At Long Last

OK, I’ve been home for 9 days now, so I guess it’s about time I told you some more about the trip. In hindsight the lows have faded, and I mostly remember some of the amazing things Laila and I did. Overall, it was a pretty good trip, but it was NOT easy. Almost everything felt like WORK. In other words, very few things in Chile work seamlessly.

I arrived on a Tuesday morning after 3 flights and nearly 24 hours in transit. Immigration in Chile was my 1st introduction into the bizarre logic of this country. They have a one-time $132 fee for all travelers from the US. I knew this and planned ahead by bringing this in cash. Too bad the ladies who take the money insist on PERFECT bills. I had one bill with a 1/8″ tear in it- REJECTED. Luckily, they take credit cards. Needless to say, I was thrilled to see my smiling sister in the arrivals hall at Santiago airport. We quickly got a rental car – a Chevy Corsa with no power steering. The vehicle did not inspire confidence, but we set off for Valparaiso nonetheless.

Our 1st 2 days were spent in Valparaiso and we stayed at Laila’s lovely, and somewhat chaotic house on the outskirts of town. We had a couple pretty good meals, got attacked by a pack of dogs, and beach hopped up the coast including a trip to the “gastronomic capital of Chile”. Basically, it was classic Chile! After 2 days of the loveable and maddening Valpo, we departed for the great desert north of the country. At this point, I’d like to warn those of you who may travel to Chile in the future: the road signs are CRAP. Including the fact that you might be traveling along a road which is clearly signposted “Route 60” (for example), when in fact it is “Route 68” and not even NEAR “Route 60”. Yeah.

Anyway, we drove north once we found the right road. The Pan American highway runs the length of the whole country and is a surprisingly good road. The tolls are extortionate, but otherwise, it’s a very fast way to get from place to place. We set our sights on Ovalle and managed a stop at the picturesque Valley of Enchantment. It was a super small-scale little park in the desert whose main attraction was petroglyphs. It was Laila’s 1st time in the desert and she was quite taken with the whole experience.

Ovalle was a sweet little town, though it had a distinct lack of restaurants, which led to us visiting the same establishment 3 times in less than 18 hours. In the morning, we wasted little time before setting out to Vicuna. This turned out to be an epic drive over a mountain pass on dirt and gravel roads. It took us 4 hours to drive 120 km (about 70 miles). The last 28 miles took TWO HOURS. It was tremendously stressful and our poor little car was really not up to the task, though it made it through admirably. When we finally arrived, we were starved and exhausted. Our 1st order of business was ice cream. Quickly followed by a proper meal (or the best we could do, anyway) and finding a hotel. For once, we really lucked out. We found a little place on the outskirts of town with a gorgeous outdoor pool. We quickly changed into our suits and washed some of the dust of the road off in the pool. The place was quiet and we mostly had it to ourselves.

Late that evening, we took a tour to the Observatory Mamalluca. This region of Chile is one of the best places in the world to view stars. We went to the observatory around 11 pm and had an English-speaking astronomer give us a tour with only 2 other people. It was fantastic! We each got a ton of time to look through the telescope and learned a lot about constellations, different star formations, etc. Although we were tired, it was utterly fascinating. The only down side was there was a bit too much moonlight that night, which made it harder to see the stars.

The following morning, we laid into a great breakfast at the hotel with EGGS. My 1st trace of protein in 3 days! Another hour or two spent by the pool, and we reluctantly checked out. We were excited to head back to the coast and see the beaches of La Serena/Coquimbo. We did spend a very nice afternoon at the beach near Coquimbo, including the most delicious churros from a shack at the beach. Sadly, it went downhill from there and we had a pretty lousy evening in Coquimbo. The highlight was staying in a hostel that was an ancient (and pretty run down) old mansion. Very cool building.

We didn’t linger long in the morning and were happy to head back to Valpo. We took one detour on the way south to Frey Jorge National Park. Again, if you plan to visit Chile I do NOT recommend you go here. It was yet another dirt road (40 km each way) to the park. And, um, when we got there – it was a ONE KM walk in the fog. That’s part of the allure of the park- its almost always shrouded in fog. But I can’t say that our 15 minute walk was worth the effort. Oh well. We tried not to let it get us down and set a course straight for home.

We got back to Valpo in time for dinner and Laila cooked us up a lovely meal of roasted cauliflower, quinoa, and curried chickpeas w/ spinach. It was pretty much pure heaven after some of the bad meals we ate in the previous days. We lounged around the house and rested our travel-weary selves.

My last day we did a lot of wandering, bought some souvenirs, and met Laila’s friend Maija for lunch and then churros. After our leisurely afternoon, I packed up and set off to the airport for an overnight flight back home (via Dallas). I was sad to say goodbye to Laila. It’s been years since we sisters had so much time together and it was a LOT of fun. Nevertheless, I was fantasizing about a good latte, a hug from G and Lucy, and my nice, cushy car.

Thanks, Chile! May see you again some day but next time, I’ll be prepared.

Home again, home again, jiggety jig.

I am HOME at last. That was quite a trip! I am working on getting the photos up right now. But I will tell you that a) I took our small/old/slightly crappy camera and b) I’m not the photographer in the family so they’re really not that great. But better than nothing.

In the mean time, I am starting a list of all the reasons I LOVE living in this country. Oh, let me count the ways. It may take traveling to South America to remind me of some of these. For those of you living in the US or Europe, COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS! We have it good.

A few things I am currently grateful for:
-abundant hot water
-no stray dogs (and their associated bodily waste)
-good coffee that is readily available
-toilet seats, toilet paper, clean toilets, soap, paper towels and the holy grail: ALL OF THESE THINGS AT ONCE
-a place to lay my head
-organic produce
-EFFICIENCY!! OK, I know multitasking is supposed to be bad and all, but we get so much DONE!
-being able to use a credit card almost anywhere
-central heating and cooling
-road signs that ACTUALLY tell you where you are and where you are going
-all wheel drive
-power steering
-power everything!
-smokeless bars, restaurants, stores, etc.
-beans and tofu and lentils and all those yummy non meat sources of protein
-dryers, dishwashers and other household appliances that most people in the world don’t have
-the “green” conscience about recycling, plastic bags, etc. that is the norm in our area
-good quality, paved roads

Laila, want to chime in on this?

For once, I am feeling very proud of my country and all it’s modern wonders.

Camera girl

Camera girl
Not many photos recently, but here are a few from last weekend when we went to visit little baby M.
I was somewhat disappointed in the camera/my photos that day – took many, many bad. Need to relook at the settings, reset any changes, practise more I think – too many out of focus etc. Oh well.