La Serena & Isla de las Damas

Trip Start Sep 05, 2007
Trip End Feb 06, 2008

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

We had another long weekend this past weekend, so the girls...Isabelle (Switzerland), Clementine (France), Agnieszca (Poland) and I went to La Serena, about 7 hours north of Santiago.
La Serena is really nice...peaceful (no construction!) and has beautiful surrounding scenery. In the summer it's a popular beach resort, but was pretty cold when we were there. We took the very comfy overnight bus on Friday night and arrived at around 7 am on Saturday, checked into our hostel and then toured around the city. Usually a good place to start is to ask someone where the "Plaza de Armas" is...aka the central plaza, and that's usually where all the action is.
That evening, we walked to the beach - it was very cold, too cold for swimming - and visited Coquimbo, the fishing town at the other end of a long line of beaches. Unfortunately, there wasn't much going on there, but we warmed up with cafe cortado (espresso with milk) and pie de limon (lime pie).
On Sunday, we got tickets for a hop on- hop off type bus and visited a large lake that was held back by a huge dam. Hopefully it's secure because there were quite a few houses in the valley below!
We also went to Pisco Elqui, a town in Valle de Elqui where they make wine and pisco (the Chilean national drink - kind of like tequila). They have 300 days of hot sun and at night it cools down alot, which is perfect for growing grapes. We did the tour of the Mistral pisceria which was interesting, toured the market, and managed to catch a religious procession which was beautiful with amazing costumes (video attached).
After Pisco Elqui, we went to Monte Grande, where famous Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral lived. She won a Nobel Prize for literature in 1945 and apparently her work reflects her emotions relating to her father abandoning the family when she was 3 and the suicide of her first true love. She later became known as the "Mother of America". We also made friends with a guy from Monte Grande, James, who makes handmade newspapers with his father to sell to tourists. I must have made an impression because he went to the art stands near the church and bought me some earrings. Very sweet!
On the way back to La Serena, Isabelle and Agnieszca stopped at Vicuna to continue on with a tour bus going to the Mammaluca observatory, while Clementine and I went back to La Serena.
The next day, we took a tour to Isla de las Damas....amazing! There were just 4 of us on the tour and our driver, Gustavo, was really knowledgeable about the area and really nice. We drove about 2 hours out of La Serena, and stopped at Punto de Choros (Mussel Point). From there, we took a boat out to Isla de los Choros where you're not allowed to disembark, but we saw dolphins, sea lions, an otter, and loads of birds (cormorants, seagulls, pelicans) and small penguins that climb up the cliffs to lay their eggs. It was stunning. From there, the boat goes to Isla de las Damas (Island of the Ladies) which has a few beautiful beaches, a lighthouse (well, more like a torpedo) and beautiful scenery. We stayed there for about an hour then headed back for an amazing lunch of shrimp empanadas and grilled fish (thank god it wasn't chicken and french fries again!).
After the tour, we still had about 6 hours to kill before the bus headed home, so we went to see Evan Almighty (in Spanish) at the theatre and had dinner. Another long weekend in Chile over :(.

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