Once Mum and Dad had arrived we decided to head to Valle Elqui which is the major pisco producing region in Chile. Pisco is a really strong grape brandy which is mixed with lemon juice, sugar and egg whites to make the lethal aperitif Pisco Sour which is found everywhere in Chile and Peru too. The other draw to the valley is the observatories making the most of the almost guaranteed clear nights and low light pollution so we decided to make a day and night of it
. The drive in was pretty spectacular and after booking our tickets for the observatory we had another spectacular drive to Pisco Elqui to visit a small pisco distillery. This being Monday it was close to the public but there was another distillery close by so we ate our lunch in the pretty plaza, soaked up some sun and decided the views on the drive out there had made the excursion worthwhile. We drove back and arrived at the other distillery and saw a pattern forming, it was also closed to the public on Mondays...doh. With a generally lack of other options we decided there was only one thing for it, find a bar and sit and enjoy a few pisco sours and play a bit of dominoes.
When we booked our tickets for the observatory the lady had offered us a 6.30 tour, which surprised us a little as we had expected one at about 8.30 but as the clocks had just changed we put it down to that. We ordered our dinner late and had to rush it to get back to the office for 6 as we had been told to do only to find out we didn't really need to go back until 6.30. When we got to the Mamalluca observatory and met our tour guide he was surprised we were there so early as we wouldn't be able to see anything for an hour or more....long story short someone had messed up and we had to wait around at the observatory for an hour before our tour started. The wait was well worth it though and our guide was brilliant, he talked us through some of the constellations without a telescope many of which we can't see in the Northern hemisphere
. We then looked at Saturn and a few star clusters with a small telescope; Saturn is just how you would expect it to look rings and all almost as though a kid had painted it at the end of the telescope! The clusters we really interesting and it was great to see that what we see as one star is actually 2, 20, 500 000 or more. Because there is so little light pollution we could also see the colours of the stars more clearly. It is still only a slight colour difference but some are definitely red, which means they are dying and colder and some are definitely blue and therefore younger and hotter, some are just white of course! We then moved to the big telescope where we got to see a more star clusters (one made of a million stars) the odd galaxy and even better views of Saturn with 3 of its moons. We even got an earth tremor thrown in for free! Despite the few mishaps and places being closed we had a great day, the valley is beautiful, the towns very quaint, the pisco tasty and the observatory was fantastic.
Alex: We headed to La Serena to meet up with my Mum and Dad again but arrived a night ahead of them so checked out the town. La Serena is a nice town, pleasant plaza, good shopping area and a big craft market for souvenirs (which can be sent home with the folks!). Again this is a beach town so we also headed down there and swiftly decided it wasn't a beach we would be spending much time on as it ponged a bit!