All posts by Sharon

Easter? Easter Island! …er… Rapa Nui!

When we first moved to Chile, we were hanging out with our friends Kelly and Jake (and their kids, Veda and Aadi), who we knew in India. They mentioned that they were spending Easter at Easter Island, and we said, “We want to join you!” And so we did.

Although the island was annexed by Chile in 1888, the locals connect deeply with their Polynesian roots and prefer the traditional name of their homeland: Rapa Nui. One of the most remote inhabited places in the world, Rapa Nui is located in the Pacific Ocean, more than 2,000 miles off the coast of Chile and more than 1,000 miles from the nearest inhabited island (which actually boasts less than 100 residents).

Various theories attempt to explain how people first migrated to the island, but anthropologists today generally believe Polynesians first arrived around 300AD. The UNESCO World Heritage List website says those islanders “established a powerful, imaginative and original tradition of monumental sculpture and architecture, free from any external influence. From the 10th to the 16th century this society built shrines and erected enormous stone figures known as moai, which created an unrivaled cultural landscape that continues to fascinate people throughout the world.”

Needless to say, this mystical, isolated island has been on my bucket list for ages.

After a six-hour flight from Santiago, we arrived on Thursday afternoon and were met at the airport by a driver who draped flower leis around our necks. The whole island is only 15 miles long, and the tiny airport is located right next to the only real town, Hanga Roa. I was surprised at the size of our plane – a Boeing 787 Dreamliner – in relation to the size of the thatch-roofed airport. Later, I learned NASA had extended the existing runway to create an emergency landing destination for the space shuttle.

In just a few minutes, we reached our lovely resort, Hare Noi. “Hare” means “home” in the Rapa Nui language.

Our room was one of four that opened into a nice common space with a sectional sofa, heavy wooden table with benches, and kitchenette area. Perfect for when Tony woke up in the middle of the night. He could work on his report card comments without waking me up. The back door opened to a nice deck with chairs and tables and a view of the property. The pillars holding up our building’s roof were unfinished eucalyptus tree trunks, and our deck connected to a lighted boardwalk that led up the hill to the pool, spa, and restaurant, as well as a few more rooms up the hillside. Fat, colorful chickens occasionally wandered past, harassed by a handsome black-and-white rooster. Low walls of pockmarked volcanic stones ringed a few garden areas. In one, heavy bunches of bananas ripened on the trees with fat magenta blossoms dangling from thick, long stems. Other trees offered up guavaba, a local fruit whose delicious scent permeated the vicinity. (Soft and round with yellow skin and firm fuchsia flesh, its flavor most definitely did not live up to expectations.) Our spacious room included some interesting features, including a huge volcanic rock just outside the shower door. Toe stubbing threat, but cool nonetheless. The dome-shaped restaurant’s “walls” were really accordion doors that opened up the whole space to fresh, tropical breezes.

The path from reception to our building.

Enjoying the pool.

The population of Rapa Nui likely peaked around 15,000 in the 17th century. Today, the island has around 6,000 permanent residents, and about 60 percent are descendants of the aboriginal Rapa Nui people. According to the Polynesian Cultural Center website:

Like many of the other Pacific islands during the 18th through early 20th centuries, European diseases and indentured labor practices decimated the population. For example, as many as 5,000 islanders were carried away to work in Peru, and only a few ever returned. About 1875, 500 more were taken to work the sugar plantations in Tahiti, where a small number of Easter Islanders remain to this day. At one point in the early 1900s there were only 111 Rapa Nui people left on the island; and while the slowly growing population has managed to hang on to much of their Polynesian culture, a great deal was also lost forever. For example, the people of Rapa Nui may have been the only Polynesians to have something akin to a writing system in the form of their rongorongo tablets, a few samples of which have survived to present times in widespread museums. The ability to translate them, however, seems to have been lost forever.

More than 40 percent of Rapa Nui is a protected national park. Its dormant volcanoes, stunning shorelines, windswept denuded plains, herds of roaming horses and cattle, Polynesian culture, and delicious food were plenty to keep us fascinated and content, but the real reason people flock to the island, of course, is to witness the mysterious moai. Carved between the 11th and 17th centuries, around 900 moai were commissioned by wealthy families to honor ancestors. Ranging from six to more than 60 feet high, they were carved from scoria, which is hardened volcanic ash. Debate continues regarding how the massive sculptures were moved from the hilltop quarry to their seaside destinations and raised atop the stone foundations called ahu. Our island guides insisted the moai “walked” on a path to reach the ahu, which aligns with the most popular theory that islanders used long ropes and log pulleys to tip the moai and rock it from side to side and slowly forward, like we the way we move a refrigerator.

Topknot Quarry
Our visit kicked off with a tour of Puna Pau, the quarry that yielded only the massive circular blocks representing hair tied up in a topknot. Our guide Jojo said the red pukao would have been cut from the quarry and rolled down the hill. Stone masons would then carve and decorate the topknot before placing it on the moai’s head. The presence of a pukao indicated the moai came from a royal family, he explained. A sign at the quarry offered a couple theories as to how the 10-ton pukao was lifted to the top of a statue that could be more than 60 feet high. One theory was that workers rolled the pukao up a huge stone ramp to the statue’s head, but Jojo strongly denounced that. He said his family’s oral history confirms the other posted theory: Workers used their engineering prowess to devise a system of levers and pulleys, using huge tree trunks and heavy ropes, to raise the pukao. According to Lonely Planet, about 60 pukao were distributed to moai around the island, and another 25 remain in or near the quarry.

Meet the Moai
During our stay on Rapa Nui, we explored the sites of many ahu, raised stone altars that served as the platform for the moai statues. At some locations, the ahu was all that remained standing. At others, re-erected moai stood watch once again over the remnants of former villages. Although the original European explorers in 1722 and 1770 reported standing moai, all moai were toppled by 1864. American archaeologist William Mulloy spent 23 years leading efforts to study and restore the moai, and since then many organizations have undertaken conservation projects.

The scoria is not a very durable stone, so there is plenty of evidence of erosion. Not much keeps tourists from chipping off their own souvenirs, either. In fact, a Finnish tourist lopped off an earlobe from a moai in 2008 and was fined $17,000. Small artifacts on the ground are surrounded by a single rail fence, which does nothing to keep people out. The ahu are ringed by a barrier of thin twine and small warning signs. Our guides over the weekend told stories of ridiculous tourists who climb on or break pieces off the statues.

Ahu Akivi includes seven moai restored in 1960 by Norwegian adventurer Thor Heyerdahl and his crew of professional archaeologists. Each moai is about 16 feet high and weighs about 18 tons. While most ahu are found on the coast and face inland to watch over the villages, this one is unusual for its inland location and its mystical link to astronomy – the moai stare directly into the setting sun on the spring equinox.

Our first encounter with waterside moai was a collection of three restored ahu on the west coast. Ahu Tahai stood in the middle with a large moai. On its north side is Ahu Ko Te Riku, a moai sporting the red topknot and restored eyeballs made from white coral and obsidian. Apparently all the moai once had these eyeballs, which gave them “mana,” or a spirit empowering them watch over their clans.

On the south side is Ahu Vai Uri with five moai.

All moai faced their family’s villages, and these were no exception. On the hill leading down to the water, Jojo showed us ruins of traditional village structures. A chicken coop looked like a garage made from stacked volcanic rock with just a chicken-sized opening, where the birds would enter in the evening. The villager would put a rock in the hole to keep them inside, and nobody would be able to tell which rock was the “door.” We also saw the foundation of a typical refuge, known as hare paenga. Shaped like an overturned canoe, the heavy perimeter stones featured large drilled holes for holding a frame made of tall sticks that were covered in leaves and grass. The villagers wouldn’t have had actual homes (by today’s standards) because they spent most of their time outside, Jojo said. These refuges were only for sleeping or escaping inclement weather.

A reconstructed stone ramp led into the ocean, where villagers would have launched their boats for fishing.

Vinapu is the site of two crumbling ahu. One has mortarless blocks similar to the Incan ruins, which Thor Heyerdahl saw as evidence that Rapa Nui people originated from South America. He even built a traditional raft and sailed 8,000 miles from Peru to the Tuoamotu Islands to prove his highly disputed theory that people could have migrated from South America to Easter Island. Jojo showed us a couple moai faces poking out of the earth. He confirmed that the exposed moai are slowly eroding. One face had a piece of basalt sticking out that wouldn’t have been visible 100 years ago, he said. One of the ahu included a red block, which was a recycled top knot from a previous generation, Jojo said, explaining that when moai fell, the people would often reuse the stone to create new moai or use them for other purposes.

You see this rock everywhere. I mean, everywhere.

Right at the shoreline, the Hanga Poukura ruins included an ahu with barely distinguishable moai. But the real attraction was the tide. Huge waves crashed on the rocks. Jojo told stories of playing here as a child, riding horses bareback and encountering tourists. He and his friends would take tourists to the archeological sites in exchange for candy.

When Jojo saw how much we loved the waves, he drove us to another spot, where the waves were crazy high. They crashed dramatically over a rock and then immediately died down, creating a perfect backdrop for photos. Beach combing was also fascinating here; the rocks were weathered into lacy blocks and delicate towers.

Quick stop on the way to take pictures of the horses. Cows and horses roam freely, looking for grass among the rocks.

A sunrise visit to Ahu Tongariki is on every tourist’s to-do list here. Unfortunately, (a) at this time of year, the sun rises a little to the east of the moai, so it’s not as spectacular as it could be, (b) we were advised to go WAY too early so we waited in the dark for about an hour, and (c) I had left our national park tickets back at the hotel. Fortunately, (a) it was still a pretty spectacular experience and (b) worth the wait, and (c) a kind guard heard my plea in pathetic Spanish and let us enter without tickets.

This is the largest ahu on the island with 15 moai. They were all toppled during clan warfare, and then a 1960 earthquake triggered a tsumani that dragged the moai almost 300 feet further inland. According to Rough Guides, a Japanese news program aired footage of the Rapa Nui governor saying they could save the moai if only they had a crane. A Japanese viewer took action and ultimately set up a committee that spearheaded a five-year restoration project, completed in 1995.

We re-visited Tongariki later in the day with our guide, Tito. He swore the moai second from the right represents his grandfather. “The best one?” asked a skeptical member of our group. “Yes!” he exclaimed. I choose to believe it.

On the southern coast, we poked around the village remains next to Ahu Akahanga, where tradition holds the first Rapa Nui king is buried. Here, we saw several of the aforementioned canoe-shaped foundations of homes, as well as a pit that would have been used as an oven, a cave formed by a lava bubble, the remains of four ahu, and many fallen moai.
Tito describes how islanders cooked with hot stones in a pit.

Looking out from the lava bubble cave.

At one of Rapa Nui’s two sandy beaches, Anakena, we saw Ahu Nau-Nau and its seven moai, and Ahu Ature Huki with the first moai re-erected by Thor Heyerdahl in 1956.

From a NOVA article on the PBS website:

According to an Easter Island legend, some 1,500 years ago a Polynesian chief named Hotu Matu’a (“The Great Parent”) sailed here in a double canoe from an unknown Polynesian island with his wife and extended family. He may have been a great navigator, looking for new lands for his people to inhabit, or he may have been fleeing a land rife with warfare. Early Polynesian settlers had many motivations for seeking new islands across perilous oceans. It’s clear that they were willing to risk their lives to find undiscovered lands. Hotu Matu’a and his family landed on Easter Island at Anakena Beach.

I wore my swimsuit under my clothes for our visit to the beach, but it was a brutally windy day. I doubted I would brave the chilly air to take a dip in the ocean. However, after checking out the moai and traipsing through the powdery sand to the water’s edge, I couldn’t resist. Tony and I played in the waves with Veda, who shrieked and laughed and shared my enthusiasm for the rough water. At one point, the grey sky broke open and pounded us with cold lashing rain, but then the clouds cleared and we had warm sunny skies for the rest of our short romp.

Photo courtesy of Kelly.

Rano Raraku – the Moai Birthplace
After exploring ahu and checking out moai – both standing and fallen – all over the island, we finally visited the quarry where moai were excavated from the volcanic tuff. Tito first led us to the crater lake, site of an annual traditional triathlon. He said men had to run around the lake on foot while carrying a pole over their shoulders loaded with heavy banana stalks, swim across using woven-reed boards, and canoe in a small reed boat. About 20 moai stand partially exposed inside the crater.

The path along the outside of the crater wound past hundreds of moai in various stages of completion. Tito explained that carvers would cut the moai shape out of wall, leaving it attached by just a band of rock. After they finished, they would sever that piece, letting the moai slide down paths on the hill to begin its journey to an ahu. Tito says the moai tradition was abandoned quite suddenly, which would explain the presence of so many unfinished and forsaken statues. Some remained secured to the volcano’s walls, while others poked out of the earth at odd angles, pinned by erosion up to their necks, hiding up to two-thirds of each statue’s body.

Guide hogging, as usual.

Posing with a couple unfinished moai who never made it off the hill.

This moai, Tukuturi, is a mysteriously unique kneeling statue. Older than the others? A representation of one of the master carvers overlooking the quarry? Nobody knows.

Orongo: From Stone Men to Birdman
Deforestation, food shortages, and tribal warfare led to the decline of the ancient Rapa Nui society. According to the World Monuments Fund:

The ceremonial village of Orongo, in the south of the park, is considered to be among the most spectacular archaeological sites in the world. It is perched on a narrow ridge, with the crater of the Rano Kau volcano on one side and cliffs that fall 300 meters to the sea on the other. Orongo contains dozens of petroglyphs and stone houses dating from the Huri-Moai period of Easter Island’s history (c. 1680–1867). The self-contained, dry-laid houses featuring sod roofs were built into the topography of the site. The ceremonial center of Mata Ngarau in Orongo, center of the Tangata Manu (Birdman) cult that succeeded the moai culture, was the site for the annual games that represented the transfer of power between competing clans. By the end of the nineteenth century, most of the Rapa Nui culture had perished or had converted to Christianity; the Tangata Manu cult collapsed and Orongo was abandoned.

The Orongo visitor center included many interpretive posters and photos of the artifacts found at the site and the cult’s worship of the god Makemake. Jojo explained the bizarre ceremony that decided the island’s ruler each year during this era. After years of horrific warfare, the population had dwindled and people were tired, frightened, and ready for peace, he said. One sign of peace was the sooty tern, a bird that nested on the nearby islands. In an Amazing Race-style competition, men climbed down the hillside and swam out to the smaller islands using floatation devices woven from reeds. On the islands, they searched for nests of the sooty tern, in hopes of getting an egg. They wore a headband with a small pocket in the front to securely carry the egg back to Rapa Nui. The first warrior to return with an intact egg won, and his clan ruled the island until the next year. (Spoiler alert: This story is about to get crazy.) As a prize, the swimmer – painted in ceremonial colors – got a woman, chosen from seven beauties for having the biggest clitoris. Jojo told us the clans believed a big clitoris was associated with pleasure, and thus fertility. That was important because they needed to rebuild the population. There are even petroglyphs of symbols that represent the vulva. I am pretty sure that was the first time I ever heard a tour guide say “clitoris” or “vulva.”

Tony as a birdman.

Just outside the Orongo visitor center, we marveled at the Rano Kau volcano crater. Almost a mile across, it slopes down to a lake covered in floating totora reeds, one of only three natural bodies of fresh water on the island. Even the local dogs seemed to appreciate the view.

Jojo told of growing up near this crater. He ran around barefoot, chasing wild horses and picking fruit inside the caldera. When it was time for him to go to secondary school in “Chile,” he had thick calluses on his feet. He also reminisced about working on Kevin Costner’s film, “Rapa Nui,” which came out in 1994. He said many islanders participated, dressed in traditional costumes and racing up and down the volcano’s steep hillside to re-enact the birdman competition. (Side note: The movie wrongly depicts the birdman ceremony happening during the era of moai carving. The moai had been abandoned by the time the birdman cult arose.)
From IMDb.

A Taste of Culture
In addition to our island excursions, we enjoyed a lovely dinner at a waterside restaurant, Te Moana, on our last night in Rapa Nui. I had a tuna steak on a bed of mashed sweet potato and topped with an incredible medley of pineapple, veggies, and a vanilla-coconut sauce. I actually can’t stop thinking about it.

After dinner, we attended a a traditional dance show. Kari Kari featured highly spirited dancers in fabulous costumes. Women wore bras of feathers or coconuts with skirts made of long feather garlands, grasses or just a cloth wrap. Somehow they managed beautiful relaxed smiles despite coordinating crazy hip shaking with gentle undulating arm movements. Men wore variations of a loin cloth – feathers, leather flap, or just a cloth sling, and not much else. For different songs, the men swapped out their props and accessories. They wore bands of feathers on their heads, upper arms, below the knee or around the ankle, or individual grass skirts hanging from their knees, which they shook pugnaciously. They carried big threatening sticks, wore face paint, and sported many tattoos that spread over thighs and abdomen. Their athletic dances includes lots of scary gestures and facial expressions, but they always smiled and laughed between numbers, as though to reassure the audience that they weren’t going to kill us. A couple times, they pulled people on stage for an embarrassing competition. (Tony and I ducked low in our chairs to hide.) It was pretty hilarious.

Here’s a video from the Kari Kari Facebook page.

According to the website imagina Easter Island, “Most of the Easter Island music and dances are of Polynesian origin. The Rapa Nui ancestral dances have been lost or merged, though it’s still possible to find indigenous music rooted in the orally-transmitted legends that are songs and dances dedicated to the gods, spirit warriors, the rain or love.”

Easter on Easter Island
Veda and Aadi were pretty excited to find a little Easter gift from the hotel staff waiting at their breakfast table. While they ate, their dad played Easter Bunny and hid a bunch of plastic eggs filled with chocolates and raisins. (Ha! That clever bunny and his healthy habits.) The kids were adorable as they hunted for the eggs, counted them, and opened them up to find the treats. Surprisingly, the chocolates and raisins elicited an equal amount of joy.

Flying back to Santiago, Tony and I agreed this had been a wonderful trip. One tiny island managed to offer much of what we love in a vacation, and its mysterious history continues to fascinate us.

Writing this post, I found many interesting articles about Rapa Nui. Even though I wrote a ridiculously long post about our trip, there was so much I didn’t include. If I have piqued your interest, you may want to read more!
National Geographic – Easter Island, 2012
NOVA – Pioneers of Easter Island, 2000
Live Science – Easter Island (Rapa Nui) & Moai Statues, 2012
History of Rapa Nui – From Genocide to Ecocide, The Rape of Rapa Nui by Benny Peiser, Liverpool John Moores University, Faculty of Science, 2005

Yoga as a language lab

In 16 years of living overseas, I have often lamented my monolingual brain. Sure, I picked up a pretty good amount of Turkish, Mandarin, and even Lao (then I totally dropped the ball in English-saturated India and learned almost no Hindi). Despite the inner glow of success that radiated confidence when I chatted with waiters, haggled at markets, booked hotel reservations, asked for directions, ordered food at restaurants, and understood signs around town, I always knew the cruel fact: It wasn’t enough. There’s no way to fully integrate into a host country’s culture without a deep dive into the language.

Since arriving in Chile, we’ve encountered less English than in any of our other four postings. Suddenly, learning the language feels urgent. It was actually a big reason we moved here. I’ve always wanted to learn Spanish. Now I just feel like I need to learn Spanish.

In general, I am an eager, inhibition-free language learner. I embrace mistakes and laugh at myself. I pay attention to the language around me and try to adopt it. A total grammar dork, I love identifying false cognates. “Estoy embarazada” does NOT mean “I’m embarrassed,” for example. (Yep, I said that to my fifth graders last semester.)

Tony and I took three weeks of intensive Spanish during the semester break, but it feels like nothing stuck. Now we have a hard-core tutor coming over once a week with piles of vocabulary and grammar assignments. Still, I know what I have to do. Get out of the apartment and talk to Chileans! Why is that so scary?

Barely able to babble in Spanish, I feel caught in a frustrating cycle: I can’t learn Spanish until I am forced to use it, but I’m too nervous to put myself in situations where I’m forced to use it.

Today, I finally decided to stop being such a wuss. I decided it would be best to immerse myself in an activity which I know well. Then I wouldn’t have to start from scratch. I would already understand the concepts, so I would only have to learn the Spanish vocabulary. I rolled up my yoga mat and walked to the nearby studio, Yogashala.

On the way there, I practiced saying in Spanish, “Can I try a class, please?” So far, I only know present-tense verbs, but I knew they would ask about my yoga background and physical issues. I had an answer for them: “I practice yoga many years, but now I have a bad knee.”

I was so nervous.

As I explore Santiago, I am discovering that you can’t guess what lies behind the fence in many neighborhoods. From the street, Yoga Shala looks like a three-story house. I rang the bell and was buzzed through the gate into a tranquil, shady courtyard with a bamboo-lined flagstone path. I entered the building and greeted the receptionist. In Spanish, she asked me to leave my shoes outside on the shelf. (I understood! I understood!) After ditching my Chacos, I recited my practiced phrase about trying a class. She said si, told me the price (6,000 pesos, or about $9 U.S.), asked for my Chilean ID number, and then directed me to the room. Whew! I felt immensely proud to have come this far.

About 10 people had already staked out spots in the room, so I followed their lead by unrolling my mat and grabbing a cushion and folded blanket from the cubbies on the wall. I whispered hola to the woman next to me, but we were obviously meant to stay quiet, so I spent the next few minutes trying to relax and prepare for class.

I glanced around the room. Caribiners clipped stretchy bands with plastic handles to one wall, while the opposite wall featured horizontal barres, like you see in a ballet classroom. The shelves and cubbies were filled with yoga props, including several racks of folded chairs. I don’t have much experience with Iyengar yoga, which is famous for its use of whatever it takes to correct your alignment, so that realization suddenly merged with my language anxiety, and I felt my face go warm with stress.

When the teacher, Polly, arrived, she scoped out the room and identified the newcomers. She gestured to a man and asked if he had ever come to the studio before. No, he hadn’t. Then she asked his name. Felipe. OK, now it was my turn, and I was totally ready! She asked if it was my first time at the studio. Instead of responding, primera vez, which means “first time,” I said, primavera vez, which means “spring time.” Polly looked a little confused, but she must have made the leap because she calmly asked for my name and then began the class.

Polly talked a lot. I tried to focus on what she was saying, but mostly I just used the environmental cues (that’s education-speak for “copy what the other kids are doing”). We started in a cross-legged sitting position with our hands in namaste. We chanted “om” three times, and then she led a choral-response chant in Spanish that I couldn’t follow.

Once we started moving into asanas, Polly’s directions were pretty clear. She would model a sequence first and then talk us through it. I found I could understand many of the directions, especially when she used the sanskrit names for the poses. However, the Spanish names sounded familiar, too: downward dog was el perro, and child’s pose was el niño. I was feeling pretty optimistic.

Then, as I lay down on two wooden blocks – one under my head and one under my torso, Polly said, “Sharon, blahdeblahdeblah.” I sat up to see what she meant, and she huffed a bit in frustration. In English, she said, “Move your block directly under your shoulder blades to open your chest.”

From that point on, she occasionally switched to perfect English to correct my form. I thought at first she might be annoyed to do so, but she soon softened and served up encouragement in both Spanish and English. At the end of class, we chatted a bit. I told her I would love to use as little English as possible in future classes, and she agreed to help me build my yoga vocabulary. “I only spoke English because I told you to do something, and you didn’t do it,” she laughed. (Story of my life.)

I realized the yoga lexis set includes body parts and directional words, as well as a few basic verbs. For example, I understood the Spanish instructions when she told us to lower our arms to transition out of Warrior or to make sure our legs were straight in Revolved Triangle or to lie down for Savasana.

Sometimes I think about young, crazy, risk-taker Sharon. She wouldn’t have balked at a yoga class in a foreign language. What changed? Why does 50-year-old Sharon have to muster up so much courage? It’s yoga, for god’s sake. I was pretty much guaranteed a kind, compassionate group of people.

Anyway, I feel great that I did it, physically, emotionally, and linguistically. My goal for next time is to strike up a conversation with another member of the class. I’ll practice some key phrases ahead of time, but she will probably say something I don’t understand. And we’ll laugh. And I’ll learn. And that’s what it’s all about.

From Asia to South America: Making new memories with an old friend

As I prepared to write about last weekend’s visit from our friend Nikki, I took a minute to reminisce. We worked with Nikki at Vientiane International School in 2009-10, and she quickly became part of our family. In fact, we enjoyed weekly “family night” dinners at local restaurants in Vientiane with Nikki and another friend, Carol. One of our favorite outings was to this kooky place: Khouvieng Country.

Nikki now works at Lincoln, an international school in Buenos Aires, just a short flight away. What a treat to have her come play for the weekend!

We had booked a cooking class, in part because Nikki’s fiancé, Jon, is an avid cook. Unfortunately, he had to cancel his trip to Chile to visit his ailing grandmother in Canada. (She is feeling much better – whew!) Tony had scheduled an English Department retreat at our apartment, so he couldn’t participate in the cooking class.

Nikki and I joined a family from the States, who were traveling in Chile, for a daylong cooking class with Felipe at Uncorked. We met at Mercado Central, the city’s famous fish market.

The National Geographic book, Food Journeys of a Lifetime, included Mercado Central in its list of “Top 10 Food Markets.” An excerpt:

Under a wrought-iron, art nouveau canopy dating from 1872, this animated fish market groans with an extraordinary shoal of sea creatures, from barnacles to giant squid, many unlabeled, untranslatable, or unknown outside Chile. Marvel at the fishmongers’ speed and skill. If the thought of identifying and preparing the fish is too much, onsite restaurants offer local dishes like paila marina (Chilean bouillabaisse).

Felipe shared some information about the market’s history and architecture, warned us about paying tourist prices at the popular seafood restaurants, and pointed to the type of fish we would prepare at our class: Spanish hake, or merluza.

From Mercado Central, we crossed the street to stroll through a flower market and on to La Vega Central. I never tire of this place. Piles of produce pop with color, and I revel in the buzz of busy vendors and harried shoppers. Felipe purchased fish, meat, tomatoes, and other ingredients while the rest of us snapped photos and tried to stay out of everyone’s way. The crowds swelled as we explored. Nikki and I agreed this was a place best visited in the early morning, before most Chileans rise and shine.

Nikki excitedly purchased some pickles.

After the market tour, we hailed a couple taxis for a ride to the cooking class venue, located in a residential area. From the street, the two-story house resembles its neighbors. Inside, however, the foyer opens into a bright spacious kitchen with an island equipped with two cooktops. We sat on stools around the island while Felipe issued instructions. We helped a bit with the chopping and mixing. Most of the prep work had been done before our arrival. My kind of cooking!

We kicked off the afternoon with a mango sour, perfectly measured and shaken by Nikki and Gracie.

My pathetic contribution to our meal involved rolling out and cutting the dough for churrascas, a traditional Chilean bread. They turned out a little deformed but tasty. We ate them with pebre, a typical Chilean salsa. At the request of our finicky group, Felipe patiently made three versions: normal, one with no spices, and one with no cilantro.

Nikki hates cilantro!

Our first savory dish was crudo de res, a concoction of raw minced beef with spices, relish, and peppers. Felipe spread a little homemade mayo on the plate. Chileans love mayonnaise!

Felipe poured glasses of pinot noir from the Chilean winery Leyda, which I am adding to my list of local favorites.

The main course was a delicious piece of fish topped with tomatoes, cheese, olives, and sausage. It was served on a bed of humita en olla, a corn-based paste.

For this wine pairing, we sipped Leyda chardonnay. I’m not usually a chardy fan, but this one worked perfectly with the fish.

For dessert, a little German influence came into play with the kuchen de zapallo camote en arandanos en chancaca, a long name for a little pumpkin tart with blueberries. Delish!

Overall, we enjoyed a lot of laughs, some tasty drinks, a bit of tipsiness, and delicious food. Could I replicate these dishes at home? Most likely, no. The “recipes” we took home were obviously written by someone who generally makes them from memory. Some don’t even have measurements, and the humita en olla recipe includes instructions like “thresh the corn.” What does that even mean? When you’re as clueless in the kitchen as I am, specificity is key.

Obviously, this day was designed for entertainment first and education second, which was fine with me!

On Sunday, I took Nikki on the gondola up Cerro San Cristobal, a Santiago “don’t miss experience” in my opinion. Of course, we enjoyed a mote con huesillo after greeting la virgen at the top.

I felt a little guilty about not being a better tour guide, but frankly, it felt great to just hang out on the balcony and catch up. Thanks for making the trip, Nikki!

Chiloé: Summer Staycation Get-Away, Day 4

For our last day in Chiloé, Brie and I visited the island we could see from our cabañas: Quinchao. We took a car ferry across the short channel and then drove to the southernmost point of the island to see another UNESCO church, Iglesia de Quinchao.

These little kneeling chairs lined one of the walls.

The church underwent several restorations since its original construction in 1880. In 2006, its tower was meticulously reconstructed. This is the original.

Next stop: Achao, which was celebrating the Encuentro de las Islas del Archipielago, a festival featuring the folklore, handicrafts, dancing, and food from various islands in the archipelago. Unfortunately, rain fell in buckets during our short visit. I would have loved to hang out, watch the performances, mingle with the locals, eat some asado (grilled meat), and make some impulse purchases, but it was just too dang wet.

A little further north: Curaco de Vélez, where we found another small handicrafts market and food stall. We learned that chochoca is a potato pancake wrapped around a big wooden dowel and cooked rotisserie style over hot coals. Here I am cooking one!

The town is supposed to have a nice walk along the water, but it was low tide and kind of skuzzy, so we drove on to Dalcahue.

Jorge had recommended Cocinerías de Dalcahue for lunch. It turned out to be one of my favorite places in Chiloé. Housed in a huge warehouse-esque building on the water’s edge, it held eight kitchenettes offering up individual menus of authentic Chilote fare. Hungry guests packed in to sit at bars along the perimeter, crowded tables, and stove-side counters. Each section had room for about 30 patrons and featured a number and a woman’s name, suggesting she would be the one slaving over the stove. Brie and I ate lunch at Doña Carlita (No. 7). I had a nice merluza fish with potato salad. Here was my view, out one of the porthole-style windows.

I went to Doña Lula (No. 8) to get take-away seafood empanadas for dinner, and this guy made them while I waited. Lula must have been busy with something else.

Just outside the building, a wonderful jumble of handicraft booths awaited. A sign claimed that all goods sold there were locally made. Other markets were rumored to sell knock-offs made in China. Of course, I wanted everything: knitted sweaters, tapestries, rugs, wooden platters, baskets, knick-knacks.

However, I am in non-acquisition mode, in part because our apartment in Santiago is too small to accommodate one. more. thing. Seriously.

Back on the car ferry.

I almost didn’t write about this because it’s so embarrassing, but then I thought, “That never stopped you before.” So … when we got back to our cabañas, I ate my yummy empanadas, packed for our trip home the next day, and got ready for bed. It was pretty chilly but too late to text Jorge for a fire. Plus, who doesn’t know how to start a fire? Firewood was stacked just outside my cabin door, and Jorge had left some little pieces of cardboard from his quick and efficient fire-building visit last night. I stacked the wood in the stove, shoved the cardboard in there, and started striking matches. I am not lying, I think I threw about 35 lit matches onto that dang pile, all for nought. The cardboard flared up for awhile, but the firewood remained stubbornly fire retardant. I found a paper bag, so I twisted it, lit in on fire, and tried to pass the flame to one of the logs. No luck. I became obsessed. More matches. More bits of paper. More wood.

Somehow – unsuccessful in my fire frenzy – I slept. In the morning, I tried to fish out all the matchsticks, but I left the wood in the stove. In retrospect, I should have put some smaller kindling under the larger logs. Anyway, live and learn.

Our trip back to Santiago was uneventful (except for the parking lot arm that plopped down, almost hitting the hood of our rental car when Brie tried to park at the Chiloé airport). And just like that, our “summer vacation” is over. Teachers return to school tomorrow; students come on Monday.

#feelinggrateful

Chiloé: Summer Staycation Get-Away, Day 3

On this overcast morning, we set off on a journey mapped by Jorge and texted to Brie. After a long, slow stretch of road construction, Google Maps finally told us to turn right on to a narrow rugged country road.

Fearing our Google Maps voice was developing a spiteful attitude (see yesterday’s post), I asked, “What’s our final destination?”

Brie started to say, “I actually don’t know!” But before she could get all the words out, a sign loomed over an archway: Las Cascadas de Tocoihue.

“That’s it!” she said. “The waterfall.”

We pulled in, parked, and paid a small fee. The waterfall is located on private property, and the owners have the developed a nice park with a path down to the water and a viewing platform up the hill. They also have a camping area, cabin, and restaurant. Brie and I traipsed around a bit, imagining how fun it would be to play in the water in warmer weather.

Leaving the park, Evil Google Maps Voice told us to take a sharp left, which was different than the way we had come in. At first, we were relieved, thinking this could only be better. Wrong. Here’s the map.

The blue line is the “highway.” The dotted line shows the path we took to get to the waterfall. It’s obviously so small, it doesn’t even register as a proper road. The dirt road looks so much better maintained, right? We turned on to that road and immediately realized it was full of potholes and worse. At times, one whole side was washed out, creating a sort of cliff. I drove quite a way, dipping and scraping the undercarriage, until finally we reached a point that looked unpassable. At that moment, another car approached from the other direction.

There was no way to turn around, so we decided to back down the hill and take the other route. I struggled to keep the car on level ground and ultimately backed it right into a ditch. I tried driving forward, but the wheels spun in the wet sand. I tried driving backward, but it seemed to entrench the car even more. My clutch leg shook uncontrollably as panic set in.

A man and woman got out of the other car and walked over to check on us. Speaking no Spanish, I sat in the driver’s seat and let Brie relay our dilemma. Then she got out, and the three of them tried to push the car while I gunned the engine. No luck. Eventually, I got out, too, and the man took over, alternating between shoving rocks and sticks under the wheels and climbing over the passenger seat to the driver’s side, which was smashed up against thick thorny branches. The woman also jumped in to help, scrambling through the prickly bushes to find bigger sticks. While Brie and I stood on the sidelines, the two of them cooperated, got dirty and certainly scratched to bits, and finally maneuvered the car out of the ditch. The man even backed it the rest of the way down the hill for us and then looked over the car to make sure it was fit to drive.

Tongue-tied, I felt so frustrated that I couldn’t express my appreciation in my usual effusive way. I simply said, “Muchas, muchas gracias!” with hugs and handshakes and hoped they understood how grateful we were.

The rest of the day, one or the other of us would suddenly remark, “We are so lucky they came along!” or “What would we have done?” I regretted that we didn’t get our rescuers names or email addresses. We didn’t even think to snap a photo.

We drove into the town of Quemchi, but didn’t stop to see anything, and then doubled back to Aucar, where a 500-meter wooden bridge leads to the tiny island of Isla Aucaur. A wooden arch at the entrance to the island says, “Isla de la Almas Navegantes” or “Isle of Sailors’ Souls,” a title bestowed on the island by Chilean writer Francisco Coloane. Some say Coloane thought the island looked ready to set sail at high tide; others say he was referring to the sailors buried there.

A path circles the island with signs identifying the trees and flowers. The small chapel and cemetery date to 1761. I saw some older photos of the chapel online and was surprised to see it had fallen into serious disrepair. During our visit, a carpenter was planing new pillars in the chapel, and his tools and piles of wood shavings suggested restoration work continues.

All of the churches we visited had cemeteries like this.

Leaving the church, we spotted a group of elderly tourists practically climbing a tree and pulling down tiny purple berries, called maqui. One of the men tore off a small branch and handed it to Brie. Soon her violet smile matched those of the berry pickers.

We later found out that maqui berries are one of the new hot “superfoods.” The Medicine Hunter website says this:

The Mapuche native people have been eating maqui berries and drinking their juice for centuries. And other non-native people in Chile have done the same for a very long time as well. Even in an environment in which the market is literally flooded with so-called super fruits, maqui stands head and shoulders above most of them in terms of benefits.

Quicavi was our next stop. Fodor’s Travel calls Quicavi “the center of all that is magical and mystical about Chiloé.” An evil clan protected by horrendous deformed monsters was rumored to operate out of a cave here, and the region is steeped in superstitions. I just finished a novel that takes place in Chiloé, Luke Coles and the Flower of Chiloé. It included many fantastical creatures and stories, which I thought must have been inventions of the author, Josh Walker. In fact, they are an integral part of Chilote culture. Fodor’s again:

Superstitious locals strongly advise against going anywhere near the coast to the south of town, where miles of caves extend to the village of Tenaún. They believe that witches, and evil ones at that, inhabit them. On the beaches, local lore says, are mermaids that lure fishermen to their deaths. (These are not the beautiful and benevolent Pincoya, also a legendary kelp-covered mermaid. A glimpse of her is thought to portend good fishing for the day.) Many Quicaví denizens claim to have glimpsed Chiloé’s notorious ghost ship, the Caleuche, roaming the waters on foggy nights, searching for its doomed passengers. Of course, a brief glimpse of the ship is all anyone dares admit, as legend holds that a longer gaze could spell death.

The Quicavi church was closed, and we couldn’t find any mystical caves, so we headed home. On a whim, we turned off the road to check out the Iglesia San Antonio de Colo, another church on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

There, eating lunch at a restaurant terrace overlooking the church, was our roadside assistance team! I was so happy to get their names and contact information and to thank them again for their extraordinary kindness. Brie told me Marcela asked, “What you have done if we hadn’t arrived? Just cried and prayed?” Well, yeah.

Thank you, thank you, thank you Marcela and Mauricio! (And thank you to their friend, Maria Paz, who took the picture.)

It was starting to rain as we left the church. We had eaten a big lunch of grilled fish and decided to pick up something small for dinner rather than dine at another restaurant. I did a very Chilean thing: I pulled over to the side of the road, turned on the hazards, and waited while Brie ran in to this little shop to buy empanadas. They were perfect!

Back at the cabañas, we ate our dinner, and then Jorge built fires in each of our wood-burning stoves. We were toasty and cozy until we took off for the next day’s adventure.

Chiloé: Summer Staycation Get-Away, Day 2

This is embarrassing. I never knew until this week that penguins lived anywhere other than Antarctica and zoos. Guess what? They live here in Chiloé, too! Of course we had to go see them.

With our destination pinned in her phone, Brie and I set off for the penguin colonies of Monumento Natural Islotes de Puñihuil. The protected natural monument comprises three rocky islets just off the coast of Puñihuil in the Pacific Ocean and hosts breeding grounds for the Magellanic and Humboldt penguins. Apparently, this is the only place in the world where the two penguin species nest together.

According to the website PenguinWorld, the two birds differ physically in that the Magellanic penguin has an additional black breast band and less exposed facial skin than the Humboldt penguin. Their breeding ranges just barely overlap. The Magellanic penguin “breeds around the southern tip of South America from 40°S in Argentina to 37°S in Chile, as well as on the Falkland Islands. The largest colonies are found on the Atlantic side of South America.” The Humboldt penguin is “endemic to the Humboldt Current, breeding range extending from 5° S in Peru to 37°S in Chile, with isolated colonies existing as far as 42°S near Puerto Montt.”

Here are photos taken from PenguinWorld for comparison:
Magellanic penguin

Humboldt penguin

The Humboldt penguin is considered a “vulnerable species,” so it’s no surprise that we didn’t see any on our visit. However, we saw lots of Magellanic penguins, mostly just hanging out at the shoreline. Some frolicked in the water; others waddled up or down the rocky hills. They were brilliantly camouflaged, and our boat kept a respectful distance from their nesting sites, so it was hard to get a clear shot of the birds. Still, it was one of those special encounters with nature that inspires renewed wonder and curiosity about the world (hence my fall down the rabbit hole of penguin websites just now).

Heading down to the water from the parking area.

The little islands were not far offshore.

The tour operators rolled us out to the boat on this platform so we wouldn’t get wet. I don’t know why it cracked me up so much.

The light-colored penguins are juveniles.

As I mentioned, Brie had this destination pinned in her phone. As a lifelong world traveler, I can hardly remember navigating unfamiliar cities or locating obscure attractions in the days before smartphones and Google Maps. Many times, I bowed down to the Google gods in profound relief and appreciation. This was not one of those times.

Google Maps got us most of the way to Puñihuil with no problem. Then, just as we realized we were about to reach the coast and a sign saying “pinguinera” pointed straight ahead, that smug voice told us to turn left. Brie took a chance and drove straight anyway, but she came to the sandy beach with a rivulet of water running down from the hills into the ocean. We both figured we weren’t supposed to drive across the beach, so Brie backtracked to the left-hand turn, and off we went on a narrow, gravelly, twisty-turny little road that ultimately took us over and around the hills … to the other side of that little beach!

Check it out:

We had lunch at one of the Puñihuil restaurants, overlooking the water, and then we took off for Ancud, 25 kilometers northeast. There, we walked along the waterfront and poked around a crafts market, where I bought a chunky knitted poncho. Thinking about our impending chilly winter and lack of central heat, I wanted to buy all the gorgeous wool sweaters, socks, hats, and blankets. But I restrained myself.

Back at Rucalaf for dinner, I had the grilled octopus. But the real culinary surprise of the day was the murta berry. In English, it is known as Chilean guava or strawberry myrtle. I enjoyed the berry in a cocktail and a fabulous dessert.

Even the wine bottles have funky hats in Chiloé!

Chiloé: Summer Staycation Get-Away, Day 1

With just two weeks left in our “summer” vacation, I took off with my friend Brie for cooler temperatures, fresh air, and adventure in a different part of the country. We flew to Chiloé, an archipelago off the southern coast of Chile about 765 miles south of Santiago, and stayed in cabins on the largest island, Isla Grande de Chiloé.

I honestly couldn’t remember the last time life was this peaceful. Hanging out at my cabin at Cabañas Origen Chiloé, I looked out at the Gulf of Corcovado and another island in the Chiloe archipelago (Quinchao), and I heard only the sounds of birds and cows, tree branches brushing against the roof, and the gentle hum of the kitchenette fridge.

Brie and I took this selfie on my cabin’s back porch.

Each evening, the property owner, Jorge, brought us a breadbox full of breakfast for the next morning. He said everything, including the butter and cheese, was made from scratch by his wife. There was always a delicious dish to be warmed up in the microwave: an empanada (pastry stuffed with savory filling), chochoca (potato flatbread wrapped around pork chitlings), or milcao (a stuffed potato pancake). The breakfast box also included a couple types of bread, butter and jam or cheese, and something sweet, like an apple tart, a buttery coffee cake, or an alfajor (a sweet cookie sandwich filled with manjar, carmelized milk similar to dulce de leche). The only disappointment was the lack of good coffee. Instant would have to do.

Jorge also welcomed us to eat the apples off the trees.

After checking in and getting settled in our cabañas, Brie and I drove the short distance to Rucalaf for lunch. The restaurant had a sweet little playground in the front, but any kid who dared to tackle that steep wooden slide surely hit the ground with a bootie full of splinters!

I ordered chochoca rellena, which was described in the menu as “a traditional dish of potato dough stuffed with the daily seafood catch and a sauce of white wine, butter, Chilote garlic, and smoked mussels.” What a special treat!

Brie got the pulmay de la Casa, a form of curanto cooked in a pot. Curanto is probably Chiloé’s most famous traditional dish: A hole is dug in the ground and lined with hot stones. Seafood, meat, potatoes, vegetables, and just about any other edible item can be tossed in. The whole mixture is covered with rhubarb leaves held down by chunks of earth, and left to steam.

Obviously, there would be no need for dinner.

Our first destination in our Chiloé exploration was the city of Castro. According to Rough Guides,

“Castro has had its fair share of difficulties through the centuries. It was sacked by the Dutch both in 1600 and then in 1643, destroyed by earthquake in 1646, by fire in 1729, by earthquake again in 1739, by fire again in 1890, by fire once more in 1936, and most recently by earthquake and tidal wave in 1960. Anyone else would have given up and moved long ago, but the Chilotes keep hanging on.”

In Castro, we visited Iglesia de San Francisco, one of 16 Catholic churches in Chiloé listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. When Jesuits landed here in 1608, they used local carpenters and ship builders to construct churches entirely out of wood. Of the more than 150 wooden churches that once dotted the archipelago, only about 60 remain. UNESCO says the churches “are outstanding examples of the successful fusion of European and indigenous cultural traditions.”

The Iglesia de San Francisco burnt down and was rebuilt several times before this version, which was completed in 1912.

Brie and I walked down the steep hill to the harbor to check out the famous palafitos, buildings on stilts along the water’s edge. We were ushered aboard a small boat full of tourists in lifejackets for a short cruise along Castro’s coast. A tour guide shouted anecdotes to the group, but the wind swallowed his words, and Brie struggled to hear him well enough to translate.

Waving to people in the palafito restaurants.

Colorful palafitos.

After a stroll through Castro’s main plaza – which was lively with buskers, food vendors, backpackers selling jewelry, stage performers, picnicking families, and even a police officer demonstrating his dog’s tricks – we took off to check out the Iglesia de Santa María in the small town of Rilán.

Records of a church on this site date back to 1760, but the existing building was constructed in 1920. We had to pay a small entrance fee, which was supposed to help defray the ongoing costs of restoration. The caretaker let me climb the stairs to the balcony. Seeing the ceiling up close, I felt the influence of the archipelago’s shipbuilders on the construction of these churches. It felt like an upside-down ship hull.

Parading through the churches and snapping photos, it was easy to forget the real purpose of these historic structures. Most continue to offer mass every week and otherwise meet the spiritual and pastoral needs of the community. This group of mismatched chairs circling a music stand helped me visualize a choir filling the sanctuary with music as worshippers crowded on to the hard wooden pews.

Driving back to our cabins, I couldn’t get over the gorgeous landscape. Every rollercoaster drop and hairpin turn of the road revealed another postcard-perfect view. Afternoon sun bathed the hillsides in glorious hues of gold and green with ubiquitous glimpses of the coastline and the denim-colored sea. I wanted to shout out the window to the fluffy sheep and fat grazing cows, “Do you know how lucky you are to live here?”

Here’s where we were!

Santiago Summer Staycation – Week 5 – Parents Visit!

After United Airlines fixed their computer system and delivered my parents to Chile a day late (Jan. 24), we hit the ground running!

Or not … The first order of business for my mother after an international flight is always a foot massage. Reduces ankle swelling, she says. So I led them on a quick tour of our school – The International School Nido de Aguilas – before heading down the hill to Sala Ananta, a lovely Thai spa.

School is pretty different with no students around!

On the way back to our apartment, we stopped at the neighborhood supermarket, where my mom went bananas over this giant corn. Husked, it didn’t look very appealing. Not sure how the locals eat this, but I doubt they gnaw on the humongous cob.

The next day, Wednesday, we drove about an hour to Casablanca Valley to visit the Emiliana organic winery for a tour and tasting. I had been there in late August (see that post here), when the weather was cold and dreary and the vines were naked. On this visit, the sun shone brightly, and rows of lush leafy grapevines displayed plump bunches of grapes. We had the same friendly and informative tour guide as last time – Ramon.

At the tasting, we were served two whites (2016 Adobe Reserva Sauvignon Blanc and 2016 Novas Gran Reserva Chardonnay) and two reds (2014 Novas Gran Reserva Carmenere-Cabernet Sauvignon and 2013 COYAM). Tony, not much of a wine connoisseur, said, “Watch me mix all mine together and make a rosé!”

Afterwards, we drove next door to the Tiraziš winery for lunch at House-Casa del Vino. Remembering the lip-smacking pink ravioli I enjoyed on my first visit, I ordered it again and was not disappointed.

On Thursday, we all boarded city bus 517 to check out La Vega Central produce market. As predicted, my mom went bonkers over the giant corn and bought another ear (with healthier looking kernels than last time). We stocked up on peaches, strawberries, mangoes, apricots, avocados, tomatoes, lettuce and carrots. Like me, my mother gets giddy over fruit or vegetables she’s never seen. So we bought a pepino dulce and some physalis.

I didn’t get a picture of the pepino dulce, which translates to “sweet cucumber” but lacks the crisp crunch of the more common veggie by that name. The outside, greenish-yellow with purple stripes, looked more like a small eggplant, and the inside was soft and pale yellow. Mom and I agreed the flavor was icky. Thumbs down.

The physalis looks like a tiny tomato in a dry husk and tastes like a cross between a tomato and a kiwi. Thumbs up. Here’s a photo of one I encountered earlier this year as a garnish on my ice cream.

We spotted this guy selling produce outside the market. Mom tried to explain that we lived in Michigan, but I don’t think he realized the word on his shirt was a place.

Mom was pretty confident that we could eat the dried peaches the same way we would eat a dried apricot, but I knew they were meant to be reconstituted in a traditional drink (see mote con huesillos, below). I think I won that argument.

A few market shots taken by my dad …

After a big salad for lunch at home, we ventured forth again. Time to tackle the hill! We took the gondola up Cerro San Cristobal, and although I have done this countless times, I always underestimate how many steps lead from the gondola station to the very top. But we did it!

Most of the way up, we paused at the church.

People leave fascinating prayer offerings at the small chapel.

Smoky haze from forest fires limited the view of Santiago.

The Virgin Mary statue is the cake topper.

The reward was another “first” for all of us: a traditional Chilean summertime drink called mote con huesillo. Mote is cooked husked wheat, and huesillos are dried peaches. Those ingredients are added to a sweet sugary liquid. After our sweaty little hike, the drink was refreshing and surprisingly yummy. The wheat adds a strange chewy experience to what otherwise tastes like syrupy fruit juice.

We took the old funicular back down the hill to Barrio Bellavista and caught a taxi home. Dinner was at one of our favorite restaurants, Tiramisu. Mom and Dad enjoyed their first pisco sours, Chile’s delicious signature cocktail.

I really wanted to take my parents to the coast, but they didn’t want to bother with staying overnight. I also wanted my artsy mom to see the murals of Valparaiso, but it’s a hilly city best seen on foot and she has a wonky hip that precludes taking long precarious walks. Friends had warned me that traffic was out of control at the shore, where holiday-goers from Chile and Argentina flocked to frolic in the surf. I spent quite a lot of time thinking about how to make this day special without overdoing it, and I think it worked out!

On Friday, we drove just under two hours to Valparaiso and parked at the Ibis Hotel, which also houses the metro station. We left the car and rode the metro a short distance to Viña del Mar, a resort town on the Pacific coast.

The walk was longer than intended, but we ultimately arrived at Tierra de Fuego, a beachside restaurant. (Every mistake is a learning opportunity, right? For future reference, get off at the Miramar stop, which is closer to the beach.) After lunch, we hopped across fiery sand to stick our toes in the icy water. Glorious!

Mom insisted on picking up a piece of driftwood as a souvenir, but then she left it at our apartment when she returned to the States, much to the chagrin of Tony.

We returned to Valparaiso by metro and walked a short distance to the El Peral funicular, which took us up 52 meters to Plaza Yugoslavia on the hill called Cerro Allegre. I didn’t want to make my mom walk too much, but she was lured by the art on the walls and the artsy products in the shops. We strolled a bit and then rode the funicular back down and drove back to Santiago.

On Saturday, we spent the whole day at Los Dominicos, an artisans market spotlighting arts and handicrafts from all regions of Chile. Mom was in Heaven. Tony bailed after about 30 minutes. Dad and I had fun … for the first few hours. Finally, just as Dad and I were about to sneak away, my mom experienced the ultimate shopping buzz-kill: She ran out of cash, and the vendor wouldn’t take a credit card. But do you think that stopped her? Heck, no! My dad and I walked out of the market, across the plaza in sweltering heat, and down the metro stairs so I could withdraw money from my peso account. We’re such enablers.

For their last day in Santiago, we took a quick driving tour through some historic parts of town, including Plaza de Armas, and then stopped for lunch in Barrio Italia at a quaint restaurant called Le Jardinera.

And, just like that, they were gone. My dad always says, “Fish and houseguests start to stink after a week.” So I guess it’s just as well they didn’t extend their stay. Still, I miss them already and hope they come back soon!

Santiago Summer Staycation – Week 4

Mucho calor. Mucho, mucho, mucho calor. And the Dents have no aire acondicionado. It’s often cooler outside than it is in our apartment, so that’s where we spend a lot of time. I’m not complaining! I keep thinking back in horror to July, when we landed here in Chile and froze our buns off. I’ll take calor over frio any day.

This week included more bike riding on our beloved hill, Cerro San Cristobal, and more intense Spanish classes. The course moved at such a quick pace that we really couldn’t keep up. Friday was our last day, but I plan to dig through the materials again and refresh my memory once the dust settles. My parents visit this week, and then I’m heading out of town for a few days. So for now, the Spanish books are shelved.

Our staycation has lost a little steam. Initially, we tried to poke around the city a bit every day, but I found myself more often than not sitting on the balcony with a book and a cold drink the last few days. (a) It is stinking hot! (b) I’m on vacation! I don’t know why I feel the need to justify being lazy during my break … I guess it’s because I so rarely kick back and chill when there’s the option to do something active. However, I have to admit I kind of like this balance of exercising, learning, exploring, and relaxing.

La Moneda – Changing of the Guards
We did manage to play tourists on Wednesday with a visit to Palacio de La Moneda, the seat of the Chilean presidency, for the changing of the guard. Our friend, Caira, arrived a bit early and secured a shady spot right at the railing. It didn’t stay shady for long, but it was nice to have a front-row view.

Smart people watched from the shade, but it was harder to see the action.

The parade, music, and ceremony were typical of changings of the guard around the world.

A dash of Chilean flair came in the form of flags hanging from the trumpets and happy street dogs yapping playfully at the horses and weaving through the marching band.

After the ceremony, we met up with a few more friends for breakfast at The Blue Jar. When Caira mentioned Craig’s recent birthday dinner (see previous post), the waitress perked up and later brought him a plate of brownies with candles.

Random Wanderings
One morning, we walked about 20 minutes to the Parque de las Esculturas, a sculpture park next to the Mapocho River. Unfortunately, it was closed for clean-up following a jazz festival. Anticlimactic … but it made me feel grateful to live in a city that has jazz festivals in a sculpture garden!

On our way home, we passed an antique show in the plaza of Palacio Falabella, which houses the offices of the Providencia municipality. We stopped to check it out. Santiago is a ghost town on Sundays, so we were among a handful of browsers. Many of the vendors sprawled out on their antique furniture for a snooze. Nobody even tried to get our attention.

We peeked in the door of the mansion, where someone was leading a tour in Spanish. The place was gorgeous, but we weren’t sure if we were even allowed inside, so we decided to do a little research and return another day.

To see what it looks like when it’s not blocked by an antique show, here’s an image I found on the website for Closer Magazine.

Summer Reading
Fellow bookclubber Beth told me about bookbub, which sends a daily email with deals on amazon kindle books. I may have gone on a book bender, but it’s pretty forgivable when the books are mostly free or under a couple bucks.

I finished My Invented Country by Isabel Allende, which gave me a whole new perspective on Chile. I appreciated that she fully embraces her tendency to mesh reality with her imagination.

Now I’ve switched gears. Just read a bookbub freebie, Gone the Next by Ben Rehder, a light little mystery, and I’m having trouble putting down another freebie, Maids of Misfortune, by M. Louisa Locke, which so far seems to be a mashup of historical fiction, mystery, feminist literature, and humor. All good!

Sigh…
Life threw us a few curveballs this week.

First, forest fires are burning out of control in the hills around Santiago. The air is thick with smoke, and the air quality is reminiscent of our time in New Delhi. That kept us inside more than usual. I feel anxious for the residents of the burning areas, human and otherwise. After seeing an online plea, Tony and I will deliver bottled water to the firefighters at a station near school this afternoon.

Secondly, our cat, Ella, fell ill. Usually extremely vocal and playful, she stopped eating, talking, and interacting with us. We took her to the vet clinic, where they diagnosed a severe bladder infection. She had to stay there for the weekend, but the vet says we can pick her up today.

Third, we got word from our property manager that our Michigan lake house is leaking. Apparently, water is seeping in to the basement, despite the recent foundation work that cleared out our savings account. All we can do is hope Foundation Systems of Michigan will follow up and honestly respond to our concerns.

Finally, my parents were scheduled to arrive for a weeklong visit today, but United Airlines canceled all flights last night after the computer system crashed. Fingers crossed, they’ll make it here tomorrow.

So… Rats. Rats. Rats.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to playing with my parents if/when they get here! And we’re still on vacation for another two weeks. So I’m still smiling!

Santiago Summer Staycation – Week 3

We had another wonderful week, but we are finding ourselves getting a little lazier and lazier every day. The mercury creeps into the 90s, and we don’t have air conditioning. There’s a lot of napping, and we’re both spending too much time on our computers. What happened to our plan to meditate and practice yoga every day? That has happened exactly zero times since our summer break started.

Today, we set a goal to ride our bikes every day this week. Let’s see if we can make that happen.

Also, our Spanish classes have gotten pretty intense. It would behoove us to get our butts out of the house to practice with some real Chilenos.

Here is a roundup of the staycation fun we enjoyed this week:

Movie al Fresco
The annual Festival de Cine Wikén 2017 filled the nearby park – Parque Bicentenario – with moviegoers, including us. Monday evening, we walked from our apartment with friends and paused at a funky wine bar for a cheese platter and wine, but we got so distracted, we had to take a taxi for the last stretch to the park in order to arrive before the movie started. After picking up our tickets at the “will call” window, we found our seats and settled in. I kicked off my sandals and put on some socks, a pashmina and a scarf to keep me comfy in the cool evening breeze. Because of our barely on-time arrival, Tony and I didn’t scope out the food and drink vendors this time, but Wikén is definitely on my radar for next year. We saw the film “Captain Fantastic,” which was wholly entertaining and thought-provoking. A few times, I forced myself to look away from the gigantic screen to notice the mountains, the city, the sky. I felt really lucky. I meant to take a picture, but I forgot. So, here’s one from the neighborhood website.

Our Second Favorite Santiago Cerro
Our best touristy outing this week occurred Wednesday. We took the metro to The Blue Jar (which Brie and I discovered on our Hop On Hop Off bus adventure). They served a simple breakfast of a soft boiled egg (mine came in this quirky guinea pig egg cup), toast, avocado, juice and coffee.

I got a call in the middle of breakfast from a massage therapist who was waiting at my house for me. I had already rescheduled once, and now I had forgotten my appointment altogether! I’m such a moron. Anyway, she very kindly agreed to reschedule again for the next day.

We then metro-ed two stops back to explore Cerro Santa Lucia. Buses and cars zoomed by under the pedestrian bridge to the hill. You would never suspect such a lush oasis in the middle of the gritty city center. The rocky cerro (hill) got a facelift at the end of the 19th century when Santiago Mayor Benjamín Vicuña Mackenna launched a series of urban improvements, including development of the 629-meter park. Tony and I signed a visitor’s log and then began the climb to the top. A network of paths and stairways crisscrossed the hill, leading us to shady nooks and plazas with sculptures, fountains, manicured gardens, and ivy-draped stone walls. At the top, we got a 360-degree view of Santiago.

You can see Cerro San Cristobal in the distance.
That’s our usual cerro.

The next day, as planned, I stayed home and waited for Taralee, a massage therapist from the U.S. living here in Chile. I’m so glad she was willing to reschedule after I blew her off. The massage was dreamy!

Hanging Out
In addition to the movie in the park, we enjoyed a few fun social outings this week.
Thursday, we met friends for dinner at one of our favorite local restaurants, Tiramisu.
Friday, we celebrated “Old New Year,” a tradition from the Russian Orthodox Church, with my colleague Samantha and her husband, Misha, who is from the former Soviet republic of Georgia.
Saturday, my friend Craig came back to town after spending Christmas with his family in the States, so we wished him a happy birthday with a gathering at the traditional Chilean restaurant Doña Tina.

Summer Reading
Otherwise, I’ve been reading like crazy, which is such a treat! I curl up on the balcony sofa with Ella and my kindle and let myself get distracted by the squawking parakeets darting through the trees.
So far this holiday, I’ve read:
The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling)
The Neruda Case, by Roberto Ampuero (Historical fiction that takes place near Santiago and includes poet Pablo Neruda as one of the main characters.)
Truly, Madly, Guilty by Liane Moriarty (I love everything she writes!)
The Serialist by David Gordon (Is anyone else frustrated about the free book choices on amazon prime? Meh.)
Candide by Voltaire (This is Tony’s favorite book of all time, so I thought I should read it.)
And now, I’m devouring My Invented Country by Isabel Allende.

My parents visit one week from tomorrow!