Tag: pisco

Travelogue: La Serena and Valle del Elqui

My friends Forrest and Sarah came to visit all the way from Madison, so Jesse, Forrest, Sarah and I decided to take a trip north to La Serena and Valle del Elqui.  La Serena is a town of 150,000 about 4.5 hours north of Santiago.  Along with it’s sister city of Coquimbo, it’s located on miles of wide, white sand beaches.  It reminded me of Panama City Beach, but not during spring break.  Apparently La Serena has eclipsed Viña del Mar as the top beach destination close to Santiago, but since we were there midweek, right after school started again, it was really empty and peaceful.

La Serena Apartment

We stayed at an apartment on the beach that we found on AirBnB.  Yanette, the owner, was incredibly nice.  She’s been living in La Serena for about 25 years and also owns a wine producing property northeast of the coast.  She brought us amazing grapes and raisins as a thank you for renting that were truely the best I’ve ever had.  They were sweet, plump and way better than you can get in the US.  The grapes we get less sweet, because they have to harvest them earlier to ship them to the US.

The drive up is on a four lane highway, mostly along the coast.  It reminds me a bit of highway 1 in California, with lots of hills, twists and turns.  The small towns all have goat cheese sandwiches and fruit stands along the highways, while we only have McDonalds and Taco Bell in the US.  So much better here.  I wish I had rented a little bit better car because it would have been great to go up the hills and around the bends in a real car.

Our first day, we walked down the beach and got lunch at a small restaurant.  For $7, we got a seafood empanada FULL of every kind of seafood you could think of.  Next, a seafood soup filled with oysters in a spicy cilantro broth.  The main course was fried reinata with sweet tomatoes and then dessert was super ripe honeydew melon.  Great value and great food.

Next, we went over to the Coquinbo fist market and bought mussels, scallops and a full dorada.  The fisherman cut it up into huge filets so we could cook them on the stove top.  We also got an assortment of fruit and veggies from a little stand and came back to the beach apartment to cook.

We created an amazing meal.  We started with a seafood soup with dorada, assorted seafood, aji, potato, carrots and other veggies.  Next, pineapple and pepper ceviche with mussels, scallops and dorada.  It was great.  The main course was dorada a la plancha with a salt/curry rub, curried veggies and a pineapple salsa.  Dessert was vanilla ice cream with a sweet grape and white wine sauce.  It was a great way to end the day.

Forrest and Sarah, Punta de Chorros

The next day we tried to go to Punta de Chorros to sea an island full of penguins.  After a beautiful 2 hour drive through the mountains and across a few dirt roads, our little car finally stopped at a restaurant where we had some fresh fish.  The highlight was their home made olive oil, infused with garlic and hot peppers.  We each ended up buying a half litre bottle for about $7 to take home.  Amazing.  Unfortunately, when we got to the fishing dock, the fishermen told us that they couldn’t take us because the sea was too choppy.  I think he was just being lazy and didn’t only want to take a group of 4, but it was still a great day.  We watched the waves crash on the rugged Pacific coast and then made the drive back to La Serena.

The next morning, we left early and headed into Valle del Elqui.  It started out cloudy, but it soon burned off to reveal a narrow valley filled with fruit trees, pisco distilleries and vineyards.  Every Chilean I had talked to had told me that I had to go to Valle del Elqui if I was going near La Serena and they were 100% right.  It was beautiful.

pisco factory

We stopped in Vicuña, the birthplace of Gabriela Mistral and strolled around their town square.  We ate lunch while listening to music in the town square and then had some fresh pecans and homemade icecream from a little shop on the square.  We continued onward and finally stopped in Pisco Elqui, the hear of Chile’s pisco growing region.  We toured the Mistral pisco distillery and got to see the whole process.  The tasting was interesting.  The really aged pisco tasted almost like a whiskey and was supposed to be served over ice or alone.  I’m used to piscola, so it was quite different.  After, we continued down the curvy road to Alcohuaz, doing the last 15k on a tiny dirt road.  It was a beautiful drive, ending at an eco lodge called Casona Distante.

Alejandro, Palta Sour

This place is amazing.  It’s in the middle of nowhere, no cell reception and is beautiful.  It’s on 40 acres of land in the middle of the valley and is a functioning grape growing operation.  They sell their grapes to Capel to make pisco and still raise animals and other fruit.  The lodge is built mostly of wood and the rooms are beautiful.  They have an open kitchen where you can watch or help prepare dinner and our chef Alejandro was awesome.  We got lessons on Chilean cooking and drink making and talked about food, politics and Chile.  His palta (avocado) sour was amazing, especially after adding some aji.

Casona Distante also has a nice observatory and the owner helped us look at nebulae and Saturn.  You really can see it’s rings!  Looking up into the sky and seeing millions of stars is amazing.  The night sky there was only bested by my trip to Bolivia, as we were about 2500 meters higher, so the sky was clearer.  The next day, we hung around the lodge and checked out the river that runs through the valley.  It was relaxing and beautiful, but unfortunately, we had to go back to Santiago at the end of the day.  I would have loved to stay longer, but it wasn’t possible.  I highly recommend going to Valle del Elqui for a long weekend, it was one of my favorite places I’ve been so far.

Futbolito, Facebook and other Observations from Chile


I played pickup soccer last Thursday with Enrique, one of the other Startup Chile entrepreneurs and Cristóbal, a Chilean I knew from UW.  We played 8v8 (futbolito) on a small field at San Carlos de Aponquindo, which is Universidad Católica’s soccer complex.  It was a really cool setup on the far east side of Santiago, in an area called Las Condes, which is the foothills of the mountains.  We played at 9pm, so we got a great view of the city from the field.

In addition to the main stadium and fields for plenty of other sports, there are at least 12 small sided soccer fields with artificial turf, lights, goals and everything you’d need to play a game.  You can rent the fields and play with your friends.  Enrique’s friends had rented the field and needed extra players so I got to come.

The level of play was like good high school with a few D3 college players thrown in and there were some fun differences from pickup games that I’m used to in the US.  We played with throw ins when the ball went out and in the US, we normally just pass it in and get the ball moving again.  Chilean pickup games include slide tackling, but they’re good at it, so there weren’t any bad challenges.  Chileans play a technical style, with lots of small passes and quick footwork, but it’s not just one guy dribbling all the time.  You don’t have to run nearly as much.  Chileans would rather score with a bunch of small passes leading to an open goal, rather than take long, hard shots.  Sort of like Arsenal’s style.

On defense, you are supposed to go in and make tackles, no matter where you are on the field.  I’ve always been trained to drop, give ground and force the attacker to make a mistake, until they get close to the attacking third, so they were always urging me to jump in and make a tackle.  My style worked most of the time, because they weren’t used to it.  We also played with goalkeepers, which was much more fun than not, like we normally do in the US.  I’m used to talking all the time on the soccer field, but I didn’t know any of the slang for man on, tackle him, you take him etc, so it was hard from time to time.  I’m hoping to figure out a way to play at least once a week while I’m in Chile.


It seems to me that Facebook is basically a dating site in Chile.  People friend each other much more quickly here than they do in the US and use Facebook chat all the time.  According to a few different Chileans, it’s normal to friend someone, then start chatting with them using Facebook chat, right away.  I’ve been on the receiving end a few times and it’s quite different from what I’m used to.  Most people don’t seem to use any of the privacy settings either.  Apparently MSN messenger is really popular here too.

In the US, I use Facebook mostly to stay in touch with close friends, not meet new people.  I rarely friend someone I just met and have my privacy setting up really high.  I also rarely use facebook chat, in favor of gchat with my friends that I actually email.  I also use Facebook to share blog posts and interesting links.  Here, it seems different.


If you’re young and don’t like to dance, you probably won’t have much fun here.  It’s quite the contrast to Madison, where most of the bars are consist of loud music and people just standing around.  Here, there’s live music, djs and people love to dance.  As any large capital city, there’s lots of great bands that come through Santiago, so we’ve seen Girl Talk and a few other bands.  Lollapalooza just announced that they’re expanding from Chicago to Santiago while we’ll be here, too.


The only liquor I’ve had since I’ve been here is pisco, which comes from grapes.  It’s really good and we normally mix it with coke or sprite to make piscola or piscola blanca.  It’s either 35 or 40% alcohol and really cheap.  A 750ml bottle of really good stuff is about $10 and many times comes with a bottle of coke/sprite.


I think I’ve seen some sort of protest just about every day I’ve been here.  Most are very small, but there was a larger one a few days ago about the government’s attempt to cut government worker wages.  I’ve seen people protesting animal rights, public workers and a few that I couldn’t figure out.  The metro isn’t working today because the drivers are on strike, which isn’t a big deal since it’s Sunday.

So far, I’m really enjoying being in Chile.  The people are nice, the weather is beautiful and business is going good.  I have a few longer posts written that I’ll be publishing over the next few days, so be sure to check back.