25th November 2003
Last stop before Santiago was La Serena. Unfortunately we didn't have too much time to rest here and enjoy the beaches as we wanted to get to Santiago to have the Weasel checked over. We kept feeling intermittent strong vibrations that seemed to be coming up through the floor and having had a good root around underneath we could not find any problems.
La Serena is one of the main astronomical centres of the world and has 3 observatories within 150km - El Tololo, La Silla and Las Campanas. It is possible to visit the observatories but only on Saturdays and the tours get booked up 3-4 months in advance. We couldn't get a place as the tours were already full. We then tried to book on one of the tours at the Observatorio Comunal Cerro Mamalluca, near Vicuna, which gives the chance to view the southern night skies through a 12-inch telescope, magnifying stars up to 140 times. The reason there are so many observatories around La Serena is because the area usually has almost cloudless nights, great for viewing the stars. But with our typical luck with the weather, the night we were there was extremely cloudy and the tours at Mamalluca were cancelled as a result. We would just have to content ourselves with watching the stars at night from our tent.
Whilst in La Serena we took the opportunity of visiting the Automovil Club de Chile to try to get our third party insurance sorted. We spent a good hour there filling out the forms to join the club and get the insurance, only to find out that they couldn't insure us because we didn't have an "RUT", a number all Chileans have on their National ID cards. The lady in the office could not comprehend the fact that we didn't have ID cards in the UK and were not required to carry ID with us all the time. Frustrated with the wasted time, things worked out in the end when the lady took us to an insurance broker where we managed to get the obligatory minimal insurance required by law. The insurance runs from April to March so we were covered from now until the end of March - all for just 4000 pesos (about £4). Whilst I was sorting all this out, Ed managed to get the Weasel washed by the Automovil Club for free (they had given us a free voucher whilst we were completing the membership forms).
Heading out of La Serena we found a campsite at one of the beaches outside the town - Playa Morrillos- and settled down for the evening with a nice bottle of Chilean red wine. We had the entire site to ourselves, which was great, although it meant that they didn't bother to turn on the hot water, so no nice hot shower in the morning! We did get to feel an earthquake though - very small tremors - for a minute or so just before we packed the tent away in the morning.