Thursday, October 21, 2010

Headin' Norte

After a minor blogging hiatus, I've returned.  So my loyal fans can relax, because this traveling chica's back.  These last few weeks I've been under the weather.  It was bound to happen at some point and ended up knocking me on my butt and caused La Miss (a recent nickname by students) to miss school. 

But it all came about after a glorious trip seven hours north of Valpo to the magical land of Valle Elqui.  A group of us wrapped up classes and hopped on a bus late on Thursday night.  Now when you hear seven hours on a bus north I know many would automatically think, "sick" but quite the opposite.  I rode in a fully reclined seat that gives flying first class a run for its money but not really because it's way cheaper.  Chile totally has a handle on luxury bus travel. 

We arrived at La Serena, a coastal town, at 6 a.m. and knocked on the door of a groggy hostel owner.  Just an example of how hospitable people are here, the sleepy hostel owner did not have a room but proceeded to call other hotels and even walked us down the street to another accommodation.  La Serena is known for its many churches and is the second oldest city in Chile.  Despite all of the build-up, I wasn't blown away.  To me it just seemed like another touristy, commercial coastal town but the people were incredibly nice which definitely gives it bonus points.  The next morning we met up with other friends and took another few hour bus ride inland to Valle Elqui. 

My first thought was THE ANDES ARE INCREDIBLE.  The mountain range practically touches the sky and is baren - with little to no trees.  Nestled between the ranges is a lush, green valley that harvests Chile's famous alcohol, Pisco.  Each morning the valley collects a layer of clouds and the day quickly becomes toasty as the sun breaks through. 

When we arrived at Pisco Elqui all stresses seemed to melt away and I felt super tranquila.  Pisco Elqui is a tiny town - like one road and the church is the center of town tiny - but attracts bohemians and tourists alike with unique restaurants and artisans.  Our hotel was perfect, complete with fluffy white comforters, high ceilings, rustic furniture, fruit trees and a beautiful pool.  The only down part were the spiders the size of golf balls.  I especially loved when a woman from the hotel tried to capture one beast spider with a plastic bag.  The spider was not having it and jumped on the woman's hand and was then flung into my bed.  Awesome right?  Luckily that sucker couldn't hide forever but I think he called his friends for back-up.

A trip to Valle Elqui wouldn't be complete with some star gazing since it's one of the best spots in the world for it, as well as being known for magnetic powers and UFO sightings.  Although we couldn't make it to the observatory, we went on a tour in an astronomist's backyard where we viewed the Milky Way, star clusters and Jupiter all the while sipping homemade pisco sours.  Did you know about Light Pollution?  I didn't but not looking so good Cali. 

Star gazing and all, we were fully emersed in our bohemian weekend (sans UFOs).  We also went pisco tasting at a 100 year old vineyard thanks to our new friends, Martin and Kayla, who used to live in Jersey and were willing to cram six girls into their Jetta to take us to an authentic Pisco tasting.  At night we went to our favorite night spot with live music and fire pits (also owned by Martin's familia) and sipped on terremotos (strong wine and pineapple ice cream) and snacked on alfajaros (cookies and manjar dipped in chocolate). 

As I rode back to Valpo, I reflected on my perfect weekend feeling calm and happy.  Sitting next to me was my doppleganger (if I was a Chilean male) - a PR student who loved the same music and movies as me.  We also were wearing matching outfits and happily reclined in our seats to watch "Just Like Heaven" en Espanol.  It was weird but still a funny way to bring a great weekend to a close. 

Views of Valle Elqui

Fresh Pisco Mangos at our Fave Pizza Place

The streets of Pisco Elqui

Incredible Mural in the Center of Town

The Girls Pisco Tasting

Allegedly Haunted?

Pisco Vineyard Art


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