After a couple of nights in La Serena, when we caught up on internet and laundry, we ride east along the Ruta de Estrellas (Route of the Stars) toward Vicuna. This valley is peppered with observatories and we hope to visit one. The ride will be a short one, maybe an hour or two is all. We ride out into the valley and follow the edge of a river, ride through a tunnel and alongside a dam. I start to see vineyards on both sides of the roads. We settle in to a nice hostel in Vicuna and go for a wander. We catch a taxi out to a small pisqueria to see how pisco is made from the local muscatel grape harvest. There are lots of pisquerias here, two within walking distance of Vicuna, and we choose to go see the artisanal one at Aba. We get a private tour from a really nice guy at Aba. He locks up the quiet sales room for a few minutes and personally walks us out to see where they work with the grapes they harvest from their 50 hectares of vineyards. We had planned to do some serious sampling and didn’t want to ride, but it turned out we only tried two of the products. They make two pisco cocktails, one mango, and the other from a blackberry-like fruit from Chile…and they are REALLY yummy. Later that night we have tickets reserved for a tour at the Mamalluca Observatory located just a few miles out of town. So we meet our van at 8:30 near the central plaza and take the dusty road out to look at stars. Our guide, Luis, speak great English and spends the next 2-3 hours intoxicating us with ideas and statistics and measurements that I can’t even comprehend. I’m not expecting much from the small, but powerful telescope they have – 40 cm… But man was I wrong…I’m spellbound the entire time, waiting patiently for my turn at each thing he sets up for us to view – the Moon, Mars, the Orion Nebula, a twin star somewhere out in our galaxy, and so much more. We use a second telescope outside to view the Moon a second time and he helps everyone to take photos through the viewfinder with cameras and cell phones. It’s the loveliest the Moon has ever been. How have I not ever been to an observatory? How do I not know more than a handful of the 88 constellations in the heavens above? How do you tolerate long days when a night like this is so beautiful? Thank you, Luis, for introducing me to a new love….I have a feeling it’s a love that I will foster and grow.
El Qui Valley of Chile