Next morning we went up to the utterly massive cross they’d built recently on a high hill in Coquimbo. They’re big on religious symbolism in South America it seems. The cross itself was very impressive and imposing, and the view from up near the top inside it was spectacular.
At the base of the cross, before the elevators to take you up to the viewing area in the horizontal beams, there was a very large and ornate church, and a museum full of jewellery, goblets, fine robes and art, including giant paintings of the last couple of Popes (the current one really does look evil). The thing that struck me about this was all the people living on the hill around the cross, were in a state of total poverty, living in buildings which were often no better than shacks. Personally, I found it incredibly distasteful. My cousin later mentioned the same thought to me – I was glad I wasn’t the only one who felt that way about it.
Note this post covers the 8th and 9th of February 2010.
After the markets and icecream, we spent much of the afternoon just sitting in the sun, eating, catching up on emails, uploading photos, that sort of junk. It was really quite plesant and relaxing.
We then had an invitation to have drinks (mainly of vodka) at Laura’s house that night; we got dropped over there, and then went down to the local bottle store, which we were told is set up as a front for the local drug-running mafioso, and because of this, and their not caring too much about making money, prices are kept, shall we say, quite low. A wonderful night was had by all four of us, and the conversation in half English / half Spanish flowed very well.
On Wednesday, we went for a trip up to Pisco Elqui valley with Paulina. That is where the local spirit, Pisco, is made; it’s very strong grape liquor and is a little bit like a brandy.
To get to there, we had to take two busses, firstly to Viquña, then from there to Pisco Elqui. The busses were of the small and rickerty variety, and filled to the brim. We had to stand up in the second bus for some of the way, as we barrelled down the road at well over 100km/h in the heat.
We passed through small and picturesque village, and finally reached Pisco Elqui after a couple of hours. We wandered around the town plaza, and through the small markets and around town for a bit.
After a while we got hungry (and not just a little overheated), so we found a neat restaurant a distance away from the main part of town. It was called “La Esquela” (The School), as it was apparently converted from an old schoolhouse. We ate Pastel de Choclos, which I hadn’t had myself in many years, and for desert, this crazy traditional drink which was peach juice, with dried peaches floated on top of a bed of wheat grains. While very tasty, they were also huge, and we couldn’t finish them.
After eating, we walked down the road, through to a set of cabins owned by our Aunt and Uncle, and down to a riverbank at the bottom of the property, the idea being to get away from the heat; maybe dip our feet in the water or go for a swim. However recent heavy rains had apparently changed the shape of the river considerably making this unfeasable, so we just rested in the shade for until it was time to go on the distillery tour at 5pm.
Although it was entirely in Spanish (and the guide punctuated every sentence with ‘ya’ which I found funny), the distillery tour was pretty cool. Pisco is a liquor made from a particular kind of grape, and then distilled and aged. It tastes a bit like a rum I guess. Pisco Sour is the most common cocktail made with it, and the ones on offer here were much better than any I’d had back at home.
Coqiumbo at night
After arriving back in La Serena after our Pisco trip, we had a quick dinner and were then told that we were going to be driven out to Coquimbo for a few drinks, with our cousin and aunt and uncle. After a very slow trip driving along the beachfront road (traffic was horrific); we made it into Coquimbo at maybe 10pm or something like that.
Downtown Coquimbo was pretty lively, there were a number of bars around the central area filled with people, street performers in the plaza, and a bus with the label “Tourist bus” on the side; a double-decker lit up affair with an open roof, music blaring out, and people dressed in various costumes (barney, mickey mouse etc) dancing on top of it.
We found one street that had been blocked off to cars, with bars down one side of it, and filled with tables and chairs. Three of the bars had bands set up in front of them, and each band was taking turns at doing their sets. We managed to find a table in the crowd eventually, sat down and ordered a round of mojitos. One of the bands was seemingly playing traditional classics and every body in the crowd was happily singing along:
After some incredibly tasty nibbles including palm hearts, cheese bits, amazingly tender beef, and spicy sausage, and another round of mojitos (darn those two for one specials, haha), we were treated to some latin beat freestyle rapping curtosey of one of the audience members and his friends:
All in all, an exhausting, full on, and fun day had by everyone.
Note this post covers the 7th and 8th of February 2010.
This morning it was announced that we would be going to the beach yet again, but this time to one a bit further away from town, in a place called Tongoy.
When we arrive, we are taken to a restaurant just a few meters away from the beach, where the entire extended family are already waiting for us (plus a few others we hadn’t met the other night, and whose relationship I have to, still remains completely unknown).
After the ordeal of ordering food for 20-odd people has been sorted out, it started to arrive. I had two kinds of cheese empanada, one was palm hearts (yum!) and the other was scallops. I don’t normally go much for seafood, but these were utterly delicious. I suspect everything at this restaurant had probably had been swimming in the ocean nearby no more than a few hours before we ate it.
More fresh fish, salads, ice-creams and beer followed. Very pleasent indeed.
As a huge group, we then all went in search of a beach to lie on for a good few hours. There is a smaller, prettier beach we were trying to get to, but once we arrived, we realised that about a million other people had the exact same plan as us that day, so we diverted back to the larger beach.
After 3 days of laying in the sun, I’ve started to develop quite a tan by my standards, yet I am still easily the whitest guy on the beach; also it will surely all revert back to it’s usual pastiness within a week of my return home. Ah well.
A quiet day
The next day, we kept things pretty quiet. We wandered down to the markets again for a little while, picked up a couple of presents for people, stuff like that. I especially liked these spiced peanuts which are a local thing apparently; they’re pretty much just peanuts with chili powder and some other things on them.
Paulina took us to an ice cream shop, that does super sold school traditional ice cream. My cousins used to go there when they were little children and their grandmother was friends with the lady who runs it, who is still there, and still selling the exact same ice creams she’d been selling for decades. There are only ever 4 flavours available on any given day, but they’re all delicious. I had Strawberry and Cinnamon. Mmmmmmm.
After having another big sleep in (I think jetlag is still accounting for this). We get up and are fed again (Empanadas I think) and are taken down to one of the beaches near La Serena. The weather is lovely, and the beach is very nice, but because the water was unusually warm, there were hundreds of jellyfish floating around. Most were dead, but there were a couple of live ones, and one of them managed to sting one of our cousins on the back of the leg. Nothing dangerous, but enough to itch annoyingly.
That night was our cousin Paulina’s 27th birthday. For celebrations there were to be drinks and nibbles at one of our other extended cousin Laura’s, house. We met a bunch of people who seemed to remember us from when we last saw them. (I might have been either 6 or 16 at the time, I don’t remember which). There were a couple of people who spoke some English, but they were quickly distracted. After several drinks (which just kept on coming), it became very hard to try and follow the multiple conversations going on at once. In the end I just gave up and started taking photos.
We get a shuttle to Cristi’s apartment from the airport through some truly chaotic and frightening traffic at high speed. The parts of Santiago we see are very beautiful, and we see a couple of the style of small street-side market that I remember from last time.
We arrive at the apartment building, and attempt to talk to the doorman to get up to the room. We spend a few hours at Cristi’s relaxing, checking internet etc, and then our Uncle Jose, Aunt Lucia and cousin Paulina arrive, and we pack into a car, at this point it’s about 10pm, and drive 5 hours north to La Serena. I’m still really blocked up with my head cold, which has become quite unpleasant by now. I sleep on and off for much of the trip, which is down a 4 lane highway. There are many trucks, often pulled over to the side of the road as the drivers sleep. There was the obligatory group of people sat in the back of a pickup truck covered only in a tarp, barreling down the motorway at 120km/h.
Woke up today finally at 2pm. What an epic sleep. Sharing a room with Fran, I feel sorry for her, because of my freight train snoring. Almost immediately after having breakfast, we wander off into town for lunch. It’s at this point I remember that in Chile, everyone has a massive lunch. I stuff my face with chicken and chips and salad until I am beyond full.
We hang out at the house for a bit, and then Paulina’s friends turn up, who have just been at a camping festival of some sort. One of them is wearing a Metallica t-shirt and notices that Fran is wearing an Opeth one, which she had borrowed from me. Opeth then gets played on his iPhone via a small speaker. Reactions are mixed ðŸ™‚
The talkative one of the two speaks very good English. We wander into town around 8pm, and visit the squares and see some of the nice buildings. One of the them is the “lovers square” and sure enough there are several couples sitting there making out. We find a small market and caramelised Papaya is found, along with peanuts coated in some sort of herb+chili powder, which is very tasty.
After another market (one which I remember from last time) we visit the supermarket for some beer, which is very cheap. LIke $5 for a six-pack of Heineken cheap.
Come back to the house and talk in a group, mainly in English. It’s a bit embarrassing how little Spanish we are using, and Fran especially seems quite happy to prattle away in English. Will try and make a really good effort to use more Spanish tomorrow.