The day we left Vilches was a sad one. We were really going to miss everyone and ten days of waking up in the same place (a real bed) and being able to go to the bathroom without getting fully dressed were really nice. The instability of vanlife is definitely one of the benefits but can also be a wear. Ten days was a perfect recharge and Becca and I were both excited to get back on the road with Alfonso. However, we only made it as far as a gas station just outside of Santiago where we pulled over to sleep.
The next day we went to the Patagonia Outlet store (yes, it exists) just north of Santiago. We were in heaven, but only Becca walked away with anything. We were also in Santiago to try and get Alfonso into a shop and maybe get some repairs, but we only left with an oil change. Those 3 days we covered about 750km to get from Vilches to La Serena. That’s a lot of kilometres in Alfonso but with our Harry Potter audiobooks the time flew by.
La Serena is a big coast town that seems to be a serious get away for people from Santiago. We didn’t spend too much time in the city because they make us crazy, especially while trying to navigate Alfonso through the busy streets, so the day we arrived in La Serena we went for a walk on the beach, then headed east into the Elqui Valley. The Elqui Valley is a main producer of Pisco (Chilean brandy – sort of), so naturally it was a draw. We found a nice secluded campsite beside a man made lake that was created by a dam, and settled in for a peaceful night.
The next morning we went for a Pisco Tour at CAPEL Piscaria, one of the oldest in Chile. The property was beautiful and definitely held some serious history. The tour was pretty cheap and you got 2 free samples as well as getting to keep the sampling glass. We spent most of our day on the property enjoying the landscape (and the super fast wifi – until some school trip showed up and ruined everything!). We then drove around the valley and went to a stream to hang out and relax for the afternoon. Going back to the same town to camp, we chose a different area near a windsurfing camp and spent the night drinking beer and watching windsurfers, which was pretty perfect. Also the Elqui Valley is very well known for astronomy as there are several astronomy towers and tours that try to lure tourists to night time shows. We were able to get a pretty amazing show from the lawn chairs beside Alfonso, free of charge!
The Elqui Valley was a good stepping stone into the desert that is Northern Chile. Hard to say if we were fully prepared for what came next…