The area of greatest magnetic energy on earth is located in northern Chile’s Elqui Valley, an arid corridor of land hemmed in by mountains. I’d learned this bit of information from a guidebook. This factoid alone made me want to visit the Elqui Valley. It sounded like a mystical place to me.
I found out that the Elqui Valley is much more than a place of magnetic forces. For sun worshippers, the area receives 300 cloud-free days. Furthermore, the dry climate combined with its remoteness and lack of pollution allows for amazingly clear skies. Many visitors are drawn to the Elqui Valley for the excellent star gazing. For those that want to study celestial objects, there are two astronomical observatories in the area, which are open to general public on certain evenings.
While the Elqui Valley receives scant rainfall, rivers filled with snowmelt from the Andes flow through the area. Located in the heart of this valley and next to a river is the town of Pisco Elqui. The name Pisco Elqui derives from Chile’s signature fermented grape liquor called Pisco. Farmers in this region found that grapes grow well under the region’s sunny, dry conditions. Several distilleries grow grapes in the valley and on the surrounding hillsides.
My friend Andrea and I visited Pisco Elqui as a day trip by bus from Vicuña. The two-lane road to Pisco took us into an ever narrowing valley bordered by steep, barren mountains that blotted out the sun at times. In stark contrast to the brown, hulking mountains were the bright green swaths of grapes growing in seemingly random places.
The road ran out at Pisco Elqui, the last stop in the valley. The afternoon sky was of a clarity, crispness, and depth of blue that I’d never witnessed before. I was sure that I was seeing the blackness of space influencing the color of the sky.
Pisco Elqui sat in a very narrow valley, and the adjacent mountains loomed large over the little town. Andrea and I set out walking around. We came across various small shops selling handmade crafts, candles, lotions, tinctures, herbs, jewelry, and gem stones. Chile is a country rich in minerals, so jewelry and gem stones are sold all up and down the country, usually at very good prices.
I bought some fresh mint and bailahuén for making tea. I don’t recall seeing bailahuén sold in the U.S., but it’s a very popular herbal tea in Chile, one that helps keep the stomach functioning well. Perhaps due to Chile’s abundant sunshine and mineral laden soils, the herbs were of a very high potency. A little bit went a long way.
While walking along the main street, Andrea struck up a conversation with a man who worked tending grapes for one of the distilleries. He looked to be in his fifties, and told us he’d been tending grapes for many years. The fine lines and wrinkles texturing his rich, earthen complexion made it seem as if he had been born from the land itself. He described the pisco industry as a blessing and a curse. The industry provided him with a stable, decent job. But he lamented how the distilleries had bought up all the arable land, driving up the cost per hectare, and making it impossible for him to own his own vineyard.
We weren’t able to stay long in Pisco, as we had to catch the bus back to Vicuña where we were staying. It’s a good thing Andrea and I were on the bus early, because it filled completely, leaving a line of people standing in the aisle. For a good part of the ride, a young Chilean woman in the aisle was half-sitting on my shoulder. Having ridden many packed buses and trains in Santiago, I had experienced such cramped conditions before. I noticed that Chileans rarely said a word when faced with such situations, choosing instead to wage a silent war of nudging and pressing each other. I chose to adopt the same tactic. When the weight and proximity of the young Chilena’s ass became too uncomfortable, I moved forward, removing her support. She got the hint and stopped using me as furniture.
Unfortunately, I visited the Elqui Valley at the time of a full moon. The bright light from the moon made it impossible to fully see the starry night sky the area is known for. Just means I have to return there again someday.