Journal 9 - November 16, 2002

La Serena, Valle Elqui, Chile - Time to Ride....» Go Back

Journal 9
A snowboard or mountain bike? I wish, actually the bus. Seven hours from Santiago to La Serena on Wednesday, then 22 hours from La Serena to Arica on Monday, then when I arrived in Arica on Tuesday, I took a one-hour taxi to Tacna, Peru, where I caught another seven-hour bus to Arequipa, Peru. Less than 24 hours later, after three hours of sleep, we woke up at 1:00 Thursday morning to take a six hour bus ride to Colca Canyon, the deepest in the world, where we spent one night, then took the six hour bus back to Arequipa on Friday, only to hop on yet another bus Friday night bound for Cusco, Peru. Finally, after 10hours from Arequipa we arrived in Cusco, where I'll be staying for a while, and staying far away from any buses.

I know Argentina recently beat the U.S. basketball team in the World Championships, but by no means are there a bunch of Shaq O'Neals walking around down here in South America, which makes for some interesting 7, 8, and 22 hour bus rides. While seemingly everyone else nods off in what appears to be bed-like comfort, I constantly find myself pinned between my seat, and the seat in front of me. And that's before the passenger in front of me puts their seat down.

Then there's the air-conditioning, or lack thereof. I want all of you to please roll down your windows for me the next time you drive your car, just because you can. It was so hot on the bus last night that I was dripping sweat, the windows were dripping condensation, and the people still wouldn't open their windows, even the people who had functioning windows. Meanwhile, I was literally choking on the air and various odors coming from the fifty or so passengers. Wow. But I made it, and these minor inconveniences are just that, minor, and dealing with them makes it that much better once you arrive at your destination. I love Cusco.

Before starting my journey it was sad to say goodbye to my new Chilean family, my Chilean mom, dad, brothers and nephew were so generous, warm, welcoming and helpful. I don't know what I would have done without them, especially considering I arrived fresh from Manhattan with a raging flu. Thanks to all of you for your kindness and generosity.

From Santiago, before the bus marathon began, I spent a couple of days in La Serena, a peaceful beach town with wide sandy beaches and lots of sunshine. I found a great hotel for $5 a night, with a private bathroom and cable television. After spending the previous three weeks with my Chilean family, and doing the awesome trip to San Pedro with Jennifer, I was actually alone in South America for the first time. It was finally time for me to face the challenges of solo traveling, beyond the small bus seats.

Serena itself didn't pose any challenges, quite the opposite in fact, the high season is still months away, so the town was very sleepy. I spent a couple of days in Serena and hoped on a bus bound for Valle Elqui, a vibrant agricultural valley with vineyards that appear as green carpets against the otherwise arid valley walls. Before the 2-hour bus ride I was presented with my first challenge. Thanks to the previous night's seafood dinner I found myself facing the proverbial traveler's question, Imodium, or no Imodium? Some doctors say it's best to let these things run their course, allow the body to cleanse, etc. But when presented with a two-hour bus ride, what does one do? I gambled and hoped that I could make it to Valle Elqui, my next destination, without any problems. Thankfully everything came out fine, after I arrived in La Valle.

Vicuña and Pisco Elqui, two of the towns that make up Valle Elqui, are both small and quiet, and like Serena, still several months away form the peak tourist season, which made visiting them nice, very few gringos. In Vicuña I booked a tour at the local observatory and did some stargazing. Northern Chile is home to some of the world's largest observatories, but only one allows tourists to visit and use the telescope. When the tour finished the guide gave us permission to begin snapping pictures. After everyone finished taking their pictures and had made their way to the next room, the guide let me put my camera up to the telescope lens and take a picture, which worked out pretty well. Check the site in a few days for the image.

From Vicuña and the observatory I took a bus to Pisco Elqui, home of one of several Pisco vineyards and distilleries. The valley floor is blanketed with bright green moscatel grape vines, from which the strong grappa-like Pisco is derived. The dusty, dry valley walls are contrasted beautifully against the lush green vineyards that coat the valley floor. The mixture of blue skies, green vineyards, and dusty walls provided the perfect environment for relaxing by the pool, reading, and a quick tour of the local distillery.

After the peaceful weekend in Serena and Valle Elqui I began making my way North to Peru. From Serena I began the bus marathon and met two crazy English girls, also on their way to Cusco, so we banded together and began the epic bus-o-rama. On our way to Cusco we spent time in Arequipa, Peru, and visited Colca Canyon, but that's another email.

Cheers from the American bloke.

Justin