TELLURIDE INSIDE... AND OUT: DISPATCHES FROM CHILE, 3/19/2012

Here comes the bride. But not yet.

The punch line is The Wedding. Tomas Correa marries Fernanda Sanchez at an intimate gathering of 500 of their closest friends and family on Friday, March 23. We met the Correas, a founding colonial  family, six years ago on our first visit to Chile.

On trips #1 and #2 to “the thin country” (Pablo Neruda), we managed to cover lots of bases.

Our local address became the Residencia Historica  de Marchihue, in the verdant Colchagua Vallley, a major center for wine grapes. The hotel was built on the bones of an old monastery, lovingly restored to congenial perfection by other close friends, Vivien Jones and Silvio Castelli.

We visited the Atacama Desert in the country’s “Great North,” one of the driest places on earth and home to the Valle de la Luna, a spectacular landscape of colored gypsum, clay and salt, and to El Tatio, where the daily show at the crack of dawn is 100 spouting geysers.

We traveled to Patagonia, the “end of the world,” to bear witness to the end of spectacular glaciers such as San Rafael, now in the (relatively) early stages of a disappearing act that defies even a Houdini. (Unless that Houdini does cap and trade for a hat trick.)

We’ve hung out on the white beaches of the towns of Zapallar and Pichilemu.

The roll up to the wedding has (and will) involved lots of debaucheries, too much wine and food and conversations in multiple languages with too many friends, old and new. We needed a break. But with little time between the acts, where to go? What to do? For answers, we turned to an expert in the field of time outs, yet another friend, Brian Pearson.

Brian owns Santiago Adventures, a top-of-the-line adventure travel agency with Telluride connections. When the Telluride Academy’s Mudd Butts International had to cancel Jordan because of  riots, it was Brian to the rescue. He orchestrated an alternate – and memorable – trip to Chile. He has also donated trip packages to Academy auctions.

Brian’s first thought was the Elqui Valley, but Elqui is 8-hours from Santiago and we had only 3 days to spare between toasts. The default was midway: a 4-hour drive to the Limari Valley in Chile’s “Chico Norte,” Little North, an agriculture, especially grape, center known for petroglyphs, pisco –and the Hotel Limari.

Hotel Limari has lots to recommend it. Let’s start with the fact it is off season so we have the place practically to ourselves.

Limari is  set up for business travelers. The Internet is fast and free, so we are able to post.

Then there’s Luna the Llama. Hotel Limari is Luna’s home. She has the run of the grounds, while lording it over a herd of thumpers, who are fat and happy. (The rabbits simply feast on her leavings.)

Hotel Limari also has George (Jorge), the manager of the digs and one of those faces who give places a personality.

Once we arrived on site and were in George’s capable hands, we were able to put our brains on idle and leave the driving to him.

Literally.

Yesterday, our first day in the region, George suggested we all head for the Valle del Encanto (Enchanted Valley,) named for some hot young chiquita. Her story is the stuff of daytime soaps, involving two lovers, one Spanish, one AmerIndian, and the Devil, who kills them both and claims her. Something about her tears turning to flowers. Or so the legend goes…

The Valle del Encanto is about 5 clicks (kilometers) or about 30 minutes from the capital of Limari, Ovalle. And  place is a national monument filled with archaeological treasures, one of which is the guide, Clemente, who has been on the job for 33 years. (Talk about job security.)

Clemente led, George translated, as we traveled back in time some 4,000 years when the first hunter-gatherer settled the area. However the bulk of the booty, petroglyphs ( symbols carved into rock) and pictograms (symbols painted into rocks) on site are relatively new: the artists lived among the Molle culture, around AD 700.

Clemente danced among the rocks, pointing to his “friends,” cartoons featuring stick figures with four fingers and three toes. Others wear crowns. Some are designated “Martians.” One “canvas” clearly predating Disney features an image of none other than Mickey Mouse. (You had to be there.)

Another feature of this raw landscape are the “piedras tactitus,” cup-like shapes carved into rocks and used as pestles to grind plants into dyes and corn into paste. One group of circular indentations forms – according to Clemente who always gets the last word – the face of the Devil.  He pointed out its mouth, eyes and nose, even the horns, describing the features in both Spanish and then in a crude French.

There was also this little red flower found on some of the indigenous cacti. Not the flower of the cactus per se, but a parasite that sucks the host dry. However, Clemente swears just three of its petals cure the common sore throat. Just boil in water. Then cross your fingers and hope Sergeant Pepper is not in your future. Or not.

The national monument also features the fabulous “Bath of the Incas” – they came after the Molle – naturally occurring giant holes where whirlpools soaked tired bones.

After two hours in the blazing sun trekking the site– it’s fall in Chile, but up in the North, temperatures are still in the 80s – it was time for a stop at the local museum – closed but the manager opened for us –  to check out artifacts from the Encanto and more, then lunch.

Clint and I headed up the coast to La Serena, a rich, old colonial town of hotel and churches (there are 29). La Serena is about an hour and change drive up the coast on a road that lies between the Andes and the ocean. We ate in an orange adobe restaurant with mint green insides situated right on the beach and dined on shrimp, calamari and sole in company of shore birds and babies making sand castles.

Last night, before heading off to dream land, Clint and I sat outside in Hotel Limari’s garden to gaze at stars in the southern sky. Here, with no light pollution to block the view, the sky is resplendant.

Today we are off to check out pisco plants and a few wineries before heading to an observatory some two hours away to view the night sky from an even better vantage point.

 

 

 

 

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