Floods & Drought in Chile’s Elqui Valley

The Elqui Valley is a fertile jewel in the Chile’s arid north. It’s particularly famous for its grapes, be they destined for the table or to be made into wine or the local liquor, called Pisco.

Vineyards in the lower Elqui Valley

Vineyards in the lower Elqui Valley

Me getting a closer look (and taste!)

Me getting a closer look (and taste!)

We arrived in La Serena, gateway to the Elqui Valley, at the beginning of April. Just one week earlier an unseasonable storm had produced terrible floods and landslides, bringing chaos and sorrow to northern Chile. Our friends at EcoTourismo had already assured us that our tour would go ahead as planned, but we still weren’t sure quite what to expect.

We docked at the port of Coquimbo, before dawn on an overcast morning. After being collected by Jorge, our guide for the day, we drove through La Serena and into the lower reaches of the Elqui Valley.

Drip irrigation is widely used here to get water to crops

Drip irrigation is widely used here to get water to crops

Grapes on their way to a winery

Grapes on their way to a winery

The winery in question

The winery in question

The first sign we saw of Nature’s power on this area was at the Puclaro Reservoir, just west of the small town of Vicuña. Ironically though, it wasn’t evidence of flooding or landslides but of the drought that has gripped this region for the last eight years.

Downtown Vicuña

Downtown Vicuña

In Vicuña's central square, with its unmistakeable tower in the background

In Vicuña’s central square, with its unmistakeable tower in the background

Standing at the village of Gualliguaica, on what should be the north shore of the lake, we could just about make out a pitiful puddle over a mile and a half away to the west. Jorge told us that the reservoir currently contains less than 10% of its capacity, a dangerous situation for a valley dependant on irrigation.

Standing on what should be the shoreline of the Puclaro Reservoir at Gualliguaica - the dam and current lake are just visible in the distance

Standing on what should be the shoreline of the Puclaro Reservoir at Gualliguaica
– the dam and current lake are just visible in the distance

Panorama of the

Panorama of the “Puclaro Reservoir” taken at Gualliguaica on April 2nd, 2015

The first indications we saw of the previous week’s flooding were during our visit to the Aba Pisco Distillery. Mud caked the area around the outside fermentation tanks, and production had been temporarily halted at the time we were there. (Look for more about our time at Aba in a future post.)

Mud around the fermentation tanks at the Apa Pisco Distillery

Mud around the fermentation tanks at the Aba Pisco Distillery

However, it wasn’t until we left the distillery to head a little further up the valley that we saw worse effects of the flooding (which were actually comparatively light in the Elqui Valley, relative to other parts of the region). Jorge wanted to take a minor road that runs part way up the side of the valley towards our next destination, to show us the view. Unfortunately, we soon discovered work to clear a landslide off the road was still in progress, so we had to backtrack and return to the main highway instead.

This mudslide covered the road and partially buried the field beyond

This mudslide covered the road and partially buried the field beyond

Two or three feet of mud have already been cleared off the road, but the adjoining fields are a different matter

Two or three feet of mud have already been cleared off the road, but the adjoining fields are a different matter

The clean-up continues

The clean-up continues

On the bright side – literally – it wasn’t long after that the Sun finally decided to make an appearance and burn off the stubborn layer of clouds. Finally we had blue skies and were able to see the surrounding mountains, allowing us to appreciate the upper reaches of the Elqui Valley in all its glory.

The Elqui Valley in the sunshine

The Elqui Valley in the sunshine

Blues skies make it look prettier, but unfortunately don't help fill Puclaro Reservoir

Blues skies make it look prettier, but unfortunately don’t help fill Puclaro Reservoir

Looking north across the dry lake bed, with Gualliguaica visible on the far shore (right of photo)

Looking north across the dry lake bed, with Gualliguaica visible on the far shore (right of photo)

Looking downstream from the Puclaro dam

Looking downstream from the Puclaro dam

It's easy to see the normal shoreline of the Puclaro Reservoir

It’s easy to see the normal shoreline of the Puclaro Reservoir

Beautiful and heartbreaking

Beautiful and heartbreaking

This post was inspired by the photo themes Forces of Nature from Brie (of the Daily Post) and Storm from Jennifer Nichole Wells.

With Jorge back at the ship  (the clouds have returned too, down here at the coast)

With Jorge back at the ship
(the clouds have returned too, down here at the coast)

While you’re thinking about the trials Mother Nature is currently throwing at Northern Chile, not to mention the volcanic eruptions the south is dealing with, why not sign up and follow my continuing Journeys here at Jaspa’s Journal (on WordPress or Bloglovin’), or through my website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr?

And if that’s not enough for you, the first three Jaspa’s Journey novels will soon be available to enjoy, both as ebooks and in paperback! Perfect for Kids 8 – 80!

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About Jaspa

Star of my own award-winning adventure novels, Jaspa's Journey. Geocaching addict & F1 fan. Adventure Journeyer & blogger extraordinaire. Check out my website: www.jaspasjourney.com And don’t forget to download the books and see what the buzz is all about!
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7 Responses to Floods & Drought in Chile’s Elqui Valley

  1. Pingback: tnkerr-Writing Prompts and Practice

  2. Pingback: Weekly Photo Challenge-Forces-of-Nature | WoollyMuses

  3. Pingback: One Word Photo Challenge: Cloudy | Jennifer Nichole Wells

  4. I love being taken along on your travels. These are some really wonderful images. Jaspa is much smaller than I imagined 🙂

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