Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Sunsets and Schedules

I know I take too many pictures of sunsets, but here it's a shame not too. Had another beautiful one tonight.


It looks like Jo and I will spend our next break in Buenos Aires, Argentina as our visas are set to expire at the start of May. Pretty excited about this! Our friend Alex and his girlfriend Paula coincidentally are moving from Santiago to Montevideo just before our break, so it looks like we'll get to hang out a bit with them too. Should be loads of fun. Alex went to school with Jo at Oregon State and was with us on our first overseas trip to New Zealand in 2000. He's worked in South America a long time and speaks like a local. It'll be good to have him around, since our Spanish is still pretty bad.

After another work shift, we'll head back to the states for a short break, sometime around the end of May/start of June, then make our way up to Alaska for another season of gunslingin and rockhoundin.

We're off to work tomorrow so we'll be off the net for bit. Ciao.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

End of summer?

Well it is here anyway. Kids are back in school, the tourists are back in Santiago and Argentina, and the nights are cool. A perfect time to take a few days off in La Serena. To be honest, Jo and I are enjoying some domestic time in the apartment. Lucky for me, she has an addiction to cooking fabulous ornate meals originating from around the globe. I just have to sit back and eat. Tough.

Pisco Elqui

Since our visit to Pisco Elqui in the Elqui Valley over last break, Jo's also perfected the art of the pisco sour. Just be sure you put in enough pisco to take Uncle Sal (salmonella) out of the party since raw egg white is involved.

Seriously though, the Elqui Valley was a much needed respite after another stint at camp. The barren brown mountains are contrasted by lush and bright green grape vines in the tight valley. Gorgeous. Jo and I each independently stumbled upon the same place to stay in our short search for accomodation there ... the cabanas at Mysterios de Elqui. Since we arrived on a Monday, no one was there except for one other couple! This place has an amazing pool and surrounding entertainment setup that I wish we had some use for. Set upon the southern side of the valley, you enter from the street on the valley high-side and are greeted at reception by James (yes, Chileno), the owner. He took us down the path to our cabana, outfitted with its own covered porch. The next morning, around 9, a breakfast of local fruits, crepes and coffee appeared on the porch around 9am, as included.

Sometime before noon (I think) we made our way further down the grounds to the beautiful thatch-roofed bar and outdoor seating area that overlook the pool.

A bit of guilt hit me since this area then overlooks the fields where locals are out sweating and picking grapes. Hope those guys get a vacation, too. Actually, James pointed out that Pisco Elqui is fortunate in that all residents (barely over 1 or 200) are employed. That's more than you can say about lots of towns back home. But I digress. Back to my American over-indulgence. The coolest feature were the adobe loungers molded into the short wall around the pool area that overlook the valley:

As the name implies, Pisco Elqui is well know for it's pisco production. For the uninitiated (like me in Oct. 2006) pisco is a liquor derived from certain varietal of grapes, distilled in a similar way as brandy. The final product varies in strength, anywhere from 35 to 45 proof, with the strong stuff of course being the "best" that you should really drink neat. That is, of course, unless you would like to be able to walk for the next hour or so. The varieties we've tries so far vary from a fine ether to a brandy/tequila mix. The locals solve this issue of questionable flavor by adding copious amounts of simple syrup, fresh lemon juice, and (usually) some egg white. Toss a drop of angostra bitters in the jar, shake it up, then pour into a fancy looking glass, delicately add another drop or two of bitters, and there's your pisco sour. A fine drink. But no more than two, I warn you.

Jo and I took a tour of the Mistral pisco distillery and had the good fortune of seeing the sights with a guide who took pity on our Spanish abilities. It was an animated affair and she did a fabulous job of somehow making us understand everything from the distillation process to how long the first owner of the fields played dominos with his buddies in a cave in a drunken stupor sometime in the late 1800s. Kudos to this woman. And there was free tasting at the end. Again, kudos to this woman. Along the way we were able to take some pretty ridiculous touron pics. I'm only going to post one (the rest are on the Flickr site):

I have no idea what association this car has to the distillation of pisco. But the facts remain as they are, Jo is behind the wheel and you should get off the road.

At the end of the tour, we picked a pisco we liked and got to fill and label our very own bottle! We'll be sure to have this on hand in Copper Harbor in September. The only drawback was that they made Jo wear this hat while she filled it up. She was very excited about me taking this picture.

Besides cabanas and pisco, Pisco Elqui is a picturesque town in itself. A blurb about it wouldn't be complete without a pic of the local church. The town plans in Latin America may be pretty similar, but the character of each place is unique.

Punta de Choros boat tour

During our break in mid-February we took a day to drive north and take a boat tour with our office assistant Jessica out of the quaint fishing village town of Punta de Choros. Jessica had taken the tour before but missed out on seeing dolphins and hoped to get a view this time around. Apparently they were around, but not while we were in the water. Regardless, it was a bright sunny day, the water was brilliant blues and greens, and we saw lots of penguins and sea lions. It was a load of fun. Some of the other guests on the boat jumped in for a dip, but believe me the water is not as warm as it looks. Not Canon Beach cold, but not close to tropical. Below are a couple of highlights, again, more pics are posted on Flickr.

By the way, Flickr has a cool new feature that allows you to pin photos to a map location. I've been trying to add locations to our photos, hopefully I can finish that up before next break. I've finished most of the Chile pics and some of the Alaska photos. It's a pretty amazing tool and the locations can be view on a simple typical map style or with satellite photos or a hybrid of the two. Resolution is within tens of meters for the map, little under a kilometer for the sat photos. Check it out!