Thursday, March 29, 2012

Chile - The Final Day

Today is our last day in Chile our flight does not leave until 8:55 tonight so the first thing to do is to arrange for a late check out from our hotel. We have been told that we need to be at the airport about three hours before flight time so we need to check out about 5:00 and hope the hotel can do that. So we go to the front desk and ask about late check out we are told that we can check out as late as 6:00 pm. Yea, so we can go out and about for a little while today before returning to the hotel to shower and change for our long flight back to the states.

So we go over to the subway station (the close one) and grab a train to the Plaza des Arms. Which is the main plaza in Santiago. There is a beautiful church

the court house, shops, cafes, street performers and lots of people. There is also the Cafe Copacabana – who knew Copacabana is Chips favorite song?

We also went by a few stores that sold baby clothes. Not weird in itself, but the fact that they seem to stuff the baby clothes in the windows gave me the creeps.

I think we were all pretty tired and we walked around and then had lunch and went back to the hotel to shower and dress for the trip.

We get all showered and dressed and go down and check out and get in the cab for the ride to the airport. We get about three minutes away from the hotel when the drivers phone rings and he says something about papers and we have to go back to the hotel. So we go back and the desk clerk meets me at the door and asks for my passport and exit papers so they can make a copy. I think they have a copy already why couldn't they use that? Oh well he makes a copy and I get back in the cab and off we go again.

We get to the airport and stand in line. We get to the front of the line to be told that our flight leaves at 9:55, not 8:55. Something about the time change. Damn that time change is still messing with us. Oh well lets go visit Dunkin Donuts – yes they have Dunkin Donuts here – so we stop at a shop, go thru security, find our gate and wait and wait and wait.

At some point Chip gets up to go ask a question about her flight. We are all together until Dallas and then we go our separate ways – Chip to San Diego and us to SFO. So Chip goes up to the desk and the agent tells her – hey that flight to LA (cause she is going thru LA to get to San Diego) has been cancelled, but he can route her directly from Dallas to San Diego. That is a good thing, yes. However they might not be able to catch her luggage, they will call out her name and let her know.

So after a little while we hear her name called and her luggage has been found and reticketed to San Diego, all is well.

So we wait some more and finally it is time to board our flight. It is one of those planes with the 2-3-2 configuration of seats and we have the three. We get all settled in and the flight attendant tells Chip that the flight is not full and she can move if she would like. So she ditches us for 2 seats all to herself and we stretch out. Well I stretch out and my beloved becomes my pillow.

We have dinner and watch a movie and I pop a muscle relaxer and an ambian and I am thrilled when it seems 20 minutes later we touch down in Dallas. It is raining like crazy in Dallas and our 9:00 am flight is delayed until noon. Who cares we are on our way home. Then delayed until 1:15, again we don't really care.

Chip goes off to catch her flight and we part ways for now.

Finally we board the last flight of this trip and head for home. We arrive in SFO and Chief Matron Mare calls to see if we have landed and she volunteers to come pick us up! Yeah, thanks. So we head for baggage claim to claim our very wet bags. It seems that our bags sat outside the entire time we were in Dallas or at least that is what it seems like. We head outside and along comes our ride and we are home in no time. Where we open our bags and find out that they were not just wet on the outside everything in them is wet. So much for separating the clean from the dirty. Oh well.

Now off to start planning the next trip.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Chile Day Twelve

Our first day in Santiago began with lots of sunscreen and a really good breakfast. We decided to go to an artisian village that was listed in a book in the hotel and said to be right at the subway stop and then over to the Bell Vista neighborhood. We had been told to use the subway here, it is good and it is cheap.

I look at the little map that the hotel provides to check out the subway stops nearby. It stopped at the Military School stop, but the map in the guide book showed more stops on the red number 1 line. It seemed like there should be a stop closer than the one on the hotel map. I asked down in the lobby and was directed to the Military stop, so out we go. Left out of the hotel, left at the next major road and down a very long road and then left again. It was a long walk.

Then in to buy BIP cards. They are a prepaid card that deducts the correct amount each time you use them. The subway charges different amounts at different times, sort of like bridge tolls in the bay area. So we each purchase one – not knowing that we could have all used the same one. You can just pass it back and forth. Oh well, live and learn.

So we get on the train – it is very easy to follow and very clean.

Each line has a stop at each end that define the direction, so you just follow the signs to the direction you want to go. So we knew which stop we wanted, the last one on the red 1 line. It was only two stops and we get out and no craft market at the entrance. Hmm...

My beloved asked a woman nearby and she directed us a market. Yes, where you can buy groceries. So we buy a little water and look around. Up the hill a little bit was what looked like a old spanish building, so we go towards it and find the market up there. There were quite a few little shops selling knit stuff, leather goods and of course jewlery. Lapis is a big thing here, they make everything with it. There were chess pieces, penquins, letter openers, bowls and jewelery. Oh I already mentioned that? Yes, I got a ring. A very nice ring and it could double as a murder weapon.

In the middle of the place they had a cage with birds in it. Peacocks, chickens and a strange little duck with a pom pom on its head.

We spent a couple of hours wandering around, bought a couple of things and had a natural juice and then headed off to the Bella Vista.

So back on the 1 line, transfer to the 5 line and up back into the sunshine.

As we were walking across the street and we noticed these dancers at the corner.

All over La Serena and Santiago at any stop light there were people that try and wash your windows or sell you fruit or in this case dance for you. Of course, they want you to pay them and sometimes they are worth it.

Then we went to a place for lunch called Plaza Bella Vista. It was mostly places to eat, I wish we had waited and gone to one of the neighborhood places we found a little later. There were also shops and bathrooms. Always good things.

Then we wandered the neighborhood. It was full of tree lined streets and little pink houses. No really, not just pink, but blue and green and orange. It was very colorful.

Cafes on every corner and the ever present guys that wash your car. You drive up, I think they are in certain areas, and they wave you in. You leave your car and when you come back it is clean. They get water from the fire hydrants. Not sure how much they make, but there are a lot of them and Chilean cars are very clean.

We walked a long time and we were very tired and made our way back to the subway. We looked at the map and decided to go one stop beyong the Military stop where we got on.

We did see this lovely young woman in uniform.

So we stop at Military and when we kept going and going Chip and I exchanged looks like hmm... maybe this was a mistake.

So we get off and go upstairs and try to get where we are. The map was not a lot of help. We asked a couple of people who pointed in different directions. We asked a guy who looked like like a bicycle cop and he pointed us in the right direction. We went about two blocks and took a left and went about three blocks and we were at our hotel. About half the distance as our trek to the subway station.

Dinner that night was just at the hotel. We ate and went to sleep.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Chile Day Eleven

We arrived in Santiago and got a cab at the airport, just like I was told. There is a kiosk in the baggage claim area, go there and arrange for a cab to take you to the hotel. I go the kiosk and order the cab, give them the address and pay for it.

I thought the woman said 90,000 peso's. I think WOW!!! So I pull out my credit card and I am pleasantly surprised when it is 19,000 peso's.

We wait for our luggage and when we have it, we head out of exit 2. There is a guy standing there who takes my reciept and takes our luggage cart and puts us in a cab.

We drive for a while and end up at a really nice hotel right across the street from an Irish bar? Yes, an Irish bar and it is St. Paddy's day. The asian girls in short skirts with green top hats and mustaches might have given us a clue. So we go in to check in only to find out we have been taken to the wrong hotel. There are two Anottol hotels in town and we are at the other one. Crap. Back into a cab and off to our real hotel. Not across the street from an Irish bar, but it is fine.

We go out to find a place for dinner. We are given directions to a mall. There is an American woman at the check in desk who tells us to go thru the mall, out the other side to the Boulevard for a place to eat. So we do just what she says – we go thru a really big mall. The is and Espirt store, aren't they out of business back home?

We have to ask a couple of times for directions and finally find the Boulevard. It is an outdoor area full of places to eat and drink. There is music. There are lots of people. It is a beautiful night. We settle on a Peruvian place. Chip decides that she needs a burger, someone at the next table was having one and they looked pretty darn good. My beloved and I both had pasta – also good. Then we split a couple of desserts. Hey, we are on vacation.

Then it was back to the hotel. We did get turned around a little bit, but we made it back safe and sound for a little sleep.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Chile Day Ten

Today we went out past the La Serena Airport to visit Patricia and Lyn, they are a couple of women from England that moved to Chile about six years ago. Chile Sister and Star Gazer met them thru their English/Spanish group I think. The have recently completed construction on their second home in Chile, it has been a long road to this location and this lovely house. It seems their first contractor built a very sub-standard house that was falling about around their heads.

It seems that in Chile people threaten to sue, but don't usually follow thru. Well, Patricia and Lyn were serious about following thru and eventually the guys lawyer convinced him that they were serious and he settled up with them and they were able to leave him behind and build this:

Now they came from England where the climate is a little bit different than their current location. Lyn is a big gardener and is going to make this blank slate into a fantastic garden. We have been invited back in five years to see it again. You can follow their progress on their blog Green Chile Gardens.

You sit on the terrace of their house and look out across the valley and realize what a special place this is. You see mountains, fields, cows, horses and cowboys practicing with their horses.

You also see building going on and earth being moved from place to place.

And then there was Boy. Boy is a cute little dog that has been adopted along with Lady by Patricia and Lyn. There is a big stray dog problem in Chile. It seems that people get cute little puppies and when they grow up into not so little dogs they put them out. They roam the streets looking for hand outs and I am sure just hoping that someone like Patricia and Lyn take them in.

Boy and Lady are very lucky little dogs, that is for sure. They, Patricia & Lyn, not Boy and Lady have a friend that tries to help get stray dogs spayed. I remarked that that sounds like a losing battle, but was told that for every female dog that is spayed there is the potential for 200 unwanted dogs not being born.

After hearing about the journey Patricia and Lyn have had to build a dream home and their nice life in Chile we took our leave and headed to the beach for lunch.

We sat on a deck overlooking the water on a beautiful day sharing our last meal with Chile Sister and Star Gazer.

I miss my sister. It is a strange feeling, I know we will always be close and I think we get closer despite the distance. Since she was in her teens we have lived far apart, she in Florida and me in Rhode Island. She in Maryland and me in California. And now her in Chile and me still in California – 5700+ miles. Perhaps someday we will live closer to each other, perhaps not but we will always be sisters.

Star Gazer & Chile Sister
My beloved and Chip:And then we were off to the airport for a couple of days in Santiago.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Chile Day Nine - Part 2

We drove down from Gemini and into the Elqui Valley, we were headed for El Galpon hotel right outside a town called Pisco Elqui. Now Pisco Elqui used to be called La Union until 1936 when the government changed its name to prevent Peru from laying claim to the word Pisco.

For those of you that don't know, pisco is an alcholic beverage made from grapes. Hmm, sounds like wine you say. Well I guess you could say they are related. Pisco is made from muscat grapes and is fermented in much the same way, but after the fermentation it is distilled. There is a bit of a war going on with Peru about the origins of Pisco and who has the right to grow and call their product Pisco, so I am only talking about Chilean Pisco here.

By far the most popular drink made with this beverage is the pisco sour. The sour is made from lemon juice, sugar and pisco, shaken with ice and server in a tall thin glass. Chip and My beloved sampled a few of these. There is also the mango sour, the calefate sour (there is also a beer made from this berry that was sampled and approved), there is the piscola (piso and cola) and something made with ginger ale. All were given the stamp of approval. More on pisco in a few.

We made our way to El Galpon a small hotel outside of Pisco Elqui that has eleven or so small cottages for rent, a great pool and a restaurant. It was off season so I think we were the only ones there. It is run by a man named Anthony. Anthony is Chilean, but had left his home country and spent 20 years living in the US (Pasadena, Beverly Hills, LA, San Fransisco and finally Napa) before the call of his home country called him back in the early 90's. He bought this place and now caters to tourists. The place is planted with lots of fruit trees, we had an avacado tree right outside our door. Is avacado a fruit? We were surrounded by vineyards.

The vineyards here to up the mountain sides and since the wind can be quite intense, they are surrounded by big curtains, I guess they act as wind breaks. But everywhere you look there are vines. There were some around the pool area and the beautiful dark purple grapes hanging from them where just too much of a temptation for this girl. I pulled a bunch off and stuck one in my mouth. I did share them, because I can be nice for short periods of time, and they were good.

We left Star Gazer to a conference call and the rest of us headed down into the town proper. Pisco Elqui is a destination for a lot of people, in the summer they have a festival that fills every hotel and guest house. From what I read, the drunk tourists outnumber the sober people and it can get quite intense and some locals are not happy with the festival. Our group was one of just a few tourists that day.

There are some weird things here in Chile. Like native Chileans with names like O'Higgins – it seems that Bernardo O'Higgins was a hero here. Lot's of Europeans came here and left there names everywhere. And a store front with Buddha on it in a remote Chilean town. Can someone explain that?

We walked around a little bit and decided to get some lunch. Chile Sister picked out a cute little place on the corner, it had no windows just empty spaces where you would think windows would go, totally open to the weather, which I guess is not a big deal here. There was a big fireplace that they light in the cold weather, there was no need for it this day, it was hot. There was a big copper vine that covered the ceiling and at the end of each tendril was a light fixture, it was quite impressive. The floor was gravel. They had big wooden tables with heavy wooden chairs and also booths that were made of plaster that looked like something out of the Flintstones.

We all ordered a natural fruit drink (they can juice just about anything) and water either sin (without) or con (with) gas and then ordered food. Pizza seems to be a very big thing in Chile and this place had a couple that looked good. My beloved had one with pesto and tomato. I had a salad with something else that is very popular here, hearts of palm. I forget what Chip and Chile Sister ordered. But we got a dish to share that was fantastic. It was sundried tomatoes soaked in a local honey with grilled goat cheese. It was so good, I would have thrown my salad to the floor and eaten every piece of it and licked the plate it came on. I only refrained because my salad was so awesome. Sometimes it is weird to me how you can find these little out of the way (I mean we are in the fucking Andes Mountains in Chile for Christs sake) and get food that is so fantastic that it puts well known places to shame. We ate and we were happy.

We wrapped up what was left to bring back to the hardworking Star Gazer and walked around the town a little bit. We when to a little local crafts market and picked up a couple of t-shirts and Chip bought a tennis scort. She was warm and had not brought any shorts – well none of us did – we were at over 4000 feet and who thought it would be hotter than hot in March, which is the fall in Chile? Not us and not the locals who were talking about the weather and how odd it was.

Now our Chip is a tall girl and Chile is a nation of relitively short people. This lead to some issues for her. Tall girl, short doorways. Low hanging roof lines, tall girl. The issues? Head into doorways. Head into roof lines. Head needed a helmet. We did not have one, but I think Chip should invest in one. She did say ouch a little too often, I am thinking she may have a permanent dent in her head at this point.

We go back to the hotel and wait for Star Gazer to finish up her conference call. While waiting we took a little hike up the hill and looked out over the valley. The view was great. It was very green and I did wonder about that nearly empty lake we passed on the way here.

After a while Star Gazer was finally able to finish up her call (I felt bad for her) and we decided to go back into to town and walk around and look for a place for dinner. Pisco Elqui has a great old church, lots of little shops, a tarot card reader and a buddist place of some kind. Was not really sure what that was about, but the painting on the building was very cool.

We took some pictures and wandered and wouldn't you know it, we ended up at the same place for dinner that we had lunched at. Luckily the wait staff had changed, so maybe they did not think we were pigs. I tought about getting just the sun dried tomato goat cheese dish for dinner, but I really was trying to keep my cheese intake down to one meal a day. So another salad called my name and it was just as good as the first. I think there was a pizza or two, maybe a steak? Don't recall, but it was all yummy. Our waiter was just very cute, long hair and he moved thru the dinning room singing. Gotta love that. When it came to closing time, they just went over and closed the doors. I wondered what they did about the open windows area's. Maybe that was the reason the tables and chairs were either extremely heavy or part of the building.

We headed back to the hotel again and when we got out of the car we all just stared up at the sky. I have never seen so many stars. I want you to imagine the most stars you have every seen and then multiply that by thousands. It was amazing. We could actually see the Milky Way. And over there was the Southern Cross. Magellanic Clouds, we could see Magellanic Clouds. I know what you are thinking what are magellanic clouds? Cause that was what I said. What are those fuzzy cloud like things. Star Gazer said those are Magellanic Clouds, there is a small one and a big one. They are fucking irregular dwarf galaxies. Wait a minute I can see another galaxy with my bare eye. Yup. But only in the southern hemisphere. Toilets that flush counterclockwise (go flush your toilet and see which direction it goes) and Magellanic Clouds. Wow!!

We all slept like rocks and there was some issues during the night about finding the bathroom, I seem to recall turning right a little too soon and coming in contact with a wall with my forehead.

Next morning we all get up and dressed, some of us taking showers. Others (me) to impatient to wait for the hot water and thinking we had none. Wondering where we went for breakfast, Star Gazer says they are bringing it to us and sure enough a couple of minutes later a little Chilean lady shows up at the door with a big tray. Fresh rolls, butter, cheese, ham, scrambled eggs and the Bill Cosby breakfast, cake. There was also coffee and tea and my beloveds new favorite leche caliente (hot milk) for your coffee. Yum!!!

I gotta say the bread in Chile is pretty good. The eggs, good. The butter, good. The coffee, not so good. The cake kind of tasteless. I was surprised to find out that in general, Chileans do not like spicey foods, in fact you rarely see pepper on a table anywhere. Salt yes, pepper no.

Anyway after breaking our fast we headed further into the valley to a local crafts village. Once more paved road turned into dirt road, bumpy dirt road. I think because we were off season there was not a lot going on. There were a couple of shops open and lots of things hanging from the buildings, but not a lot of people. It seems like someone might have called some of the artists because after a little bit more of them started showing up. We did not purchase anything and Star Gazer and Chile Sister talked about coming back during the season next year.

We got back into the car and on the bumpy road, the car in front of us was flying down the road. We commented that he must know where all the smooth spots were. Hopefully... I pictured his head bouncing off the ceiling of his car.

We started back the way we came and found the pisco distillery that we were going to visit. Fundo Los Nichos. There were the copper stills with old mercury thermometers,

concrete pits in the ground where they put the grapes prior to fermentation. The entire place was old, the process and machinery did not look like they had been changed in 100 years. I thought of the wineries in California and how the board of health would be running screaming for the hills.

They had a room in the distillery where women were no allowed until the 40's I think. Men came into the celler and drank, women could come to the window and get pisco to take home. The tour was in Spanish, very fast Spanish. Not that it really mattered to me if it was fast or slow. The guide would give her speel in Spanish and look at Star Gazer. Star Gazer would translate for us. Well, I think she made some of it up based on her wine making knowledge and I think she copped to this later on. We could follow the tour because we had all been on wine tours and distillery tours and the process is basically the same.

After the tour was the tasting. Most participated and Star Gazer and Chile Sister bought six bottles. Six? They were not buying only for themselves. They have a friend that produces a pitcher of pisco sours whenever they come over so they bought her a couple of bottles.

We headed out and stopped again in Pisco Elqui at Mistral Distillery – not for more pisco – but for lunch. They had a great outdoor place to have lunch. I think there may have been a pisco sour or two, I could be wrong. It was good, but not as good as across the street.

Mistral was a poet that got the Nobel Prize two years before she died. I have never read her poetry but I understand it is dark. It kind of makes sense after reading her bio, a lover that committed suicide, parents that died while she was young, a sister that died leaving Mistral her son to raise, who also committed suicide at a young age. I wonder if it will be the same in English?

After lunch we headed by to La Serena and the puppies we have left behind.

Sorry about the text in some of this. I could not get it right. M.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Chile Day Nine - Part 1

Oh so sorry for the break in posting. But I guess we were having just too much fun or something. Then there was the travel. So here we go - day nine.

Today we headed out of La Serena to the mountains. Yes, the Andes Mountains. Holy crap, did I really just write that? We are on our way up to the Gemini South Telescope. For those of you that want to know, there is a Gemini North – it is in Hawaii. Gemini – Twins – two telescopes – cool.

After packing up the car we headed for a gas station. Yes, they sell gas by the liter here and it is way more expensive than we pay. But, they have full service stations. Think about it, can you remember the last time you did not have to pump your own gas?

So off we go thru the country side of Chile. We passed a dam and those that have traveled with me know I just can't pass up a dam or stop using the word endlessly. This dam created a giant lake to provide water and power. They flooded a valley that included two towns, vineyards, orchards, stone walls. One town agreed early to move and buildings were moved , the church was moved, houses rebuilt and the people moved. The other town held out for more money until the last minute and then they had to move quickly. They ended up with a town not so well built and not very pretty. Now looking at this picture, I really hope somebody is concerned with the lack of water in the lake.

It took about an hour to get to the turn off for the telescope. There are actually three telescopes in these mountains and a fourth is being planned. The turn off is a dirt road, a very well maintained dirt road, it is someone's job to keep it neat and tidy and they are very good at their job.

The dirt road is very windy and narrow, they cut the road into the side of the mountain. We finally come to a “Y” in the road and to the left is TOLOLO a big telescope and to the right SOAR and Star Gazer's GEMINI. We stop at this point, there is an overlook where you can look up at SOAR and GEMINI and the proposed fouth telescope. You can see across a valley and you really do feel as if you are on the moon. There is nothing else in sight.

We go right and travel quite a bit more and after nearly an hour and 50 kilometers later (30 miles for us American's) we are at GEMINI. It is huge and just like you have seen in movies. A big metal dome with a part that slides open to let them look at the sky. Notice I did not say stars, because sometimes they are not looking at stars. Hmm..

So we get to go inside, first we check out the bathroom – hey it was a long ride. Then we go into the control room. There are banks of computer screens set up in groups. On one side of the room are six screens where the astronomer sits, on the other side of the room another bank of six monitors where the person that controls the movement of the telescope sits.

Yeah, I know what you are thinking. Hey, I always thought that there was just some person sitting on a high chair looking thru a little eye thingy and that person controlled a big wheel that moved the telescope around to where they wanted to look. Right? Wrong.

The astronomer writes a program that is fed to the telescope and the controller moves the telescope to the right place and the program captures the information the astronomer is looking for. Then the astronomer takes that data and reads it and figures out what has been found or seen.

I also found out that astronomers sleep during the day. I guess I really never thought about that, but it makes sense. There is also an entire crew of people there during the day. Fixing things, tweaking stuff, making sure things are running properly.

They are also doing something with lasers, they shine them up to the sky and get a point that they can then measure and use that to remove the distortion from other things they are looking at. Who thought of this stuff??

We met a very nice man name Gustovo, who gave a report to Star Gazer that the laser tests the night before had been great. No problems. He also talked to us about how the laser gets turned off and on so that they don't shoot the laser beam thru any airplanes that might be flying over or hit any satellites that are up there. He said listening over the loud speakers to the people controlling the laser and spotting the planes is like listening to a sci-fyi movie.

Then we got in an elevator, a very quite, very slow, very steady elevator. Did I mention big? It took us up to the upper level where the actual telescope lives. GEMINI sites on a floor that rotates under a roof that opens, it can explore any area of the sky. She, I'm thinking GEMINI is a she, nobody said this I just felt it, so she can tilt 90 degrees side to side, her mirror (she has no lens) is 8 meter's wide.

Side story here, there is a tunnel on the way to GEMINI, on the regular road. They had to make sure when the Chileans built the tunnel that it would be big enough to bring not just the mirror, but all the other huge equipment. OK, back to story.

8 meters! Think about that, it is big. She has another mirror, smaller up above, she has all kinds of equipment hanging off of her, she gets a bath with soap and water every once in a while. She has a cover over her to protect her from all kinds of things when she is not being used.

The mirror gets re-silvered about once every five years. They unhook all the stuff attached to her and use a 50 ton crane to carefully lift her up and onto a special cart, then they put her onto a special place on the floor that is really a gigantic elevator and bring her down to the basement. They put her into a vacuum machine where they strip off the old coating and recoat her with about a nickel's worth of silver. Pretty damn thin coating. Then she gets a few more coats ending with a protective coating. Then it is back on the cart, up the elevator and back to work.

GEMINI has all kinds of boxes hanging off her. They do all kinds of things, they measure all kinds of stuff, they filter out certain types of light. There is a lot going on and Star Gazer was full of information and it was exciting to see and hear her excitement. She loves her work and it certainly shows. Me, all I could ask was how do you get those pretty pictures. She smiled and explained that to me.

We were there a little over an hour and it was one of the most exciting times of my life. I can remember going to the Boston Museum of Science when I was a kid, I think I was just as excited today. Thank you Star Gazer for a fantastic experience that not everyone gets. If you are ever in the area ask for a tour before hand, they do do them for the general public. They also have dignitaries, like the Crown Princess of Thailand! You just never know who might be on that tour bus.

Then back down the mountain and finally to paved surface. Next time part two of this great day.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Chile Day Eight

So this morning we awoke again to fog, but that is fine we know it will burn off. We are off to the fish market and fort today.

Star Gazer had to work again today, but she will be joining us tomorrow and Friday for our travels.

My sister was reading the news this morning and discovered that we were lucky to get out of southern Chile when we did. It seems there are demonstrations going on and the roads in and out of Torres Del Paine are blocked and you cannot get in or out of Patagonia. My first thought was good for us, my second was oh how terrible for the Bel Aire peeps and Miami Brits, they were due to leave the resort today – I am hoping you can read the sarcasem in my words. I hope they have to stay another week and spend lots of their money at the resort. Or better yet, the resort checked them out they got on their way and they can't get back and have to sleep in a van.

Alrighty, so off to the fish market we go. It is in the harbor of Kocoquimbo and there are small fishing boats, large fishing boats, medium size fishing boats, boats that look like they can no longer sail

and lots of fish. Lots of fish. Did I say lots of fish. I gotta say most fish is pretty ugly.

It was in every form you could think of. Whole. Fillets. Just the heads. Steaks. Chopped up in little cups with all the mixers for ceveche. Hung from hooks. Then there were crabs. Octopus. Squid, Shrimp. I am not sure I had ever seen so much fish. You could buy it to take home or even eat there. The fishermen in their long rubber pants and boots had their own stalls outside and sold their catch fresh from off their boats.

And then there were cats. Little ones. Big ones. Cute ones and not so cute ones. I mean lets face it, what better place for a cat to hang out than a fish market.

Out back behind where the fishermen were selling was a dock where waiting in the water around the dock were the largest sea lions I have ever seen. They were making lots of noise and just waiting for someone to throw scraps off the dock. They seem to eat very well here. There were also pelicans, inca terns and the ever present rats with wings – seagulls. We did put up our hoods cause with all those birds....

We went back thru the fish market to a tourist market. They sold sweaters, pants, jewlery and little stuff the everyone needs to purchase on their vacation. We made one womans day by buying five sweaters, three shirts and a couple of pair of pants between us. Then off to the fort.

Now the fort is weird. It was built in the 50's we think. La Serena built a lighthouse right before this to attract tourists. It is like something from Disneyland, but not as nice. Kind of looks like a castle, but not really. Kocoquimbo wanted something to draw the crowds that came for the lighthouse to them, so they built this little fort out on a spit of land. It is made to look like a red stone, they have walk ways and short little towers that look out over the ocean. They also have these out of place victorian light fixtures?? Go figure.

The best part was the sea lions lounging out on a rock. Have I said they are big?? They are big.

Then off to luch at the casino – no we did not gamble – for pizza. It was actually very good.

Then it was home for a little nap and more hummingbird stalking and waiting for Star Gazer to come home so she can play with us the next two days.

Looking forward to tomorrow. We are going up to Gemini Observatory where we will see what Star Gazer is in charge of. Then into Pisco territory and into the dessert for the night.

Oh, I just found out that before Gustave Eiffel designed and built the tower that bears his name in Paris, he built the Iglesia de San Marcos in Arica, Chile! He had orginally been commissioned to build a church in Peru for the town of Ancon, but in 1868 a great earthquake ruined that plan and things were rerouted to Arica. Parts were fabricated in Paris and shipped to Chile, it took five years to complete this project. This creation was still standing after a major earthquake in 2001. He also designed a clock tower in Pisagua and a cathedral in Peru. Who knew Monsoir Eiffel and why did they want him to design these things? If we only had more time.....

Tomorrow the telescope and Pisco Elqui, stay tuned.

Chile Day Seven

So we wake up today to fog, the usual start to a morning here at this time of year. I can see that we are perched high up on a hill, but not much more than that. We have slow morning, coffee, showers, a little surfing the internet and off we go.

Star Gazer has to work – how sad is that? So Chilean Sister, my beloved, Chip and I set out to explore a little of La Serena. We drive down the hill to the beach to check things out. The beach is long here, there are lots of big boats off in the water and not many people. The season is over and all the tourist have left. What does that make us? We have lunch at a little place run by a Columbian woman – yum!!! My sister says that it is the spicyest place in town, Chileans do not do spicy – who knew? Then we hit the La Recova, the place where there are all kinds of booths with local goods and not so local good to buy. Nobody bought anything, being that the season was over the selection was not very good and we all decided to wait for better pickens.

We walked around historic La Serena, like most towns there is a central town square. In this one it seems that the Christmas decorations stay up all year, I guess it makes things easier in the long run. My sister told me that all churches here in town have their front doors facing the ocean so that in days gone by while worshipping the lord you could also watch for pirates. Multi-tasking could save your life in some instances. La Serena was burned to the ground a couple of times by pissed off pirates. It is not a big area and while the building are old and historic there are modern touches everywhere. No Starbucks, but I am sure that is not far off, sadly.

We took a quick trip to Jumbo – the local all could ever need store. Everything from frying pans to oil for your car. We picked up a few things and headed back up the hill.

Yes, these photos were taken by my beloved. All photos so far are her's, I have not taken the time to download mine yet.

Chilean Sister took me on a walk around the compound – yes compound – we passed the office Star Gazer, the machine shop, the storage shop, the car wash. It is a little self contained world here. Up to the top of the hill where there is a little park where my sisters friends children play, while the moms have an afternoon cocktail. I met a little boy – well little in time – he was five months old and really big. He had the biggest head I have seen on a baby, don't get me wrong he was really cute, just really big and I wondered how much that must have hurt. His mom tells me he sleeps 13 hours at a stretch and then wakes and eats, stays up for a couple of hours, sleeps for a couple, eats, sleeps for a couple more, eats and then goes to bed for another 13 hours. It does not sound right, but it sounds pretty darn good.

They (the mothers) all gave me the formal Chilean welcome, which is stand – lean in close – put your hands on my shoulders – and pretend kiss my right cheek. All very nice. We chatted for a little while and then we headed back down the hill. As we crossed the playground where the kids were swinging one young boy came up to me and put his hand on my arm, cocked his head to one side and looked up at me with beautiful eyes and said something to my sister. She told him I was her sister, he said something else, squeezed my arm and went back to his swings. He was very sweet and I was touched. I really have no idea what he said, but I am sure it was something like – Wow, you are so beautiful and I can tell you are a wonderful person!

Back to the house in time to see Star Gazer come home from work and then cook for us! OK, so I can go along with the fact that she is smart, I can also go along with the fact that she is nice. But she can cook too? Just not fair!!!!!! But I am glad cause the Indian food was fantastic!!!!!!!!!!!!!

She also brought the newspapers home, where the front page story was the flooding in Punta Arenas! Yes, it seems that two and half days of rain had totally flooded the little town we had just come from. The pictures were unbelievable. You know the people there seem to have so little and now this? They had been digging up one of the main roads, they had the entire street for blocks roped off and a big wide trench down the whole thing. I could just imagine it full of water, a raging river that will become a big muddy mess that will have to be dug out again after the water recedes. I wonder how often this happens and what they can do to fix it.

We all cleaned up and finally went to bed looking forward to another day.

Chile Day Six

We awoke to our mountains missing in action once more. A rainy day which made me glad we were not hiking and thinking that if we were staying at Tierra Patagonia one more day, it would be spent in the spa. But alas, we were leaving this morning.

We had a lovely breakfast – I will admit to a migrain this morning – so the first thing I had after my migrain pill was a couple of stiff cups of coffee. That took care of the really bad part of the headache.

We lugged all our luggage out to the lobby, still unsure of what was meeting us to take us back to Punta Arenas, because all the info we had was that someone would pick us up at nine in the lobby. And low and behold they did – amazing.

So, we said good bye to the Hippy and his wife and then I went out ot the lobby to – yes – use the bathroom. Then my beloved and Chip joined me and I saw the two Brazilians and went to say goodbye to them. As I was walking thru the dinning room Bel Aire wife said “I am sorry if we offended you yesterday. Really I'm sorry.” I looked at her and said “thank you” on my way by thinking I wonder if she would have said that if Bel Aire husband had been sitting next to her.

So I said my goodbye's to the now friendly Brazilans, got hugs and kisses and left my email address because they asked for it. I still do not really know their names Fabiana & Fabulosa? I will simply refer to them as Sporty Spice 1 & 2 until I find out otherwise.

We got in the van and started our journey back to Punta Arenas to catch a plane to Santiago and then on to La Serena and Suzy No No.

We drove – actually it was very nice to have someone else be doing the driving – and drove. It seemed longer going back. I decided that in the event of the Zombi Apocolypse southern Chile just might be the place to try and get to. Anyway, after a while we (meaing I asked Chip to ask the driver) how long until we stopped for a bano break. His response – 35 minutes. I'm thinking OK, I can do that. Well I could not, when I asked again it was another 10 minutes – he looked at my face in the mirror and said something like “or I can pull over here” - yup, that would be good. Now, keep in mind there is no cover on this highway. No trees, no bushes, so public toilets. So I jump out and squat behind the van and do my business in the rain. I jump back in and say gracias to the driver and we are on our way again. In another 40 minutes or so we reach the afore mentioned bano break and I utiltilize those facilities as well. As Chip says, always use a bano when one is offered. Good advice.

And we are off again. We finally reach the airport with plenty of time to spare. Check our bags in, have a queso sandwich and fly off to Santiago, via Porta Morts? Yes, we do not to to change planes here, but we do stop and let others off and new people on and up back in the air. Santiago, finally!!

We deplane, down a flight of stairs, on to a bus and to the terminal, where we are let out on the first floor. Then we go up to the third floor, thru security and back down to the first floor to our gate, back onto a bus, driven across the tarmac – at this point Chip says – if we get back on the same plane this will be stupid – we pass our original plane and get on the next one. All this in less than 25 minutes. I was wondering the entire flight if our luggage had made the same journey.

We fly with a young male team of soccer players returning from some game somewhere. The coach was sitting in front of my beloved and Chip – surrounded by curious young boys – could see him. He did not like flying, tears on take off and landing. Imagine the ribbing he was going to get from the team, they were all watching him very closely.

After a short flight we arrived in Le Serana and Chilean Sister and her partner, Star Gazer were waiting to greet us. It was so good to see them. I miss my baby sister. We talk more now – thanks to Facebook – then before she moved to Chile and I like her. Star Gazer is an astronomer, she studies black holes in the universe, and Star Gazer girls sounds a whole lot better than Black Hole Girl, hence the nom-de-blog. She is also nice and we found out last night that she can cook Indian food, so now we are never letting her go.

Anyway, we were hungry and asked if there was anyplace we could grab something to eat. Chilean Sister looks at her watch and says - “Yeah, it is only 10, lets drop off the bags and then head out.” And we did. Chatting and eating until finally we headed back up the hill and to bed.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Chile Day Five

Today we woke and the weather had taken a dramatic change. The fog hung so low that the mountains outside our windows had become small hills. The tops hidden by the clouds. It was raining a little bit, but we suited up and headed down to breakfast.

Now, it seems that last night was fall back here in Chile. Kind of. It was supposed to happen, but the government decided to not do it this weekend, but all electronics changed. So when we looked at the phone for the time, it said 7:00, when it reality it was 8. So we were just taking things slow until we realized what time it was then it was like shit... hurry up. Grab something to eat and get to the lobby to meet today's guide for our morning hike to Mirador Cuernos.

Well, it seems that our guide had a little trouble with the time as well and was a bit late. While it did not bother us, we are on vacation for pete's sake do we really need to start at exactly 9? One of our party was not happy about the fact that the guide was late. This same guy ragged on his wife the entire way to the drop off point for the start of our hike about the fact that she had on the wrong boots. In fact she had on his boots. She talked about this the entire hike it seemed.

Our hike today would take us up to a point where we would be at a lake where the fires stopped. In case you do not know, some misguided dope started a little campfire in like 80 mile an hour winds in December and was responsible for around 35,000 hectors of burned national park. The fires lasted 29 days and the guy was fined $2000. Yes, that is right $2000 for destroying a natural treasure. It will be years and years before it all grows back.

So we start hiking thru what looks like a Tim Burton movies. Twisted black and red branches, no ground cover and very little wildlife. We walked up and up, a slow long walk. About an hour or so into the hike I started thinking hmmm... no cover.... where does one pee?

I made it to the top with my beloved, Chip was already there (all we saw of her on this hike was her behind as she lead the way) and I asked our guide – Felipi, since there are no trees, where does one pee? He smiled and waved his hand at the surrounding area. He asked if I could wait a few minutes while he explained things to the rest of the group. Sure, I can wait as I tapped my foot.

We got to the look out point across the lake from us was a forest and a glacier somewhere up in the fog. We could not see it, but we could hear it. That is right, we could hear it. It sounded like thunder, it was a piece calving off, it was spooky in a way. After that you could just hear grinding as it moved a millimeter at a time. Felipi, our guide, drew us pictures and explained the fire to us and the valley and the trails you could take.

And I tapped and tapped my foot. Then I heard new voices coming up the trail. Oh no... I thought. Luckily those peeps did not stay around long and Felipi finished his nature talk and everyone turned to go down the trail. I waited and waited until they were around the corner and then moved to my pre selected spot and dropped my pants and left a little of my DNA in Torres del Paine. Oh I felt so much better. This is the view from where I left said DNA.

We found out that one of the other couples with us was from San Francisco. Go figure. He had an English accent and I asked how he ended up there. He told me that as a hippy in the 60's in London he always wanted to live in San Francisco and now he does. He had a big smile on his face, so I think he must feel he made the right decision.

Back into the van for the trip back to the resort for lunch and then an afternoon hike to Laguna Azul. The rain had pretty much stopped for now, but that would not last.

We sat down in the dinning area, the three of us at one table. The guy mad about the late guide, (who had already complained to the manager that there was no water or anything in the van after our hike. I thought use the nice metal bottles they gave us to use on hikes nitwit) and his probably blistered footed wife sat at the next table and then the Miami Brits as I decided to call them sat at the table in front of mad guy and wrong shoed wife.

We were having a very nice lunch when they all started complaining. The wrong shoed wife had asked for an egg white omelet and then got upset because the waiter brought her a regular omelet. She tried to explain to him what she wanted, but English was not his first language (surprise) and he called one of the other servers over and she understood what she wanted. Then the woman says WELL, WHAT ARE THEY GOING TO PUT IN MY OMELET (voice like nails on a chalkboard). The girl asked, what would you like in your omelet? Tomatoes, cheese, onions – YES, THAT SOUNDS GOOD.

As they both walked away she commented that “WHAT ARE THEY DOING WORKING HERE, IF THEY CAN'T SPEAK ENGLISH?”

Lady you are not in Bel Aire (where they live) anymore and even there you might have picked up a few Spanish words like GRACIAS.

Then the other couple starts in about how bad the food is here (it was not). What poor quality the wine was (Miami Brit woman says like what you get in a petrol stop in Briton) as they drink a couple glasses of it down.

After about 20 minutes of this non stop complaining my beloved looks to them all and says “Please stop. Just stop. We are enjoying our lunch here and don't appreciate all the bad mouthing.” They look at here like she had two heads, but without a word they stop and a few minuets later the Miami Brits leave and we finish our lunch with the Bel Aire couple sitting quietly at their table.

After lunch we get ready for our afternoon hike to Lagoon Azul. We are in the lobby waiting and we are delighted that we will be having Felipe again for the afternoon. He tells us that we are waiting for two more people before we leave and I say “please do not let it be some of the people from this morning, we did not like some of them” He smiled and said “No, it is two other people that just got here.

We are joined by a couple from Connecticut and two other women for our trip to the lagoon. By this time is it really raining out, but that does not stop us. We travel up to the lagoon passing the millions of guanacos and always looking for pumas, just like the vigilanties. We do a little hike, not too long and not too intense we pass by lots of trees with a moss growing on them - I am informed that it is “old man's beard” and that it only grows where the air is clean. So I start breathing deeper as I walk.

We get back to the van – where there is not only water wating for us, but coffee, tea and chocolate. Off we go on a short ride to Cascada Paine – another glacier fueled water fall. This one was wide and almost an upside down horseshoe shape. Larger than the morning falls and even more beautiful and much easier to get to and yet fewer people. Go figure. Perhaps the rain was keeping them away?

We got back to the resort and caught up with the Brazilians who had gone on a six hour hike – good for them!! They said it was very hard – and since they seemed to be in fantastic shape I was glad we had not opted for such a long hike.

We arranged to have dinner with them and went off to shower and change out of our wet and dirty hiking gear.

Back down to dinner and no Brazilians. So we sat far away from everyone else with our two new friends and had a lovely dinner.

After we had been sitting for awhile the lights went out – Oh No, I thought. Power problems? But no, it was Miami Brit Husband's birthday and the entire staff that they had been bad mouthing at lunch came out with a cake and sang Happy Birthday to him. Hope they spit in the cake.

A few minutes later lights out again for another cake for the London Hippy now residing in San Francisco, we sang along to that one.

We sat talking and laughing far into the night as we got up to leave my beloved was convinced that the Miami-Bel Aire group was talking about us and I am sure they were and she wanted to go over and say something to them. Chip and I convinced her that to just walk on by, which she did and we retired for another peaceful night's sleep in the shadow of glaciers.