Tuesday, July 16, 2013
Vicuna and Villa Seco.
After settling in at Las Pataguas, we spent the first couple of days in the Elqui Valley exploring the town of Vicuna. This is really the only town of any size and is only a 15 minute bus ride from the campsite. Our first stop was at the tourist information office located in the Torre Bauer (Bauer Tower). Built in 1905 by a German mayor and brought over from Germany, the rust colored clock tower looks like a castle. The two men at the tourist center were very helpful and spoke not only English but also German. They gave us maps of the area and pointed out some activities not to be missed. Next to the tourist office on the northern side of the plaza is the Church of the Immaculate Conception, a pretty white church with a simple bell tower. After checking out the church, we ambled through the Plaza de Armas. This is a beautiful square with aged indigenous trees lining the paths. At its center the square has a huge copper and brass portrait of Gabriela Mistral’s face looking up at the sky. One of Chile’s most famous literary figures, the poet was born in Vicuna in 1889 and later went on to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. The motif is in honor of the award winning poet but it is quite a strange looking. A short walk from the plaza down Avenida Gabriela Mistral is a museum dedicated to her life and achievements. Next door to the museum, we found an internet café and took the time to check our emails and write home. Walking back to the bus station we passed a restaurant with a Wi-Fi zone, so now we know where to go with our own computers. The following day, we decide to go to Villa Seco. This tiny village is famous in the Elqui valley for its solar restaurants where all the food is cooked by the sun. In 2000, firewood was becoming increasingly hard to find and that gave birth to the solar “kitchens” at these restaurants. As there is no bus service to the village and we don’t particularly want to move the motorhome, we opt for a taxi. There are several restaurants to choose from and we decide to let the cab driver pick one for us. Perched at the top of the hill, Restaurant Delicias del Sol is rustic and charming. We found a table outside and on this gorgeous clear day we were able to see endless vineyards and in the nearby mountains the observatories of Mamalluca and Tololo. However the restaurant’s outdoor “kitchen” absorbed most of our attention for now. Scattered around the patio and deck area were a number of metal boxes, some with glass fronts and aluminum doors set wide to reflect the sun’s rays against the glass. Inside these we could see cast iron casserole pots, hopefully cooking lunch. On the boxes without a glass front, the aluminum doors reflected against pots and pans set on glass plates. There is no menu and our waiter simply explained the food to us. A set lunch comprising of either a salad or beef empanadas, followed by an entrée of pork chops, braised goat or chicken with rice and vegetables and dessert, all cooked by the sun. Both Tom and I chose the empanada but while Tom went with the pork chop, I chose the goat which our waiter had said was a house specialty. He brought us our drinks, beet for Tom and sparkling water for me and explained the food would follow shortly. We had already been told by both the tourist office and the owner of the campground that because it is winter, there are less hours of sun and so the food takes longer to cook. So we assured him we were in no hurry and wandered around the kitchen area, watching the ladies take pots from some ovens replacing them with yet more pots and adjusting some of the others so they cooked more evenly. I can only say that the food was delicious. Tom’s pork was very good but we both agreed that the cabrito (goat) was amazing, tender with not a hint of greasiness or fat. For dessert we had baked flan and then while we waited for a taxi to take us home and sipping on our coffee, we took more photographs of the solar kitchen and the incredible views. Oh, and the price, less than $20.00 for the two of us. On the way back to Las Pataguas, we both agreed that this was a unique experience and a must-do for anyone visiting the area.