Following the Salar de Uyuni tour, in early April I crossed the Bolivian border and took a bus down to San Pedro de Atacama. Chilean border procedures are conducted in San Pedro, not at the isolated border itself.
Chile’s quarantine regulations reminded me of Australia’s with no fresh fruit, vegetables, meat or plant products allowed in. After immigration formalities, incoming passenger bags were lined up for a quarantine dog to enter and sniff. On this occasion the dog didn’t find anything suspicious although it did pick out a bag planted later by the customs officer.
Desert town San Pedro de Atacama is a major backpacker destination and outdoor activity base. After seeing many amazing landscapes on the Salar de Uyuni tour, I wanted a change of scenery and travelled onto La Serena via Calama. On the overnight Calama-La Serena bus I slept my best in four days as previous nights were spent at sleep-disrupting high altitude (~4,000 metres).
Founded in 1544 La Serena is Chile’s second oldest city (after Santiago). The existing buildings are however newer as the original city was destroyed by a 1730 earthquake.
Chile is noticeably wealthier, tidier and more organised than Bolivia. Chile also has some of Bolivia’s former coastline, won in a 19th century war between the two nations. The lack of coastline is controversial in Bolivia and subject to dispute. After being landlocked for two months, I was ready for seafood!
One evening I visited Jack Fish, a Peruvian inspired ceviche and sushi restaurant with fellow hostel guest and Pearl Jam fan Natalia. The restaurant owner was also a rock music fan, naming different menu combinations after bands and that night playing music from Touring Band 2000.
Rocking on with pisco sours and ceviche at Jack Fish, La Serena
Along with varied buskers, La Serena’s streets also contained people walking around in torn clothes begging for money. Later I learnt they were first year university students raising money to get their usual clothes back from more senior students.
University students wandering La Serena streets in torn clothes
More La Serena seafood – a fried mixed seafood empanada
La Serena is a pleasant city although not a major tourist destination. One of her attractions is the Archaeological Museum’s rare Easter Island statue.
The Moai statue from Easter Island in La Serena’s Archaeological Museum
One day I hired a bike and road 12km along the coast from La Serena to Coquimbo, a satellite suburb and fishing port. On the way I had to stop for a fish sandwich.
At a Coquimbo cafe, after a delicious walnut pie and an average coffee, an old man started chatting. Local pharmacist Abraham wanted to show me a papaya tree on the nearby town square. Abraham claimed Chilean papayas have fantastic medicinal properties. People previously requiring amputations no longer required them after applying Chilean papaya. A Brazilian university team had also visited to research the papaya. Abraham was a very interesting person and if I ever visit Coquimbo again I will say hello. Regional papayas also have culinary uses with local market stalls selling papaya juices, preserves, liqueurs and sweets.
The papaya tree Coquimbo pharmacist Abraham claimed had fantastic medicinal properties
Pirates attacked La Serena during the 17th century. Today Coquimbo still has pirate ships although of a less dangerous nature cruising the sea and entertaining passengers.
A modern pirate boat off the port of Coquimbo with La Serena visible in the background
These days sea lions do more damage to Coquimbo boats than pirate ships. This afternoon sea lions relaxed in several boats, ignoring netting put up to deter them. Pelicans, gulls and other fish-eating birds joined more sea lions next to a seafood waste outlet.
I don’t have the courage to stand and defecate on an adult sea lion like this gull
A third sea lion joins two others on a Coquimbo fishing boat
Cycling back to La Serena, people were collecting seaweed from the beach at low tide for purposes unknown to me.
A pelican watches two people collect sea weed between Coquimbo and La Serena
La Serena has an ornamental lighthouse and the late afternoon sun was glowing when I returned to this landmark and tourist attraction.
Horses and people in front of the Lighthouse of La Serena
My rental bike throwing a shadow on the lighthouse wall
The silhouette through a lighthouse arch of a man horse riding a horse along La Serena beach
From La Serena I travelled inland to my next destination, Elqui Valley, the Chilean home of pisco. Afterwards, I spent one more night in La Serena. At the Hostal El Arbol I met an Austrian who had worked in Chile for six months as an au pair. In this time she had not seen another Austrian and wished to speak her dialect again. The cruel irony was, in my previous stay at the same hostel, I met three other Austrians including two from her region (hello Cami and Sara)!
Street lights glowing in front of silhouettes of a palm tree and church tower, La Serena