He´s been through the desert on a horse with no name…

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Then, as previously hinted at, we did some exploration of the countryside on horseback.

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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.

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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.

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More pictures of La Serena and the Elqui Valley on Mr Beet´s flickr page.

Chiloe and Valdivia

Still South of Santiago, we are still encountering more bad weather and doing very little as a result.  We go to the island of Chiloe, which is famous for its stilt houses over the water and its churches.

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Then we went to Valdivia – heading North so the weather improves slightly.  The highlight of Valdivia is the fish market.  This is right by the river and the fishmongers throw the fish heads over their shoulders, where they are wolfed up by a host of cormorants, pelicans and sealions.  When the sealions have had their fill, they swim upstream to a sunbathing platform where they compete noisily for the prime spots.

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More photos of Chiloe and Valdivia on Mr Beet´s flickr page.

Chile – Lakes and Rivers

From Santiago we head South to Pucon – the adventure capital of South America.  We do very little by way of adventure here (a) because we´ve just come from New Zealand, where we adventure-activitied our socks off, but mainly (b) because the weather is terrible.  Pucon is in the “Rivers District” of Chile, so to be honest, we should have anticipated the wet weather.  

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A big volcano looms over town, on the first day it was spewing smoke and we didn´t know whether that was normal or not. But nobody seemed to be running and screaming, so we assumed it was all tickety boo. Climbing the volcano is a bit of a right of passage for tourists in Pucon, but the weather wasn´t co-operating while we were there. I can´t say I was that disappointed, especially after hearing that a couple of tourists fell and died last month.

Instead, we contented ourselves with a bike ride to some local waterfalls.

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Finally fed up with the rain, we moved on to a place called Puerto Varas in the Lakes District. Again, the name should have tipped us off that the weather was unlikely to improve. If possible, we did even less in Puerto Varas except go for a quick run in a short window when it wasn´t raining and get followed by stray dogs. 

More pictures of soggy Pucon and Puerto Varas on Mr Beet´s flickr page.