Mr Beet has anyway. My horse was called “Suspiro”. More of that later. It has indeed been good to get out of the rain of Southern Chile and into the Desert North.
First stop is La Serena, a nice seaside town that boasts a nice stretch of beach and a museum with a genuine Easter Island moai.
After a day in La Serena, we go further inland to the Elqui Valley. This is a sliver of lush green vineyards at the bottom of a mountain valley.
We stay in the town of Pisco Elqui (named after the brandy, not vice versa). Our lovely hostel has a beautiful garden full of hummingbirds.
Pisco Elqui was exactly how you imagine a small South American town should look; single-storey adobe houses, dusty streets, hoards of stray (but friendly) dogs and dry, red mountains in the background.
We visited the pisco distillery to to sample a pisco sour. It´s meant to be the best pisco in Chile and it certainly packed a punch.
Then, as previously hinted at, we did some exploration of the countryside on horseback.
Mr Beet´s poor horse was not only nameless, but probably very confused. Our guide kept trying to gee him along to go faster, and Mr Beet kept pulling on the reins to make him slow down again. Mr Beet was not really happy with anything more than a walk, but since he was somewhat emotionally scarred by his last attempt to ride a horse aged ten, I think he was quite brave to give it a try. And I think he managed to overcome some of his fears and he was quite enjoying it by the end of the day.
The Elqui Valley has some of the clearest night skies in the world, which makes it home to a lot of observatories. Apparently there is also a lot of magnetism or ley-lines or something that also makes it the UFO / hippy / mystical healing capital of South America. Mr Beet asks me to ask our horse-riding guide whether he has ever seen a UFO. My Spanish is not up to translating “UFO”, so I ask him whether he has ever seen “strange things in the sky”. He is very matter-of-fact and says that he´s seen them quite a few times, that everyone who lives in Elqui has. But while we were there, we saw only some spectacularly starry skies.
On our last day, we went to visit some natural hot springs near the Argentine border. So near the border, in fact, that we had to leave our passports at the last checkpoint on the Chilean side and go into the “no man´s land” between the two countries. The land here is very mineral-rich, which makes it lots of different colours in a quite spectacular way that I have completely failed to capture in my photographs. Plus there are 6,000m high snowy peaks in the background.
After a couple of hours walk (at 3,300m – good altitude training for Bolivia) we reach the hot springs, where we soak for an hour and contemplate the scenery.