My Top 5 Favorite Places Outside the United States and Why I Love Them

Similar to my list of top 10 favorite places in the United States and Why I Love Them, I decided to write up a list of my favorite places outside the United States. Since I’ve traveled more extensively inside the US than outside, I limited it to my top 5 international places, only I felt the need for an honorable mention since I couldn’t limit it to just 5 places. I wanted to choose one city for each pick, but was unable to in most cases, so I limited the choices to a region or small area. I hope you enjoy my list! It was a lot of fun to make the list and reminisce about places I’ve been to over the years.

Honorable Mention:  Rethymno, Crete, Greece. As I’ve said many times on my blog, when my family and I travel, we often veer off the beaten path a bit. We don’t always go where the crowds go. So when we went to Greece, while we did go to the popular destination of Athens, we skipped the tourist-flooded islands of Santorini and Mykonos and opted for Crete instead. We may eventually go to some of the aforementioned islands, but we’re in no rush. Crete was absolutely everything we love in a vacation spot- there were beautiful hiking areas and some of the most stunning beaches I’ve ever seen. I especially enjoyed the Venetian harbor and fortress in Rethymno. Within driving distance are ruins (such as Knossos), caves, gorges, and many quaint small villages to keep you busy and in awe. My favorite beach on Crete is Elafonisi, with its pink sand and clear water, but there are many other beautiful beaches in Crete as well.

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Number 5:  St. Kitts and Nevis. These tiny islands in the Caribbean are only about 65 and 36 square miles each, respectively. My husband and I got married on the island of St. Kitts and took a ferry to Nevis for our honeymoon. We stayed at Nisbet Plantation Beach Club on Nevis and it is still to this day one of the nicest places I have ever stayed. It is the Caribbean’s only historic plantation on the beach. The service at Nisbet Plantation is unparalleled, the food top-notch, and the accommodations amazing. While there isn’t a ton to do on the island, it’s the perfect place to get away from it all and just relax and be pampered. St. Kitts has a bit more to do on the island than Nevis, and there are many options for outdoor enthusiasts. The day before our wedding, my fiancé and I climbed up to the top of one of the volcanic peaks on St. Kitts, even though our tour guide thought we were crazy given the timing. Other than our wedding, it was the highlight of our trip to St. Kitts so I was very glad we did it. St. Kitts and Nevis are both the perfect places to go if you enjoy outdoor activities and water sports.

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I loved the black volcanic rocks in St. Kitts
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One of many beautiful views in St. Kitts

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Number 4:  St. Johann im Pongau district, Austria. Two places are of mention here: Bad Gastein and Werfen. When I read an article about Austria and saw a photo of Bad Gasteiner Wasserfall (waterfall) I immediately wanted to go. You could say the whole reason I went to Austria at all was because of that photo of a waterfall and the travel article written about the area.

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I finally got to take my own photo of Gasteiner Wasserfall!

We went to Austria in the spring and there were more waterfalls here than anywhere else I have ever been. Bad Gastein is a spa town in the district of St. Johann im Pongau, in the Hohe Tauern mountain range, in the state of Salzburg. Other than the city of Salzburg, this area is full of tiny towns great for hiking and exploring. I found the people here very friendly, the food good, and the scenery outstanding. Werfen is famous for the Eisriesenwelt Ice Cave, one of the highlights of our vacation in Austria. Cameras aren’t allowed inside the cave, but here are a couple of photos from their website.

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Also in Werfen is the Burg Hohenwerfen, a castle that’s over 900 years old. There are extensive weaponry displays and an impressive falconry flight display. The castle is surrounded by the Salzachtal Valley so it’s beautiful just to walk the grounds.

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Number 3:  Banff, Canada. A few years ago we went to Missoula, Montana where I ran a half marathon and we followed up the race with a visit to Glacier National Park, which I thought was pretty amazing, but then we went to Banff, Canada and the scenery just kept getting better the further north we went. As majestic as the Rocky Mountains are in the United States, I think the Canadian Rocky Mountains are even more so. The glacier-fed waters in the area are such a beautiful hue of greenish-blue and the mountains are some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. Banff National Park, about 70 miles west of Calgary, is the oldest national park in Canada. I found the town of Banff to be pretty touristy but it is full of restaurants, shops, museums, and art galleries so you can find plenty to do here when you’re not hiking. There are many, many tours including glacier tours, boat tours, and general sightseeing tours if that interests you. We took a boat tour on Lake Minnewanka, the only lake in Banff National Park open to public motorized boating, and it was definitely a highlight of our time there.

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Number 2:  Florence, Italy. Since I wanted to limit my choices to one city whenever possible, this one was tough to choose just one city we went to in Italy. I loved Rome almost as much as Florence, but in the end I’d have to say Florence may have the edge, but just slightly. I was surprised I loved Florence as much as I did, honestly. Before I went to Italy, I expected Venice or Rome to be my favorites (we also went to Naples and Pompeii), but Florence won my heart. I think it must have been the art that did it. While I was in Florence, I felt like I was immersed in art. You could go to just an ordinary little shop and there would be the most beautiful mosaic, or at a small cafe and find gorgeous statues or paintings just kind of tucked away, obviously not for ostentatious display but just part of the cafe. There are of course the famous museums such as Uffizi Gallery, Accademia Gallery, and the small but still stunning Museo Nazionale del Bargello. Then there are the many beautiful piazzas, cathedrals, and other archeological sites. All of these places are so out of this world beautiful just one place alone would make for an incredible visit to the city, but the fact that there are so many stunningly beautiful places in one city make it almost surreal. With some of the best food and wine in the world on top of the artwork everywhere, what more could you ask for?

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Number 1:  Whitianga, New Zealand. This one was also a tough one. I knew somewhere in New Zealand would be my top choice, but to limit it to just one place was really difficult. The North Island of New Zealand is so diverse with its Redwood Forests, sandy beaches, geysers, wine country, and rolling hills. I loved touring Hobbiton and found the countryside there beautiful. Seeing the glow worms of Waitomo Caves was incredible. Walking around the geysers and thermal mud pools at Wai-O-Tapu in Rotorua was like being on another planet. Walking through the redwoods forest was so quiet and serene. But our boat ride through the sea caves in Whitianga was something impossible to ever top. The water was such a gorgeous color of blue-green and being able to go inside some of the caves was so much fun. I felt like I had a smile plastered across my face from beginning to end of the tour. This is a place that has seriously ruined other boat tours for me because nothing will ever be able to compare. Besides the boat tour here, the beaches are also some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. Whitianga also has wineries, a fun museum, and hiking trails, all things I love. I almost didn’t include this area as part of our North Island tour because I didn’t think we’d have time. I’m so glad that didn’t happen because we would have missed the best part!

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Being in this small boat made it easy to go in the caves and explore

Has anyone else been to these places? Does anyone want to go now?

My Top 10 Favorite Places in the United States and Why I Love Them

I thought it would be fun to compile a list of my favorite places I’ve been to. At first I wasn’t going to separate out places in the United States from international places, but then I thought there’s no way I could limit them to just ten places. Most of my travels within the United States have been planned with the goal of running a half marathon in all 50 states.  So far I’ve been to 43 states and have ran a half marathon in 40 states.

So here goes, my choice for number 10:  Glacier National Park in Montana. My family and I went here after my half marathon in Missoula. I thought Missoula was beautiful but GNP was even more beautiful.  We hiked many trails and especially loved hiking trails around Lake McDonald. I also enjoyed just driving along the Going-to-the-Sun Road.

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Number 9:  Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. This was another place where my family and I went after I ran a half marathon, only this time in Boulder, undoubtedly one of the hardest races I’ve ever ran because of the high elevation. We drove to RMNP from Boulder and were blown away by the mountains and scenery. Boulder is at the base of the really big mountains such as those in RMNP. Even though we went there in June, there was still quite a bit of snow on the ground at the highest elevations. The park’s tallest mountain, Long’s Peak is stunning with an elevation of 14,259. Similar to the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Montana, the drive along Trail Ridge Road is beautiful.

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Number 8:  Badlands National Park in South Dakota (notice a trend here?). We went here after one of my favorite half marathons, in Spearfish, SD. On this trip we also went to Mount Rushmore but I found the Badlands to be much more beautiful. I absolutely loved the different colored rock formations, the Buttes, and spires. We spotted some big horn sheep, bison, and tons of prairie dogs.

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Number 7: San Juan Islands in Washington. I absolutely loved Seattle, but I loved the San Juan Islands, and the ferry ride there even more than Seattle. We went to Friday Harbour and stayed in a cabin overlooking a beautiful field where deer liked to graze in the mornings and at dusk. I ran a half marathon here, which turned out to be a pretty small but scenic race. We toured a lavender farm and spent a lot of time in the retail section smelling all of the lavender-infused products and tasting the tea. My daughter wanted to buy one of everything.  The lavender tea was delicious. We also went whale-watching just off the coast and saw a bunch of orcas and dolphins. My daughter even got to steer the boat during our tour! Hiking in Lime Kiln State Park was also a highlight of our time on the island.

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Number 6:  Charleston, South Carolina. I wrote a couple of posts about Charleston last summer, so it should be no surprise to see it on my list here. I love so much about this city from the beaches to the architecture to the food. I could go on and on about the food alone. I’ve never had a bad meal here, ever. I’ve been going to Charleston for vacations many times over the years and it just seems to get better every time. There’s so much history here if you’re a history buff you’ll love all of the museums and walking tours. I find Charleston to be the quintessential southern city full of charm, friendly people, and some of the best food you’ll ever eat.

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Number 5:  Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah (can you tell I’m a big fan of national parks?). We went here earlier this year in late winter and I found it to be truly magical. I don’t use that word lightly either. Also, I hate winter. I moved south to get away from the cold weather as an adult. However, the snow on the hoodoos was beautiful and I had so much fun hiking the trails at Bryce Canyon while it was snowing. It snowed off and on but was never a blizzard or anything crazy. The light snowfall just added to the experience and made it even more special. Even though I loved Zion National Park, I loved Bryce Canyon even more, which surprised me, honestly. Plan your next vacation there with the help of my previous posts and this website.

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Number 4:  Acadia National Park in Maine. Before I went to Maine, I had heard great things about the state and hoped that it would live up to the hype. Maine did not disappoint. It was every bit as beautiful as I imagined and the food was every bit as good as you hear it is. We dined on fresh lobster and other fresh fish dishes including clam chowder and had some incredible meals on our trip to Maine. A highlight of the trip was hiking in Acadia National Park and I was glad we had allotted a few days here. We also discovered popovers at Jordan Pond House and that was a real treat. And yes, I also ran a half marathon here.

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Number 3:  Kona, Hawaii. I first went to Hawaii many years ago and ran a half marathon in Kona, which turned out to be my second state for half marathons, even though I didn’t have the goal then of one in every state. I just thought it would be fun (it was) and cool to run along a portion of the same course as the Ironman triathlon. Kona is what I think of when I think of Hawaii:  black sandy beaches, volcanos, palm trees, and incredible snorkeling. Not surprisingly I loved Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. It was like nowhere else in the world and walking through the Thurston Lava Tube was very cool. When I later went back to Kona many years after that first trip, it was every bit as great as I remembered. I’ve since then wanted to go back again but haven’t made it (yet!).

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Number 2:  San Francisco, California. I left my heart in San Francisco. Just kidding. I think that famous song does strike a chord with many people, however. San Francisco is such a fun and vibrant city it’s no surprise it’s become the most expensive city to live in the United States. Where there’s demand, prices will go up accordingly. While I have no desire to live in San Francisco, I love to visit there. In fact, when I was planning my family’s trip to New Zealand, I was happy to include a day-long layover in San Francisco both before and after our flights to New Zealand. I’m always looking for an excuse to go back. Why do I love San Francisco? Well, it’s hard to describe, honestly. There’s so much to do here and the area is beautiful especially around the water. I just love the Golden Gate Bridge and had a blast on the multiple boat tours I took that went around and under the bridge. I love the crazy hilly streets and architecture. The food is great, even the super-touristy chowder in a sourdough bread bowl. Speaking of touristy, I even love the wharf area despite how crowded it can get.

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Number 1:  San Diego, California. If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ll remember how many posts I wrote about San Diego. In fact, some of you were probably sick of hearing me go on about the city. It’s absolutely stunning, though. You hear about places being called “breathtaking” all the time and I feel that term is completely over-used but I will say San Diego was honestly breathtaking to me. When I first saw Sunset Cliffs, I was speechless, took a second to get my breath, then looked at my daughter (who also had the same reaction), and just said, “Wow!” It was one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. There’s also so much to do in San Diego, from hiking, to the touristy but still interesting Old Town, the world famous zoo, many museums, parks, and shopping. There are several places where you can get some fantastic tacos and Liberty Public Market has some delicious local fresh food and other unique things for sale. Coronado Beach with its golden-flecked sand and the iconic Hotel del Coronado is my favorite beach in the area. I could go on and on about San Diego. I guess I left my heart in San Diego.

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What are some of your favorite places in the United States? Does anyone else love these places as much as I do?

15 Lessons Learned by an American in Chile

After a recent vacation to central Chile, I can honestly say this place was more of a challenge to me than anywhere else I’ve been. I think the biggest surprise was how few people in Chile speak any English. I’ve been to many places where the people speak a little English (i.e.. Costa Rica, Germany, Greece, Italy, etc.), and with that particular language I had attempted to learn before going to those places, it has not been a problem communicating.

Chile was the first time I’ve been to entire towns where no one (at least that I encountered) spoke English, not even at places advertised as tourist information places. While I don’t claim to be an expert on Chile, I learned many things during my two week vacation there and I’d like to share a few with you so that you can hopefully learn from my mistakes.

1. Learn as much Spanish as you possibly can beforehand. Use Duolingo. Use other apps. Listen to Spanish audio books. Do whatever you can to learn all you can before going to Chile. You will need all the help you can get.

2. When speaking Spanish with Chileans, keep it as simple as possible. The less words you have to use, the better. Also, ask the person you’re speaking with to use fewer words if possible.

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We encountered this little beauty at a national park.

3. Buy a hotspot for internet (also called MiFi). Wi-Fi is spotty at best even in some of the bigger cities. We did not buy a hotspot before we went to Chile and had to go a week with basically no internet. I’m considering renting one from xcomglobal for our next international vacation. If you have experience with them, or with another international mobile hotspot company, I’d love to hear about it.

4. There are no guarantees when it comes to public Wi-Fi. One place where we were staying was supposed to have Wi-Fi but it was down the week we were there. We went to a few restaurants and cafes that claimed to have Wi-Fi for customers only to find out the internet was down and would be down for several days at least.

5. Download Google maps of areas where you will be spending time onto your phone before even leaving for Chile so you will have offline access even with no internet.

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6. Find places to visit and things to do before leaving for Chile and print them out. Don’t wait until you get there thinking you’ll figure it out once you get there.

7. Don’t assume your credit card will always work. We tried to pay for lunch once with a credit card we had been using for well over a week with no problems only to be told the transaction couldn’t go through because of problems with the internet.

8. Make sure your credit card is chip-embedded or it won’t work well in Chile. Our debit card did not have a chip and didn’t work anywhere except banks.

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9. Make sure you always have cash on you. There are many toll roads in Chile that only take cash. You also need to be prepared to pay with cash in case your credit card doesn’t work (see number 7).

10. Most roads are in good condition and are paved but there are of course exceptions.

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Horse-drawn carts are still commonly used in small towns in Chile

11. Driving a rental car is your best option when venturing outside heavily populated areas but in Santiago taking the metro is your best option; in fact, driving in Santiago is not recommended.

12. Drivers in Chile are aggressive. Be prepared to drive above the posted speed limit to keep with the flow of traffic on highways, and don’t drive in the left lane unless you are passing. In small towns, however, stay within the speed limit as it is sometimes checked by policemen with radar (we saw this a few times in various cities).

13. Make sure you have plenty of gas when traveling to a new area. You may drive for hours with no gas station in sight (as we did going from Santiago to Vina del Mar).

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Lunch with a view over Valparaiso

14. Bring a converter and transformer (both) to safely plug in electronics.

15. The people in Chile are some of the most patient and kind people I’ve met. If you are trying to speak Spanish and follow their rules they will appreciate it more.

I hope you have been following along with me for some or all of my posts about Chile. This vacation was certainly an adventure but one I very much enjoyed. I would love to hear any and all comments!

Day Trip to Pichilemu, Chile

Pichilemu is on the western coast of Chile, about a 3 hour drive from Santiago, in the O’Higgins Region. We decided to take a day trip here from Las Cabras, just under a 2 hour drive. The drive here is scenic so the time goes by quickly.

In addition to beaches, this area is famous for Central Cultural Agustín Ross. This historic area created by diplomat Agustín Ross Edwards dates back to the late 1800’s and includes a park, former casino,hotel, and restaurant. The park overlooks the beach “Playa Principal” and is a nice place to sit on a bench to take a break.

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Bosque Municipal is a forest right across the road from Agustín Park and has many palm and pine trees along with other varieties of trees. It is a nice respite from the heat and is a quiet place to enjoy nature for a walk.

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Other beaches in the area include Playa Las Terraza, Playa Hermosa, Playa Las Caletilla, and Playa Infiernillo. La Puntilla, the tip of Playa Las Terraza, is considered one of the best spots in Pichilemu for surfing. Punta de Lobos beach is an even more popular surfing area and is considered the surfing capital of Chile. The waves here are between 1 to 9 meters high, and are best between September to May.

There are numerous surf schools, many of which look like shacks put together solely with plywood and a piece of metal for the roof. You can also kitesurf, windsurf, and bodyguard. Fishing is a staple trade in this area and you’ll see many fishing boats and fresh fish stalls.

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You can find many restaurants, cafes, and kiosks selling everything from ice cream to empanadas to plastic shovels and pails for the beach. We also passed a few hostels in town. Cabañas seem to be plentiful in the area as well so it appears there would be no shortage of places to stay for a vacation here.

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This is definitely a beach town so unless you’re here during the summer months of December, January, or February, you’re going to find a sleepy town. Still, it’s a fun day-trip even in the off-season. However, during the summer, you’ll have more options like bike and kayak rentals, hiking, and camping tours, and other outdoor activities.

Since we were here in late May during the off season, it was quiet and some of the kiosks were closed. However, we still found plenty that were open and had no problem finding a stand selling hot and fresh empanadas, which we hungrily devoured. Later in the day we bought bread and ham to make sandwiches and dessert from a bakery. We enjoyed our food while sitting on a small cliff over-looking the ocean. It was a nice way to end our day in Pichilemu. After all, a beautiful beach is still a beautiful beach no matter what time of year it is.

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Rio los Cipreses Nacional Reserva (National Park in Chile)

The Rio los Cipreses Nacional Reserva is in the Bernardo O’Higgins region but good luck finding it on your own unless you’re from the region! You will be unable to find directions using Google maps. The best you can do is what we did, find the closest town and hope you see signs from there. We drove to Coya and from there you can easily follow the signs to the park. Fortunately for us, the signs for the park are well-marked and plentiful so once we found the first sign, we had no problems getting to the entrance. There was a tourism office in Coya but no one was there when we tried.

Admission to the park is $5000 Chilean pesos, or about $7.50 US for adults and $2500 Chilean pesos per child, valid for one day. There are six trails, from the best I can tell. A portion of the main access road through the park was closed (no idea why) the day we visited so we couldn’t get to some of the trails but we went on all  of the ones we could access.

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Trail is “sendero” in Spanish. We went on Sendero La Hacienda, Sendero Las Arpas, Sendero Los Tricahues, and Sendero Los Puemos, but Sendero Puente La Leona was closed. All of the trails have a unique aspect to them from one another. There is a waterfall along the Sendero Los Puemos, Sendero Los Tricahues has an almost fairytale like feeling, and Sendero Las Arpas has what seemed like a resident fox that followed us around the trail curiously watching us, but was truly the most friendly fox I’ve ever seen. It must be used to seeing people, some of which probably feed it.

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All along the park, we had views of the Andes Mountains towering above grandly. There are also picnic areas so you can have lunch with views of the mountains, which makes for one scenic lunch. Although they didn’t appear to be open when we were there, there are camping areas available. In addition to the friendly fox, there are pumas in the area. We never saw one, but there was the pungent odor of cat urine by one of the water crossings, which could have been from a puma. We also came across a very large wooden crate that looked like one used for capture and release. I probably don’t want to know what that was used for. There are also many types of birds, trees, and flowers native to the area.

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Translation: I do not love man less, but nature more. Quote by Lord Byron.

There’s a funny story that happened to us. We were on our last trail for the day, Sendero La Hacienda, and saw hoof prints again. We had seen them on other trails and had followed them when in doubt of where to go if the trail became not so well marked, thinking they were from horses with riders. Then my daughter said, “Hey, there are actually other people on this trail too!” We hadn’t seen a soul on any of the previous trails we had been on all day. As we got closer, she realized what she had thought were people were cows. We also realized what we had thought were horse hoof prints had really been cow hoof prints. No wonder we got pretty far off the trail at times!

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We didn’t expect to see cows at this national park!

Although this park isn’t the easiest to get to, I highly recommend spending a day here. Parking is pretty scarce, so it would be best if you arrive relatively early to make sure you can find a parking spot. Also, there is a place that advertised having food right by the administration office, but it didn’t look like it was open when we were there. We always like to pack a picnic lunch when we go on all-day hikes, so it wasn’t a problem for us. You should also bring sunscreen and plenty of water. There are bathrooms along several areas in the park. They close just before sunset so if you arrive in the morning you’ll have plenty of time to go on all of the trails (or at least most of them) and have a nice picnic lunch.

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More details on the trails:

Sendero La Hacienda is 5000 meters, highly difficult, is about 1 kilometer from the administration building, and takes approximately 1 ½ hours.

Sendero Las Arpas is 1000 meters, easy, approximately 3 kilometers from the administration building, and takes approximately 30 minutes.

Sendero Los Tricahues is 200 meters, minimally difficult, approximately 5. 5 meters from the administration building, and takes approximately 20 minutes.

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Sendero Los Tricahues

Sendero Los Puemos is 1700 meters, is medium in difficulty, approximately 6 kilometers from the administration building, and takes approximately 45 minutes.

Caminata a Maltenes is 6000 meters, is highly difficult, approximately 6 kilometers from the administration building, and takes approximately 2 hours.

Sendero Puente La Leona is 7000 meters, is highly difficult, and takes approximately 3 hours.

Find (slightly) more information here. And the official site (in Spanish) here.

An American in Chile- Getting Outside My Comfort Zone

After spending time in Santiago, Vina del Mar and Valparaiso, we drove to Las Cabras in the O’Higgins Region of Chile. We quickly realized how spoiled we were in the first three regions in comparison to the O’Higgins region. Using our limited knowledge of Spanish, we could easily get by communicating with others in all areas except the last one. Here, even less people spoke English than before. We were pretty much on our own. This is a difficult and isolating feeling. Now I understand how other people that come to the United States from other countries with limited knowledge of English must feel.

I can read Spanish much better than I can speak it and can understand the spoken word even less. However, between my husband, daughter, and myself we can usually figure out enough to get by. If I was a solo traveler, I would have had much more difficulty getting around Chile. Now I see why total immersion works when learning a foreign language. It’s a whole different thing when you’re forced to speak and understand another language.

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Americans are catered to in so many other countries, especially European countries. For example, when we were in Greece, the highway signs and many business signs were in English as well as Greek. Many people spoke English as well as Greek so we really had no problems communicating. The same was true in Austria and Germany. We had no problems finding someone whose English was better than our broken German. However, in Chile, we found entire towns where no one spoke English, or at least that’s what we encountered. We were told by Claudia, a woman working at the resort area where we rented a condo for a week that no one else in the region spoke fluent English other than her. I have no idea if that’s absolutely true, but of all of the people we encountered, no one else spoke more than a word or two of English.

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One thing I learned from my vacation in Chile is this:  if your Spanish is extremely limited you should be OK if you stick to more populated areas like Santiago. If you want to venture out to less touristy, less populated areas, you had better make sure your Spanish is pretty good or you will be completely lost. You also have to have a sense of humor, sense of adventure, and be willing to go without some of the things you have in the United States. For example, when shopping in a market in the small town where we were staying, our options for foods to take back to the apartment and cook for dinner were not things we would have ordinarily bought back home, but here we knew we had to just go with the flow.

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Another thing I learned is that many Chileans are not used to seeing and interacting with Americans. It was obvious to other people, especially in the small towns, that my family and I were outsiders. They would give us curious looks when they saw us. When we spoke English to each other, people would turn around and look at us, even in Santiago and Viña del Mar. We found most people to be extremely patient and kind when we tried to speak Spanish. We were snapped at (in Spanish) only at the metro station in Santiago when we asked if the person at the ticket booth spoke English after we had trouble understanding her very fast Spanish. I understand why she was like that, because she’s got a fast-paced job to do, so I don’t fault her.

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After visiting Chile I now personally understand the term culture shock. I hadn’t fully experienced it before so I didn’t truly appreciate it. Previously when I traveled to foreign countries, I had been sheltered in resorts full of English-speaking workers, or I had been to areas of that world that basically cater to Americans.

I also completely understand why so many Americans travel to South America with a group led by a tour guide. It’s difficult to be in a foreign country with limited knowledge of the language. It puts you outside of your comfort zone, which many people don’t like. I think it’s good every now and then to go outside your comfort zone, though. It helps you grow as a person and shows you that you are stronger than you thought you were.

Las Cabras in the O’Higgins Region, Chile- A Test of Resilience

When we drove into Las Cabras in the O’Higgins region from Vina del Mar  and went to check in at the small resort where we were staying, we felt like we were in an episode from ‘The Twilight Zone.” Although we were staying in a golf resort area, there was no front desk, no reception area, no one to greet us and give us our key. The people at the front gate noted our names on a sheet of paper they had, so we were pretty sure we were at least in the right place.

After driving around the property and finding condos and houses, we stopped at the only thing resembling a building for check-in. We later found out that was where golfers check in before they play a round of golf. The woman working there spoke no English but with our limited Spanish we were able to get her to call someone else who spoke a small amount of English. This man arrived in a few minutes and was very kind and helpful. He got us in touch with the woman I can only assume is responsible for checking in guests in at the resort, and thankfully she spoke some English. Her name was Claudia.

Claudia handed us a folder containing the resort rules (all in Spanish), and said “Make yourselves at home. Treat this place as if it was your home.” With that, she handed us the keys to the apartment, wrote down her phone number (although we had no cell phone coverage in Chile, and we had told her that), and she left. Claudia told us while there was no Wi-Fi in the condos, there was Wi-Fi in the restaurant for the property, which was just across the street from the front gate. No big deal. When we recently stayed at one of the hotels in the Grand Canyon , it was the same thing and we would just check emails and get maps, etc. when we were at the restaurant there.

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View from a hilltop in our resort

After getting settled in, we drove to the restaurant and were told there was no Wi-Fi at the restaurant or anywhere in town for that matter, for the next three days (or at least that’s how we interpreted it since the person at the restaurant spoke no English). WHAT? No Wi-Fi for three days?! We hadn’t planned ahead very well and hadn’t downloaded maps for the area or things to do.

We drove into town, searching for cafes or restaurants that had signs for Wi-Fi, gave up, and went to a few different mini-markets (we found they were all different inside even many of them looked similar from the outside), bought groceries, went back to the condo, made dinner, then relaxed for the rest of the evening. It looked like we would be spending the next few days off-line.

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Using my tablet in off-line mode in our sunroom overlooking the pool area

The next day, we decided to go back to the restaurant at the resort for an exorbitantly over-priced lunch, where we were told again that there was no Wi-Fi, and decided to go to plan b. We drove to the biggest town we could find, which was about 25 minutes away, walked around, again looking for Wi-Fi. None of the few cafes and restaurants that were even open had Wi-Fi.

Resorting to just trying to find an open hotspot, we kept searching. Finally! We found a signal that didn’t require a password. It just happened to be by a bench, so we sat down and downloaded maps of a national park where we could hike, some wineries, and of the area in general. We checked email and replied to the ones that we could.

After leaving this town, we decided it was so late in the afternoon pretty much all we had time to do was go to a winery. We went to MontGras, a “new winery, at only 22 years old,” in the words of our tasting guide. The grounds were lovely and it was a beautiful day out. From the comfort of a sitting area in the open-air patio, we had a tasting of 3 wines and appetizers to accompany the wines. First we had a Chardonnay from their Amaral line that was easily one of the best Chardonnays I’ve ever had and some cheese on a cracker with a touch of palm honey to begin. Next we had a Carmenere from their Intriga line that reminded me of Zinfandels (please don’t mistake me to mean White Zinfandels, which are nothing like red Zins) from California, paired with chorizo. Finally we had a Syrah from their Antu line paired with date and ham.

Our guide was very informative, gave us much history and information about the winery and different varieties of wines, and spoke perfect English. We bought a bottle of Carmenere using the 30% discount we were given for doing the tasting. Our tasting guide even gave us a bottle opener with the MontGras label on it for free when we mentioned we didn’t have a bottle opener in our condo where we were staying. We figured we’d take a chance coming back to the States and hoped it wouldn’t get confiscated (spoiler- it didn’t so we have a nice souvenir now!).

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This was only the beginning of our week-long adventure in Las Cabras. The restaurant at our resort never did have Wi-Fi available while we were there. We learned there was a problem in the entire town with the internet that week. We only had Wi-Fi for about 30 minutes twice that week plus the roughly 10 minutes where we found the open spot, but each time we were relying on other people’s mobile phone hotspots. Twice at restaurants we were allowed to use data from the phones of extremely generous people working there when we inquired about Wi-Fi.

Other than going with almost no internet access for a week, we learned to be resilient in other ways during this week. In stores and restaurants no one spoke English so it was up to us to figure things out. How my husband figured out directions and how to get us to some of the places we went to is beyond me but I’m forever grateful. As a family we played card games and watched movies like “Madagascar” in Spanish. I’m sure given the choice any one of us would have gladly have chosen having internet access in our apartment, but I think not having it brought us a bit closer together. I know that week in Las Cabras is a week I will never forget.

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Relaxing with mud masks
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Just another beautiful sunset in Chile