Tuesday, September 16, 2008

norte chico

Wow... yes, I'm alive, yes, I'm feeling better, and yes, I'm finally back :). Thank you so much for the well wishes everyone! I actually just got back from my planned 4-day vacation so my health obviously made good use out of the combination medicine, rest, and encouragement! The trip was another amazing one to say the least. We traveled up the coast to the region known as Norte Chico and explored more than I thought possible in our time there. Here's a clue... "Thanks to an exceptional climate, this area boasts high quality beaches and a beautiful azul sky which contrasts spectacularly with the verdant fertility of it's valleys." (gochile.cl) And now, enjoy another photo essay:
The bus ride was long. Luckily, I did have gorgeous views like these to feast my eyes on! By the time we got to La Serena we found our hostal, unpacked and rested up a bit and then went for a night on the town.

I wasn't feeling 100% yet so after talking with our waiter I got a plain vegetable soup, they made a special order for me :) It was probably made with a touch of cream because it was absolutely delicious, and if I had been hungrier I would've licked the bowl clean.
After exploring downtown we walked over to JUMBO to get some dessert. I didn't share in the snacky frenzy that followed but enjoyed our fun through the aisles. This is Tim with his potato chips... literally.

The next day we drove up north with a guide to a dessert terrain next to the ocean with cold weather animals. The weather left much to be desired but the experience was so worth it because I got to see...

...sea lions...
...and penguins up super close and in their natural habitat.
It was a million times cooler than a zoo ;) and the water was a completely unreal turquoise blue.

We stopped on one of the larger islands for a little hiking, picture taking, and basking in the beauty of it all.

On our ride back to La Serena we stopped at a small, family-owned restaurant in one of the beach towns with our guide. The appetizier was a tuna-filled tomato over lettuce with olives. I despise olives with a passion but my friend took care of them for me and told me they were the best olives she has ever had in her entire life. I proceeded to buy a bottle of the family's homemade olive oil after eating :).

One of our many salads at the table was this veggie medley.

And it helped turned my bland plate of grilled swordfish and rice into this pretty assortment. Yummy, especially because it was about 4 in the afternoon... I'm pretty sure I inhaled it, oops!

Because of our late lunch we weren't really feeling dinner so we went to JUMBO for more snacks. Dangerous. Here's our plate of cheese and crackers that we ate with wine.

This was followed by a make-your-own sundae. Mine had the works- vanilla ice cream with crumbled cookie a peanut butter drizzle and hot fudge. Talk about a splurge!

We sat in the patio of our hostel all night with our plates of goodies and 2 bottles of wine and it was fabulous. Although I'm usually a 3-square-meals kind of girl it was nice to loosen up with some treats and great conversation. Plus, I'm sure my calorie deficits over the four days before allowed for a little wiggle room ;).
The next day we woke up early to head to Elqui Valley, a picturesque Mediterranean-like region inland. We passed so many vineyards with rolling hills and lakes in the background, I felt like I was in a dream.

Our first stop was Pisco Elqui a small, adorable town where the famous Gabriela Mistral grew up and taught. We spent the day looking in the tiny museum, and just wandering through the many artisan markets. We stopped for lunch at an awesome little cafe where I had a anything but awesome soup. You can't win 'em every time!

It was a good day but we were all exhausted and a bit delirious from our busy schedule. As we waited for the bus back to our second hostel I asked them to pose "how you're feeling" for a quick picture, haha, and this is what I got.

We had a quick dinner and nap when we got to Vicuña and then headed to Mamalucca observatory. I saw Jupiter, the Moon, and Scorpio (a constellation that is only visible from the Southern Hemisphere) through a series of telescopes. It was one of the most phenomenal things I've ever done and now I feel like I want to be an astronomer ;).
The next morning, back in Vicuña we had a magical breakfast. I say magical because it held me for almost 6 hours when I expected to get hungry in another two. I started with this plate of fruit which I split with one of my friends.

Then I had one of these fresh fluffy rolls with almost half an avocado spread onto it. I also drank a large coffee that was half water and half whole milk (probably). Fats galore! and now that I think about, that's probably what kept me full for so long!
We then walked about a mile and a half to the Capel Vineyard. The entire establishment is set into the hills outside of the city basically in the middle of nowhere so we were all taken aback by the complete oasis within its walls. I could've basked in the sun all day in that place!

These are a few of the different types of grapes they grow there, most important the Muscatel variety. I'm sure the plants are much more attractive during harvesting season in January and February.

The grounds tour was followed by a tour of the distillery. By the way, Capel doesn't make wine, they make Pisco:

Pisco is a liquor distilled from grapes, developed by the Spanish in the 1500s and named after the Peruvian city, Peru. It was first made as an attempt to create an version of Orujo, a Spanish brandy.

The tour ended with a tasting, of course! We tried a few mixed versions along with a straight shot of the liquor. I prefer the later in a popular Chilean drink, the Pisco Sour. There's YumSugar's recipe, if you like alcohol at all and are feeling adventurous :) you should try it!
*Edited to Add: I forgot about Tuesday's lunch pictures O:).! My friends Kristen and Tim got Cazuela con Pollo. It was different than the way my "mom" and "grandmother" make it but amazing all the same. There were big chunks of chicken, pumpkin, carrots, potato and... ?
I, on the other hand, wasn't that hungry so I split the token Vegetariano with my friend Emily. It consisted of lettuce, broccoli, beets, tomatoes, palm hearts, potatoes, olives, cheese, avocado, carrots and a hard-boiled egg. As much as you'd think it would be difficult for a vegetarian to eat out at a South American restaurant it's surprisingly easy, if nothing else most of the places offer yummy plates like this!

But alas, all good things must end, and with our newly purchased bottles and filled to the brim backpacks we headed back to our homes Santiago. Coming up is a real Dieciocho celebration! I'm pumped, the next few days are going to be filled with parties, asados, fondas, and cueca commemorating Chilean Independence. Hope you have exciting things planned for the weekend, take care!

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