Thursday, April 12, 2007

let's go east!

marcel is currently in the US so i'm borrowing his car! i feel a strange sense of freedom combined with laziness being able to drive a car anywhere. the first day i had the car, i took a few other carless astronomers to the store in town and we bought all the big things that are a regular pain to carry home. then rachel and i discussed taking a day trip on sunday... we decided: "let's go east!"

the trip turned out to be a lot fun and full of random adventures, eventhough it was easter sunday in this very catholic country! we passed thru a small town, vicuna, just beyond where the turn off is to the observatory. the main road passed right thru the town, but after i saw a tower a few blocks away, i decided to turn off the main road... we found the town square and discovered, to our delight, that they were having a little festival! we got out to walk around, shopped a little and listened to a band. we were pleasantly surprised that anything was open on easter, but the place was really hopping! vicuna is the birthplace of gabriel mistral... a famous writer with her picture on the 2000 peso bill. the guy introducing the band didnt even mention easter, he just mentioned her and the firefighters who were being honored. i thought that was strange... but even stranger is the fact that when i just googled "vicuna" i discovered the tower is actually called the bauer tower! cool!

onward.... we continued driving east thru the elqui valley. its a narrow valley with grape orchards running right up along the road, surrounded by rocky, colorful and steep mountains! i wonder what minerals are present in the surface layers of the rock to create such distinct sections of color!

eventally we found ourselves driving next to a bright green river. it looked so refreshing on the warm sunny day, that we decided to pull off the road and go for a swim! nothing is more refreshing than a skinny dip in a freezing cold river in the middle of a desert! it was a lot of fun!

after drying off in the sun like a couple lizards, we set off again. the two lane paved road abruptly ended and we continued along a dirt road, meandering thru the valley next to the now blue river. at this point we thought... why not go to argentina? the last chilean town on the map was juntas. we kept driving and wondered how far it was. i knew only knew we were climbing in altitude because my ears kept popping.

we finally reached a building, which turned out to be the entry/exit point for chile and made up the entirety of the "town" of juntas. we pulled up, got out of the car, showed the guy our passports and said that we just wanted to cross the border to walk around the first town in argentina. this seemed to go over alright for a few minutes, but then the second man we talked to demanded to look at all the paperwork for the car. we agreed that the car didnt belong to us, it was marcel's... and therefore, he said, we were not allowed to take it across the border unless we had a written note from marcel giving us permission, by name. damn damn! note to self, next time get a note to drive to argentina. check.

the man proceded to tell us of a "laguna" that was about 30 km up the road. we could drive to see it before reaching to the official border if we wanted. sounded good to us, so off we went!

the border was still another 80 km up the road. we drove the 30km along the twisty dirt road, only passing one car the whole time... and an empty truck parked at a farm with at least 50 goats hanging around unattended. we eventually saw a sign for la laguna and turned off the main road onto a steep little dirt driveway. we had to pass thru a gate with a sign saying "recinto privado". we thought this was a bit weird, but kept going. when we reached the end of the driveway, we realized that we were at the river at the bottom of the laguna... after we noticed the big rock dam! oops.

there was a small compound of houses on the river with men walking around outside, so we decided to ask. there were 5 or so rugged looking men, a little ~2 year old boy, a ton of friendly dogs and a mule. they all sort of gawked at us gringas as they told us that they were the keepers of the dam. they stayed there all winter, sometimes having to dig their way out of the houses thru the snow, in order to maintain the dam. they lived in this really simple set of ranch style homes that surrounded a single fountain. my mind drifted away from the conversation since i couldnt really understand all the spanish. my eyes noticed the details of the compound, the man pushing the mule out of the way as it encroached upon the conversation, the little boy shyly running in and out of a doorway, the fountain.... the fountain consisted of rocks stacked up in the center of the little pool and on top of the rocks was a big barbie-type doll... naked... with her hands reaching up into her curly blond hair, and water coming out of her nipples!! aaaahhhhh! i couldnt believe it! i laughed to myself as i wondered how long it had been there!

just then, rachel started walking away toward the door where the little boy was standing. i realized the man must have invited us in. i was a bit nervous about this move, but my curiosity quickly won! he invited us in to see pictures of the winter snow. there are feet and feet and feet of snow in the valley in the winter.... like a glacier coming down the valley! amazing that they survive the snow, the cold and the 6300 foot elevation without leaving for months!! next to the snow pictures was a pretty explicit girly calendar... not entirely unexpected i guess, but i really had to resist the little laugh i felt in my throat!

we thanked them for their stories and kindness, and continued up the road toward la laguna. when we found the gigantic body of water, we pulled over, ate the yummy empanadas we brought with us, and watched the beginning of the sunset on the water and the peaks of argentina...

after a little while we decided that we felt satisfied with our adventure and turned around to go home. we stopped in vicuna again for a yummy dinner of soup, salmon and cold vegetables. always in chile they serve some sort of grilled meat, chicken or fish with cold veggies like tomatoes, avocados and palm hearts. we arrived home around 10 pm, happy and exhausted!

UPDATE: nipple fountain pictures!!

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