Yesterday Susan and I spent our second full (emphasis on “full”) day in the Ovalle area of El Norte Chile. In a sense the day was a continuation of the day before.
Our first stop was at the Tabali Vineyards, which not only share a road with the Valle del Encanto, the symbols of the Molle people are included in Tabali’s decor and even in their logo. We enjoyed a tasting of a crisp 2011 Sauvignon Blanc followed by a very young but quite drinkable 2010 Carmenere. Taking Chile’s new stringent drinking/driving rules into consideration, Hotel Limari’s manager, Jorge, provided us with a driver, Jose, who was with us the whole day.
After Tabali we proceeded toward the Andes to see the Monumento Natural Pichasca, site of dinosaur remains and petrified wood. We had a short hike on the interpretive trail, saw beautiful views of the valley, but we didn’t have time to fully investigate the park, as we had to get back to the hotel in time to go on our next adventure. We did get to see samples of petrified trees, but the life-sized model of a dinosaur had to stand in for the real thing, the real artifacts having been removed to Santiago, and the park seems to be in the process of renewal: the miradors along our route were missing their interpretive signs. No matter; the site was reason enough for the visit.
The final event of the day was a night-time visit to the Obsevitorio Turistico Cruz del Sur, (Southern Cross), a two-hour trip from Hotel Limari. Another vista-filled drive (Jose at the wheel) delivered us to the Observatory in time to get our bearings, see the area at dusk. The photo shows one of the Observatory’s telescope buildings with Jupiter and Venus just setting above the horizon at the end of twilight. We were the only tourists there until just before start time, but were joined by a couple on motorcycles, a young family with a boy just learning to walk, and (fortunately) Sarah Compton, visiting with a group of friends. Sarah was able to translate the talks for us, making the whole experience much more meaningful.
I should mention that the Molle people figure in this part of the story as well, as their skills in astronomy are recognized in the description given by the guides and one of the figures we saw at Valle del Encanto is represented along the path to the telescopes. We had a short talk about the history of the Observatory, with links to the past, then a movie about astronomy, by which time it was dark enough to sit outside while our guide, Manuel, pointed out significant stellar features using a laser pointer. The Chilean observatory sites are valuable because there are no cities nearby to disturb the night with atmospheric or light pollution. In addition they are located at higher altitudes, so there is less atmospheric diffraction. Then it was time to view deep into the past, the large diameter telescope taking us as many as 7000 light-years back in time. In all, a stellar evening.(Pun intended.)
But we were not finished. Jorge had set our driver up with a wonderful repast to end our evening. So at midnight, we were at a picnic area a few hundred yards from the observatory, dining by candlelight, with a good red wine from the area, thanking our lucky stars for bountiful life and friends. I’m afraid Jose made the journey home pretty much alone, as Susan made a bed in the back seat, and I spent much of the time nodding off. When we arrived back at Hotel Limari, we thanked Jose for the yeoman job of driving for the whole day, and headed to our bed. I was asleep in about 30 seconds. I suspect Sus was not far behind.
We slept in a bit this morning, then Jose drove us to take a quick tour of the Mal Paso pisco facility. Pisco is a distilled spirit made from grapes and the Limari Valley is one of the principal areas for producing the libation. We had to do a tasting of course, as our previous experience with pisco is with pisco sours, which must be considered a Chilean national drink- delicious, and in my mind, symbolic of my Chilean experience. Turns out the best piscos, aged in oak for 35-40 years, make excellent sipping. Who knew?
Now it’s time to end this love note to the Limari Valley, say goodbye to our friend, the manager Jorge, whose motto seems to be, “I love my work!”, and head back south to Santiago. Stay tuned…