Saturday, April 18, 2009

La Serena for Semana Santa

La Serena: April 9-12

This last weekend my friend Nicole and I traveled by bus for 6 hours (normally 4 hrs in your own car) to La Serena, in the northern part of Chile. We planned the trip on a whim since we had another 4-day weekend for Semana Santa (Easter holiday). We traveled overnight Wednesday night to arrive bright and early Thursday morning in La Serena. The first day we wandered around La Serena and visited “Parque Japones” (Japanese Park), a beautiful Japanese-styled park. The second day we went on an excursion to Isla Damas (Isla=Island, Damas=Women). We had to first travel by van through the valley and into some desert land to reach the coast (Punto Choros). Through the desert land we traveled at high speeds on dirt, one-way road (like two-tracking or something-I thought we were going to die several different times). It was hard to imagine that we were going to an island, when there wasn’t a drop of water in sight. We got to see some wild guanacos though! They’re kind of like llamas, I guess. But our tour guide told us “to look out for the guanacos” because if we see the guanacos, then we will get to see dolphins. I wasn’t sure (and still have no clue) how guanacos are related to dolphins but apparently, every time he has seen guanacos, he was able to see the dolphins in the ocean. Well, once we climbed into our little engine boat and headed out to sea, sure enough, we saw dolphins! They were jumping out of the water right next to our boat! It was so cool to see, as there are only 3-colonies of bottled-nosed dolphins left in the world and one colony is right here in Chile! We explored the ocean in our little engine boat looking for dolphins, sea lions, penguins, and different types of birds. It was so beautiful and we were able to see so much sea life. Eventually we made it to Isla Damas, where we were able to wander or relax for a little bit. The island is inhabitable by people and serves more or less as a tourist destination for these small day-excursions (although there were people camping in tents there! There is no food or water there though). You can swim or just walk around there. There wasn’t much to see, but the beautiful view.

The next day we scheduled another excursion (they were so easy and cheap and included a meal). Since La Serena is in the Valle de Elqui (Elqui Valley), we found it necessary to see the valley somehow. We traveled in another small touring van through the valley, where we frequently pulled over to look at the different crops that were grown throughout the valley. Making our way further north into the mountains, we visited a dam that they had created there as a source of irrigation for the crops. We also visited the small town of Vicuña, a museum/school house where Gabriela Mistrel (famous poet & activist) went to school, Pisco Elqui (a small town where the grapes for Pisco are grown. Pisco=popular/famous alcoholic drink of Chile), a Pisco distillery (where the Pisco is made & over 100 yrs old!), and then to a restaurant where all the food was cooked by sunlight! (←very cool & delicious!) In the evening when it got really dark, we went to an observatory called "Mamalluca". There in the north, the sky is so clear at night that you can practically see every star in the sky! It was absolutely amazing and we were able to look through telescopes to see the stars and galaxies even closer. We also got to see the moon (so close we could see the craters on the moon) and the planet Saturn! It was almost surreal and the whole experience felt like a dream.

I’m still amazed at how much we did and saw in three days. It was an awesome Semana Santa holiday =)