Day 09 : Wild Wild East

(as an aside, Pisco Elqui does have streetlights. Just not very many and they’re not very bright.)

I have now passed the longest time I’ve ever spent ‘travelling’, which was about 22-23 days when I went on a tour group to China in 2002. Note however that since I spent a day at ‘home’ 10 days ago, this isn’t technically the longest time I’ve ever spent on one travel trip. That will come soon though.

I didn’t get to go to the observatory in the end, because it’s far easier to go through a tour company and no-one else wanted to go. I did think this surprising until I went out this evening for a drink and I saw about three people/couples in total across three restaurants, Evidently it’s not tourist season.

The tour company did get me on a horse-riding trip this morning though. I was the only non-Spanish speaking person in the whole group (5 horse-riders and 5 mountain-bikers) but it actually was much more smooth than it first felt like it was going to be.
We took a minibus into the Cochiguaz Valley, the neighbouring one to Pisco Elqui and the one most famous for hippie vibes and UFOs; 20km down a very winding dirt track we reached a couple of huts that makes up the village, then beyond that there was a small campsite area where we parked up. The mountain-bikers left us there, so it was just us five and the guide, who did all speak English actually, just not necessarily very well. We got by. It was fine.
Now, it has to be said I’m not much good with balance, or with heights, but once I got on the horse, riding it was surprisingly easy. Obviously the horses we used were well-used to the tourist market and were relatively ‘tame’ (to the point of being about as laid-back as the whole vibe in the valley, it must be said); the biggest difficulty I had on horseback was getting my horse (which was called something like ‘deguita’) to move more than an amble. I’m not discounting the possibility it was overthinking and overruling me on the basis of ‘I know better than you what speed you can cope with’.
We were riding for maybe two hours. Now we didn’t necessarily go very far, but to be fair we didn’t need to. the scenery was already awesome on the road on the way there; trekking on horseback through the paths beyond the end of the road was something pretty spectacular. It’s definitely something to experience rather than see; high mountains both sides, steep and covered with rocks. Narrow rocky trains between shrubland. A small river running at the bottom of the valley making more-or-less the only sound. Blue skies above, the sun covering part of the mountainsides and leaving the rest in high-contrast shade.
The only snag was that I was wearing boots about two sizes too small for me; the lady at the tour group had provided me with them because she didn’t think my sandals would be ‘suitable’ for the trek (she was probably right), but they were the only ones she had. I could fit into them but it really wouldn’t have been comfortable for much longer than I was out. Not that I noticed much when riding, but I certainly did when I wasn’t.

Rested a bit when we returned, then went for another long-ish amble. The hostel was pretty deserted most of the day, adding weight to the out-of-season theory.

This evening I splurged at a local restaurant – La Terazze I think it was called; it certainly lived up to its name by being on an open terrace above the town. Which is fine in the middle of summer, but even on a warm day it chills down quite a lot when the sun goes down. That said, cloudless skies give rise to spectacular views of the stars – I saw the Milky Way for the first time since I was a child (I don’t remember spotting it in the Jordanian desert, oddly enough). Dinner was baked Camembert with honey and walnuts, served with small bruschetta type things.
And a glass of Pisco. This is the local alcohol, made from grapes. It feels a little like Cognac, actually, although slightly less of a specific taste. I guess that’s why they tend to serve it with lemon/lime as a pisco sour. But as it’s my last night in Chile I thought I might as well see what the fuss is about, and it was quite nice to be sampling it on a terrace in the dark night. To Chile – Salut!

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