Chile: Days in the hippie valley

The Elqui valley.

The Elqui valley.

After a couple weeks in the desert it was nice with a change of scenery. And less sand – we’d had it in our boots, our clothes, eyes, nose, ears…even the food had been crunchy at times. The bus south from San Pedro de Atacama took us to the town of La Serena, which isn’t exactly filled with sights but we stayed two nights to recover from the 17 hour bus-ride. The hostel we happened to pick was on a rather odour-intensive part of town, right next to a fish market. The town does have a fine museum though, with lots of Diagutia pottery painted with intricate geometric designs and psychedelic sticky-figure style animals and humans. The museum also sported a Moai statue from Easter Island, which the guidebook added had recently been standing in a park covered in graffiti and urinated on by drunks..

The craters of the moon.

The craters of the moon.

From La Serena we wanted to head up the Elqui valley (renamed by Chile as an escalation of the war with Peru over “Pisco” – distilled wine alcohol – considered by both countries to be their own invention). But first we made a stop in Vicuña halfway up the valley for one night, to visit the Mamalluca observatory – one of the smaller space observatories here and one that is open for the public. We saw Jupiter and some of the same things as on the tour from Atacama, plus great view of the moon’s craters. The guide was a very enthusiastic space geek with the date and duration of every supernova in history memorized. We were a pretty big group crowding around the small telescope though, including some crying young children whose parents must have thought they wouldn’t find it a bit boring to wait around in the dark and cold for hours listening to talk of lightyears and redshift way past their bedtime.

The Pisco Elqui central square.

The Pisco Elqui central square.

Pisco Elqui the next day – it’s a charming little village – part wine-growing horse-riding cowboy town, and part hippie new-age place with craft shops and meditation classes. There’s actually a true hippie community living a few kilometers up a tributary valley, founded in the 60’s on the belief that “the Age of Aquarius has shifted the Earth’s magnetic center from the Himalayas to the Elqui valley”… Remember, you read it here first! 😀 At least where there’s hippies there’s great food – Pisco Elqui sported some lovely restaurants. Back in Vicuña we’d suffered some fairly unpalatable fare – chicken and french fries with two fried eggs on top, all served with most of the grease they’d been cooked in.

Edel and Teresa horse riding in the Elqui valley.

Edel and Teresa horse riding in the Elqui valley.

 

We stayed three nights in Elqui – visiting a Pisco distillery one day and going horse riding another. The valley sides are pretty steep and we climbed up the desert hills by horse to look down at the green valley below, nearly all of it used for wine growing. Apart from Edel’s horse wanting to take a 65 degree shortcut down the hill it was a relaxing excursion.

After leaving the Elqui valley we headed for the charming and rundown town of Valparaiso.

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