Chile’s Garden of Eden: The Elqui Valley

We are in Vicuña in the Elqui Valley, a lush river valley surrounded by cactus covered hills. Yesterday we rode past a fig tree and harvested over a kilo before setting off again. The avocado tree we passed wasn’t yet ripe, and the apricot tree was in its final moments of glory. This area is home to some of the most famous observatories in the world, and we spent last night visiting Mamalluca in the hills above Vicuña. Through the 30 cm telescope we got a good look at Jupiter’s four largest moons, Saturn, M52 (the middle of Orion’s sword), the Magellanic Clouds, and a smattering of others. The night sky here shines bright through the crisp valley air, and it will only get clearer as we climb up to Paso Agua Negras at 4765 meters. We started yesterday at sea level in La Serena and have planned four days to complete the pass on account of the thinning oxygen. We plan to stop and acclimate and camp no higher than 4000m. It should be good practice for Bolivia infamous angles.