Category Archives: Chile

Moving day – for the 7th time

In Seattle we lived in the same apartment for 17 years.

In Argentina we will have lived in seven apartments in six months.   Why so many?  Location, security, bugs, mold, more bugs, more mold, and most important WIFI, or lack of WIFI.

Why furnished apartments, not hotels or hostels?    We have lots of stuff, need lots of room and we like cooking.  This is different than most travelers that go from hostel to hostel.  It’s also different from expats who either buy a house, or rent one unfurnished apartment and stay there.  We’re either super fussy, high maintenance travelers or expats with attention deficit disorder.

Here’s a rundown on all the places we’ve called home so far:

Buenos Aires – Apt #1

code name– Kobayashi’s place.

positive – well decorated, able to watch dog walkers from balcony. Super nice father/son owners. Father looks like Kobayashi in movie Usual Suspects.

you can't see it, but he's holding a briefcase
From them movie. imagine him smiling with a beard

negative – mildew smell in all the cabinets, drawers and closet.   Small kitchen, or so we thought at the time. Now I think of that kitchen as a mansion kitchen.

highlight – making coffee for the first time in what I thought was a mini kitchen.

low point – every time I opened a drawer and almost passed out from the smell.

 

Cordoba – Apt #2

code name – Smelly Hell

positive – roof, 4 walls, internet

negative – smelled like inside of a raid can mixed with truck full of moth balls. Furniture must have come from a store called Grandma’s Moldy Basement

 

highlight – moving out

low point – moving in

Salta – Apt #3

code name – Home of the Trick Awning

positive – amazing deck with bbq grill and hot tub

negative – can’t use hot tub when you don’t have hot water (5 days) when it rains (every day) awnings fill with water, dumps on your head hours later when sitting near them having nice dinner.  No screens on doors = bugs, lots of bugs.

trying to pre-emptively rid awnings of water so it doesn't dump on our heads during dinner.

highlight – making or first asado (Argentinian BBQ).

low point – the day I made Jeff kill Bruce, our loyal pet bug.  We had tried to take him outside to freedom. But, like a dog, he always found his way back home. We missed him once he was dead.

RIP Bruce the bug

La Serena – Apt #4

code name – House of Cinnamon Soft Soap Ants.

positive – overlooking the ocean, can hear the sound of waves from the apartment.

negative – studio apartment + Sheryl + Jeff + 5 pieces of luggage + bike  = crowded,  also ants, lots and lots of ants.

highlight – sitting on our balcony, drinking coffee and eating pancakes.

low point – ants invaded our bathroom. We read you can sprinkle cinnamon on them to get them to go away.  Didn’t really work, but then we read you can use soft soap to get them to go away.  That didn’t really work either.  Our bathroom floor was full of soft soapy, cinnamon covered ants the entire time we were there.

Mendoza – apt # 5

code name = Dog Poop Palace

positive – super nice landlord,  cute little dogs running around the yard.

these little balls of fluff wouldn't stand still long enough for a photo.

negative – cute little dogs pooped on our door step every single morning., literally right outside our front door.

highlight – our landlord invited us to a family BBQ, so nice to be included in family get together.

low point – dog poop, every day, all day.

Mendoza – Apt #6

code name -The House of Near Misses

positive – everything brand new, great view of mountains, very close to hip restaurant street, rooftop BBQ.

view from our balcony

negative – large security deposit, twin beds, and non-working internet

highlight – cooking a rooftop BBQ while sipping wine and gazing at the Andes

low point – almost getting mugged a block from our apartment.  Elevator almost breaks with me in it. Next day sign goes up saying building not responsible for elevator accidents.  Very nervous our large security deposit won’t get returned (it did).

this sign went up the day after the elevator broke with me inside. It says they're not responsible for elevator accidents.
here's our returned security deposit. You can see why we were keen to get it back. Weird to see/have so much money in cash.
after moving out and getting the security deposit back, our landlord ripped Jeff's signature off each page in order to "end" the contract.

Mendoza – Apt #7

Since we just moved in we don’t have a code name yet.  So far it would be, “The internet works, it seems safe, no bugs or weird smells. Yippee!”

posivite –  interenet works, secure, queen size bed, amazing rooftop terrace with a pool.

I'm planning on spending most of my day up here.

negative – none yet, but we’ve only been here two hours. I’m sure something will come up.

 

10, no make that 11 things I’ve learned living on a Chilean beach

OK so we’ve only been “living” here for three weeks.  Three weeks in no way makes me a   “living at the beach” expert. But here’s what I’ve gleaned so far: (just a disclaimer. Jeff is against this post. He thinks this sounds like  complaining.  I hope he’s wrong).

1. Chile takes tsunami’s very seriously.

We woke up yesterday to the horrifying photos and videos from Japan. Our hearts broke for the people affected there.  We spent the day following the news out of Japan and also the tsunami as it traveled across the Pacific towards Chile.  At 7:00 pm we were told to leave our apartment.  At 1:00am we watched on the news from a coffee shop as the waves barely hit the beach.   Luckily, Chile had no damage from the tsunami.  But, we still weren’t allowed back until 11:00am this morning.   16 hours of evacuation for waves that didn’t even go past the sand of the beach.

At 4:00am when I was trying to sleep in our rental car, I was pissed.  But, after all the devastation in Japan, and the earthquake and tsunami in Chile last year, I’d much rather be evacuated for a non-event tsunami than experience a fraction of what is happening in Japan.

2. Staring at the sea never gets old.

I wasn’t sure if I would get used to the view and stop noticing it, sort of like when you hang a picture on your wall and after awhile you don’t even notice it anymore.   That hasn’t happened yet. Although there are times when I get super focused on something on my computer and forget to look up at the view.

3. I can still wake up grumpy at the beach.

This one is  kind of sad and amazing isn’t it?  But, I guess a sea view can’t cure all your problems or moods. I think I’m more relaxed here, but can still get over hungry, have PMS and get frustrated.

4. You don’t need a gym when you live by the ocean.

I have always been a gym rat. I made a big deal when we came here that I had to live close to a gym, and we do, but I still haven’t gone there. I’ve been taking long walks on the beach instead. I’m not sure if I’m getting as good of a workout, but for the first time in my life I don’t care.

5. Cinnamon deters ants, Raid gets rid of them.

When ants invaded our bathroom we didn’t want to spray insect repellent. We feared it would get into the rest of our tiny apartment. So we went natural and sprinkled cinnamon on the floor. That got them to sort of detour around it, then we tried soft soap, That slowed them down and also killed a few. After several days with a bathroom floor covered in cinnamon, soft soap and ants, we went with Raid.  It worked wonders, didn’t even smell.

6. The sound of crashing waves can make me less angry.

You know those relaxation CD’s that have sounds of crashing waves? I think I’m going to get one.   When I am grumpy (see #3) I find if I can concentrate on the sound of the waves I’m instantly relaxed.  We’ve had a couple of nights with drunken, screaming neighbors. I laid in bed trying to remember the words for “Shut Up!!” in Spanish.   Then I tried to concentrate on the sound of the waves between the drunken cackles. And it worked, I actually was able to fall asleep without trying to call the Chilean police to complain.

7. Sunsets are amazing

The sun sets here at 8:15.  Every night at 7:55 we drop everything we’re doing, walk down to the water and watch the sunset.  Several days we’ve been lazy and thought, “should we bother?” but we always go down and are always glad we did.  I’m hoping to continue this even after we leave the beach. We don’t need to see the sun drop into the ocean to appreciate it. The sun does go down every single day. Even on cloudy days, the change from light to dark is pretty cool.   I hope to be able to take 15 minutes out of every day to appreciate it.

8. When you live near sand, you take it home with you.

Not sure why this is a surprise, but there is sand everywhere in our tiny apartment.   No matter how hard I try to clean off before coming in, sand comes with me.  No matter how much I sweep up every day, it is everywhere.  I honestly don’t know how any is left on the beach if everyone is tracking this much in with them.

9. Cloudy days are still beautiful – and make me miss Seattle

Most mornings we wake up to clouds.   The silvery water and fog covered mountains in the distance remind me of Seattle and the San Juan islands.   And it makes me miss it. And I think that is a good thing.

10. Sea mist is great unless you’re trying to dry clothes

I love that sea mist that blows off the ocean and cools everything down. But, it makes it really hard to dry anything. I have a laundry obsession. When we got here, I couldn’t relax until I had a way to dry clothes. Jeff had to go out buy rope and fashion a clothes line for me, just to get me to calm down.   The clothes line is very functional, but the sea air is not cooperating.

11. I could get used to this.

We’re leaving tomorrow  to go to Mendoza, Argentina. I am pretty sure Mendoza will be amazing, but at the same time, I’m going to miss the ocean.

Coquimbo – dogs, cats and a few kids

It’s always the unexpected change in plans that are  the best part of travel. It’s so common it sounds like a cliche.

Our plan was to visit a giant cross.   Every night in La Serena, we go down to the beach and watch the sun set behind a giant cross up on a hill.  Every night we say, “We really should go over and check out that cross.”

Our guidebook explains that it is the  Cruz del Tercer Milenio in the nearby town of Coquimbo. Our guidebook also says it’s open until 10:00pm every night.

Let's go check it out.

So, last night we drove over to check out the cross.  Coquimbo is a port town  built into the hills.  It was only a few minutes away by car, but it had a completely different feel than La Serena.

After driving through town, out of town, and up a hill, then walking several blocks we found the cross to be closed.

Cross closes at 6:30

So, we did the next best thing, or maybe something even better. We walked around town. Maybe it was the time of day, or just the town, but there was such a peaceful feel to the streets. Kids talked to us, dogs stared at us, and adults smiled when we walked by.

I love taking photos of houses and doors. It was almost like the dogs were purposely posing for me.  A few cats and kids were also ready for a closeup.

The cats were cute too.

This little girls was especially adorable as well.

If we had planned to take dog photos in Coquimbo I’m sure either they wouldn’t have been out, or they would have run away or something. Sometimes you can’t plan it, you just have to let it happen.

We also ran into this group of kids who asked us our names.  Jeff they could handle but Sheryl was not only impossible for them to say, it was hysterically funny to them.

Galaxy gazing in Chile

Not being adventurous nor athletic, it’s rare for me to do something completely new. You’ll never hear me say I went skydiving, scuba diving or bungee jumping.    So when we had the opportunity to star gaze, at a real observatory I couldn’t wait.  It was something I had never ever done before.

Chile is known as one of the best places in the world to see stars. Something about climatic conditions and clear skies.  There are several observatories near the town of Vicuna.

We chose Observatario del Pangue.  A minivan drove us from the town to the observatory.   The eleven mile drive felt like eternity.   It was pitch black and the minivan was driving up a mountain on a dirt road with no guard rails. With every switch back I thought the truck would fall off the edge.  I spent the entire ride up thinking,  “They can’t be serious. This isn’t safe. This is not worth dying for. Why did we even do this dumb tour.”

But, then after what felt like an hour we arrived on top of the mountain.  We got out of the car and it was all more than worthwhile.  I actually gasped. How often does that REALLY happen?  The sky looked like it couldn’t possibly be real.   The below photo is from their website. It looked EXACTLY like this.  And this was just standing there.

We were met by Eric, our guide who spoke perfect English. There was only one other couple on the tour, and they went off with another tour guide. So we had our own private tour.  Eric was an astrophysisist who obviously knows his stuff, but was also as excited as we were to just look up at the sky.

Jeff and Eric, our private astrophysisist for the night.

I pretty much said nothing but, “Oh my God, this can’t be real.” over and over and he pretty much agreed with me.

courtesy of the observatorio del pangue website

It was so incredibly beautiful I had such an urge to take photos.   I knew they wouldn’t come out but I couldn’t help myself.

i have about 60 photos like this.

The first question I asked was, “are those clouds over there?” I pointed to two small smudges off to the left.  Eric explained they weren’t smudges, but distant galaxies.   The below photo is from wikipedia, but this is an enlarged version of exaclty what it looked like.

from wikipedia - not smudges, galaxies

It was so mind blowing that I actually sort of lost my mind. Next, I saw the coolest star ever, it was red and blinking and moving fast across the sky. I actually yelled out, “Look at that one, it’s blinking.”    It was of course a plane.

Then it was time to look through the telescope.   He would position it and say something like, “This is a very very nice galaxy. I think you will like it.” We got to see nebulas, star clusters, new stars, old stars and dying stars. But still, nothing was as awesome as just standing there seeing the milky way above our heads…until we got to see saturn.  Eric pointed it out in the sky and it looked like a regular star. Then we saw it through the telescope and you could actually see the rings!!! I seriously got giddy.

Rings! I see saturn's rings!

Jeff on the other hand was unimpressed with Saturn. After all my squealing he was expecting more.

Saturn - I thought it would be cooler - like the Star Trek movie

Although, he did agree with me that standing there seeing all those stars was flipping fantastic.

We were up there for 2 hours, it was freezing but I didn’t want to go back down. Those stars were intoxicating.   Now when I look up at the sky I want more, milky way, saturns rings, nebulas, distant galaxies. I really can’t get enough of it.  We might go back while we’re still in Chile.

According to Travel and Leisure magazine, these are the top 10 places to star gaze:

  • THE ATACAMA DESERT, CHILE
  • YANGTZE RIVER VALLEY, CHINA
  • TUSCANY, ITALY
  • KRUGER NATIONAL PARK, SOUTH AFRICA
  • HAWAII
  • KIRUNA, SWEDEN
  • THE CARIBBEAN SEA
  • NEW MEXICO
  • LA FORTUNA, COSTA RICA
  • LOS ANGELES

Here’s the link to the article. I don’t know how valid this list is, but you can be sure that if I find myself in one of these places I won’t be white water rafting or rock climbing, I’ll be waiting for darkness to stare up at the sky.

www.travelandleisure.com/slideshows/the-worlds-top-10-stargazing-spots/1

Pisco tasting- who knew pisco was so good, or what it even was.

The big drink in Chile is pisco sours. They are offered everywhere and not just for tourists.  Everyone seems to be drinking them.   The first one we had was a freebie in a hotel in
Antofagasta.  We drank it down, thought it was good, then ordered a glass of wine.

But, a few nights ago we tried them again, and were amazed. They tasted similar to a margarita without the salt or nacho chips.

I wasn’t even sure which part was the pisco, was it the alcohol or the juice?   It turns out pisco is a type of brandy made out of muscat grapes.

And, as luck would have it, La Serena is near the Equi Valley which is a large producer of pisco.  And even luckier, you can go pisco tasting in the valley.

I want more, let's go to the source and taste it there.

We drove to the town of Vicuna which was worth the drive in itself.  The valley was full of pisco vineyards


We started our pisco tasting at a distillery called Fuegos.  We pulled up and the guy parking his truck had to run and find the woman that runs the tasting room.  But, we were happy to see it  was open for tasting, more than we can say about our last tasting experience.

This is the tasting room?

The tastes were small, but this stuff is brandy, so a little went a long way for me.

Next up was Capel. They are the granddaddy of pisco in this area.  Every sign in the nearby town of Vicuna had a Capel logo on it.

Capel had a huge facility with a paid tour in  Spanish or English.  The English one was in session when we got there. Turns out it was only 5 minutes into the tour, but not wanting to miss a second of it (since we had paid the equivalent of $3 each) I insisted we go on the Spanish speaking tour.

This meant I didn’t understand a single word for the hour long tour.  From what I gather, they take grapes, ferment the juice, put it in big tanks, then put it in some oak barrels, then distill it…or something like that.

no clue what this is for

This little boy on the tour understood about as much as I did . One thing I don’t think was covered in the tour, although I don’t really know, Peru also claims pisco as their national drink. There is a big controversy between the two countries over pisco.

Then we got to the tastng room. You don’t need to understand Spanish to taste pisco. Well, actually it doesn’t hurt.

The group was ushered into a room where we sat in a circle.  The guide prepared a tray with sample cups filled with different flavored pisco drinks.  They passed around the tray.

I’ve been to enough wine tastings and coffee tastings to know, when presented with a tray like this, you should take one of each to compare.   No, actually not with pisco, you only take one.

Then after the tray went around, the guide opened a bottle of a reserve pisco and started pouring samples behind a counter.  She asked if anyone would like to try this pisco.  Jeff and I ran to the counter. She handed out samples to Jeff and the other guys standing there. She looked at me and said in Spanish, “Are you sure YOU want one?”  I guess women don’t normally drink this kind of pisco.   Not knowing how to answer “Um, yeah, hand it over.”  I just said, “claro.” which means of course.

When the tastings were over the rest of the group went into the sales room. Jeff, me and some others lingered and finished off the left-over samples on the tray, another trick I learned from coffee tastings.

Sadly, our suitcases are too full to bring any pisco home, so I’m hoping we can find it in the USA.

After a quick nap in the parking lot, we went back into the town of Vicuna where I took a lot of photos

They have weird mannequins in Vicuna too.

The pisco tastings were great in that pisco is good, the tasting rooms were actually open, the valley was beautiful, and the town of Vicuna is a fun place to wander around in by itself.