread and aji pebre (hot sauce). OMG, pobre chica indeed!!
Meeting up with the tour, I met 2 dorky American guys and a Greek female. Me and the Greek chica bonded in our agreement that there were not enough beautiful men to be seen in these parts of South America on our ride in one of the caravans in the caravan. I told her I missed the sexy Greek men of her country, she agreed. Once we made it to the top of the observatory, as I got out of my caravan, I literally ran into an extremely sexy man. “Discuple y HO-LA!!!”
Our guia took us up to the largest telescope first. She told us that this is the perfect place to see a starry night due to lack of light pollution from the cities. The only thing, tonight, we had light pollution from the full moon. We would still be able to see a bunch of stars, but only the brightest. Siriusly.
The sexy man sidled up next to me as we all gathered around the VLT (very large telescope). He kept chatting with me thus distracting me from gazing into the sky and into his gorgeous blue eyes illuminated by the full moon instead. We took our turns peering through the telescope into space viewing different star clusters and pairs in our galaxy plus we got to see Saturn. Between each turn, me and my sexy stranger snuggled next to each other to stay warm. We both saw a shooting star aka meteoroid crashing our atmosphere.
Listening to our guia, my fascination with astronomy returned but so did my headache associated with thinking about infinity and knowing I am looking into the past as I gaze out into the vast abyss. It truly blows my mind. I was excited to see the Southern Cross and learn how to use this constellation to find south and be able to photograph Saturn and the Moon through the telescope.
The fun was over too quickly. Before the beautiful man got snatched away in his van, he told me to meet him Cuzco and join his trek to Machu Picchu. I smiled and said “Love to meet you, but doubt I will be there in time. Bien viaje.” DAMN! DAMN DAMN! Always my luck, beautiful man and piss poor timing! Ugh, this encounter was much like glimpsing a shooting star just a flash but I guess this encounter is much our time in this cosmos: just a flash or blink of an eye!