The Elqui valley is famous for its clear sky’s so we organized a night-time visit to the Mamalluca Observatory from their offices in the shadow of the Bauer Tower, built in the northwest corner of the plaza by a mad German mayor of the town in 1905. We headed to the observatory at about 8pm, it was only a few kilometers outside the town and when we got there we caught the tail end of the sunset. For the next three hours looked and listened to a young astronomer with a passion for the sky’s that was contagious, even Elka got in on the act. She now wants a teddyscope for Christmas and every time we pass a yellow fire hydrant she tries to peer into the top and exclaims in a disappointed fashion, ‘why the teddyscope bwokan’. The region sits under some of the clearest atmospheres in the world with little or no light pollution and very little wind or rain. The sky’s are so clear that just with the naked eye you will be viewing the stars at up to a magnitude of eight. We saw the Milky Way and Jupiter as we have never seen them before. We left them all still at it at about 11.30 to get the kids to bed.
We set out the next morning after our breakfast in our little car to go for a drive up the valley. A few miles up we stopped off at a little juice stall where we tried a drink made from the juice of the local cactus fruit, it was sort of like orange and really refreshing, I reckon it would have been good with tequila.
On route to Monte Grande we stopped off at the Cavas del Valle winery and were given the tour by a very nice young lady who then talked us through the tasting. This is a small boutique winery opened in 2003. I didn’t think much of the reds but they had a desert wine to die for, I asked and got more and we bought a bottle to bring back to our hostal. We stopped off for lunch in Monte Grande and I had the goat in red wine, the meat falling off the bone, it was delicious.
We then stopped off at a little town formerly known as La Union but now called Pisco Elqui in honor of the famous Chilean grape brandy that is distilled there. There were a few distilleries in the town and we went to the most famous of them. They were charging big money for their tours and having spoken to the locals didn’t bother with it or the sampling. They mix it with coke and I thought if it was any good they would be drinking it straight, it would probably taste a little like its name, Pisco.
The Elqui valley is supposed to be the most magnetically charged place on the planet. It has attracted new age travellers, yoga masters, astrologers and spiritual nomads since the 60’s. The epicenter for all of this activity is a small village called Cochiquaz. We headed there on our third day in the valley taking the turn off at Monte Grande. The road was unpaved and wound its way snaking up into the valley. It was incredibly beautiful. The valley floor covered with vineyards growing by the banks of the Rio Chochiquaz, the sides covered in cacti. It was twenty kilometers to the village, twenty kilometers of hard driving, we didn’t pass one vehicle on the way. When we arrived Cochiquaz we passed through it before we realized we had done so and headed back. It was dead, completely dead, except for the dog, one, on the street. Everyone had gone to sleep and wouldn’t wake up till 4 or thereabouts. Lisa made sandwiches, Axel fed the dog his and I walked up to the observatory that was in the process of being built, albeit at a very slow pace. Apparently they have been building it now for a number of years and have yet to complete it. They certainly don’t appear to be in any hurry, as far as I could see they even had a visit from some aliens who crashed their craft beside it. This still hasn’t seemed to spur the local hippies on to finish the task. We mooched around a little longer and decided to head back. The twenty kilometers back were no different than the twenty there except we passed a tractor with a couple of blokes on the back, we all waved to each other, it seemed the polite thing to do.