Machu Picchu

Bill and I knew that our year in South America would have to include the hike to Machu Picchu. Earlier in the year we had asked my best friend Kathy and her fiancé Pat as well our friends Robbie (Bill’s friend since high school) and Annette if they’d like to do the hike with us. They had expressed an interest in visiting us in South America and we thought Machu Picchu would be an awesome trip to do together.

Kathy, Pat, Bill, and I arrived in Cusco from Santiago on the Sunday afternoon after Thanksgiving. Annette and Robbie had arrived earlier that morning from Chicago. We all took it easy as our bodies were acclimating to the altitude (11,200 ft.). Robbie was starting to feel sick in the afternoon and continued to feel worse in the evening. We spent 3 days in Cusco before our Machu Picchu hike began early Wednesday morning. We mainly rested, shopped, explored the churches and side streets, and ate delicious Peruvian food. We experienced the best of the best food and atmosphere on Monday night at the restaurant Inkazuela. We were the only patrons and we were greeted by our enthusiastic, young Peruvian waiter, Francisco. Every dish was a different variety of Peruvian cazuela which is like a stew. Everyone loved their dish and we talked about coming back on Saturday night when we return to Cusco (without realizing how completely exhausted we would be).

On Tuesday when Robbie was feeling better and we were all pretty well acclimated, we went on a tour outlined in Robbie’s travel book.

It took us to a large market where they were selling everything from fresh fruit juice to guinea pigs (alive or grilled – both types with teeth).

The main part of the tour/hike was up to Sacsayhuamán - pronounced like “sexy woman.” This was the former capital of the Inca Empire (which we didn’t learn until later on).

 

After our hot and tiring tour, we had to go to the BioAndean office to meet our guides and get prepped for the hike. We met our guide Carlos and he described the general outline of our 4 day/3 night Salkantay hike.

On Wednesday morning we were picked up at 5:15 am and taken on a 3 hour car ride up to Mollepata. Along the way we picked up our chef, introduced to us with the name “Amazing.” We met our other guide, Jimmy John (yes, that is his real name and he had not heard of the U.S. sandwich shop of the same name). The other trekkers in our group included a young, newly engaged British couple, Penny and George, and a French couple, Alex and Mary (Mary is the mutually agreed upon name – she was really nice but we all had trouble understanding her).

Our first adventure was when our van came across a group of men digging a ditch in the middle of the road. It was about 4 feet deep, 3 feet across, and spanned the width of the road. The terrifying solution was to put down two narrow planks of wood across the ditch for the van (full of people and supplies) to drive over. After a few failed approaches, the driver went for it and we managed to get across the ditch on the wood planks. We came across a similar ditch farther down the road and crossed that without a problem – piece of cake.

We started our hike just outside of Mollepata. It started out pretty easy, walking along a dusty road. There were a few challenging parts where Carlos and Jimmy John opted to take us through a shortcut. After a few hours of hiking, we stopped off in a clearing where our cook and assistant cook were preparing us a hot lunch. The spread was pretty impressive including fish, vegetables, rice, and salad all laid out buffet style. We drank a sweet purple drink called chicha morada, which is made from purple corn (distinctly different from Chilean chicha). There was a water pump in the clearing, so we filled up our water bottles and tried out Robbie’s SteriPen for the first time.

After lunch we hiked another 4-5 hours to the highest (11,750 ft) and coldest campsite of our trip at Soraypampa. The trails were pretty clear (not too many loose rocks), but it was sometimes difficult to catch your breath due to the altitude and uphill stretches. As we got close to the campsite, the 6 of us had caught up to one another. We all heard a loud whinnying sound off in the distance. We all looked to see where it came from and saw a white unicorn!

When we arrived at the campsite, our tents had already been set up in a large shed which would help give us more protection from the wind. We grabbed some warmer clothes from our bags and rested for a bit. Then we gathered next door in a smaller shed to warm up with hot chocolate and snack on popcorn. We had an even larger spread for dinner than we had for lunch. The guides Jimmy John and Carlos had us go around and tell everyone what their goal of the trek was. Our group mainly wanted to have a good time with friends, see some amazing scenery, and not get sick  (too bad the latter goal wasn’t met by all of us).

The next morning we got up early (5:30 am) for our longest day of hiking. In the morning we hiked about 5 hours straight uphill to reach the Salkantay pass which was the highest point of our hike (15,200 ft.). This was by far the most difficult day.

The second part of the day was downhill, but mostly on rocky trails meant to turn your ankles. By the end of the hike for that day, it got dark and started raining (good thing we brought our headlamps!).

Day 3 was much flatter and more scenic. We hiked through a jungle area where we saw all different types of plants and a waterfall. We then took a van to the train station and took the train to Aguas Calientes.

 

 

 

We all decided to go to the hot springs, looking forward to soak in the natural hot water.

To our surprise, the hot springs looked very much like a public swimming pool and felt luke warm, needless to say, we were not impressed.

 

 

 

On Saturday morning, we woke up at 4 am for the 2 hour hike up to Machu Picchu. We felt fresh from our night in a hotel with a hot shower and excited to finally reach our destination. The hike that morning entailed a long set of uneven steps. At the top, we reached the checkpoint where they checked our papers and let us into Machu Picchu.

The view was inspiring.

Carlos took us around for a few hours explaining the history of this ancient Inca empire. After the tour, we said goodbye to Carlos and went on to the 45 minute hike up Huayna Picchu.

This was the hardest part of the trip for me. My legs were sore and wobbly and the steps were massive. I made it to the top and was greeted by another amazing view.

We took the scary trek back down Huayna Picchu and then took the bus back to Aguas Calientes. From there we took the train to a bus that took us back to Cusco at around midnight. We were exhausted. We woke up early for our morning flights. We said goodbye to Kathy and Pat and Peru as we headed back to Chile.

 

 

Valparaiso and Casablanca Valley

Thank you Kathy for coming to visit us and providing this guest post:

On our first full day in Chile, we ventured to Valparaiso for the day.  Alison and Bill had a friend who rented out her place, so we rented it for the night.  They also rented a car so we could make the drive out there on our time.

As we were leaving Santiago, we witnessed what we believe was the ending portion of a big protest.  Students in Santiago have been protesting for free education. Here’s an interesting New York Times article from August 2012 that also talks about the “helmets” at the protests.

 

 

After the action in Santiago, the rest of our trip was fairly uneventful.  We listened to the new Mumford and Sons release for the hour-long drive.  Thank goodness Alison and Bill had been to this house before, because it was truly hard to find and we traversed some crazy hills with a manual car.  I would not want to get lost because it would be hell to turn around.  The house we stayed in had 5 stories and had a beautiful view of the eclectic and supposedly sketchy neighborhood (more about that later).

Alison did some research and we found out about a free walking tour of the city.  If you haven’t heard of free walking tours or taken advantage of them, I highly suggest looking into them for future travel.  Our guide was from the States (Virginia or somewhere near it). At first I wasn’t so sure about him, but he grew on me.  We learned a lot about the wonderful city of Valparaiso including its history as a vibrant port city prior to the Panama Canal.  Since then, the prosperity of the city has declined significantly, but it’s slated to be the most popular tourist destination in Chile (at least according to our guide).

Valparaiso is very hilly and is made up of different hill neighborhoods.  We visited a few and our guide also advised us to not visit a few—including the one we were staying in—for our own safety.  Supposedly, tourists are targets for their cameras and purses.  I personally wouldn’t have wandered around too much because the roads winded a lot and people drove fast.  Anyway, because people live up in the hills and many of the stores and other places are in the main part of the city, there are lots of sets of stairs leading up and down the hills.

There are also about 15 ascensors or funiculars; however, only about 5 work right now.  There are no real plans (or money) to fix those that are down.  It’s really a shame because it reflects a lot about the city: things are falling apart, but there’s not enough resources to maintain the original ornate buildings or fix things that are breaking.  We had the opportunity to ride an ascensor and it was fun!

 

 

What was so cool about the city is the street art.  There’s some debate about whether it’s graffiti or art, but either way, it’s cool.  We saw more paintings on the side of buildings than I ever could have taken photos of.  We learned about how the artists don’t paint over other artists’ work and how they are other general rules and etiquette about art.

 

After our tour ended—with a complimentary pisco sour from guide—we called a trusty taxi driver Bill had used before to take us back to our home for the night.  We played some cards, drank some wine, and got ready for dinner.  It was technically Thanksgiving, so we found a nice restaurant for the occasion.  I ordered the most delicious seafood risotto with octopus.  Alison ordered scallops that had some funny thing attached to them.  She definitely made a face when she peeled that part off.  We honored a tradition I have, by going around the table and sharing what we were thankful for.  It was the perfect way to celebrate our American holiday abroad.

 

After dinner, we decided to hit the bars and party!  We first went to a hillside bar we’d seen along our tour, Fuana.  They were about to close, but we snuck in for a drink.  The first thing I noticed was the smoke, since people were allowed to smoke indoors.  I also noticed it didn’t just smell like cigarette smoke.  The place was filled with mostly younger people who were in big groups of friends.  We next ventured to The Cat in the Window (El Gato en La Ventana) to listen to a live band.  Pat and I ordered two huge bottles of Cristal, because we’re big time like that. The band was fun and we enjoyed the chill feel of the bar, but we moved on.  We tried to go to a bar called Illicito that I thought was going to be very illicit, but it turned out to be a normal bar that was very crowded.  Truthfully, I don’t remember the name of the next bar we went to, but I do remember ordering piscolas, which is a lot of pisco with a bottle of coke.  I think the glass was mostly pisco and some coke; they even gave us the leftover coke in our bottle so we could pour it in after drinking some to even it out.  It was at this point, that we decided we were really going to party, party, party!  We finished our drinks and then headed to La Piedra Feliz.  It was known to be kind of a touristy bar, but we had fun there.  The one thing I thought was weird, but I guess is fairly common, was that we had to buy our drinks from one counter and then take our receipt to the bar to get our drinks.  I guess it is a way to ensure bartenders aren’t handing out free drinks or something.  Anyway, we drank, talked about life and marriage, and a bunch of other stuff.  Alison and Bill salsa danced, and we closed down the bar.  We went to call our cab driver, but got no answer.  Alison somehow managed to talk a point-to-point driver (someone who will pick up people and drive them to a few specific location listed on the car) to drive us home.  Without that luck, I’m sure we would have had a long walk home.

The next morning, we packed up everything and cleaned the house.  We headed to Casablanca to visit Casas del Bosque, also known as the most amazing vineyard ever.  We arrived late for our tour, but luckily we could take a later one.  In the meantime, we ordered lunch which was delicious and then lounged (literally) for an hour outside on the most gorgeous day.  The lounge chairs were so comfortable and with the sun, atmosphere, and previous late night of partying, it felt great to relax.  We went on a brief and frankly underwhelming tour before our tasting.  The wines were delicious, but the booklet describing the wines was ridiculous.  It said certain wines had hints of rocks and leather. How does wine have a rocky essence?  It was a little strange.

After the tasting, Alison graciously helped Pat and I with a mini photo shoot.  We planned to use pictures from the vineyard for our Save the Date.  This one was the winner:

Our trip to Valparaiso and Casablanca was amazing and definitely one of my favorite parts of our vacation in South America!

 

Tunquen

Bill came up with the idea that we should go camping on the beach one weekend. We recruited our friends Beth, Alan, and Megan to go with us, although we weren’t quite sure what beach we would go to or if camping was actually allowed on any beaches nearby. Megan heard from a friend that there’s a beach to camp on just south of Valparaiso in Tunquen.

We rented a car, packed it up, bought some food and drinks, and headed out for a short one-night camping trip. After a two hour car ride, we arrived near the beach at Tunquen but couldn’t figure out how to get driving access onto the beach. We asked the guy in a lot near the beach and he let us know that there is no car access and it’s about a 20 minute walk. We hadn’t exactly packed in a way that would be conducive to hike all of our stuff in. We each grabbed all we could and started the hike in. After about 15 minutes, we decided to drop our stuff and have a few people go ahead to scout out a spot rather than aimlessly lugging our stuff around.

Bill, Alan, and Beth found a spot just far enough away from the ocean where we wouldn’t get taken away with the tide in the night. Bill and Alan then headed back out to the car to buy some firewood in town (one thing to note about beach camping – you can’t just find wood laying around). Beth, Megan, and I put up the tents, chilled out, and dug into some of Megan’s amazing homemade hummus.

The guys came back lugging a huge bag of firewood along with the rest of the contents of the car that didn’t make it on the first trip. Bill decided to take a dip in the ocean which was quite courageous since the water temperature was really cold. After his frigid dip, he warmed up be throwing the disc around with Alan and me. We had a few beers and decided to start making dinner.

Beth and Alan are master camping chefs. They prepared chicken fajitas with all of the fixings on their MSR camping stove. The fajitas were delicious. After dinner, Beth and Bill started up the campfire and we hung out making s’mores and drinking wine.

The next morning, the culinary camping adventure continued with a great breakfast. Megan had brought her homemade cornbread AND banana bread. We made coffee on the MSR and we also had yogurt (the Chilean greek yogurt that I love) with granola and fruit.

After breakfast we had to pack up and head out in order to turn in the rental car on time. That was the end of our fun and delicious adventure in Tunquen.

Fiesta Gangnam Style

The rooftop of our apartment building has been the scene for a lot of cook-outs and get-togethers this year. It has 360 views of the city, a couple of grills, and a pool.

When it first started to warm up again in September, we had some of our friends over to grill up some choripan and have a few drinks on the roof. In the grill next to where we were set up, there was a group of about 15 Chilean guys. Bill and our friend Matt were struggling a bit with getting the coals lit when one of the guys from the other party came by to display his Chilean grilling skills (which is a serious matter here). He showed Bill and Matt how to arrange the coals in a circle around a wine bottle and fill the center with paper. After the set-up was complete, he tossed a single lit match in the center and walked away.

Instant success.

We were impressed.

Once the sun went down, the Chilean party broke out their computer and projector to start up the karaoke portion of the night (another serious matter in Chile). Both parties had had a few drinks by that point and had started to dance and intermix a bit. Our friend Sara requested they put on Psy’s Gangnam Style. Then she proceeded to teach 15 Chilean guys how to dance Gangnam style while they chanted “Baila Saada!”

[Man how I wish I had a picture to insert here, but all I have are the mental pics]

We’ve had a lot of good times and laughs on that rooftop. Sara and Matt are considering taking over our apartment when we leave, so hopefully the rooftop parties can live on.

Start-Up Chile

When we first got down here, we met a few people through Frisbee, one of them being our now good friend Alan. Alan and his wife Beth moved down here a few years ago, and he started his own business – Green Libros, which is a socially responsible used book retailer, located in Santiago. It’s a very young and fresh company that is making it easier for Chileans to get access to good reading material in a country where books are really expensive. In addition, Green Libros donates a percentage of their profits to fund literacy programs and local libraries. So, in short, it’s a great small business, and Santiago is lucky to have them.

Through talking with Alan, Alison and I learned about a program for entrepreneurs called Start-Up Chile. It’s a government funded program for incentivizing talented entrepreneurs to come to Chile to start their business. It’s primarily tech focused, and it seems like it’s trying to make Santiago the Silicon Valley of South America.

Start-Up Chile hosts MeetUps each week at a local event center called Movistar Innovation Center. Speakers present on various topics such as how to get funding or how to publicize your company. We attended several of these MeetUps over the course of our stay here, and they were all really informative and engaging. The format was typically the same where a professional gave a presentation on a particular topic, they’d open the floor for questions,, and then there was time afterward to have a drink and network. It wasn’t anything too formal, but the speakers were well prepared and told captivating stories sprinkled with good advice.

There was always an exciting energy in the room, like the next big thing in Santiago could be created at any moment. Each person brought a passion and hopefulness with their ideas that every other person could feel. I hope we can find similar MeetUps when we move back to Chicago.

Dieciocho

Dieciocho is the name for the week of celebration of Chilean independence starting on September 18th. The Chileans do it right. It’s basically a week-long party. All over the city in the various parks there are fondas, which are places where people eat, drink, and dance. There are often craft booths and carnival-type games for the kids. Bill and I went to the biggest fonda in Parque O’Higgins. The only thing I can think of to compare it to is Mardis Gras.

There was a whole area for kite-flying.

Kids crawled around in bubbles on a pool of water.

We started the afternoon off with a terremoto (not a real earthquake, but the drink of the same name). It consists of pipeño (a type of sweet fermented wine) with pineapple ice-cream. It’s a pretty strong drink – I could feel the effects of the alcohol after just half a glass.

We walked around and ate some empanadas, choripan, and various meats on a stick. Then we went inside one of the big tents to watch some cueca dancing. The dancers wear traditional Chilean clothes. A man and a woman dance around each other waving a handkerchief in the air. At a fonda we went to on 9/18, they had a whole area called the cuecaria where everyone could go to dance the cueca. Bill and I gave it a try but couldn’t figure out how everyone knew the part of the music where you’re supposed to lift the handkerchief up in the air to wave it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=8AkHXWrLRkE

Later on we tried the drink called chicha, which in Chile is a very sweet, strong (and not very tasty in my opinion) wine (also different from pipeño mentioned above). When we went to Peru, we learned that chicha is something completely different there. Then we went over to the carnival area. There was a ferris wheel named “Chicago” so decided we had to ride it. Later on we found out that all Ferris wheels in Chile are nicknamed “Chicago” since the original Ferris wheel debuted in Chicago at the 1893 world’s fair.

Overall the celebration was a lot of fun. It makes me wish that the 4th of July was extended to a week long celebration in the States.

Iguassu Falls

After Rio, we flew to the Brazilian side of Iguassu Falls and stayed in the small city of Foz do Iguaçu. On the first day, we explored the Brazilian side of the falls. From this side, you can get some nice panoramic views of these massive and abundant waterfalls.

We decided to take the boat tour. We had heard that we may get wet so we each brought an extra shirt to change into afterwards. The tour started on a tram through the jungle and took us to the speedboat at the dock. Bill and I sat at the very front along with two (Italian?) guys. The speedboat sped up the river toward what they call the Devil’s throat (see below).

The boat driver pulled up really close to one of the side waterfalls and then proceeded to take us underneath the falls! It was shockingly cold and strong. Everyone shrieked and laughed as we all got drenched. The driver took us into the waterfall a couple of times before turning the boat around to head back.

On the way back, the driver got some air on the big waves. We all bounced out of our seats and plopped back down each time. On the landing of the third or fourth wave, one of the Italian guys sitting across from us yelled out in pain. I looked over to see his arm hanging in an awkward way – his forearm was clearly broken. A women sitting near me, rushed to help him. She seemed to be a nurse or a least a nice woman that spoke his language. She and his friend supported his arm and talked with him until the boat reached the dock. On the dock some people helped to form a temporary sling for his arm.

After the dangerous boat ride, Bill and I changed into our dry shirts but wished we would have brought a full change of clothes. We left the park and went across the street to the bird park. There was a large variety of unique birds.

On Sunday we explored the Argentinian side of the falls. They say that you go to the Brazilian side to see the falls, but the Argentinian side to experience the falls. The Argentinian side had a variety of hikes that took you right up to, over, and behind the falls. We both preferred this side.

For lunch, we stopped for some empanadas where we had to defend our food from the Coatis. Coatis are nasty massive rodents (like the size of a raccoon) , that run all over the park harassing tourists for food. They remind me of the R.O.U.S. (Rodents Of Unusual Size) from the fire swamp in Princess Bride.

On Monday we flew back home to Santiago.

Rio de Janeiro

On the Friday before Labor Day weekend, we traveled to Rio de Janeiro, which may now be our favorite city. We started our vacation out at a Brazilian steakhouse near the condo where we were staying in Ipanema. Once we could no longer eat another piece of scrumptious meat, we followed the sound of live music and fun times to the upstairs bar called Shenanigans. Once we figured out the ordering system, we enjoyed the music and plenty of people watching (mainly travelers, but interesting nonetheless).

The next day we made our way to the Christ Redeemer at Corcovado – the big Jesus statue on a hilltop. We bought the audio tours and made friends with the vendors while we waited for our cable car trip to the top. The views were spectacular! Once we finished the audio tour and got our bearings of this awesome city with mountains, diverse neighborhoods, and miles of beautiful beaches, we decided we’d head over to Sugar Loaf mountain to catch the sunset.

We tried to take the public transit bus over to Sugar Loaf but got a bit confused about where to get off. We took in the sunset from a beach nearby instead and decided to do Sugar Loaf the next day. We had a late dinner at Zaza Bistro Tropical in Ipanema. The drinks and food were delicious and unique with a tropical flair.

On Sunday we explored the Ipanema Crafts Fair. There were booths and booths of leather goods, paintings, jewelry, and unique crafts. We made out pretty well. We grabbed a bite to eat and hung out on the Ipanema beach in the afternoon. Bill bought a sticky coconut clump from a vendor on the beach – it seemed to be pretty popular and after a bite, I understood why. We decided to take our next attempt at Sugar Loaf for sunset, this time in a taxi. We got to the base and took the cable car to the top just in time to check out the amazing views. Judging by the crowds, we weren’t the first to have this idea.

For dinner we went to a popular Brazilian steakhouse, Porcao Rio’s, which had a much more impressive salad bar than the steakhouse we went to on the first night.

On Monday we walked around Centro – the downtown area, checking out the architecture, mailing out some postcards and gifts, and stopping in at Confeitaria Colombo, an elegant cafe with a long history.

In the afternoon we went walked through the favela of Rocinha with Zazinho, a Brazilian-American who grew up and lives in Rocinha. At first, we thought it might be weird to go on a tour of a favela, but we thought this one might be alright since it was with a local. Zazinho explained the infrastructure (Rocinha has running water, electricity, and cable, but it’s all run separately from other neighborhoods in Brazil), politics, culture, and history of Rocinha. We ate dinner at a small restaurant in the favela where the food was cheap and good with huge portions. It was interesting to see the extreme contrasts between the poor and wealthy neighborhoods in Rio.

In the evening we watched live jazz music at Casarao Ameno Reseda while we sipped on caipirinhas.

We worked from the condo on Tuesday through Thursday. On early Tuesday morning we were supposed to go hang gliding, but it was a bit too windy and cloudy so we were rescheduled for Wednesday morning. On Wednesday morning, we were picked up to go to Pedro Bonito to start our hang gliding adventure. After we signed our lives away, our instructor and his assistant drove us to the top of the cliff. I was really nervous so I asked Bill if I could go first. The only training I had was to put my arm around the instructor’s shoulders and run a few steps. He told me that the worst thing I could do would be to stop running at the cliff’s edge. Regarding the landing, he said that he’d tell me what to do on the way down which I laughed at but turned out not to be a joke. He connected me up to the hang glider, tested the restraints, and then connected himself in next to me.

On the count of three, we started running and I fought my inner voice that said running off the side of a cliff is CRAZY! Once we were in the air, I had expected a falling sensation, but it wasn’t like that at all. We were instantly floating and flying in the air. It was more relaxing than terrifying. We spent about 10 minutes floating around and admiring the scenery. At the end, the instructor detached my legs from the hang glider and we jumped softly onto the beach for our landing. The assistant quickly folded up the hang glider and we headed back up to the top of the cliff for Bill’s flight.

During the days we worked from Rio, we tried to get out for a walk or nice lunch when we could fit in a break. In the evenings, we explored other areas and restaurants. One night we went to Rio Scenarium which is a cool place with eclectic decorations, multiple levels, and live music and dancing. On Thursday night, we worked pretty late and didn’t have a chance to leave for dinner until 10 pm. We took a cab to Aconchego Carioca, a restaurant highly recommended by my friend Nicole. It was pretty far away and when the taxi dropped us off, we still weren’t quite sure which place it was between two that were across the street from each other. Bill stopped and asked two women that were standing outside of one of the restaurants. It turns out that the two women were each owners of the two restaurants that we were standing between. Aconchego Carioca was closing but the owner took us in and said that we could order anything off of the starter menu and drinks. We ordered several starters (we were pretty hungry) and started looking at the extensive beer list. The Brazilian couple sitting at the table next to us offered to help us pick something. We took their recommendations and had some really amazing beers. They also helped us figure out some places to go on Friday, our last day in Rio. When the food came, we devoured it, partly because we were hungry but mostly because it was sooo good.

On our last day in Rio, we were planning to go to the National History museum but we found it was closed because of a holiday. Although that seemed unlucky, we happened to come across a parade which was pretty cool. After watching the parade for a bit, we went to the Santa Teresa neighborhood. It’s a hilly area with a lot of cute shops. We ate lunch up there and headed back to the condo via Copacabana beach for some final people watching before leaving Rio.

Esquiar en Chile

A couple of months ago, it was winter here in Chile. It’s much more mild than Chicago winters (no snow and lows in the upper 30s), but being in a temperate climate, most of the buildings don’t have central heat, including ours. We bought a small electric space heater, so we could always keep one room in our apartment warm. Having weather in the 40s all the time is a different kind of cold. There’s no escape from it. The walls in our apartment are thin, and we have lots of windows, so the cold can pass easily from outside to inside. Without central heat, coming back home means coming home to a very cold apartment. So, despite the temperature being relatively mild compared to the brutal Chicago winters, the feeling of coldness measures about the same here in winter. One bright side of winter down here is that the mountains are really close, and one weekend in June we took a day trip to Mount Colorado.

We woke up early on a Saturday to try out the slopes here in Santiago. We took a metro to a skiing company called Ski Total. They were able to supply everything we could possibly need for skiing – gloves, boots, skis, transportation, lift ticket – they had it all, which was perfect because we didn’t have anything. It was pretty crowded in the morning, and after waiting in a few lines, getting fitted for skis, and paying for everything, we piled into a minibus for our ride up to Mount Colorado.

There are three main mountains near Santiago – El Colorado, Valle Nevado, and La Parva. El Colorado is known for being most beginner-friendly, and given our lack of skiing experience and Alison’s broken wrist adventure in 2009, we thought a beginner-level would suit us nicely. It turns out that we may have been even better off with some pre-beginner slopes.

We arrive at the mountain and hop on the skilift, a little nervous about what was to come. We’ve only ever skied in the very flat land of the midwest, so going up an actual mountain was a different experience. We chose what appeared to us to be the easiest slope, crossed our fingers, and hoped for the best.

We got to the top of the mountain, and immediately we were both a little afraid of going down. Getting started and moving was easy – stopping was a bigger concern. We slowly worked our way to the precipice of the slope, and looked down. Everyone was easily gliding back and forth across the mountain, making their way towards the bottom. It looked like no problem, and now it was our turn.

I volunteered to go a little bit ahead to see how it was going to be, and I slowly “snow-plowed” and stemmed my way 20 or 30 meters down the mountain. I stopped to look up and check on Alison, and she was nowhere to be found. I knew that she was a little more scared than I was, but at this point, the only way down was to ski down. She knew this better than I had thought.

I turned my attention downhill, where off in the distance I saw a small spec of Alison’s powder blue jacket, racing down the mountain as fast as she could. I continued my way down the mountain at a more moderate pace, and I met Alison at the bottom.

At first I thought that she was trying to get down the mountain as fast as possible, but it turns out that she was too afraid to slow down because she thought she would fall. At the bottom of the slope, she threw herself into the snow to stop, and thankfully she didn’t hurt anything. That was enough skiing for Alison for the day. :-)

I continued to ski the beginner slopes, and occasionally I’d hop onto a moderate slope. I’d go at a pretty slow pace, and I was enjoying myself. I was looking to try a new moderate slope, so I looked at the map and made my way to a different ski lift that went higher up the mountain. When I got up there, and skied over to the blue-labeled slope, it was closed. No problem – I’ll just find another blue or green slope to make my way down. I opened up the map and unfolded the section where I now stood. I slowly began to realize that this blue slope was the only easy or moderate slope at this height. I was going to have to ski down a black diamond.

In the States I had skied black diamond slopes before. It wasn’t really a big deal. But those were just hills. Now I was on a mountain, and the level of steepness was more than I had ever experienced. I tried to snow plow my way down a few meters, but it was too steep for snow plowing – I couldn’t control my speed. I started to stem back and forth across the slope, but again, I had to fall a few times to keep myself from going too fast. It was a long, slow journey, but I finally made it to a transition point where the slope changed from black diamond to blue, and I was comfortable again.

I skied for a few more hours, and we had a quick lunch in the restaurant next to the slopes. After a few more runs, our transportation was ready to take us back to Santiago. We piled back into the minibus, and let the rhythm of the ride rock us to sleep as we rolled back into Santiago.

Arica

Over the 4th of July weekend, Bill and I traveled to the northern-most city in Chile, Arica. We flew up there on Wednesday morning which we had off of work for the fourth. When we got off the plane, we enjoyed the nice weather in the 60s and 70s which was a big contrast from the 30s and 40s that we were getting in Santiago. I know that we’re from Chicago, but when it gets down in the 30s with no central heat in the apartment, it’s pretty miserable. We took a cab to our hotel and then headed over to a restaurant called Maracuyá for lunch. We had a seat outside on the veranda overlooking the ocean and drank Peruvian pisco sours with our delicious seafood lunch.

After lunch we climbed to the top of el Morro de Arica which is a huge hill where Chile defeated Peru in the battle of Arica in 1880. There is a historical arms museum at the top. I was surprised to see what looked like my Dad and brother Eric in one of the pictures. Eric’s on the far left and Dad’s on the far right.

We then went to the mummy museum which was actually a site where a house was supposed to be built in 2004 but as they started construction they found that it was a graveyard of Chinchorro mummies. These are the oldest mummies in the world dating back from 5000 – 3000 B.C. I recently heard a story about these mummies on NPR, where it was recently theorized that the Chinchorros starting mummifying their dead when there was a population surge as a result of a wetter climate.

In downtown Arica there is the Cathedral of San Marcos made of iron which was designed by Gustave Eiffel (who also designed a tower in France ;-) ). My dad had told me about this church. He remembered it from when he visited Arica with my mom while they were living in Peru for the Peace Corps over 40 years ago.

On Thursday and Friday morning, we worked from the hotel. On Thursday night, we ate at a really good Peruvian restauran, Rayú at the Chinchorro beach.

On Friday afternoon, we were picked up for a three-day tour of the Chilean Altiplano, which turned out to be one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. The group included Felipe, our Chilean, extremely adventurous tour guide, Hilke, a sweet German girl in her early 20′s, and Bill and me. We started at the San Miguel de Azapa Archaeology Museum where we learned more about the history of the region and got a sense of Felipe’s passion for archaeology. Then we went on to the Azapa Valley to see the petroglyphs (carvings in rock) and geoglyphs (rock formations that make up a picture).

We continued up the mountains while Felipe told us stories about growing up in France and traveling around Africa. His dad was a diplomat forced to leave Chile when Pinochet took power.

As I looked around, I felt like the sand people were going to jump out at us at any moment. There was just sand as far as you could see.

It wasn’t until we climbed another 4,000 feet in altitude that we started to see vegetation and animals. We reached the town of Putre which is at 11,500 feet around 8 pm. We checked in at our hostel and tracked down some space heaters for our rooms (it was FREEZING). Then we went to the restaurant around the corner for dinner. I wasn’t sure what to expect in such a small village, but the food was amazing. After dinner, we hung out outside for a bit while Felipe pointed out some constellations to us (have you ever heard of the big llama and the little llama?). The sky was so clear. I have never seen so many stars in my life.

In the morning we ate breakfast and headed further up to Salar de Surire, which is a salt flat where we took a walk and saw our first vicuñas (think mix between a llama and a deer) and viscachas (small rabbit-like animals).

Bill wasn’t feeling well at breakfast and he progressively got worse throughout the morning. He tells me that altitude sickness feels like food poisoning. We went to a village called Ancuta where Bill drank some coca tea which is supposed to help with the nausea (but if you ask Bill, he’ll tell you that it doesn’t help). While Bill rested in the back of the van, I took pictures in the village’s deserted playground with the awesome mountain views in the background.

We then continued to go higher and higher in altitude toward the hot springs at Polloquere. We decided to stop for lunch at a Carabinero (Chilean police) checkpoint near the Bolivian border. The Carabineros were really nice. They let Bill lay down on their couch and made him some more coca tea. Bill decided that he didn’t want to get back in the bumpy van and asked us to go on without him and pick him up on the way back. I felt horrible about leaving Bill in the middle of nowhere with strangers while he was feeling so sick, but he insisted that I keep going and take lots of pictures.

We left Bill behind and drove around a lake where there were a bunch of Chilean flamingos. It was incredible!

Then we went on to the hot springs which were beautiful but smelled like rotten eggs. Hilke took a swim, but I decided not to because I was getting a bit of a headache and was pretty turned off by the smell.

We picked Bill up and took the loooong, bumpy road back to Putre to have dinner and go to bed.

In the morning Bill was feeling much better, but Hilke was feeling worse. We headed back up again, this time toward the highest lake in the world, Lake Chungara and to the village of Parinacota (same name as the active volcano in the region). Bill made a friend along the way.

Here is Bill and I at the highest lake in the world (wearing the alpaca hats that we bought in Putre, which may have come from Bill’s alpaca friend pictured above).

We made a couple of other stops to enjoy the scenery and give Hilke a break from riding in the van before heading back down.

On the way down to Arica, we stopped to take a walk around a quaint little village called Socaroma.

Once we got back to Arica, we were exhausted. We had dinner and then headed to the airport for a short ride back to Santiago.