Tag Archives: staycation

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 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!

Christmas 2016 – done and dusted

We decorated.

We shopped.

We listened to Christmas music.

We exchanged stockings and a couple gifts.

It was nice and everything, but just a little … anticlimactic.

Possibly for the first time ever, we both wished we had some kids around. Not our own kids, of course, but maybe a few nieces and nephews. We missed seeing their excited little faces when they wake up at the crack of dawn to realize Santa had visited and then their disappointed little faces when they’re not allowed to open presents till after breakfast (cinnamon rolls … Dickinson family tradition). We missed playing with their new toys and hauling out our Nerf guns (Christmas War … another Dickinson family tradition).

Anyway, we enjoyed a sunny rooftop brunch with views of the Andes Mountains. And we got some good laughs watching Ella terrorize our Christmas tree. We watched “A Christmas Story” and ate a rotisserie chicken on the balcony for dinner. Really, it felt like just another day – albeit a slightly more special day – in our seven-week staycation.

The mall was a nightmare…just like malls in North America!
img_4219

Brunch at Hotel Noi.
img_0515

Ella attacks a Jolly Rancher from my stocking.

She had fun with the wrapping paper, too.
fullsizerender-1

Leading up to Christmas day, we discovered Santiago Starbucks serves up all the traditional holiday coffee treats.
img_3953

And Santa paid a visit to school on horseback while the preschool kids sang Jingle Bells. Pretty adorable!
img_4131