Coquimbo, Chile

                                                               The Elqui Valley

January 21, 2010

Coquimbo, Chile is a place we had never heard of prior to this trip, but we found it well worth the visit.  Our tour was called “A Taste of Chile: Pisco Distillery.”  We figured that this would be a good way to get to know the country a little, and that having some Pisco wouldn’t hurt.  Then there was the intriguing competition between Chile and Peru with regard to Pisco.  One of our guides in Lima made sure we were aware that Pisco was invented in Peru, no matter what the Chileans said.  Cristobal, our guide for Coquimbo agreed that Pisco was invented in Peru.  However, he also let us know that the Chileans got the first patent on it, and by law it is the national drink of Chile.

Our first stop on this tour was El Faro lighthouse, in the town of La Serena.  Due to concern about safety around a broken water main, we had to view the lighthouse from a distance.  As you can see from the background in the photo, we had the usual Chilean morning fog to deal with.  From the lighthouse we drove through the countryside to the town of Vicuña, to visit a city park that boasts a sculpture of the head of Gabriela Mistral (see photo below), Chile’s first female winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature.  We also visited the Bauer Tower, which is a museum about the town’s history.  Vicuña is the main town in the Elqui Valley, a very fertile agricultural area, and it is also home to the CAPEL Pisco distillery.  CAPEL is an acronym for the cooperative that makes the Pisco.

We had a tour of the distillery, which took us through the whole process of producing Pisco.  The most interesting part was being able to watch the assembly line that filled and packed the bottles, getting them ready for shipping.  The conveyor belt that takes the cartons to where they will be loaded onto a pallet turns some boxes, while allowing others to go through straight, apparently creating the best arrangement for them on the pallet.  

Of course the best part was the tasting, which happened next.  We were given samples of the straight Pisco: first, the clear, lower alcohol grade that is used to make Pisco sours, and then the higher alcohol content, golden-colored grade that has been aged in oak barrels.  We found the former to be more interesting.  They also served us samples of Pisco sours, and piña colada made with Pisco.  Pisco makes an excellent piña colada.

Now that we were properly lubricated, we got back on our bus for a drive further into the Andes to the hotel where we were to have lunch.  We were supposed to stop in Montegrande, the village where Gabriela Mistral was born, but that didn’t happen.  Instead, we went straight to lunch.  We had both Pisco sours and wine with our lunch, which was very pleasant.  We ended up at a table for eight, and the couple next to us was the other couple who had gotten married as a result of going on the 2008 Grand World Voyage.  They got married nine days before we did.

On our way back to the ship we stopped very briefly at an organic winery.  Only a very few people got to taste any of the wine, which was a bit disappointing, but at the same time okay because we’d had plenty with lunch.

The drive was very scenic, between the semi-arid mountains, which were in places put to agricultural use (like the avocado orchard that was so high up on the mountain that it is difficult to imagine planting it, let alone harvesting it), the abundant cacti, the deep blue skies and the fast-flowing rivers.  

We got back to the ship rather late, because our tour was supposed to last for 9 hours, but we were only scheduled to be in port for 8 hours.  Apparently there were some other groups with the same time issues, as there were two other buses besides ours that came back late to the dock.  This is a beautiful area and we enjoyed our time here.

                                                       Gabriela Mistral, Nobel Prize for Literature

© Susan L. Stone 2015