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Published: September 30th 2017
I've been carrying around this stupid paper clip around for 4 years, always thinking that there must be SOME travel use for it. In all that time, I've never used it even once - but now, I finally found an application - to break the ice!
Geo: -35.6751, -71.543
I woke up in the middle of the night and yawned - next thing I know, my face feels like it's on fire! I go to the bathroom and look in the mirror - holy sunburn! My face had these dark spots all over my forehead, my nose, under my eyes ... it looked like somebody deep fried my face!
I figured it must have happened while sitting on the beach at Isla Damas yesterday, even though it was only for an hour or so. I've basically walked around Europe all summer without sunscreen and without using a hat very much, and never had this problem. The sun in Chile must be unusually strong, because it has never felt excessively hot since I have been in this part of Chile.
I managed to eat breakfast relatively easily, though it was a little painful to chew, as it irritated the sunburns any time I moved my face. Unfortunately, I have an early tour to the Elqui Valley today, so there was no time to go buy any aloe vera or some other sunburn remedy. Though I did consider smearing on some of that delicious kiwi jam served by the
I think these were either mango or papaya trees.
hostel, because it looked so cooling and refreshing ... but imagine how horrific that could become later on - birds pecking at my eyes, flies buzzing around my head, mosquitoes feasting on my face ...
There was a young Aussie couple from the hostel also on the tour, Nik and Jasimma. I overheard Jasimma talking on the phone with some family she has in Chile, and was quite impressed with her Spanish. And surprisingly, Nik isn't a surfer, but is a skier. I thought all Aussies learned how to surf before walking? He talks about becoming a ski bum working at a Canadian ski hill like the countless other Aussies working in western Canada. Hey, if you could manage it, why not?
There were a couple of girls sitting in front of Nik and Jasimma that were being bothered with the bus curtains flapping about in their faces, so doing my best to fake being a gentleman, I offered it up as a way to secure the curtain. I even told them the part about carrying that stupid thing around for 4 years and never being able to use it!
Diane and Hannah (to save typing, hereafter referred to
The first stop of the tour was rather unexpected - I wasn't paying attention to what the driver was saying and the next thing I knew, we were at a dam, overlooking a gorgeous lake!
as "Diannah"😉 had been studying in Concepcion, about a 7 hour bus ride south of Santiago, for the past year or so, and as such, both spoke excellent Spanish. But it was a good thing that they didn't pick up much of the Chilean accent, because I was able to understand what they were saying.
After they used the paper clip, Hannah quipped that I must be an engineer if I carried that thing around all these years, and also made note of the notepad and pen sticking out of my shirt pocket. Busted! Originally from Minnesota, she's wrapping up her time in Chile and preparing to return to the States to finish off her degree. Unfortunately for her, the program in Chile counts towards her overall grades, which has been a problem since the university in Concepcion is apparently famous for random and numerous student strikes that shut the place down! Which leads to Diane's story ...
Diane's story is a bit strange - she finished her bachelor's degree a few years ago, and she's been working in a law office specializing in immigration. Getting into this program down in Chile could have been part of her undergraduate
The bright sun means that you can't really see how bad my sunburns are yet ... but in a few days time ... it gets pretty scary!
program, but apparently the application/approval process takes a couple of years, so she finished her undergrad before even getting accepted into the program! So the random student strikes which end up being huge parties, really hasn't hurt her! But at any rate, things are working out well, as now that she's done in Chile, she'll be going back to school in Virginia to get her law degree.
The next stop was a Pisco factory, one of the main reasons for doing this tour. We were given three tastings, the first two of which were versions of Pisco that you could never actually buy in a store. The whole point of it was to show how the Pisco is refined until you reach the finished product.
The first tasting was 69% alcohol - it burned!!! If you drank too much of this and stepped out into the hot Chilean sun, you'd probably spontaneously combust! But of course, given what I've experienced of the Chilean sun yesterday, spontaneous combustion probably happens to many people in Chile. And I later learned an interesting fact from Diane and Hannah - apparently, there is a massive hole in the O-zone layer, directly above Chile.
At the dam, I tried a cactus fruit - at first, it tasted great, but became terribly sour once you worked through the sugar. The lady put in an amount of sugar that was probably more than the volume of fruit, itself. It was a little kiwi-like, and Nik liked it so much that he had a second one.
I immediately filed this away under "Things I wish I knew before visiting Chile and burning my face off."
The second distillation had been aged in French oak barrels to impart some flavour and taste, and was still very strong, but relatively smoother than the 69% abomination which we had just tasted. On a positive note, I had been feeling the beginnings of a sore throat, but the Pisco sour seemed to have burned away any infection that was taking hold.
We never did try the actual finished Pisco product; instead, we were given some Mango Pisco, which for all intents and purposes, is the Chilean version of our Canadian "Mike's Hard Lemonade". It was much better in this form, as it didn't feel like Javex going down my throat, and flames no longer shot out of my nose when I exhaled.
Next up was the town of Vicuna, where we found nothing much more than a central Plaza and a market. Nik and Jasimma had already seen the town on a previous tour, and as such, were even less enthralled than I was. They commented that it was boring the first time, and even worse the
At the pisco factory, my inner-engineer emerged - a pressure vessel name plate, just like you'd find in Canada. Except that this was in Spanish, of course!
Lunch was at a solar restaurant - nothing overly high-tech as you might expect, but rather simple. Everything is cooked in ovens made of wood, with glass doors, and carefully-positioned mirrors. Given what happened to my face and arms the other day, I questioned the need for these ovens - you could probably cook up a steak just by leaving it in the sun for an hour! But seriously, you'd probably need more time to cook a steak in the sun here - because you need at least an hour just to achieve a nice brown sear on a human face!
Over lunch, Diane talked a bit about her childhood - while she now lives in Arizona, she spent a few early years in Toronto, and also some years in Europe. I found this interesting, because within minutes of meeting her, I made a mental note of her mannerisms, and proper way of speech. Those that know me, know how I always rave about the way that European women carry themselves, how they have that certain proper, demure demeanor. Perhaps it's just a coincidence, but it all seemed to make sense to me when she revealed a bit about
More engineering geekiness - a differential pressure gauge used in pisco production.
her time in Europe, even though she only lived there at a fairly young age.
Funny to note (well, perhaps not so funny for her), but Hannah's Norwegian ancestry gives her that classic blonde-blue-eyed Scandinavian look, which has been a curse in Chile. They are big on the blondes here, and she gets a lot of unwanted attention that goes beyond the traditional catcalling, and has actually resulted in unwanted pinching and squeezing! Perhaps Hannah could make use of that paper clip, and use it to break fingers of some of these Chilean men?
Next up was the little town of Pisco Elqui - again, not much going on here, but a church and a plaza. The temperature was rising, and I was overjoyed when the bus parked, because I saw a fresh fruit juice stand. Unfortunately for me, it was closed, so I had to settle for some pretty crappy chocolate gelato.
After, we were off to Monte Grande - again, not much going on here, but a church and a plaza. Do I hear an echo in here? Most come to this town to because it was the birthplace of Gabriela Mistral, a famous Chilean poet who
Some mango pisco - or was this a urine sample? I can't remember ...
influenced the works of Pablo Neruda.
Then it was back to Vicuna, to drop off some people who were going on a tour to the Mamalluca observatory, and back to La Serena. Back in town, Nik, Jasimma, and I were dropped off at the hostel, and before reclaiming my paper clip, we made plans with Diannah to meet up for some wine on the beach, and to hopefully catch the sunset.
I had some time before meeting, so I grabbed a quick shower, and ran down to the shopping mall to get some aloe vera. When that gel hit my face, I could think of nothing that would feel as refreshing as that. Well, I suppose diving into a pool filled with bikini-clad Spanish senoritas would, but unfortunately for me, that type of experience can't be had for the price of a $7 bottle of aloe vera 😞 Because if it could, I'd be experiencing that several times a day!
The three of us Hostal El Punto peeps strolled down to the bus station to meet Diannah, who had gone to swap their bus tickets. They're also going to Valparaiso tomorrow, and wanted to get an early departure because
Nik and I came across these vibrating pigs at the crafts market in Vicuna - held together by a string, you pulled them apart, and they would start vibrating and slowly come back together. Nik and I laughed like you wouldn't believe when we contemplated the potential applications ... Jasimma wasn't as impressed as we were and just shook her head, however, when Nik called her over and smiled knowingly at her ...
they were afraid that if traffic was bad, they'd end up arriving late for the massive New Year's Eve celebrations.
Off to Jumbo to pick up a couple of bottles of wine and some cups. Jasimma had the brilliant idea of picking up some bread and cheese to munch on - in hindsight, we wished that we had picked up some meat and other things, as well. Seeing as how everyone else here was a student, I picked up the tab for the stuff - but don't think I was being generous, because each bottle of wine only cost $3 CAD! Shocking value, because while not great wines, similar bottles would have cost at least $15 each back home.
We had wanted to grab a spot at the faro, but it was closed in preparation for New Year 's Eve celebrations tomorrow, so we instead picked a nearby spot. We chilled, chatted, and drank, and the next thing you know, the bread and cheese were gone. Then a couple of packs of biscuits came out, and some grapes that Nik had bought in Monte Grande. The wine disappeared, but then some Pisco came out. Good times, good times!
Getting hungry, I needed some gelato - cherimoya (custard apple). Yummy!
Truthfully, I barely remember the sunset, but I do remember lots of laughter, so in the end, who cares?
Diane asked us all if we had any New Year's resolutions - my response was "To continue celebrating New Year's Eve anywhere but home!" With this being my third straight New Year's Eve away, in essence, I'm resolving NOT to change. Why mess with something good?
Diane said that she'd like to celebrate next New Year's Eve in South America, possibly Brazil, and that she'd been discussing doing this with 5 friends. We all laughed because we looked around at each other and counted off 5 of us right here, in La Serena. Or perhaps we were all laughing at my greasy aloe vera face? We all kind of agreed to meet up for New Year's Eve next year (I threw out Egypt, in case anyone was interested), but those half-assed plans you make when tipsy never come to fruition. Or maybe they will?
Given that we hadn't eaten anything substantial tonight, and the fact that Nik and I had to BADLY use the bathroom, we went off in search of food. Jasimma was ranting about getting potato wedges,
Nik was quite disappointed to find out that this store was only named Canabis, and didn't actually sell any.
and Nik was raving about empanadas. I would've eaten ANYWHERE that had a bathroom, but the first place we came across was a restaurant that served empanadas.
Nik and I made a mad dash for the bathroom, and I vaguely remember us making comments along the lines of "OMG!!!! This is the best piss EVER!!!" The girls chuckled at us when we returned to the table, because the window to the men's room was open, and wasn't far from our table on the patio, so they heard everything. Good times, good times!
We ordered a bunch of cheese, and seafood empanadas. The seafood ones I found a bit strange, since they were stuffed with mussels. But at this hour, who could complain? We washed it all down with some fresh fruit juices - I had some more of that wicked melon juice. So did Hannah, but she spiked hers with some of the leftover Pisco Lemon that we had.
We hailed another tiny cab, and again crammed in. We could've used some olive oil to get everyone in, or at the least, my greasy aloe vera face, but we managed without. Diannah were staying at a place
Cool sculpture made out of an old tree stump.
not far from our hostel, so we all got off there and said our goodbyes. I told Diannah that I'd text them tomorrow to see if we could meet up for the fireworks in Valparaiso. It should be a good one!
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