La Serena, Chile is a regional capital. A pretty place with beaches and access to one of the many “Poor Man’s Galapagos” scattered around South America. We got off the bus at the bus station and walked along the highway for a block or three to our turn and then along the boarded up mall. Recent protests had reduced the hours and appearance of the mall to a gated and condemned structure. As a throwback to our childhood and a huge bit of humor, we found a vandalized Chuck E. Cheese. Someone managed to put a red paint splash on his head. 1. A f*cking Chuck E. Cheese in South America!!! 2. It looked like a Deadmou5 cover art.
We eventually found our apartment for the next few day and it was far better than we expected.
1-12-2019 We only had a few days and only one worked for a tour of the Poor Man’s Galapagos (AKA Isla Choros) and the Humboldt Penguin National Reserve. Due to the protests, we were not allowed to land on the island, but we could see most of the island and animals from the water, so we proceeded with the trip. An 830 AM pickup was followed by a bus ride to a gas station for coffee and breakfast. We got coffee and fed the street dogs. After the brief stop, we made our way into the countryside. Desert landscapes were dotted with the sight of guanacos and cacti. The bus pulled off on the shoulder of the road and we were directed to get out to see the foxes. There was about 20 zorro chillas or small gray foxes. They appeared to expect handouts from motorists, but we didn’t humor them. The foxes were very photogenic.
After a few dozen photos, we funneled back into the van to finish our trip to the beach. From there, we took a boat to sea.
We couldn’t land at the island, but we could cruise around it. A dolphin was sighted on the way out, but I missed it. As we got closer to the island, we started seeing Lobo Marinos (sea lions), and sea birds.
Pelicans soon became visible and as we rounded the point, Humboldt penguins and more sea lions started appearing.
The captain of the boat pulled in close to one tiny bay to get a better look at a group of penguins when someone spotted a sea otter!
It was smaller than I thought it would be… maybe 18 inches (45cm) long. After risking our lives for a while close to shore in the breakers, the captain backed us out of the waves. We cruised further up the coastline looking at Humboldt penguins, when someone spotted a whale.
The boat instantly went into whale mode. The motor revved and we took to the deep water. Our crew called to other captains to let them know a whale was about. We got close several times and it was identified as a fin whale. The second largest whale in the world. As we lost sight of the whale, another boat called out that their motor was dead and they needed a tow. Our boat rendered assistance. The trip back was slow, but the other passengers, crew, and captain were happy to have a safe trip back.
Back on land we stopped at restaurant for lunch at a little restaurant and then a long ride back to our Air BnB.
03-12-2019 We walked around La Serena. The museum and Japanese Gardens were closed due to the manifestaciónes. We walked through parks and viewed the statues that had their eyes painted red to warn of what the Carabineros did to protestors and those that stood up. As of Nov 22, 2019, 222 eye injuries had been reported at the hands of the police.
04-12-2019 In the morning, we packed up and took a bus ride to Copiapó. We are now approximately 800 km (500 miles) from Santiago. This is the regional capital and the site of infamous 2010 Copiapó mine accident that trapped 33 miners.