Elqui Valley Chile

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We had one more tour the next evening, to the Mamalluca Observatory.  It was late at night, after 9:00pm by the time we arrived, so we had good night conditions.  Our group joined another small group and our astronomer had only one telescope.  It was enjoyable, but if you only have one to go to, do the stargazing at San Pedro de Atacama.

We had stayed four nights in La Serena and now our plan was to rent a car and drive to Elqui Valley, northwest of Santiago.  We were down to our last week of travelling and looking to see as much as possible.  Our hotel hooked us up with the rental car company and in soon a car was delivered to our hotel.  The drive out of La Serena was fairly easy.  Once on the main road, it was like driving in the US only on better roads.  The countryside changed from the overcast of La Serena to bright skies, then to beautiful mountains, and green valleys as we were again at the base of the Andes.   What I love about the Andes mountains, is how they seem to just push up from the ground.  There’s nothing gradual about it.  You have flat land (valley) then the base of a huge mountain.  Nothing in between.  On the way to Elqui Valley we were in the heart of wine and pisco country.  Pisco is a brandy made from very sweet grapes.(  We tried it in a Pisco Sour, and it was good, but too sweet for us.)   The sides of the mountains and hills were terraced and covered in golden and green blankets of vegetation.  To our surprise, we passed a large lake fed from a huge dam, I’m sure built to provide water to this dry region.

Elqui Valley is a mystery all its own.  It is a mecca for spiritualists.  For the past 2000 years, Tibet at 30 degrees north and 70 degrees East has been the magnetic center of the Earth.  In the 1960′s, spiritualist, learning of the coming movement of the magnetic center found it at Elqui Valley at 30 degrees South and 70 degrees West.  In 1982 they were proved right as for the first time scientist found the greatest point of the Earth’s energy here in Elqui Valley.  This was of course, why I wanted to go there. 

 

On the way to Elqui Valley, Dan wanted to stop for lunch at the Solar Kitchen, a restaurant that  cooked all it’s food outside using only solar ovens.  They had several ovens set up outside the restaurant, and two big mirrored disks that heated water.  The waitress took our order and we understood, fish, pollo (chicken) and she said ”Cabrito”.  We weren’t sure what that was and frustrated she finally said “Beef”.  Oh, beef.  We love beef.  We’ll have the beef.  Soon plates of a huge chunk of beef was delivered to our table.  It resembled roast beef, and even tasted like roast beef, but was a little tough.  We were chewing our way through it when we noticed our guide, Marcel, the one who had led us on the penguin tour, came into the restaurant with a tour group.  Later he came by our table and asked what we had ordered.  We said the beef.  With a smile he told us that we actually had young goat.  Oh.  That explained the toughness!!!  From that point forward, we would never forget what Cabrito meant!

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Solar kitchen

 

 

Back on the road to Elqui Valley.  We had reserved a cabin at a small bed and breakfast type place.  It was really cute.  The kids had their own bed up in the loft.  The property was covered with flowering bushes and on the property, but well away from the road, were chairs set up so you could watch the stars at night.  That first night, Tristan and I went down, laid back in the chairs and watched the stars.  It was so dark as we walked the pathway.  We couldn’t see a thing.  Luckily I had brought my camera so we used the light from it to keep from stumbling into anything.  We were dressed warmly, but after about 45 minutes we got cold.   When we went to leave, we were both dizzy.  I can definitely say we felt the energy in the Valley!

 

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Humboldt Penguin Reserve Chile Part 2

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Back in the boat, we headed to Isla Choros, about 30 minutes away.  Landing on the island was prohibited, so we had to do all our sightseeing from the boat.  Isla Choros is even more bleak that Isla Damas.  Gun metal gray rocks shoot straight from the surprisingly clear turquoise water.  The water was so clear, the white sand bottom beckoning, that you really wanted to jump right in. It looked like Caribbean water and I couldn’t resist pulling off my gloves and dipping my fingers in.   Not surprisingly it was extremely cold.  That was probably why the penguins and the sea lions liked it.   

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The boat captain did an excellent job of getting us extremely close to the rocky coast.  Close enough to see the wildlife, but just far enough to avoid crashing on the rocky shore.  Marceau, our guide, pointed out the various birds for us, such as the Cormants, but we were all holding our breath to see if we would spot the main attraction.  We didn’t have to wait long.  There, high above us on a ledge, trying to blend into the charcoal colored rocks, sat two of the most adorable penguins I have ever seen in my life.  Penguins!  Just sitting there. Not in a zoo, in real life, in my real life.  The whole boat was “OOHHing” and “AWWing”.  It was incredible.  We felt so blessed as our guide warned us that the tours don’t always see penguins.

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 Humboldt Penguins are medium size, about 26 to 28 inches high and weigh about 13 pounds.  They are endangered, with less than 10,000 in the world now.  The first two we saw, I guess were a couple.  They were very cute.  Our guide did a great job holding the boat steady in one place so we could get a good long look. The penguins tired of us before we tired of them, and it was cute to watch them make their way up the rocks, hopping, scrambling, head down weight forward.   Our guide and boat drivers seemed to be enjoying it as much as we were.  The boat was maneuvered to another spot where we saw a few more penguins off in the distance, but none as close as the first pair we saw.  But that was alright.  We had gotten what we came for.

As we rounded to the other side of the island, we caught a glimpse of the elusive sea otter.  He was very shy, and blended into the reeds floating near the rocks. 

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 A beautiful sea lion and her pup  were enjoying a break on top of a rock, seeming to pose for pictures. 

 

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There was one more major surprise waiting for us.  As the boat headed toward land, off in the distance we could see dolphins and seals playing in the water.  So upon seeing the dolphins, I began my usual yelling and calling to get their attention, and my kids did the usual, “Mom, stop!  You’re embarrassing us!”  I don’t care.  Years ago, in Florida, we went on a dolphin  encounter boat.  Some dolphins were spotted in the distance and our guide said, “Dolphins love children.  Have the kids make as much noise as possible.”  Sure enough, we all made noise, especially the kids on board, and the dolphins came right over.  Ever since then, whenever I spot a dolphin, I yell, call, clap, make a lot of noise to let them know I’m happy to see them, and it always works.  They always come to the boat. So here, on this boat, in the Pacific, Tristan and Tessa were the only kids, so they needed my help.  “Here dolphins!”  “Dolphins, dolphins!”  I yelled and clapped and guess what.  They came.  The seals came with them.  Within moments we were treated to an incredible show.  Dolphins and seals were jumping up alongside the boat.  The more we yelled, the higher they jumped.  If possible, it seemed they were as excited as we were.  The seals were a bit on the shy side, but I think they were caught up in the moment.  One seal curious seal came very close to the boat, while the seals further away entertained us with dives in the water.  The dolphins were huge, the biggest we have seen.  They were so wonderful, trying so hard to get our attention, leaping from the water, as close to the boat as they dared.   You felt they wanted to see us as much as we wanted to see them.  Our show lasted at least 3o minutes, and our guides were gracious and wouldn’t move the boat until they were done.  At lunch later that day, I asked Marcel, our guide,  if it was true that calling to the dolphins helped and he said yes.  Of course I made sure Tristan and Tessa heard that.  He said dolphins are very good at reading the energy of the people on the boats, and the more excited the people are, the more excited the dolphins become.  But, he added, today was special.  In his 15 years of leading these tours, he had never seen them put on a show like this.  He was honestly and sincerely amazed.  I was vindicated.

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Of all the tours we had done on this trip, this was definitely at the top of the list.  I can’t say enough good things about it.  It’s a great feeling to actually do something that you have only dreamed about.  And to share it with Dan, Tristan and Tessa, to see their enjoyment, nothing could have been better.  I’ll never forget it.

 

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Humboldt Penguin Reserve Part 1

Penguins.  Who in their lifetime ever thinks they are going to see penguins in the wild?  We did!!

La serena  La Serena countryside

 

la serena 1  Clouds and cactus outside La Serena

 

Our driver was prompt at 8 am, and after stopping at a few other hotels to pick up other tourists, we were on our way.    La Serena is overcast/foggy at least 90% of the time, but about an hour out of town, the sky was clear, and we were again treated to desert landscape.  We were headed about 123 km north to catch a ferry that would take us out to Isla Damas and Isla Choros, where we hoped we would see penguins and dolphins.  Many times, due to bad weather and high seas the trip is cancelled, but the call from the coast was everything was fine.  At Caleta de Choros we met our ferry, a small wooden boat, that would take us out into the Pacific Ocean.

 

The ride was a bit cold.  The sky was very overcast, it was damp, but luckily no rain.  It was hard to believe we were headed into the Pacific Ocean to see PENGUINS!!!  Our first stop was Isla Damas a bleak, desolate island that we were allowed to explore for about thirty minutes, which was just long enough.  The island has a very small, rather pretty white sand beach, but the rest of the island was rocky, had a few birds, mostly vultures, and a lighthouse you can climb up to.

Isla Damas 6  Beach at Isla Damas        isla dama 21

Isla Damas 3  Walking on the island                     isla dama 15

 

Isla Damas 8  The boat that brought us here

 

Isla Damas 9                       isla dama 16  Flora  and……

 

isla damas 17  Fauna

 

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       Isla Damas 7  Lighthouse  wearing everything we have

 

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isla damas 18  Rocky coast 

 

 

 Isla Damas 2  Boat ride to the island

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