Chile- Norte Chico- mid October 2007
October 24, 2007
We spent the last ten days in the semi desert country north of Santiago along the coast and inland in the Andes Mountains. Surrounded by cactus, rocks, some brush, and lush river valleys it was a beautiful land of sunshiny days and clear cool nights. We started off at the coast in a nice small town, Pichidangui right on the Pacific. We had a great dinner at a seaside restaurant enjoying ceviche, razorback clam soup and scallops. We continued up the coast the next day in brilliant sun already in shock from leaving the verdant southland of rain and mild weather behind. La Serena is a beachside resort town and we stayed again right on the beach where we could enjoy the crash of the waves and the wind off the Pacific. I went for a walk here up the coast and sat for awhile with an old sealion sunning herself in a variety of positions. Handline fisherman and a horesman were all I encountered other than that. We drove up the Elqui River valley the next day into the heat and that day was the hardest as the heat was new and fierce beyond the coast and there was no wind. We sought out shade in the town of Vicuna and landed in an old Spanish style courtyard villa hotel for the night. The kids enjoyed a swim in a cold pool and we spent that night at an observatory in the mountains looking at the quarter Moon, Jupiter and its four visible planets, Magellan clouds, Star clusters, Nebulla, and a few other astronomical sights. It was well presented and a good tour. We continued up the valley the next day towards its end at Pisco Elqui where we spent the night at Gabriellas cabana, a nice woman Jen met in town who owns the juice store. The cabana came complete with dogs, a cat and puppies and the girls fell in love with the place and animals. They were disappointed to leave in the morning for the valley south, Rio Hurtado. We returned to Vicuna and then turned left and travelled a dusty, dried out road for an hour at least over two passes with no water to be seen and a few goatherders only before descending to the village of Hurtado and the Hacienda Los Andes where we had booked a three day horse trip in the mountains and valley. It was a great find and we camped that night by the river before packing up in the morning for the trip south and over the Cerro Gigantica.
We saddled up and mounted at 10 am and by 1100 we were well above the river valley, I was walking, Kes had stopped crying from fear of the steep narrow trails, and Cree and Jenny appeared natural and ecstatic. We lunched in the shade of a dry creek bad and its Peppercorn trees and afterwards ascended another 1500 vertical to a plateau and a farmers homestead on the mountain. We camped here on his property in the shade of a fig tree, walnut, apple and apricot with a fine view out to the ocean and the west. The next day Kes was better, the riding and hiking continued up until we crested the divide where we had nice views of the higher peaks and the upper Hurtado River Valley. We desceneded steep trails and gullys all the way back down to the river passing shady willow tree nooks, abandoned goatherders rock hut,s and brush corrals until we reached the river which we rode through to the dirt track on the far side at the top of the steep bank. We turned downstream and headed north. When we reached an old rock corral we descended to the valley again and dismounted to cross a log rail bridge. All went well until Jen's horse got its foot stuck in the logs and then fell over, struggled into being more stuck, and eventually, despite best efforts by Fernando our guide, the horse plunged off the bridge falling fifteen feet into the river below. Fortunately for him it was deep there and he stood up only bruised and scratched. We helped him to the thicket on the bank and spent 20 minutes clearing brush to enable his ascent out of the river and back to the herd. It was a good end to a possible misfortune for the horse. We camped that night by the river and dunked in the pools and cooled off before the sun set behind the mountains. Dinner was a filling chili and we enjoyed cold nights for good sleeping. We mingled at this camp with the goats kept here about 100 adults and half as many kids. They were very fun to pet and some were very eager to nurse your fingers or knuckles. We found some frost under the tent in the morning and it took awhile for the sun to crest the steep ridgeline to the east. We continued with another full day of riding along the road, through villages, up over a saddle and through a notch down passed two cemetaries, into another town, stopped for lunch in a small village and tied the horses up outside. By 4pm we had returned to the hacienda and set about putting up our tent by the river again and taking dinner at the hacianeda. We relaxed for another day there doing laundry, reading, homeschooling, and resting. Then it was time to head south and make our way back toward Santiago to catch our flight to Ecuador tomorrow. The highlight of the drive was taking the road to Argentina's border and visiting the Lago de Inca high in the snow covered mountains next to the ski area Portillo. With great scenery, a magnificent sighting of two Andean Condors and noting that our decision to ski Chillan was the better we spent a quick picnic by the lake before returning to Santiago.