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Published: September 5th 2006
In a narrow country, there are only two directions to chose from - north or south. Since it's still snow covered in the lake district and beyond, north seemed like the sensible choice so off we went to La Serena, 7 hours north of Valparaiso. At least on a 7 hour bus trip, you get to see some great scenery, unlike flying, so the trip passed reasonably quickly. Chilean buses are mercifully closer to Argentinean standards than to Bolivian or Peruvian ones!
La Serena is a major seaside resort in the summer, but it was fairly quiet being off season. Arriving early evening, again food was high on the list of priorities and having seen a pizzeria recommended, that with red wine was on our minds. Sadly, the waiter elected to keep the fact that they had no red wine left to himself until well after we'd ordered, when it was too late to leave. An italian restaurant running out of red wine in a wine growing region - surely some mistake! In most other places, the waiter would run down to the corner shop, but customer service in some parts of Chile is sadly lacking so we got an unapologetic shrug instead, starters brought with mains, a sandwich instead of the pizza ordered - and a nice reminder from him at the end that service charge wasn't included in the total price. We came this close to pointing out that it hadn't been included with the meal either, but restrained ourselves. That aside, the city itself surprised us with it's plazas, decent market, shops and bars. Sadly the weather was pretty grey when we took a walk to the beach and lighthouse, but I'm sure it's lovely in summer though.
The main reason we were in La Serena was to break the journey on the way to the Pisco Elqui, which we'd had recommended for a quiet few days in the mountains. We rented a lovely cabin there for two nights, which quickly turned into three when we got there and relaxed into the laidback atmosphere of the village. It gets 320 days sun a year, but the first day wasn't one of those. However, it brightened after that until by day three I could barely lie in the hammock for the heat.
We had plans to go horse riding, or perhaps mountain biking, but somehow never quite got round to it, preferring instead to treat it purely as a relaxing break within our trip - and probably the last chance we'll have to do so until we reach Buenos Aires.
One day we did motivate ourselves sufficiently to take a walk along the hills of the Elqui Valley towards the Pisco Nicho distillery, but having consumed a few too many pisco sours the night before, decided to give the guided tour and tastings a miss. A lucky choice of restaurant had given us the perfect anniversary meal - run by an Argentinean, with real pride in what he served, so Luke got the lomo de chorizo he'd been yearning since we left BA in June.
We also never made it to the observatories to see the Very Large Telescopes (that's really what they call them), due to certain places only being open to visitors on a Saturday and the sky not being clear enough to merit figuring out the buses to visit to the Mamalluca observatory on the night we had free to go. Still, maybe they'll have installed an Extremely Large Telescope by the time we come back to visit.
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