The sun was shining, the temperature starting to climb and before us was the breathtaking sight of rolling hills, farms, paddocks, vineyards, small village towns, donkeys and mammoth observatories perched on the ridge lines in the distance, their huge telescopes glinting and sparkling in the warm midday sun. Each corner brings another Pisco distillery, a new village, another magnificent view or another donkey. This whole side trip had been a series of surprises. First there was the guest house in La Serena owned by the delightfully gorgeous Maria and her son Pancho and grandsons all living under the one roof, sharing their neighbourhood house with international travellers and guests and those hugs, bright smiles and group dinners making you feel like you had grown up as part of their family. Second, the town square with the live musicians playing jazz tunes that had people of all ages dancing and clapping. Third and today was the Elqui Valley charming me with her beauty and breathtaking views. The extras that were adding to the experience included the local pisadas, the orchards, the vineyards and pisco distilleries, adobe architecture, stunning old churches and the relaxed and happy people. Finally, the solar restaurant where everything is cooked using solar power from the sun; incredible to see, delicious food to eat and our organisational skills were put to the test with having to order the food at 9am which would be ready at 2pm and sheer relief knowing that a beating, hot sun actually meant you would get your food on time!
The day turned into night and the clear and starry night full of stars had us driving up a winding dirt road to one of the observatories to see the world of stars and planets and solar systems through the eyes of a telescope. (I am sure nearly every country in the world has an observatory up here). Being able to sit high on hill, listening to donkeys bray into the night, feeling the cool wind on your face, looking up to see the stars twinkling away at you and sipping quietly on the pisco you bought that day is an experience reserved for the few who head up here. This area is a small pearl in the great expanse of Chile.