We finish our last game of cards at the top of Cerro San Cristobal before commencing our last drive through Santiago back to Hotel Galerias and then onwards to the airport. What we hadn’t accounted for was Friday afternoon rush hour traffic.
After only one wrong turn, we find ourselves about two blocks away from the hotel at a complete stand still. Intersections are clogged, I literally put the car into Park and I exit the car to try to investigate the problem. Two of the group leave the car and head towards the hotel by foot to collect our luggage, and before anything has changed other than a decrease in patience and an increase in car horns, they are returning with a hotel dolly full of our bags. Putting luggage in the trunk is a not a trivial activity, and thus we begin the dance that is arranging our bags in a very particular way. We put in about three bags and then suddenly traffic starts to move. I jump back into the driver’s seat, the rest of our luggage is carted to the side of the road, and through the car window, we discuss a new rendezvous point slightly up ahead. We change this meeting point once or twice and eventually just pull up in front of the hotel to complete this luggage-filling process.
The car is now filled, but our adventure to the airport is only half-complete. It is still rush hour and the low setting sun in our eyes only adds to the adrenalized moment. I receive honks of discontent for video-game like maneuvers such as making right turns from non-right lanes, cutting the same car off more than once, changing lanes with such frequency that it almost seems unproductive, and squeezing through spaces that makes our luggage-packed trunk seem spacious. All that said, this video game ends at the airport’s rental car lot with full health bars and the car hasn’t even suffered a scratch in the process. We have barely enough time to blow a sigh of relief when the parking lot attendant points out some small scratches near the trunk of the car. Being able to talk my way out of these small nicks in Spanish gave me confidence that my language skills had advanced at least some over the last two weeks here in Chile.
We all make our flights on time and brace ourselves for the 80-degree (Fahrenheit) temperature swing we are about to experience upon touching ground in Boston.
We all pile back into the car, make a pit stop by Pablo Neruda’s cliff-top, ocean-view house, and continue onwards to Valparaiso. This colorful port city, which is oftentimes called Valpo brings out the photographer in two of us as we pass through its winding, hilly streets. We get to skip climbing up one hill by braving the Ascensor Concepcion, a short century-old funicular in an historic part of the city. We then weave our ways through countless cute shops and mini cafes stopping all the while to capture each scene via CMOS sensor. As the day is a bit overcast, our cameras are not overwhelmed with brightness, with shadows, or with intensity of any sort; however, the flatness of light gives some of the otherwise hidden parts of these colorful streets a little more attention than they would otherwise have received. We end our visit in Valpo at a cafe complete with live music from a local Chilean.
As our trip comes to a close, we appreciate some of Santiago’s nightlife by exploring Barrio Bellavista, a neighborhood chock full of restaurants, bars, cafes and clubs. On consecutive nights, we find dinner at a local spot and then venture out to find some dancing. Bar Constitucion, a club with very eclectic music from electroclash to house to hip hop to rock ‘n roll and more, provides us with an interesting cross-section of locals and foreigners who have all found themselves in Santiago. At Bar Constitucion, we chat up some locals and thus get chance to practice our Spanish, and we also dance among our selves on the smoke-filled dance floor.
We find a piece of home, and more specifically of Trader Joe’s, when we visit Viña Concha y Toro, the famous wine producer of Casillero del Diablo. After a couple tastes at this winery just southeast of Santiago, we continue southward to the Colchagua Valley where we enjoy wines, lunch, vineyard-filled hills, and walks among the grapes. In the center of the valley is Santa Cruz, a cute town filled with boutique hotels, small houses with flowered window sills, and restaurants, cafes a plenty.
Remember the time we woke up at 3am in the morning to drive to Santiago to catch an early flight that we didn’t have legitimate tickets for? Remember then how when we finally did secure some reasonably priced new tickets, we had to be shuttled through the airport because we were now cutting it close to check our baggage and get on the flight? Remember later how we decided to go on a tour until 9pm and then got a bit turned around in the pitch-black desert before finding our way back to the lodge?
When the five of us reconvene after the trip, I’m confident that this will make for a great story, but as we were living it, it lacked some of the comedy that it will probably have in the future.
The day, however, wasn’t without its silver linings. We still did get reasonably priced round-trip airline tickets to Calama, which is only a one-hour drive from our final destination of San Pedro de Atacama. We arrived at our lodge without too many adventures, had some lunch, took a nap, and set off for our first desert adventure. And in the evening, we made it back to our lodge just in time for dinner, enjoyed a nice meal, showered, and slept very well.
Chile is full of vineyards, and today we decide to explore the Casablanca Valley, which is nestled between Valparaiso and Santiago. The varietals that appear frequently throughout our tastings include Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay among the whites, and Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, and the Chilean specific Carmenere for the reds. Our first stop, which also includes a great lunch, is at Viña Casas del Bosque. We then make our way through three more wineries before the end of the afternoon, including Emiliana Organic Vineyards, Viña Indomita, and Viña Mar. We break up our tastings with card playing, joke telling, and a little Facetiming.
We later stop in Valparaiso for some afternoon tea and juice before heading to Oda Pacifico, a wonderful restaurant looking over much of the city. Getting to the restaurant is a bit of an adventure because of the layout of the city, its steep hills, and its narrow streets. I explain to many navigators in the car that I think we are approaching a dead end, and although in one occasion I am correct, on another occasion, the road continues at what seems like a 60-degree slope, which I had inaccurately thought was impassible.
As we head back to our hotel in Zapallar, we look back on our day filled with multiple types of terrain covered, many wines tasted, and a beautiful dinner shared together.
After two full days in the Cajon del Maipo valley, it would be an understatement to say that we all felt a little soar. We got an upper body workout during rafting, a couple nice bruises on our bums from the horseback riding, and our legs and feet got their fair share of exercise during the 10-mile hike in the Monumento Natural El Morado. I’m not complaining, but I am looking forward to a couple more relaxing days on Chile’s Central Coast in a small town called Zapallar.
Other than when we pass back through Santiago, the roads are beautiful and varied. We drive through winding mountain roads, down flat green expanses, and along coastal highways. Some of the driving reminds me a little of driving on the 5 Freeway in California in that the two-lane road is covered in trucks and everyone, including the trucks themselves, are attempting to make good time by weaving in and out of both lanes.
After almost three hours of driving and an hour lunch stop, we arrive in Zapallar and immediately head down to the beach to commence our relaxing couple of days.
Today, we wake up at Cascada de Las Animas and hike to the base of the El Morado Glacier. The combination of the shadeless heat, the steep grade, and the length of the hike makes for a challenge and a sense of accomplishment.
This is a powerful yet short love story between Camila, a Chilean stable girl and Evan, a Clark Kent doppelgänger. Evan looks over the Maipo Gorge just outside a horse stable and stares longingly at the vastness and beauty of the Chilean landscape. Camila is caring for the horses and thinks she hears a noise outside. She peaks over the wood fence and immediately wishes she can be the Lois Lane to this Clark Kent who is not even aware of her presence. Evan now also hears something behind him and turns, but just before he can see Camila, she looks away.
They both now sense each other’s presence, but are currently performing the famous dance of pretending not to be aware of the other. Camila now confidently exits the stable with two horses in tow and the two lock eyes for the first time. Superman cracks a smile causing Lois to blush a little. Evan, in broken Spanish, asks if she is going to ride, and Camila smiles and asks if he wants to join. Evan answers with a cool yes, all the while not being over-enthusiastic about the opportunity to join her.
Camila leads, Evan follows and they ride for about half an hour with only few words shared. Eventually, they arrive at their destination. A fresh water stream glistening over colorful stones making for the perfect ambience for the two of them to share a moment upon its rocks. Evan’s hand gently passes by Camila’s and they both immediately look towards each other. Evan pulls his hand back just in time for Camila to reach for it. Camlia leans in and gives a gentle kiss on Evan’s unshaven cheek. Evan smiles and they both soak up their surroundings as if they have no other worries in the world.
From here, the story continues just as if the two were in fact Superman and Lois Lane minus the bad guys and the red and blue tights. The two continue on happily in their Smallville-like existence in the Chilean countryside.
There is no reason why fairytales can’t come true.
On our first full day in Chile, we pack our things and head off to Cajon del Maipo, a stunning gorge that starts just 25 km southeast of Santiago. We head off early because we have a date with the Maipo River at 10am, and we are not confident that we won’t get lost along the way.
After experiencing the Maipo river at its highest level of the year and therefore at its fastest, we grab a quick bite to eat and continue on to horseback riding along side of the Maipo gorge.