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!

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.

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

Vina del Mar and Valparaiso, Chile

Other than our self-guided walking tour of Santiago, the only other thing we wanted to do during our short stay in the city was to go up Costanera Tower in Santiago, the tallest building in Latin America. However, because the fog was so bad that day the women at the desk selling tickets advised us not to go up because we wouldn’t be able to see the mountains, we decided to save our money and skip it.

We said adiós to Santiago and set off in our rental car for Viña del Mar. For the 2 1/2 hour drive we opted to skip the toll roads, and boy what an adventure that was! The roads were some of the most curvy, winding mountainous roads I’ve seen since driving around in Greece but they were all paved and in good condition. There was almost nothing in sight for miles and miles other than beautiful countryside. We also almost ran out of gas too but with fumes left in the tank we made it to a gas station in the nick of time.

I had reserved a condo through Airbnb and the place was even better than I expected. For much less than we would have paid for a comparable condo overlooking the beach back in the United States, we had four bedrooms, a full kitchen, dining room, living room, washer and dryer, swimming pool, huge balcony spanning the length of the condo, all in a safe, gated community. Check out the view from our balcony:

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When I was planning our vacation I was trying to decide whether we should stay in Valparaiso or Viña del Mar. I read that Valparaíso has more charm than its neighbor but Viña del Mar is safer and more of a beach getaway. After seeing Valparaíso I could see what people mean. Valparaíso has more of an edge to it that some people prefer, while Viña del Mar is full of high rises and shopping centers. That being  said, the view from our condo was stunning whether it was day or night (see above photo and last photo) and I felt completely safe at all times.

Before leaving our hotel in Santiago, we had been warned not to leave a single thing in our rental car while in Valparaiso or thieves would break the window to steal it. We took this to heart and didn’t leave anything in the car when we parked in Valparaíso. However, we walked and drove all over Viña del Mar, even after it was dark and never once did we feel like we were in an unsafe area.

One thing I do feel the need to mention is the huge amount of stray dogs in Chile. As an animal-lover, it’s heart-breaking. This sad-looking little dog followed us steadfastly one evening for a couple of miles, hoping to join our pack. We called her “Chile.” She ultimately left us just before we entered the gate to go up the funicular to our apartment.

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“Chile”

Of course one of the first things we wanted to do when we arrived in Viña del Mar was go to the beach. Although it was a bit chilly for lying on the sand in a bathing suit and the water was far too cold to swim in, it was perfect weather for walking along the beach, which we did on multiple occasions. There are a few restaurants along the beach but since it was off-season it was pretty quiet when we were there. We also took advantage of the workout equipment along the beach to have the best workout at the most scenic “gym” I’ve ever been to!

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The most fun I’ve ever had doing leg press!

Of course a must-do while in Valparaíso is to take a tour of the famous poet and Chilean diplomat Pablo Neruda’s former house, “La Sebastiana.” Neruda had three houses, one in Santiago, one in Isla Negra, and this one in Valparaíso. It seemed to me that La Sebastiana had the most character of the three houses, so we chose this one to tour. This was definitely one of the most unique homes I’ve ever been in, from the design to the furnishings and choice of decor. The bar area with the unique knick knacks and bathroom with the clear glass door by the bar particularly come to mind. It’s definitely a place you have to experience in-person to fully appreciate.

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Pablo Neruda’s former home
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View from inside Pablo Neruda’s former home

The website is here for La Sebastiana. Entrance fees are 7,000 Chilean pesos per person or about $10.50 US with discounts for Chilean students and Chilean adults over 60. The self-guided tour takes roughly an hour, includes an audio guide for each floor and is available in English, Italian, French, German, Portuguese, and Spanish.

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Some colorful houses in Valparaiso

We also visited Palacio Rioja, a beautiful historic home in Viña del Mar built in 1907 where you can take a self-guided tour for free. Palacio Rioja has been declared a National Monument and later a Museum of Decorative Arts. Guided tours can be arranged (although not in English) and more information can be found here. I highly recommend visiting here if you’re ever in the area.

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Palacio Rioja
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Inside Palacio Rioja

On subsequent days in Viña del Mar we walked along the beach, walked to nearby restaurants and shops and relaxed thoroughly. The sunsets here were spectacular and many evenings we would find ourselves just gazing out the window at the fading sun and lights from the cars and stores below. This is a place I could definitely see myself returning to. The people here are friendly, traffic isn’t bad, and there are plenty of shops and restaurants and other things to do in the area.

Alas, our time in Viña del Mar was coming to a close, and we packed up and headed off to the next part of our adventure in Chile- to a more remote section called Las Cabras in the O’Higgins Region. This would prove to be the most challenging portion of our vacation yet but we had no idea of that at the time!

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It’s my 1 Year Blogiversary!

I didn’t even know “blogiversary” is an accepted term; I had to look it up. I won’t go so far as to say it’s a “real” word, but if you google it, several things come up, so I’m going with it. I’ll admit I’m still very much a newbie when it comes to blogging. I know some of you have been blogging for many years (and have had many blogiversaries, so you are well aware of the term). For me, I’m still very much learning but I wanted to share some of the things I’ve learned over my first year of blogging and sum up my blog.

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One of the first questions to ask here is why did I start my blog in the first place? Well, I’m running a half marathon in all 50 states in the US and I wanted a place to chronicle my races. I just ran my 41st half marathon in my 39th state, Utah, so I’m slowly but surely getting there. I also love to travel and enjoy writing about places my family and I go with the premise that you don’t have to be retired to travel the world. Hence, the title of my blog, “runningtotravel,” since my blog is about running and traveling, with a little spin on both of those.

What have I learned since I started blogging? Many, many things. For starters, it takes a lot of work to put together a blog and keep it going. By the time you have that first idea about what to write, then you type it up, edit it, add photos, check anything that needs checked (facts, dates, etc.) you’ve got some time invested in that post. Then, if you’re lucky, others have commented and you need to reply to those comments. There’s also the social media aspect, where you post to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, etc. to get others to come to your site and respond to any comments there. Not surprisingly, many bloggers stop posting after a few weeks or months because they simply can’t invest the amount of time necessary.

Another thing I’ve learned since I started blogging is just how enormous the blogging community is. I had no idea there were that many people with blogs. Nor did I know how many platforms there are for bloggers. I use WordPress but that’s just one of many places where bloggers can and do post their blogs, like bloglovin for example. Like I said, I’m still learning.

One thing I’ve learned about the blogging community is that it’s full of compassionate, friendly, helpful, and knowledgable people. Maybe I’ve been lucky but I’ve yet to encounter any mean or unwelcome comments from anyone. By far the majority of comments I’ve received have been insightful, encouraging, and helpful. Maybe a part of that’s because most of these comments have also been from runners and/or travelers and I have the biased opinion that the running and traveler communities are some of the most welcoming and supportive communities out there.

I’ve seen the number of followers increase over time to my blog, and I’m always in awe and humbled that so many people actually want to read about my adventures, races, and other exercise/fitness/family-related posts. Without followers, I might as well just keep an online diary that only I can see. That brings me to my final thought about blogging.

Many bloggers really wear their heart on their sleeve, so to speak. For those of you not familiar with the phrase, it means to show intimate emotions in an honest and open way. This makes a blogger more vulnerable but it also allows the reader to really get to know the person. I’ve struggled with this because I tend to be a pretty private person. Finding the right balance between giving details but not too many details to make me uncomfortable has been a learning curve but I think I’ve managed to do this.

Finally, I want to thank everyone who has read my posts and commented. I feel like I’ve gained some “blogger friends” and am happy I’ve found this blogging community. I’ve learned so much, not just about blogging, but about so many other things and for that I thank you for enriching my life. I can only hope to do the same for you.

So tell me, why did you start blogging?

Donna

 

#MyFirstPostRevisited

Paula from Never a Dull Bling nominated me for “My First Blog Post Challenge.” Sarah from Lemon Shark created the challenge. Thanks, Paula! I’m up for the challenge.

Here goes, my first blog post from 10 months ago:

Why I run

I’ve been running pretty much since I can remember.  I remember running on the track team in grade school and how my lungs would ache on those chilly mornings in West Virginia.  I remember the sheer thrill I would feel as a kid when running with our dog through our neighborhood and how happy our dog looked.  I remember running to stave off the freshmen 15 in college.  Then I remember getting shin splints during one run in college and almost crawling back to my apartment, followed by the agonizing pain I felt when all of my leg muscles seized up in the shower.  I decided to take some time off running at that point and I did not run again for about four or five years.  Then I realized how much I missed running and I decided to train for my very first 5k.  The race I chose was on the 4th of July in North Carolina.  Being young and naive, I didn’t even think twice about running through the heat and humidity that envelopes the North Carolina summers.  Fortunately, the race was in the evening, but I remember it was still extremely hot and humid even after the sun had gone down.  It was during that summer that I remembered why I run.  It’s not to stay in shape or lose weight. It’s not so I can eat whatever I want and not gain weight.   When I run, I feel free.  I feel alive.  Sure, there are times when it’s painful and not much fun, but I know when I’ve finished a run, I will feel satisfied that I’ve put my all into that run and I have done my best.  I run because I love it, quite simply.

 

Now for my nominees (who do not have to participate so please don’t feel obligated):

Run Away With Me (What a journey you’ve had!)

Slacker Runner (Holy cow- you’ve been blogging for a long time! What an accomplishment!)

If I Just Breathe (Mission accomplished for your goals on this post, I’d say!)

Dream Trip 2016 site (I was intrigued by your first post)

Running the States (We have similar interests and goals in mind)

Remember, this is not an award, but a challenge.

But first, here are the rules:

Obvious rules:

  • No cheating. (It must be your first post. Not your second post, not one you love…first post only.)
  • Link back to the person who tagged you (thank them if you feel like it or, if not, curse them with a plague of ladybugs).

Other rules:

  • Cut and paste your old post into a new post or reblog your own bad self. (Either way is fine but NO editing.)
  • Put the hashtag #MyFirstPostRevisited in your title.
  • Tag five (5) other bloggers to take up this challenge.
  • Notify your tags in the comment section of their blog (don’t just hope they notice a pingback somewhere in their spam).
  • Feel free to cut and paste the badge to use in your post. Notify your tags in the comment section of their blog (don’t just hope they notice a pingback somewhere in their spam).
  • Include “the rules” in your post.

Have fun!