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

 

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

 

Walking Tour of Santiago- My First Taste of Chile

My husband, daughter, and I just barely made our flight to Chile. We had a connecting flight through Atlanta which was delayed, so we had about 20 minutes to get from the terminal where we had flown into to the international terminal. This was the last flight of the day from Atlanta to Santiago, too, so if we missed the flight we would have had to wait until the next day. Atlanta airport is huge and has trains to connect the terminals because they’re so far apart. As soon as we got off the plane in Atlanta, we ran to the international terminal and were next-to-last to board the plane (one guy was right behind us). With huge sighs of relief, we were off to our South American adventure!

The flight from Atlanta to Santiago is about 9 and a half hours. Since we left at 10:30 at night, that means we arrived the next morning. Despite getting almost no sleep, the plan was to stay awake all day. Chile is on the same time zone as eastern standard time, so there was no time zone adjustment for us, which made it easier.

Surprisingly, our hotel, the fabulous and highly recommended 5 star Regal Pacific let us check in when we stopped by around 10:00 that morning. I was just going to see if we could drop our luggage at the front desk but they actually let us have our room, which was a pleasant surprise.  Our room was spacious, had very comfortable beds, and a great view of the city and the mountains. The hotel is in a great location, right by a metro station, close to restaurants, bars, and cafes, and has one of the most impressive free hotel breakfasts I’ve ever had. There is also a pool and spa. If you’re in the area, I highly recommend staying here. We had enough points through hotels.com that our night here was free!

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View from our room at the Regal Pacific

On our first day in Santiago we took the metro and had our own walking tour. Our first stop was Palacio de la Moneda. This huge building takes up an entire block that was once the Chilean mint now houses the president of Chile and other government offices. Not far from the Palacio de la Moneda is Bandera Street, where you can find many clothing stores.

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Palacio de la Moneda

If you continue down Bandera to San Pablo Street you’ll come to Mercado Central that’s full of fresh seafood, fruits, and vegetables. We stumbled upon Catedral Metropolitana de Santiago, truly one of the most ornate churches I’ve ever seen. My husband said he would place it in a tie with St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. I didn’t take any photos inside because there were signs saying not to but here’s one of the outside.

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Catedral Metropolitana de Santiago
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Sculpture in Plaza de Armas
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Plaza de Armas

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Not far from Catedral Metropolitana de Santiago is Plaza de Armas, a big square full of street entertainers, a fountain, an amphitheater, and the Museo Historico Nacional. Our final stop on our tour was my favorite, Cerro Santa Lucia, a place that is difficult to fully encapsulate all that it is. Cerro Santa Lucia is a park on a hillside with something new to see at every turn. There are cobblestone walkways, winding and steep stairways, gardens, fountains, turrets, towers, and some great views of the city.

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Cerro Santa Lucia
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View from the top of Cerro Santa Lucia
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Cerro Santa Lucia
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Cerro Santa Lucia

There are free walking tour groups available in Santiago. I thought about going with this group but decided to just go it on our own instead. While I’m sure there’s a lot of historical information we missed out on by not taking the tour, I just wasn’t feeling up to a 4-hour tour confined to a group. We were able to go to these places I mentioned here at our own pace and while I had specific stops in mind, it was fun to just wander around a bit!

One thing to note about Santiago, driving is not recommended. Although we picked up a rental car at the airport upon arrival for the latter portion of our vacation in Chile, we simply drove the car from the airport to the hotel, and parked it safely in the garage until we were ready to leave Santiago. We had no problem figuring out the Metro system and found it to be quick, reliable, cheap, and safe. I can’t say the same about driving in Santiago, as we found out when we came back the day we were flying out of Santiago. Driving in Santiago seems worse than driving in Manhattan (which I also wouldn’t advise to a tourist)!

Happy travels!

Donna