22/4 Pisco Elqui
We arrived at La Serena just after 5:00 and headed over to find the bus company for the next leg, Via Elqui. The first above shop sign we saw turned out to be a confectionary shop, the second shop was empty or abandoned, and not even the light fittings were left. This is looking good. After asking at a place that was actually open, we found out that the first bus is 6:50 and they open at 6:30 in a shop that is located in the barricaded off area. We sat down and waited for hours, talking to a Swedish couple until it was time. Then Sarah headed off and got the tickets from a lady who clearly loves her job. We had to withdraw money before getting on a coach, as there is no ATM or almost anything in the town, just hostels, 2 tour companies and a few bars and restaurants. The drive was incredible!!! It was cold as ice inside the bus, as fast as this driver could go and he pushed the coach to all edges of the road and it's limitations. It moved everything in the bus from side to side. We went through a few small towns at 80km/h, not the 30km/h the signs said. I felt Sarah squeeze my hand hard quite a few times, either I got use to it, or it was just a constant squeeze. The part that made it so crazy was the turning these towns. He actually turned right angles after going past the intersection. I think he had somewhere he needed to be or a bet with his friends to see if he could make us sick. We got there, got our own things out from under the bus and left, a little dizzy from the drive.
We got the hotel, El Tesoro del Elqui early and had breakfast (we had to buy it so we stuffed ourselves). It takes till midday to get our room so we wait on the net and I take a quick walk around town. It was all of town as its small and that's all it required.
The room is lovely with a large skylight so we can see the stars at night. We thought about what to do next and decided the place was so nice and we were so tired that time by the water would be nice, a kind of day off. It's only kind of a day off as we 'worked' all night to get it. Not long later Sarah nodded off and I, after checking the time grabbed a liter of beer and say by the pool to write the blog (ironic referencing this but it does take time to do). It's not long and Sarah is back and we start planning what to do and where to go. Not just the next weeks but should we do volunteer work in Bolivia? Should we go back to school? Hard questions. I try the second of the three artisanal beers from Valparaiso to help with the decisions. If you're wondering, the amber ale did help alot. We get dinner at a pizza and salad place in town and try the famous local drink a Pisco sour for Sarah and a Pisco Sour con Jengibre (ginger) for me as it take the sweetness away.
We head home under the near full moon; it's a full moon so we got very few stars through our window.
23/4 tour day
It was a really nice included breakfast we ate to start our day; however we ate too much at again. After this we decided to look around town in order to get the best price for the tour we wanted. Place after place was closed, including all three tour companies. So we asked at the hotel and it turned out they offered a very small company tour for very cheap, and it included more than we were after. We took it and headed in a twin cab Ute down the road with Alexandro, our Chilean guide who spoke very slowly for us. On the way to our first stop we stopped do we could take photos and he explained the area. We should have been paying more for this, not less. The first scheduled stop was at an organic winery, which produced a great product. We were able to understand most of the description in Spanish and enjoyed our time in the organic winery. Next was the Montegrande plaza, which had a red church facing it. Alexandro explained all towns in Chile are designed like this as evidence of Spanish colonization. The plaza is called 'plaza de armas' which historically had the guns to defend the city underneath. We were also here to see the school where a local and international legend attended and lived, Gabriela Mistral. This is now a museum. The museum was interesting as it was in her classroom, still setup in this format. On the wall was a large map of Australia, a very old one with major roads highlighted. These are not major routes now and would be very historical. They are within states and a one other in-between. I would have taken a photo but there was none allowed. Her whole school was 20 kids, like Allan's Flat, but just one class. We saw the flag that was over her coffin, and the noble peace prize, the only female South American! The school is operated by this lovely very old lady, who knew Gabriela.
After this we picked up a hitchhiker and headed to the Pisco Sour distillery. Alexandro showed us and another guy around and to the tasting. The interesting photos of the cellars are stories and myths about storing the wine and Pisco to stop people stealing it. There were cool artifacts and stories. At these places they have art, classical music and other things like this to help age the wine!! It makes the area seem odd but strangely inviting. We tasted the Pisco and left back to the hostel. We got in and found out the markets were closed so we didn't go there, $2.000 off the price and we sat down for a free Pisco Sour and a snack (all included). A little afternoon tea of tapas and wine wound out a successful day. We have a new place tomorrow, a Pisco factory and museum to visit and an observatory to visit before leaving here.
24/4 Pisco Mistral
We arrived into the new hostel, hostel Triskal before lunch and met up with an Australian couple from the day before. We heard them talking about prices and recommended this place. We all headed to Pisco Mistral for the tour in English and tasting. The tour was in-depth and much more around the history of the process from grape to product than the last tour. We saw some very interesting items like a cow udder water/wine jug, a palm tree outfit worn by the natives and a 40kg bronze pesticide sprayer to be worn as a backpack (the empty weight). We walked through some small vineyard patches learning the technique and tasting many types of grapes. We ended in the barrel room of their special reserve, 3 years in oak. This is where we tasted two varieties of Pisco and watched a movie on the process. It was different as it was explained from the Piscos perspective. This was especially interesting when it was distilled at 90 degrees or locked away for three years...
We had our free Pisco sour that was disappointing as I thought this would be the best one and went for lunch with the Aussies.
Later, unfortunately we found out the observatory trip was off due to the full moon, slight cloud cover and a function at the main one (there are 4-5 in the region). Not much left to do but washing and relaxing!!