I don’t think I experienced the full potential of La Serena. I didn’t go to the beach, and I didn’t do any tours. (I did have lunch at the beach, with a nice glass of red wine.) Instead, I ate Chinese, I ate sushi, and I went to the cinema (to see Now You See Me: super slick, really entertaining, go and see it!). The weather wasn’t great, and I was happy to have a bit of a break from manic tourism. I did, of course, go to my standard one museum per city, another Museo Arqueológico, with the usual mummies, ceramics, etc; and, most rewarding since I wasn’t planning a stopover on Easter Island on my trip, they had one of the Moai on display.
Next, I headed to Vicuña, a town in the Elqui Valley outside of La Serena. My main reason for going was to visit one of the astronomical observatories, which isn’t possible during the full moon. Now it wasn’t a full moon when I arrived in Vicuña. It was a SUPERMOON. This unusually large moon (14% larger, and 30% brighter) appears when the full moon coincides with the moon’s closest approach to the Earth, which happens every 14 full moons, i.e. less than once per year. So a well-timed visit.
Vicuña is also known, at least locally, as the birthplace of Gabriela Mistral, a Chilean poet and feminist, and the first Latin American to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, in 1945. According to Wikipedia, she is probably most quoted in English for Su Nombre es Hoy, ‘His name is today’:
“We are guilty of many errors and many faults, but our worst crime is abandoning the children, neglecting the fountain of life. Many of the things we need can wait. The child cannot. Right now is the time his bones are being formed, his blood is being made, and his senses are being developed. To him we cannot answer ‘Tomorrow’, his name is today.”
There was a museum in her honour right by my hostel, which closes on Mondays. I was there on a Monday.
Now what I did do in Vicuña was hire a bike and cycle around the countryside. I was given a very inaccurate map, a puncture repair kit (as if I’d remember how to use it), and a pink bottle of water, and off I pedalled. Soon I was coasting down the main road singing songs from Sound of Music. But I wasn’t supposed to be on a main road, so I cycled back and tried again to understand the map. I had to ask, and backtrack, a few more times, and I’m pretty sure I went up some unnecessary inclines, but eventually I found the correct route and could enjoy the views of the surrounding landscape. In fact, every time I got over-confident on a flat or downhill stretch, I would turn the corner to find a steep uphill stretch. But pride wouldn’t let me get off and walk, so each time I huffed and I puffed my way to the top. The cycle tour ended with a visit to the Capel pisco factory, which in turn ended with a tasting of three piscos of our choice. Pisco is a grape brandy developed in Chile, or in Peru, depending on whom you talk to, by the Spanish in the 16th century. Of course, I had to try the one called La Bruja, the witch, but the one I preferred was the stronger bicentennial limited edition, matured in wooden barrels for four to five years, now no longer being produced; and probably my favourite was the Cremisse, which was essentially Baileys. Luckily, the pisco factory was really right at the end of the bike tour, and I managed to stay upright for the last few hundred metres to return the bike and equipment in one piece.