A Travellerspoint blog

Elqui valley

After failing to have been impressed by La Serena, whose only claim to fame is its 29 churches, we set off for Vicuña. It was an extremely fun drive with big looping turns hugging the valley, over a huge dam that created a reservoir of bright blue water and through vineyards.

The vines here are used to produce the local liqueur, Chilean Pisco - a grape brandy. Having already tried a couple of Pisco sours in Santiago and with a number of 'cool' new bars popping up in London dedicated to the drink we decided to learn how it was made. We went on the tour of the Mistral Pisco, named after the local Nobel prize winning poet Gabriela Mistral. The tour itself was relatively basic and we were slightly disappointed in the fact our 'tour of the vines' involved us walking through a small garden and not being able to explore the valleys. The tour gave us a basic idea as to how pisco was made and showed us the distillation process. The tours saving grace was the taster session and free cocktail at the end. Shame we were on our bikes as the Pisco sours was incredibly refreshing in the 30 degree heat.

In the Elqui Valley there are 320 clear days a year and with the high mountains it makes for the perfect place to see the starry sky. We paid for a tour in the Mamalluca Observatory 1,200 meters above sea level. Here our guide, who was extremely knowledgable and interesting, showed us various constellations, nebulas and star clusters. Maybe most importantly he showed us how to find North, as you can't see the Pole (North) Star South of the equator. Coming from light polluted Europe, being able to see a sky filled with stars, the Milky Way and other galaxies with the bare eye was quite phenomenal. As it is impossible to take a photo that does the sky justice, it is rather frustrating trying to convey how impressive this view was - but take it from us, this tour is well worth it. Cheaper than the pisco tour and more worthwhile.

We had a lot of miles to cover over the next couple of days, with a couple of one night stays in towns that don't have a particularly glowing review in the guide book. So we rested up, attempted to make something that resembled fajitas and discussed the stars and space with Fidel, a Peruvian IB maths and physics teacher, whose knowledge was slightly better than ours. We were leaving Vicuña impressed with the small town and the entire Elqui Valley Region.

Vicuña dam

Vicuña dam

Elqui Valley

Elqui Valley

Andes surrounding valley

Andes surrounding valley

Distillery process

Distillery process

Distillery process

Distillery process

Vines used for pisco

Vines used for pisco

Sweet grapes used in pisco

Sweet grapes used in pisco

Mistral Pisco Barrels

Mistral Pisco Barrels

Pisco tasting

Pisco tasting

Posted by Kmoz7 14:34 Archived in Chile Tagged vicuna pisco la_serena elqui_valley pisoc_sours mamalluca_observatory Comments (0)

Finally left Santiago

What a difference a day makes!

Following another early start, the bike trouble was fixed very quickly - a loose clutch lever. With the clutch lever tightened, we were ready to leave Santiago - again.

We found our way through the maze of one way roads and were finally out of Santiago - our journey had begun. Yesterday we were wondering the streets looking for a bed, now we were now cruising along the Pan-American Highway with the Pacific Ocean on our left and the Andes on our right.

This incredible scenery continued for about 400kms before suddenly changing into an equally impressive desert. Following an 8 hour ride North, tarnished only by a petrol scare and two very numb bums, we had arrived in our first stop - La Serena.

Our hostel, Hostal El Hibisco, had everything we needed - a place for the bikes, a warm shower and our own room. A much more successful day.

Finally on the road

Finally on the road

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Posted by Kmoz7 15:57 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

Santiago

A hard place to leave

sunny 35 °C

Monday morning and with all the documents collected, we were finally all set to leave Santiago. We were up early - ready for the 8 hour journey to La Serena, all that remained to do was attach the panniers - simple enough. Apparently not. Having followed the instructions while attaching the panniers to the bike, we set off. Two minutes later, a pretty serious rubbing noise from both bikes forced us to pull over. The result was two snapped bungees. Brilliant. We decided it was probably not safe to continue with loose panniers and headed out to Vitacura to see Diego, who was fast becoming our bike confidant.

Diego appreciated our budget and desire to get started and with a stroke of genius came up with a quick and cheap solution. Cable ties round the panniers to the luggage rack. This meant that nothing would rub underneath and they would hopefully be secure. In fact, this solution proved to be more sturdy than the original panniers we had bought in England. We reluctantly admitted it was now too late to leave and headed back into Santiago to find a hostel for the night.

Making our way through the rush hour traffic, and already in a bad mood following our failed attempt to get started, Beaky's bike decided to play up. Constantly stalling at stops and refusing to change from first gear was not ideal in the angry rush hour traffic, especially as all the bike shops were now closed. This was another reminder of our lack of mechanical knowledge - as if we needed it.

After a depressingly slow journey at 20k/ph we arrived back at the hostel to the news that there were no vacancies. This day was not going to plan. What followed was a stressful hour hunting for a hostel with vacancies, before we finally had some good news.

Pizza and a much needed pint was the only comfort after a pretty bad day. Hopefully we have more luck tomorrow.

Registered

Registered

Packing

Packing

Packed

Packed

The problem

The problem

The solution

The solution

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Posted by Kmoz7 15:46 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

Santiago

sunny 35 °C

While the majority of our time in Santiago was spent doing bike related things, we did have a small amount of time to enjoy the Chilean capital. On our first evening we made our way down the the famous fish market but due to poor Spanish both ended up with battered fish & chips and a pint - hardly branching out.

Among the high rise flats and offices of Santiago there are a number of lovely green parks and hills. While waiting for our bikes to arrive we walked up the Cerro Santa Lucia, a small hill in the centre of town. This view was only topped when we visited the larger hill, Cerro San Cristobal. Here you could see how the city filled the valley, enclosed by the Andes in the background. Cerro San Cristobal is the perfect vantage point from which to truly appreciate the sheer size of Santiago.

In an attempt to continue to fill our wait with touristy jaunts, we headed to the much-recommended bohemian area of town - the colourful streets of Bellavista. Here we followed the guide books and both ordered the Chilean speciality 'chorrillana' - chips, beef, onions and eggs. A good choice. The area was lively and had a good, non threatening vibe. We spent the evening in a biker bar, getting tips on the lifestyle we were set to adopt.

It is a very clean city, with some clear signs of the president's aim to make Chile a first world country by 2020 including the tallest building in Latin America. The people are friendly and as a tourist there was never a feel of being watched or threatened. During our 9 days in Santiago we definitely warmed to the city. That said, our experience may have been slightly tarnished by the stresses of bike-buying in Chile and we are both certainly ready to leave.

Cerro San Cristobal

Cerro San Cristobal

Us with our bikes

Us with our bikes

On Cerro Santa Lucia

On Cerro Santa Lucia

Statue of Pope John Paul II

Statue of Pope John Paul II

Cerro San Cristobal

Cerro San Cristobal

Chilean special - chorrillana

Chilean special - chorrillana

Posted by Kmoz7 15:31 Comments (1)

Valparaiso

Bloody dogs

We decided we should give our bikes a bit of a test run on a slightly longer journey and Chile's financial power house of the late 1800s, Valparaiso, seemed like the ideal town. The 120km drive was mixed. Some of the views as we cut through the Andes were decent with a relatively mundane drive on a straight motorway. Our bikes do lack a bit of oomph which resulted in some pretty slow overtakes often leading to a queue of angry Chilean drivers.

When we got to what we believed was Valparaiso we drove around aimlessly trying to find the centre. After a good hour we pulled into an underground car park only to realise we had gone too far and were in the next city along.

Finally we made it to Valparaiso and got to the top of the hill. The view from the top was incredible with steep hills of faded colourful favela style houses. The centre itself had an easy going feel with some nice cafes. Unfortunately none of our photos do it justice.

We had seen a sign post for Santiago at the top of the hill so thought we would try and take a quieter route back. Valparaiso was filled with stray dogs and while we were at the top of the hill trying to find the road we were constantly being chased. This wasn't the best time to remember I didn't get my rabies jab. I had my legs out trying to kick the dogs away from me and didn't realise there was a parked car I was about to ride into. I hit the breaks and dropped the bike. Luckily only a few scratches on the bike was the damage.

So far the advice we've read has been accurate - the bikes are difficult to find neutral (except when you least expect or need it), the bus drivers are reckless and the dogs to chase the bikes. Tomorrow we face a boring wait for our documents - with a bit of luck (and a lot of patience) we will be able to leave Santiago and start our route soon.

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Posted by Kmoz7 15:02 Archived in Chile Tagged port valpaiorso Comments (0)

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