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Published: July 28th 2006
After a lazy morning in San Pedro we turned up at the bus stop to find we were on the same bus as our Korean group, who were heading to Santiago. No bus dramas thankfully to report this time but there was an amusing moment when Simon took a hefty second bite into his empanada (again, like a cornish pasty but larger than a salteña) to find that he had half eaten something that looked distinctly meaty but was also purplish in colour and of a roundish, sack-type shape. Needless to say, the offending article was hastily removed and Simon continued with the empanada. We are speculating on kidney/liver, Simon having quickly dismissed my suggestion of testicle (surely only in Outer Mongolia??)! I was just pleased that I had chosen the cheese empanada as opposed to ´Meat´ flavour. Apparently ´carne´ usually denotes beef, but it would be nice if they specified.
Arrived in La Serena at 7am to find the place practically dead without even a cafe open to serve us a cuppa. Our hostel chosen from the Rough Guide no longer existing, we were lucky to have been approached at the bus station
Simon and the dude who makes all the Pisco - we felt he looked suspiciously like Simon´s Uncle Barry.
by a bloke who gave us a card for his hotel and eventually made our way there. Spent the day enjoying cable tv´s array of English movies and a good look around the town, which is pleasant enough, although again expensive after Peru and Bolivia. At least the exchange rate makes it easy to work things out (1000 pesos to 1 pound).
In the evening we had dinner at a little cafe which served humungous hamburgers which were supplemented by a generous serving of nachos. After a beer we hit the sack.
Today we were signed up for a tour of the Elqui Valley, which runs east from La Serena and is the home of Chile´s national drink Pisco. The views were again impressive, but vastly different from the landscapes that have preceded them - we have seen a lot of desert recently! The valley is intensively cultivated with papaya, pumpkins, potatoes (harvested four times a year), oranges and of course field upon field of vines. We felt a bit unlucky to not have a beautiful clear sky since the valley only has on average 45 cloudy days a year. As a result it is
the home to the greatest concentration of international observatories in the world, some of which we could just about spot from our bus. We were first taken to a huge reservoir and then back up into the mountains to Chile´s oldest pisco distillery, where we were taken through the process and then got to taste the finished product. It tastes vaguely like a softened tequila, but even so was not agreeable to everyone.
The tour then took us to some local villages where we visited the home of Gabriela Mistral, a Nobel prize-winning poet who we had never heard of, but which was interesting nevertheless. After watching a beautiful sunset we returned to La Serena.
Ever onwards, we checked out of our hotel, which has been one of the best yet in terms of value, and headed to the station for our bus to Valparaiso, another seaside town just an hour or two north of Santiago. Having again been accosted (but not in an unwelcome way) at the station on our arrival, we settled in to our room in a family home before hitting Jumbo - our first supermarket since arrival in South America. It
Drenched in Viña
Even the people in cars were not enjoying the weather. It rained solidly for at least 40 hours.
seemed to be the destination of the rest of Valpo since the place was packed even at 8pm on a Sunday.
After a lazy morning we cruised into Valpo and passed the day wandering through the streets and up into the hills which surround the town. One way of doing this is by taking one of the several ascensors (funiculars), although you might feel you are taking your life in your hands since many of them were constructed over a centuary ago. After a failed attempt at visiting one of Pablo Neruda´s houses (picked the one day of the week on which it´s closed) we headed for El Irlande, a pub that serves 161 different beers from around the world and settled down for some sampling. Our desire to try as many as possible was diminished by the prohibitive prices (eight pounds for some bottles). After a nice pizza in an Italian restaurant with a scarily keen waiter who wanted us to ´try´ his tirimasu (and then charged us for it) we headed home.
We awoke to the sound of rain against the window and it took some time to muster the
There have been some requests (largely maternal) to see my ring, although the photo does not do justice to how much it sparkles!
courage to leave the house as our first day of bad weather appeared to have arrived with enthusaism. Having been lent some umbrellas by our host, we ventured out into the squall. It wasn´t exactly the weather to enjoy the attractive neighbouring town of Viña del Mar, which apparently has beautiful sandy beaches, so after a walk across town (with a coffee break to dry off) we made it to the connected shopping centres which would be our base for the day. We cruised the shops, ate a lot and caught Pirates del Caribe, which was available subtitled and dubbed. Simon felt that the ending was a bit like the Matrix 2, leaving the viewer unsatisfied, but overall there was enjoyment of Jonny´s eye make-up and general grumblings from me when Little Miss Pouty got some lip action with him. Following the film we played some roulette at the casino, although the luck was against us.
Unfortunately another day of rain kept us largely house-bound, but we returned to La Sebastiana, which was really interesting and even inspired me to write a little poem myself! Pablo Neruda was generally a touch eccentric and his house was built on several levels in a ship-like style, complete with porthole windows. In one room the decor consisted of an embalmed bird hanging from the ceiling, a Parisian carousel horse, Elizabethan type paintings of people in ruffs and English china. Seeing as we had had to wear waterproof trousers (highly unattractive) it was that wet and windy, we pretty much chilled for the rest of the day.
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