April 19th, was Census Day here in Chile. The census occurs every four years and is carried out by individual census volunteers going to every home in the country and having the residents living in those homes fill out different documents. Consequently, everything shuts down on that day, including schools and universities. As a result, a few friends and I decided to take a trip for the long weekend. We made arrangements to travel to La Serena, which is a coastal desert region north of the Valparaíso region (in which Viña Del Mar is located).
We left Wednesday morning from Viña on a bus to Santiago. From there we took a plane to La Serena, which was only about a 45 minute flight. Once we arrived, we took a taxi to our hostel, which was right by the beach! The hostel was very cute and quaint. My favorite things about the place were that it had hammocks (I love hammocks) and it had instruments that people could play, so one night I ended up playing the ukulele while my friend Luke played the guitar.
That night we had the hardest time finding a place to eat because every restaurant was closed as a result of the census, which is something we failed to take into account for some reason. We walked around along the beach for nearly two hours until we finally found a restaurant that was open, overcrowded, and understaffed (which was to be expected). We had to wait about an hour for our food, but it was well worth it.
The following morning, we went with a tour group two hours north to a small fisherman’s village called Punta Choros, where we took a boat tour of a few different islands that served as wildlife reserves. We could not have picked a better day to go because it was a beautiful day with warm weather and clear skies. The water was a vibrant turquoise color but also as clear as drinking water in other parts closer to the islands. Unfortunately, we could not step on the islands because they were strictly for the wildlife only. We saw a wide variety of beautiful birds, sea otters, sea lions, and most importantly… penguins! It was all very exciting.
The next day, we toured the Elqui Valley, which is a great agricultural valley, where a lot of pisco (a grape brandy that is produced in Chile and Peru) is made as well. We went to a museum dedicated to Gabriela Mistral, the first Hispanic woman to win a Nobel Prize for Literature, as well as her home town. Later on we toured a “pisquera”, which is a pisco distillery. It was really interesting to learn about how pisco is made and the differences in the processes for making pisco and wine (as they are both grape-based alcohols). Lastly we were given the opportunity to try both the grapes used to make pisco and the finished product itself.
That night, we went to an observatory up in the mountains to go star gazing. First, we were taught about just how big the universe is and just how small the earth is in relation to the rest of the universe. Then we were taken outside and, with the help of professional astronomers, we used different telescopes to watch the stars and Jupiter. Our guide pointed out different constellations and told us about space and the stars. Interestingly enough, our guide also told us about different Incan constellations, which used the dark spaces in between the stars to form shapes. My favorite part was when we used the biggest telescope they had to look at a cluster of stars of over 1 million stars! It was absolutely breathtaking.
All in all, it was an amazing trip. This is just one of the many things that Chile has to offer its visitors, and I am looking forward to exploring Chile more!