We didn’t let the two hour bus breakdown in the middle of the desert spoil our excitement for the week ahead. Two Couchsurfing hosts and a mutual friend would be generous enough to open their homes to us for our next three stops. Staying with locals is such a treat and opens a new point of view and appreciation for a place.
Amazing Curry in La Serena
Our first host was Ravi, founder of the Santiago Curry club who recently moved to La Serena a business English professor in La Serena. He met us after his evening class and we drove outside the city center, past strawberry and goat farms before arriving to his hacienda. An entourage of eager pups came to the car to greet us. Ravi was a very warm host and made us a quick stir-fry (we would have to wait for the famous curry) and treated to our first Elqui Valley wine. We got to know Ravi, as he shared stories from his time living in Malaysia, the UK, and meeting the woman of his dreams while on a business in trip in Chile which ultimately lead to where he is today.
The next day we took a long stroll down the beach towards town. La Serena’s beach reminds me of Northern California; semi rocky, a little chilly, and uncrowded except for the hardcore mussel fisherman fighting the big surf and 50+ degree water. We enjoyed the day exploring La Serena with its colonial architecture, lively market, and Mediterranean weather.
After stocking up on groceries, dinner for tonight – pan fried fish, vegetable stir-fry, the best rice/quinoa/seed-mix and remarkably economical wine (a recurring staple for the rest of Chile), we grabbed a collectivo (shared taxi) back to home base. We spent that evening and the next morning enjoying more conversation with Ravi and his mother-and-law (unfortunately Ravi’s wife, Ely, was out of town on business). Ravi sent us off with his famous and delicious curry chicken lunch, and we were off to Elqui Valley.
Mysterious Elqui Valley
Elqui Valley is famous for its great grape growing weather, specifically green grapes for Pisco production. While Rodrigo, our gracious host, commutes to La Serena to attend university, he prefers the tranquility of the valley over the hustle and bustle of the cities. After spending three days there, it was easy to get lost in the peaceful vineyards and mountain villages of Elqui Valley. Rodrigo took us on a bike trip through the vineyards to a local swimming hole. The water was cold but refreshing after the 8km ride through the hot desert.
The next day we caught a local bus to Pisco Elqui, a quaint mountain village and home to the famous Mistral Pisco Distillery. We walked the 2km from Monte Grande to Pisco Elqui which had some beautiful views of the desert mountains and vineyard covered valleys. After an hour long distillery tour and tasting, we both agreed that 1) our pisco drinks always need mixer, and 2) that we would be sticking to the awesomely cheap and delicious Chilean wine. We finished our stay with Rodrigo with a Mario Cart session, and headed off to meet Danny in Santiago.
Patagonia Prepping in Santiago
Amanda’s best friend from high school, Hannah, connected us with her college friend, Danny. Originally from Korea, Danny was on assignment in Santiago for work. Although Amanda had only met him briefly once, he greeted us with a smiling welcome and homemade Korean beef stew. He not only was gracious to host us, he had also let us ship a package of winter clothing to his apartment. We spent the next four days walking around Santiago and preparing for our next 18 days living in a van in Patagonia.
Santiago is a modern, clean, and efficient (the metro line runs every 5 min) city filled with many Western and International businesses. We enjoyed our long walks and nice weather, however the highlights of Santiago were spent sharing meals, wine, and chatting with our amazing host, Danny. After final Patagonia preparations, repacking our bags with the more wintery focused wardrobe and stocking up on food supplies, we headed off to meet Rose at the ‘End of the World’.