Days 78, 79 & 80 (10th, 11th & 12th Feb.)
Day 78 (10th Feb.) In Vicuna
We spent a quiet day relaxing at the pool as we’d had a disturbed night – a neighbour had held a party which went on till 5.30 in the morning! It didn’t really bother us too much as we didn’t exactly have to get up early for work the next day and the live Chilean music was actually rather good! We spent most of the morning sorting out this blog which in fact takes quite a lot of time, but we are still enjoying recording what we have been doing so we can look back over it when we are back home.
We walked into town centre in the early evening to have supper. Being a bit conscious of all the security gates around the houses, we made a note to head back before it got dark. We chose a popular restaurant which was busy with locals (all ordering hot dogs and burgers) and chose a traditional Pastel de Choclo (sweetcorn-based, with meat, in a dish) and an avocado salad with local beer.
The meal was good and we enjoyed the atmosphere, despite it being quite hot as there was, unfortunately, no outside seating. We wandered back to the central plaza and watched some of the live entertainment – all towns seem to have a central square, often with a stage for bands or outside cinema, along with buskers, jugglers and so on. It always seems to be the hub of the town and an ideal place for people to meet or just sit and chat in the shade of the trees. It’s a shame that our English weather prevents this type of community space in the centre of our towns.
Day 79 (11th Feb.) In Vicuna and to Pisco Elqui
Despite camping, we are sleeping really well and only wake up when the sun’s risen and starts to warm-up our tent, which soon gets so hot that we have to quickly evacuate!
We decided to visit a ‘solar’ kitchen for lunch today, which was a short (4km) ride further east along the Elqui valley.
The solar kitchen, ‘Donde Martita’ Cocinas Solares Elqui comprised a typical Chilean building with outside terrace which had a rush-type of roof to keep it cool and shady. It overlooked the valley with numerous vines which are now heavily laden with black or green grapes, ready for picking sometime later this month. There was a set menu of 8000 Chilean pesos (roughly £10), which consisted of a mixed salad, solar cooked rolls, slow cooked goat with either rice or mashed potatoes, a flan for pudding, and either a glass of local wine or local juice. The juice was from the local cactus fruit, Copau, (or prickly pear) and was delicious.
The goat meat was so lean and tender – it was possibly the tastiest meat we’ve ever had and just fell off the bone. Again, we had another very enjoyable meal.
The owner of the solar kitchen was very friendly and well known in the area as being the first person to open such a restaurant, and has apparently been featured on Chilean TV! She gave us a huge visitors book to add a comment to, and in browsing the hundreds of other comments we noticed that only two other English visitors had left comments.
There are a few other solar restaurants in the area now, so we may well try another whilst we are here. We’ve probably eaten the best food of our entire trip this week, whilst in this region of Chile, and it’s been really nice having lunches out, so we only need a snack in the evening back at the tent.
After lunch, we rode further along the Elqui Valley to the small town of Pisco Elqui. On the way, there was more amazing scenery – the huge hills seemed to be of a sandstone type of rock, varying in colour from grey to yellow and pink. It was all very rugged and barren, but still beautiful with many vineyards, even at higher levels. The road was very narrow and twisty, with much presumably having been carved out of the steep rock-face.
Pisco Elqui was a small, touristy town with a few artisan shops around a central square. We sat in the shade of the square for a while, people-watching and listening to a guy playing an Accordion, another playing a pair of tin drums, and an old hippy banging a drum….not very rhythmically! As often the case, there was jewellery for sale set-out on blankets on the ground, but it looked to be much the same as every other place we have visited so it’s probably very hard to make a living doing this.
We headed back to our campsite and decided that we would have another day here and then, reluctantly, leave on Tuesday. Whilst we have loved staying in Vicuna, we are mindful that our time away is finite and there are other places we would like to visit. At the moment, our loose plan is to head north through the Atacama desert, then possibly cross into Bolivia before working our way south-eastwards towards Uruguay and Buenos Aires, where we’ll probably ship the bike back from in mid-April. We’ve been in contact with a couple of shipping agents who say we’ll need to confirm our intentions at least three to four weeks before our return date.
Day 80 (12th Feb.) In Vicuna
Today will be our final day here, so we went into the town for the last time and had a pleasant vegetarian meal, for a change, at a restaurant named Govinder which appeared to be run by Chilean Buddhists. After this, we visited a small natural history and entomology museum on the central plaza. It was full of interesting insects, spiders and stuffed birds…. just like home! (if you haven’t been to our house, we must tell you that we collect taxidermy).
Since we are finally off tomorrow, we made the most of the pool at our small campsite and had several swims to cool down in the late afternoon heat.
Mark checked the bike this evening and we’ll try and try to get as much as possible packed, too, so that we can get an early start in the morning. We aim to get the tent down and have all packed before 9.30, after which it starts to get very hot out of the shade.