Stories from Chile

I was recently talking to a friend about traveling and she asked me, “You’ve traveled pretty extensively. What’s something that’s happened that caused you to feel out of your comfort zone?” I immediately thought of my two weeks in Chile a couple of years ago. There were times where my family and I were the only English-speaking people around and there were several days where we had no cell phone coverage or even Wi-Fi when the Wi-Fi went down for the whole town for a few days. We had to rely solely on our knowledge of Spanish and hope for the best.

My friend asked me if we ever felt unsafe or scared in Chile and I replied, “Never. Not a single time.” While I felt out of my comfort zone and even a bit frustrated at times, I never feared for my life or anything remotely like that. I always knew deep down that everything would be fine in the end, and it was. That’s largely in part to the extreme kindness of strangers in Chile. We literally had people hand us their cell phones in restaurants and walk away from our table while we used their phones to pull up Google maps or look up other information after we explained to them (in our shaky Spanish) that we couldn’t use our cell phones.

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Enjoying the area around Lago Rapel

All of this of course leads to many stories to tell others later. Despite posting several things about Chile, there are many stories I never told, until now. Now I’d like to share some of the stories that happened to my family and I while we were in Chile and I hope you enjoy them.

To give a little background, we were in three separate areas of Chile, beginning in Santiago for a couple of days, then to Valparaiso for four days, and to Punta Verde in the O’Higgins region for a week. I feel like our adventures got more and more intense as our vacation went on. There weren’t many stories to tell from our time in Santiago that I can recall. We stayed in a super-nice 5-star hotel that my daughter still talks about, which if it was in the United States would have cost more money than we likely would have paid. We took our own walking tour of the city based on blogs and other information I had read about Santiago. Not much unusual happened, though. Probably our biggest adventure was driving from our hotel to get out of the city. The traffic was some of the worst we had encountered anywhere, but my husband handled it like a pro and got us out of the city (and the rental car) unscathed!

When we drove from Santiago to Valparaiso, there were two options to get there, one was a toll road and one was not. I decided we should take the “more scenic” non-toll road. It turns out they were doing major construction on part of that road, parts of which were not paved, and all of that slowed us down considerably. Then my husband noticed how low the gas in the tank was. We thought we were going to run out of gas on this deserted road where we hadn’t passed another car let alone seen a gas station in a very long time. We had no cell phone coverage and besides who on earth would we even call? Fortunately we came to the end of the construction, got back on “regular” paved highway roads near civilization, and came to a gas station just as we rolled in on fumes and breathed a huge sigh of relief.

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View from our huge Airbnb in Valparaiso

Valparaiso is a beautiful coastal town in Chile and our Airbnb there was HUGE with three big bedrooms and a large living room all with balconies overlooking the ocean below. There was a slight issue with the heat, which I had to talk to the host about over the Airbnb messaging site, but once we got that figured out, it was all good. I didn’t realize prior to going to Chile that most apartment buildings and houses there don’t have central heating because it’s too expensive. Our apartment building was heated by hot water than ran through the walls and floor boards. Once the Airbnb host told us how to turn the hot water pipes for heating on, we were able to stay comfortably warm there.

One very sad story about Valparaiso and the other parts of Chile that we were in is due to the huge epidemic of stray dogs everywhere. One day while we were walking around Valparaiso, a friendly black dog started following us. She followed us a long time, turning when we turned, stopping when we stopped, and so forth, until we ultimately reached the gate for the funicular (if you don’t know, a funicular is sort of like an outdoor elevator that goes up the side of a cliff or mountainside usually) to the apartment building where we were staying and we had to say goodbye to her. We named her “Chile.” Shortly after we got back from our vacation in Chile, we adopted a black dog whose foster mom had named “Millie.” This puppy did not in any way resemble a “Millie” to me but I didn’t want to drastically change her name because she was already answering to Millie. We named her Chile (although not pronounced like native Chileans pronounce their country, “Chee-lay” but more like the pepper, “Chil-ee” so it would still sound similar enough to her former name so as to not confuse her).

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Our sweet little “Chile” in Chile

After Valparaiso, we drove to Punta Verde in the O’Higgins region. Our adventure began on the very first day there, as soon as we drove up to the resort. The guard at the gate spoke no English at all and our broken Spanish wasn’t enough to communicate to him that we were staying there. We were in what I’ve read called “The Lake” region because of Lago Rapel (Rapel Lake), which apparently is quite packed with visitors during the warm months. Since we were there during the shoulder season and it was a bit cooler, literally no other guests were staying at this resort when we pulled up. The guard seemed to be completely baffled as to why this English-speaking family was trying to get onto the resort this time of year.

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I loved watching this Gaucho in Chile with his horses

Eventually, the guard called a friend of his who knew someone who spoke some English. The English-speaking person’s name was Claudia, and this guard’s friend brought Claudia to our rescue, who communicated to the guard that we would be staying at the resort for a week, and thus needed a key to our apartment and to be allowed entry into and out of the resort while we would be staying there. Claudia showed us around the apartment, which was a large three bedroom unit with a full kitchen, dining room, living room, two bathrooms, and sunroom. She told us to make ourselves at home and gave us her phone number if we needed anything (even though we had no cell phone coverage there so we would have to have a local call her if we needed to talk to her). Claudia told us no one else in town spoke English so we would pretty much be on our own as far as communicating with others.

I should note here that I had several years of Spanish in high school and college and I’ve brushed up on my Spanish several times before visiting a Spanish-speaking country including this trip to Chile. My husband has been teaching himself Spanish for the past several years and our daughter has had Spanish in school since she was in preschool. At the time of our visit to Chile, between the three of us, our knowledge of Spanish was usually enough to get by even when the person spoke no English. I learned many years ago that less is better when you’re trying to communicate in another language so I would try to keep my questions or answers brief and to the point. Usually the person was able to figure out what we were trying to say and/or we were able to figure out what they were trying to say, although there were exceptions like the guard at the gate of our resort in the O’Higgins region. Still, we are by no means what I would call fluent in Spanish.

We had so many adventures in the O’Higgins region that I’m sure I’ll forget some of them. One funny story happened when we went to the Rio los Cipreses Nacional Reserva, a national park. We hadn’t seen another person hiking all day and were surprised when my daughter said she saw other people hiking on the trail we were on. As we got closer to the people, she realized it wasn’t human legs she was seeing but cow legs. It wasn’t people in front of us, but rather a couple of cows. What we thought were hoof prints from horses on other trails earlier that day that we also thought must have been carrying riders on these supposed horses turned out to be hoof prints from cows that were grazing randomly in the park. Several times we had gotten turned around on the trails and had decided to follow the hoof prints since surely it was horse prints so surely it must have been part of the trail and the way we should go. We were of course very wrong since we had instead been following cows wandering around aimlessly. Somehow we figured out where to go on the trails and didn’t end up getting too far off trail to get truly lost.

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Some of the cows we saw at the national park- the baby cow was adorable!

I’m going to back up a bit, though. Just getting to the Rio los Cipreses Nacional Reserva was an adventure. My husband had downloaded Google maps of the area when we had Wi-Fi so we would have it offline and he thought it would be a relatively easy drive to the park from our resort. That is until we had to take a traffic detour. Somehow, my husband still figured out how to get us there just using his awesome sense of direction and by studying his offline map. Driving to other places in the O’Higgins region was often an adventure as well. Once we came upon what looked like a big wooden gate to a personal property that was closed but our GPS was telling us that was the way we needed to go. There were a couple of men standing outside the gate. When we asked if we could go through, they opened the gate and let us in, no questions asked. Once we were on the other side, we quickly realized this was not the right way to go, and drove back the way we came and my husband had to study the downloaded map once again to figure it out on his own.

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Rio los Cipreses Nacional Reserva was worth the effort it took to get there

There was also the small local market in Punta Verde that we discovered sold warm, freshly made rolls every evening. We stood in line with the other locals to get some fresh baked bread and other food to make for dinner. There weren’t that many restaurants in town and the one at our resort was hugely over-priced so we only ate there once or twice. Even after our vacation and we had returned home we still talked about that fresh bread we used to pick up for dinner every evening during our last week in Chile. I remember the first time we went to that market, everyone turned around to look at us when we spoke in English to each other. We still got stares and people turning around to look at us when we spoke English on subsequent visits, but we didn’t think anything of it. Presumably not many people go there that speak English, and certainly not during the off-season. They weren’t doing that to be unfriendly or rude but they were undoubtedly surprised to hear us speaking in a language none of them knew.

As I said, there weren’t that many restaurants in town. One evening we went to what was supposed to be a restaurant and that turned into an adventure. We pulled up to what looked like an average-looking house in the area and wondered if we were in the right place, but there was a sign outside with the name of the “restaurant” so we went in. Immediately I noticed how cold it was in this house. They must not have had heat or perhaps it was turned down to save energy but I really didn’t want to eat dinner in my coat. A man greeted us and was very friendly and obviously happy to have some dinner guests, so we thought we’d at least see what they had to offer. We asked to see a menu and were told they had chicken, chicken and rice, and chicken another way that I’m now forgetting but our choices were chicken, chicken, or chicken; no menu necessary for that. What I can only assume was the man’s wife popped her head out of the kitchen, getting ready to cook us our dinner. I told my husband I didn’t feel comfortable eating at these people’s house/restaurant and we should go but I didn’t want to seem rude. My husband told him we had changed our minds and would be leaving and the disappointment on the man’s face was palpable. Who knows, maybe that would have been a fabulous chicken dinner, but the microbiologist in me just wasn’t willing to risk getting Salmonella or Campylobacter, not that you’re always safe in a true restaurant, but still.

Similar to Valparaiso, there were stray dogs all over the place in the O’Higgins region and it was heartbreaking to me as a huge animal-lover. When we left the resort to drive back to the airport in Santiago, we had some leftover food from the refrigerator that we had brought with us in the car but not for us to eat. I brought the food to give to stray dogs that we would inevitably see along the way to the airport. When I would spot a stray dog along the side of the road ahead of us, I’d tell my husband to pull over, quickly leave some of the food for the dog, and we would drive on. We did this the entire drive back to Santiago, which was about 2 hours. I was able to stretch out the leftovers and gave the last little bit of food to a dog I saw when we were nearing the rental car place by the airport.

That pretty much ended our adventures in Chile. If you’d like to read the full posts about my time there, you can find them here:

Walking Tour of Santiago- My First Taste of Chile

Vina del Mar and Valparaiso, Chile

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

An American in Chile- Getting Outside My Comfort Zone

Rio los Cipreses Nacional Reserva (National Park in Chile)

Day Trip to Pichilemu, Chile

15 Lessons Learned by an American in Chile

Have you been to Chile? What is one adventure you had while there? Do you have another place you visited and had some adventures? Tell me about it!

Happy travels!

Donna

 

Why I Travel- Part Two

One of my first blog posts was titled simply enough Why I travel. More recently, a couple of things prompted me to write this post now. One, I read a blog post that was basically bashing people for traveling, saying they’re just trying to escape their lives or tick off a box when they visit a place. The blogger said people should appreciate where they live more and insinuated that people who love to travel don’t appreciate their current lives and where they live.

Perhaps some people do travel to escape problems they’re currently dealing with and others may travel to a place simply to get that “perfect” Instagram shot, but that’s never been why I travel. I love where I live and while it’s far from perfect, it’s filled with natural beauty and interesting things to do. We have greenways, parks, and other outdoor spaces as well as music venues, museums, and restaurants with chefs that could compete with chefs at plenty of other well-known foodie cities. However, I’ll freely admit that traveling the world has shown me this isn’t where I want to live for the rest of my life. When I retire, I certainly won’t stay in the same area where I am now. I’ve thoroughly explored the area around where I live and will be ready to explore other areas when I retire.

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Admiring the view with my daughter in Austria

Another thing that prompted this blog post is I recently read a quote by Anthony Bourdain that I found interesting. He said, “It seems that the more places I see and experience, the bigger I realize the world to be. The more I become aware of, the more I realize how relatively little I know of it, how many places I have still to go, how much more there is to learn.” This sums up my feelings on travel pretty well. The world is a big place and I feel like the more I see, the more I want to see.

I’m a huge proponent of traveling with children and my daughter has traveled with my husband and me to places she doesn’t even remember because she was so young. By the time she turned two, she had flown to Vermont, Florida, and Hawaii. There isn’t a single place my husband and I have traveled to since she’s been born that she didn’t go with us. Never once did I question if she was too young to appreciate a place. She’s been to museums of all kinds, she’s hiked in more states and countries than most adults have, she’s eaten food from multiple other countries, and experienced more than I could possibly write here.

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Sure my daughter can read about ruins in Greece but she’s actually seen them in person, which is much more meaningful

As a parent, I’ve been able to see places through my daughter’s eyes, and see her reaction to places she’s seeing for the first time. I’ve seen her awe-struck and speechless more than once. When we’ve gone to a place that she really likes and has asked, “Can we go back there?” Usually the answer has been, “Probably not. There’s a whole world out there to see,” although there are certainly places we’ve returned with her. My daughter’s views have undoubtedly been shaped by traveling the world. She’s seen the kindness of strangers time and time again when we’ve been traveling. More than just looking at photos online or in a book, she’s seen things first-hand. This is undoubtedly a big part of why I travel as well- to show my daughter the world.

Travel has also boosted my self-confidence. Not everything has gone perfectly as planned when I’ve been traveling. I remember showing up at the place where my family and I were supposed to be staying for a part of our time in Chile, fully expecting there to be someone to greet us at the entrance to the property and help us get checked in. However, the guard at the front gate spoke no English. Finally with my husband’s limited Spanish and my broken Spanish, we convinced the guard to call someone else who spoke some English. She ended up driving to the resort, if you can call it that, and she is the one who showed us the apartment where we’d be staying and gave us her card with the instructions to call her if we had any problems because as she told us, she was the only person in the entire town who spoke English. Apparently we were there during the off-season, which means we pretty much had the entire resort to ourselves. By the end of that week, my Spanish had improved because of all of our interactions with the locals, but more importantly, I had been shown that even after a rocky start, we ended up having a great time and everything had worked out in the end. Over the years I’ve learned that gestures and just trying to speak the language go a long way. You can read about my adventures in Chile here: 15 Lessons Learned by an American in Chile and here: Las Cabras in the O’Higgins Region, Chile- A Test of Resilience and here: An American in Chile- Getting Outside My Comfort Zone.

Also, the more you travel to more remote areas, the more you want to travel to lesser known places. If you would have told me 20 years ago that one of my favorite places in the world would be the salt pans in Gozo, I would have said 1) I have no idea where Gozo is and 2) What exactly are salt pans? But I didn’t start out traveling to places like Malta (Gozo is one of three Maltese islands, which are off the coast of Italy; see my blog post here:  I Almost Missed a Bucket List Item in Malta- Gozo Salt Pans).

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The Salt Pans in Gozo

I started out like everyone else when I started traveling as an adult, going to places like the Bahamas, Cancun, New York City, and California. Costa Rica was one of the more exotic first places I traveled as an adult. More and more I began to branch out and went to little towns in Austria like Maria Alm, Zell am See, and Bad Gastein. We drove around Crete and got lost in numerous little towns and even had a restaurant owner open up for breakfast just for my family one morning. We went to New Zealand and fell in love with the country and the people’s laid-back attitudes. Beyond international travel, we’ve also traveled to 44 states so far in the United States and discovered the beauty in some less-traveled places like Rhode Island and Arkansas.

So why do I travel? I travel to have those moments where I’m stopped dead in my tracks and am speechless because of the beauty in front of me. I travel to eat new foods and drink new drinks. I travel to meet different people and hear their perspective on things. I travel to get out of my comfort zone. I travel to show my daughter the world and what an enormous place it is full of diverse people but deep down most people are caring, kind human beings.

Why do you travel? I’d love to hear your thoughts on how travel has changed you or how you travel has changed over time.

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

 

10 Things Travel Taught Me in 2017

In 2017 my travels took me to Las Vegas,Washington, Utah, where I ran a half marathonZion National ParkBryce Canyon National ParkAntelope CanyonBest Friends Animal Sanctuary in February, and Grand Canyon National Park in March. That’s a lot right there, so what did I learn in the first few months of 2017 from these places?

1). I learned I love visiting national parks even in the winter months (and I don’t like cold weather and snow). Bryce Canyon has a special feeling when you’re admiring partially snow-covered hoodoos and you’re surrounded by utter stillness and beauty.

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Snow-dusted Bryce Canyon

2). It’s possible and fun even to have a short stay in Las Vegas  with children and not spend much money. We had fun just wandering around, going through the massive casino hotels, taking in the views.

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Vegas, baby!

3). Volunteering when you’re on vacation rocks! One of the highlights of our time in Utah was our time at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. I’d love to do more things like this in the future.

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Hiking with our little overnight buddy at Best Friends

After some time at home, we were back out on our next travel adventure, beginning with New Jersey in May. I ran the Superhero Half Marathon  in Morristown, and I finally got to visit the Statue of Liberty in person. From New Jersey we were off to our first visit to South America, beginning in Santiago, Chile. After spending the night in Santiago, we spent a few days in Vina del Mar, which we fell in love with, and spent a week in the Las Cabras Region of Chile. This final place in Chile is where I learned so much about myself in relation to travel.

4). Sometimes it’s good to get out of your comfort zone. Not being fluent in Spanish, not having wi-fi (mostly for maps and things to do), and not knowing the area well will force you to interact more with local people and figure things out on your own. I found I was more resilient than I thought I was.

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Chile in all of its splendor!

5). I learned so much during my time in Chile, I made a list of 15 lessons I learned there. Probably the biggest thing I learned was to learn as much Spanish as possible before visiting the country. Don’t expect others to speak English, especially in more remote and smaller towns. This is a lesson for many other non-English-speaking countries as well.

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I loved hiking on this trail in Chile

6). I also learned Chileans are some of the warmest, friendliest, most helpful people I’ve encountered on my travels. We were blessed with the kindness of strangers on several occasions in Chile.

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Our little fox friend in Chile

In August, my family and I headed back to one of my favorite cities, Charleston, South Carolina. We were fortunate enough to experience the total eclipse and that was definitely the highlight of our time there. Even though we were only there for five days, I learned something.

7). Sometimes your family will get on your nerves when you’re traveling. My daughter hadn’t been sleeping well for many days before we even went on this vacation. That on top of not sleeping well because she was in a strange bed in a strange house resulted in one cranky eleven-year-old. She whined, complained, and I lost my cool on more than one occasion. I didn’t let it ruin my vacation, however. I know there will be days like this, even on vacation, when everything’s not all rosy.

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Morris Island near Charleston

In November, we had a little mini-vacation in Huntington, West Virginia when I ran the Marshall University Half Marathon. While we were only here for the weekend, I did manage to learn something.

8). Weekend or long-weekend getaways are a great way to explore small towns. You don’t always have to go away for a week or more and you don’t always have to go to exotic places to have fun. My family and I had more weekend getaways last year than this year and I had forgotten how nice they can be.

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Huntington, West Virginia

For our final vacation of 2017, we headed first to Malta then to Miami. I was very much looking forward to going to Malta since visiting the Gozo Salt Pans was on my bucket list. Malta exceeded my expectations as far as natural beauty of the islands (Malta is an archipelago of three islands), food, and just about every thing we saw and did. I have a series of posts about our time in Malta and there is one thing I learned during that vacation.

9). Mobile WiFi or MiFi can be a relatively inexpensive (roughly $10/day) but truly invaluable way to find your way around and stay connected when traveling internationally, especially if you’re driving a rental car. I have a post coming on this, so stay tuned!

Our time in Miami was spent a bit differently than many people would choose to vacation there since we were there to visit a dear friend of mine who lives there. We didn’t go to a single club or party at South Beach like many people would. Instead my friend took care of all of the planning for us and graciously took us to some of her favorite restaurants, on a tour of the Everglades, and to South Beach for the day to enjoy the ocean, play in the sand, soak in the sun, and thoroughly relax and enjoy ourselves. This brings me to the final thing I learned about travel this year.

10). Sometimes it’s nice to let someone else do all of the planning for you and just sit back and relax. You don’t always have to try to cram in a dozen “must-do” restaurants or things to do.

What about you all? Where has travel taken you in 2017 and what have you learned from it?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

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.