The Elqui valley is extraordinary in that as you are rumbling along the coastal road heading south towards Santiago with the desert landscape of northern Chile and southern Peru behind you, things begin to soften a little with some greenery (but not much) and then suddenly it goes very green and you are surrounded by fields of vines, vines and more vines. Turn inland and the vines continue as the road begins to climb, very gently this time, but still surrounded by vines.
The alcoholic beverage known as Pisco is big business in this area (if you don't know it already its a grape brandy in the same family as cognac, armagnac etc and worth a look) - although if you talk to any Peruvian they will claim ownership of its origins over the Chileans :)
The two countries actually treat it differently in terms of how it is processed and hence the end products vary, either way it has been around since the mid 16th Century and lots of it is consumed in this part of the world.
Still lined with rows and rows of vines the road continues up the valley wending its way between very proximate, very high and totally barren hills. Just goes to show what a bit of water can do, for where they irrigate is absolutely covered with vines (did we mention that?) and every now and again an orchard.
What this place doesn't lack are clear blue crystal clear skies, which is why we came here, not for the Pisco or the fruit but rather to spend a few nights in a rather special place.
About 70 kms up the valley is a hostelry where one can rest ones head whilst gazing at the stars through the open top of the geodesic dome of the cabin/tent/hut, which as there are hardly ever any clouds is worth doing.
Yup, they let you remove the roof so that you are literally sleeping under the stars whilst being very comfortably ensconced in a bed (with two duvets as it gets a tad 'chile' at night) on the upper deck of your two story geodesic tent thingy with a mini-bar, bathroom and living space downstairs, all very glamorous as far as camping goes, or glamping as we now know it...
La Serena - 3 days of geodesic comfort and we headed back to the coast to La Serena (Chile's 2nd oldest town).
Note to self - next time stay on the bus and travel through La Serena without a pause.
and so onto the great city of Santiago...