The journey from Valparaiso to La Serena was uneventful. Like the other journey we’d done in Chile, the bus left on time and arrived on time, if not a little early.
It was my second time in La Serena, the first was in 2003. As we wandered around it all looked very familiar, the Plaza De Armas was the same, the shops were a little newer but the place had the same feel about it – relaxed but everyone getting on with their lives. One of the first things we did was take a walk to the beach, on the way we stopped at the Faro Monumental, La Serena’s emblem. As we walked down to it I was telling Jono how it smelt of pee the last time was I there and oddly as we approached the same aroma hit our noses, so we didn’t hang around for long.
Last time I was here I did a tour to the local observatory to see the stars as it’s pretty much guaranteed to be cloud free once you get out of La Serena and into the hills. We’d already seen the stars in New Zealand at Lake Tekapo, so this time we opted to take a trip out to the Elqui Valley. The valley is nestled in between the Andes and has a mico climate which makes it an important growing region for Chile and provides some dramatic landscapes.
We headed off into the valley early in the morning on an organised tour, stopping at points of interest along the way. It was a cloudy and cold morning in La Serena but as soon as we had left the outskirts the sun started to peak out and a few KM’s into the valley we had cloudless skies. Our tour guide, Hector, even promised our money back if we didn’t see the sun when we booked the tour, so he must have been sure.
The tour took in the Pulclaro Dam, the quaint towns of Vacuna, Pisco Elqui and Montegrande. Along the way Hector gave us facts about the area – the region is good for growing grapes both for eating, wine and making pisco. He did have this trick of asking questions to make sure you were listening! It was like being back at school as the questions he asked me I never got right.
Each town we saw was centred around a square which I loved. It gave a really relaxed community feel to the town. I think that town planners back home could learn a lot from that! One of the stops along the way was to Gabrielle Mistral’s house, I didn’t know who she was before the trip. What I found out was the Chileans are very proud of her as she was the first Noble prize winning poet in South America.
We were also shown around a Pisco factory. The ownership of the drink is hotly contested with Peru. Hector did explain that that Peru may have made Pisco first but Chile was the one to patent it, so technically Chile owns Pisco. The tour around the factory was interesting, especially seeing all the grapes being delivered in huge trucks. Oddly later that day both Jono and I had craving for grapes.
Most of the houses we saw were made of Adobe and brightly coloured, really lovely.
Back in La Serena we did a lot of wandering around taking in the atmosphere of the place. We also had some of our cheapest meals that we’d had anywhere so far. We were recommended a little place off the beaten track, which served either fish, chicken or meat for 3000 pesos for two people including a soft drink. That’s about £4 which was great for the budget. Chile itself is pretty expensive and it was great to find a cheap eat.
While in La Serena we took a look at what we had left planned before we head home in June. The plan was to spend pretty much equal amounts of time in Bolivia and Peru when we left Chile. We decided that we didn’t want to rush through Bolivia and Peru so made the decision to give Peru a miss this time and spend the time in Bolivia. This left us with a problem, as we still needed to get to Lima in Peru to fly home. As this is part of our ticket we could not change it. What we decided to do was add a leg into our round the world ticket from La Paz in Bolivia to Lima just before we are due to fly home.
My Spanish is pretty basic but it’s getting us by and trying to something specialised like add a leg into a round the world ticket in Spanish proved to be pretty difficult. Partly due to my lack of the correct vocabulary and the complicated system Lan Air use it took over two hours, and that’s no exaggeration! We did manage to get it done and I think the lady at the Lan Air office was happy to see the back of us when it was all done. The upshot of it all is we have about five weeks in Bolivia which we are much happier with and fly to Lima a few days before we head back home.
Our time in La Serena was pretty relaxing; La Serena was definitely warmer than further south which was definitely a welcome change. As Chile was entering into autumn we were not used to the cold, it was definitely a shock to the system not to be in shorts all the time.
Luckily we were headed further north towards the driest desert in the world in Atacama, so it would definitely be warmer. To get there we had the option of doing an overnight bus journey which neither of us wanted to do. For me the chairs on the bus are way too small to try and sleep and you don’t get to see the lovely scenery. We opted to do a seven hour hop to Copiapo, a non-descript town which owes its existence to mining. Once in Copiapo we had enough time to take a quick look around and have something to eat. And as to prove my point the square in the town was full of activity, which gave the town a really nice vibe. While we were out there was a dance festival going on.
The following morning we got back on another bus and headed to San Pedro De Atacama which was at 2400m and located in the driest desert in the world. I was looking forward to getting back to somewhere warm.