Category Archives: Chile

Torres del Paine and the Hike of Our Lives

(Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Chile – 4 December 2013) I struggled through the pass first, ditched my pack behind a boulder and rushed back to help Jessica. Take my hand if you want to live was implied. If I had shouted it, the thunderous winds would have dispensed my words anyway. Jessica’s head was dipped low for protection against the onslaught. She wasn’t moving forward at all. Little bits of grit carried by the rushing air stung and punished too much.

We’d already hiked uphill for 7 hours that day fully weighted-down with our packs. Our legs were weak from overuse. This final high pass into the Torres del Paine valley was the last challenge of the day, a distance of just 20 meters or so. But the wind was (no exaggeration) hurricane strength and walking forward into its teeth was fighting a force field.

Jessica grabbed my arm and we slowly stepped forward together. Even united, we had to pause several times to find our balance before restarting again for the relative safety of the boulder ahead where the winds were still high but manageable.

The last two hours of our hike had been against some strong winds, but the strength and volume of angry flowing air at this highest pass was orders of magnitude greater. It caught us by surprise. We wobbled down from the pass bewildered and completed the remaining steps to the refugio, shaking our heads all the way and thinking, no one will believe this.

Torres de Paine

Torres del Paine National Park will mean absolutely nothing to the average person from North America. Neither Jessica nor I had ever heard of it until planning for this trip began. But twice it happened that we told people Chile was included in our travel itinerary and were asked, “Are you going to Torres del Paine?” Having never heard of the place at that time, I’m sure my response was, “Taurus del WHAT?” A fellow Ultimate player (Patrick Christmas) was one of the people who told us about it. I had him spell the name for me as I typed it into my phone. (I have a place where I jot down interesting travel tips when I hear them.)

There are multiple sites in southern Chile/Argentina (regionally known as Patagonia) that contain dramatic landscapes. However, it is hard to imagine any more varied and spectacular as Torres del Paine. A literal translation of the name into English fails. Better to convey what the name means: Towers in/from the Blue. The word Paine (pronounced ‘PINE-eh’) is the color blue in the local dialect, and refers to the blue-colored lakes that dot the area. Torres is, of course, the Spanish word for towers.

The actual torres are just one geological feature within this magnificent natural wonderland. As you will see from our pictures there are lakes of blue, green, and grey, massive glaciers, magical forests, radical snow-capped mountains, rivers, ravines, ridges, and waterfalls…lots of waterfalls. Completing a circuit in and around the various features are hiking trails. Campsites and shelters- called refugios -are widely dispersed along the circuit. The place is so huge that it takes multiple days to traverse on foot, the only option available to visitors since roads will only take you so far into the park.

Preparing for our visit to Torres del Paine was a massive (and expensive) undertaking. We had to:

    rent camping gear,
    reserve 2 spots in 2 refugios the last 2 nights
    buy enough food for the 6 days we’d be in the park,
    figure out how and when we’d get to and from the park entrance,
    arrange the boat ride that would deliver us to the starting point of our hike, and
    not forget ANYTHING.

Without Jessica’s superior organizational skills, I don’t think we would have been able to pull it off.

The “O” and the “W”

Many people enter the park in the morning, see what they can see, and leave the same day. The hardcore outdoor enthusiasts (like Jessica and me, (yeah right)), will hike one of two principle circuits- the “O” or the “W.” So named for obvious reasons once you’ve seen the trails on a map. The first “3D” map gives you a good view of the O, which includes the W within it.


The red trail shown in this second map is the W. (Look closely at the map and you’ll see crudely drawn circled numbers on it. These correspond to the nights we spent in the park.)


We chose to do the “W.” Perhaps “I chose” is more accurate since Jessica would have preferred five days at a luxury resort (or any resort) over five days camping in the wilderness, if that option had been presented to her. Yes, it was something I really wanted to do…an experience of a lifetime. And while Jessica would not have chosen it for herself she’s never one to pass up on experiences of a lifetime. And so, she cautiously embraced the challenge.

Our first night of camping was on Lake Pehoé, a point outside the start of our actual hike. From this vantage, we could see a large swath of the mountainous area we would be hiking in the days that followed. We also see one of the parks pricier hotels.


To get ourselves onto the W circuit, we took a thankfully sturdy boat across Grey Lake to the drop-off point, located within close sight of Glacier Grey. Jessica breaks across the dry end of the lake in full pack. The boat awaits.


Broken iridescent blue chunks of the glacier floated nearby. The headwinds created substantial waves that exploded over the bow of the boat repeatedly. We rode safely inside the cabin.

The waters calmed as we approached the glacier and passengers were allowed up top for some photo-ops.


Degree of Difficulty: Hard

Our first day on the W was both heaven and hell. The spectacle of the glacier was mind-blowing. And this leg of the W had numerous spectacular views of it. But the hiking was steep in the up direction and our backpacks were at their heaviest (stuffed with 6 day’s worth of food). I misinterpreted the map and what I thought was going to be a 3 hour hike, turned into nearly six. Also, I completely missed the map’s trail difficulty rating chart, which clearly showed this portion of the W has the highest difficultly ranking. What a way to get started.

Crossing those ravines with the scary metal “ladders” was especially challenging for Jessica. Her legs are strong, but not that long; blindly finding the ladder rungs with her toes was not her idea of a good time.


The hardest part was the uncertainty. When would we arrive at the campsite? How many more gorges must we cross? The hour grew later and we feared nightfall would find us before we found the camp. Jessica was at her wit’s end and I was struggling to stay positive myself. Finally, with about an hour of dusk left, we spotted an orange tent through the trees up ahead. We’d made it to Camp Paso.

The tent went up quickly. Dinner prep for our starving selves followed equally as fast. The campsite was primitive- no showers, no running water (other than the small stream that cut through middle of camp), and just one outhouse…sans toilet. Despite the hardships, we were glad to have survived day 1.


Note to all: I won’t recount every step of every day on the trail, but I am keen to convey just how amazingly tough and stunningly beautiful this place is. Trudging these trails is not for the weak-hearted or weak-kneed, but the rewards of the natural landscape are abundant. There is hardly a place to tread in Torres del Paine that is not heavily imbued with wondrous views, and yet the extreme physical exertion and associated discomfort is a worthy adversary that competes for your constant attention. Great mental focus is required on many parts of the trail, too. It can be rocky, slippery, muddy, and steep….and many times all of those simultaneously.

Crossing a large ravine on a suspension footbridge.

Backtracking and Carrying Forward

Up early and refreshed the second day, we backtracked the left part of the W until we reached Refugio Grey where our hike had begun the previous day. Returning in the downhill direction shaved two hours off our hike. A bite of lunch later and we continued on for another 5 hours to Refugio Paine Grande. Once more, expectations played a large role in our psyche. We expected that our afternoon hike would take roughly 3 1/2 hours…the fact that it ended up taking 5 means we not only had to absorb the physical toll exacted by an all-day hike with full packs, but that we also did the “are we there yet?” dance. This is when you convince yourself it can’t possible be much further, but really….it is. Distances are so exaggerated at Torres del Paine; what looks to be not that far, can be practically unreachable.

As we hiked through the final valley that ultimately delivered us to the second campsite, strong winds pushed us along but also twisted us from side to side on the trail as it caught our backpacks. The wind followed us into camp and made great fun of our efforts to set up the tent. Jessica and I did pretty well, thanks in part to a couple of fellow hikers lending a hand. Some campers appeared to be wrestling alligators as the wind whipped their tents sharply. We saw others comically chasing pieces of their tent equipment that wasn’t thoroughly tied down.

Sleeping amid the howling and buffeting wind was not as challenging as you might guess; tired bodies will sleep, regardless.

The weather cleared by morning.


Snickers in the French Valley

Our third day backpacks were a couple more meals lighter and the planned hike that day relatively easy. [Note, none of the hiking trails at Torres del Paine are “easy.”] We were headed only to Camp Italiano (for those following on the map) which sits mid-W. The sprawling camp was found just across a beautifully noisy tumbling river and half-hidden among tall trees. There we pitched our tent and knocked out another meal. Only the hike deeper and higher into Valle Francés remained and then the middle-stroke of the W would be complete. Jessica decided she’d hiked quite enough the past couple of days and would enjoy relaxing her muscles at camp while I continued into the valley alone and wearing only my day-pack.

My hike into the Valle Francés turned out to be a true highlight for me. The trail had so many terrain variations that my feet never knew what the next step would bring. Some parts were smooth and playful, while others downright jagged and angry. It was supposed to be 4 – 5 hour (round trip) trek, but with only my day-pack on, I was able to move quickly and would surely beat that estimate. The day-pack carried only my camera and an extra jacket. I didn’t have to carry water since I could use any trail-side stream as my water fountain. This was true throughout our entire hike, too. Whenever we needed water, I’d simply dip our canteen into a river to find fresh, clean, cold, delicious water. How cool is that?


My view looking back down the valley from whence I came.


Here is the selfie video I shot after reaching the scenic overlook at the end of my hike into Valle Francés. Apologies for the Snicker smacking.

Hiking Karaoke

We awoke the morning of our 4th day on the trail to a sprinkle of light rain and sleet. By the time we were up and moving about the tent all precipitation had turned to snow. Being from Texas, snow is a rarity in my life. Seeing that friendly snow drift down through the trees made me smile like a kid at Christmas.

Weather can span from snow to sleet to rain to sun and back again all within the same half-day. And you’ve already heard about that notorious wind. Supposedly, November and December are the two windiest months. That said, many sections of Torres del Paine are almost always windy. One fellow hiker we met said he’d never see a trail map with symbols for high wind in any other place except Torres del Paine.

Our hike on day 4 was another long one (similar to day 2). We mentally prepared ourselves for 8 – 9 hours on the trail. Aside from taking time out to enjoy the immense beauty around us, we also enjoyed a few rounds of hiking karaoke. This is where we each try to sing a song from start to finish. I didn’t pretty well belting out some Lovin’ Touchin’ Squeezin’ by Journey, while Jessica nailed Charley Daniels’ Devil Went Down to Georgia.

The final few hours of our day 4 hike were mostly uphill. Some steep, some only slightly elevated, but nonetheless, every single GD step was uphill. Towards the end, we weren’t singing anymore. Jessica had decided that W was officially her least favorite letter. And yet, just as we were the most exhausted….we approached the windy entrance into the final valley. Up and up we climbed against the harsh wind until we had reached the high pass.

The video below shows us nearing the windiest part…described in the opening, above. Capturing that drama with my phone’s camera would not have been possible; too dangerous.

Refugio El Chileno

We’d spent four consecutive nights in a tent. This night would be our first of two in a refugio (or refuge) and sweet reward after so much tough trekking. Refugios are not hotels, but they are more than simple shelters. They have a staff, a mess hall for eating, bathrooms with hot water for bathing, and a half-dozen rooms lined with bunk beds for sleeping. Once checked-in, Jessica and I were led down the hall to our room, one that we would share with six others. Three of those six were in the room at the time we arrived, a mom, dad and their early 20’s daughter, part of a family of four from California. We must have looked like hell coming through those doors.

The staff of the refugio pointed upwards to the bunks that would be ours…on the third bunk level. Jessica exhaled in disgust while speaking the words, “What the shit?” Followed by, “Oh well… what’s one more climb?” She felt kinda bad for swearing in front of these complete strangers, but she felt worse having to ascend to the third bunk-deck just to go to bed.

Breakfast the next morning was good but too light for the circumstances. We had burned a lot of calories recently and at least I was feeling the need for more, especially when my morning plans were to complete the last leg of the W and hike up to see the actual Torres del Paine. Jessica was back and forth on whether to go or not. In the end, she chose to hang out in the warmth and comfort of the refugio. I saddled up with my day pack for the final summit. It took me 90 minutes to get up to the overlook, sleet salting me for much of the trek. It was another tough hike. Here’s what I’d come to see.


Satisfaction of a Completed W

It was lunchtime when I returned from seeing the towers. I replaced some calories and then Jessica and I packed up for the descent out of the valley. Our final hours on the trail were windy but nothing as intense as the previous day. We safely crossed back across the high pass and then ambled slowly downward the two or so hours it took to reach Refugio Las Torres where we would spend our final night in the park.

The time to reflect and rejoice the toils and triumphs of the past five days had arrived. Jessica enjoyed a glass of red wine and I ordered two pisco sours (hey, it was a 2×1 special). We also enjoyed our chats with fellow hikers. Staying at the refugios turned out to be great for meeting travelers from all over the world. We get a good kick out of sharing our travel-the-world-for-a-year story with others; fellow travelers are typically very enthusiastic and show their excitement for our plans easily. We also get to hear stories from them about additional great places for us to visit.

Torres del Paine was not a place known to us until recently. Now we know it well and can say first hand that it is as worthy a destination as any offered by the natural world. If you like a good hike, add Torres del Paine to your playlist.

Here are more pics of our time there.




Can you pick out Jessica in the distance?
Jessica watches some guanacos from the bus. There were many of them on the highway leading to Torres del Paine.
Torres del Paine for the win!!!

Chillin’ in Chile, Part 2

(Santiago, Chile – October 2013) In Part 2 of this post, you’ll see that we haven’t just been sitting around on our butts while in Santiago. Look for more controversial observations, too.

Gary Becomes a Frisbull

Just as I always do when arriving into a new city, I reached out to one of the local Ultimate organizers to find out where I might find some game. My timing was good. Turns out a 5-team, 5-week league had just started the previous week. Although I had missed week one, I could make all of the subsequent games. The only thing I needed was a team.

I showed up to the fields week #2 and asked Roberto (the league organizer) which team I should play on. He hesitated while thinking about it so I decided to help him out, “Which is the worst team?” Evidently, that was an easy question. He quickly nodded and pointed to Los Frisbulls who were playing a game right next to where we were standing. He said the captain’s name was Danní (actually his nickname, his name is Daniel) and that I just needed to ask if I could join. Thankfully, Danní said yes and I had myself a team.

My first day with Los Frisbulls ended with loss, but I actually thought the team wasn’t so bad. They’d only been playing together for 5 months and had some good young athletes. (Young indeed. The team’s oldest player was 25.) 20131101-212720.jpg
Truthfully, the overall level of Ultimate in Santiago is relatively low so none of the teams are particularly strong. Regarding the Frisbulls, I thought that with only a few small improvements they could surely win a game!

Easily I could write ten more paragraphs about my experience with Los Frisbulls, but I will be merciful and cut to the chase. The very next week the Frisbulls won their first game EVER. They won big, too, defeating the Blue Wings 11-3. Oh man! The team was so pumped; their first win ever and it put them into the play-off rounds. [Hey, it’s a small league.] The following week had the Frisbulls playing against the number one seed. We lost 15-11, but even the captain of the other team said he’d never witnessed a team improve so quickly.

The Frisbulls final game of the season was a battle for third place. They won it 8-7 and felt like champions.


Valparaiso and Viña del Mar

One person after another asked us, “Have you been to Valparaiso?” And/or, “Have you been to Viña del Mar?” After getting asked 5 or 6 times, it was clear we must go. These two places are coastal towns situated about 1 1/2 hours to the west of Santiago. Valparaiso is a historically important port city that has morphed into an artsy Bohemian haven. Viña del Mar is the next town northward and known for its long stretch of beach and spectacular ocean views. Jessica and I found an awesome hostel in Viña del Mar and stayed for two nights.

Taken in Viña del Mar.
Valparaiso is in the distance.
The view from our hostel.

The two cities (Valpo and Viña, for short) are less than a mile apart and connected by a coastal highway that has public buses running between them all day long. The only item on our list of things-to-do was take a 3-hour guided walking tour of Valparaiso. The tour was operated by the same company that did our walking tour of Santiago. Check out some of our snaps.


Over Jessica’s shoulder is a small plaza, curiously named Pinto Plaza. It is where our tour began.

In both of these cities (Valpo & Viña) homeless dogs were everywhere. Just as in Santiago, the dogs seemed healthy, happy and wonderfully friendly. In fact, a couple of dogs accompanied us on our walking tour. The guide said they were his “regulars.” Overall, the tour of Valpo was a notch less interesting than the Santiago tour but the entertaining behavior of our “guide” dogs made up the difference. They even came with us when we rode the elevators up and down the hillsides.

It is stairs like this that make the elevators a welcome site.
Pic is taken from inside our elevator car, looking down upon our “partner” car. This type of elevator operates as a pair- one is pulled up the hill while the other is lowered down.

Altogether, 26 “funiculares” exist throughout Valparaiso, although only 8 of them are currently in operation. Our guide told us that all of them (whether working or not) were recently purchased by the Chilean government and all will be fixed and put into service “soon.” They are really quite a treasure and someone within the government (probably the Department of Tourism) knows it.

One thing Valparaiso is known for is its street art. Colorful murals light up many building facades throughout the city. There is also a significant downside (in my opinion) to this art-openness…and that’s graffiti. The city is plagued by “tagging” practically everywhere a can of spray paint can reach. So many beautiful and historic building have been marked; it is clear that nothing is sacred.


American Pop Music

In grocery stores, restaurants, and every shop in the mall, popular American music is being played. From the 70’s to today, they play it all– Madonna, Billy Idol, Nirvana, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Maroon 5, Rihanna, and we even heard Pink Floyd. My list could keep going until it includes every English-singing band out there. I was more accustomed to this from my previous travels, but Jessica was definitely caught by surprise. The phenomenon I’m describing applies 100% to Chile, but we heard American music coming through speakers in Peru, Ecuador and Costa Rica, too.

It is striking because we are in Santiago, Chile, South America, far far away from US radios stations, night clubs and house parties. Everyone around us is speaking Spanish. Signs, billboards, restaurant menus, food labels…. are all written in Spanish. But in the singular area of music, it’s American popular music coming at you from every direction. Jessica questions, where is the music in Spanish?, and points out how odd (and unthinkable) it would be for songs in any language other than English to be playing at grocery stores in the states. It just wouldn’t happen.

In one of the places where we stayed in Peru, there was a construction site across the street. Naturally, someone had a radio playing nice and loud so that we could hear every song easily. It was as if we were transported back in time to the 70’s and 80’s. Disco lives! The other really cool thing for us was the variety and depth of playlist. All of the songs were familiar to Jessica and me but they were not limited to only the biggest hits from a given era. We were hearing songs that never get radio play in the states anymore….not even on those stations that claim to “play anything.” Donna Summer’s Love to Love Ya Baby, Duran Duran’s Is There Something I Should Know, and Blondie’s Rapture, just to name a few.

On a harder note… One thing we noticed immediately upon arriving into Santiago was the great number of Iron Maiden tshirts (and even hoodies, as shown below). We couldn’t walk two blocks or ride a city bus without seeing at least one. It was obvious that Iron Maiden had recently held a big concert in Santiago. But it didn’t stop there, we also saw an abundance of black tshirts from Metalica, Pantera, Megadeath and others. In conclusion, while American pop music rules the restaurants and shopping malls, heavy metal rules the ears, hearts and minds of many Chileans.

Napkins and Cigarettes

Instead of pointing to the drinkable tap water in Chile as a sign of its development, we might simply have pointed to its napkins. In Costa Rica, Ecuador and Peru, the table napkins provided by the restaurants were a joke. It looked like they were cutting normal table napkins (the square kind you probably have at home) into fourths and then folding each of those squares corner to corner to create a meager little triangle. This is what they give you as your napkin. Are you kidding me? Have you seen me eat? Have you seen any human eat? In Chile… we are happy to report normal napkins! Yay!

Another sign of progress in Chile is the prevalence of cigarette smokers. Immediate apologies for calling this progress, but I am making the knee-jerk assumption that citizens of a more highly developed economy have greater amounts of disposable income to spend on non-essentials…like cigarettes. Granted, it’s far more complicated than that, but the main point is that we have found many more people smoking cigarettes in Chile than we did in any of the previous countries we have visited on this trip.

We’ve heard that the culture of smoking here is deeply rooted and that perceptions are just now starting to slowly change. Those changes appears to be slow indeed. So many people smoke that there is virtually no stigma associated with it at all. For non-smokers like us it means that sitting at an outdoor cafe assures us of a smokey lunch or dinner.

Santiago Overall

Santiago is a great city. Any conversation about world-class cities should include Santiago, in our opinion. There is a vibrant energy here that has been a pleasure to be immersed in… even if only for a limited time. Santiago is a beautiful city. The great Andes mountains hold the city’s eastern edge, providing it with a permanent spectacular backdrop. Frequent city parks and beautified bike and walking paths weave throughout the city. Transportation to and from any two points is inexpensive, reliable and easy- buses are ever-present and the subway system is first rate. We loved the bip! cards, too.

20131101-210007.jpgbip! cards are used on both the buses and subway trains as a substitute for cash/coin. No change for the bus? No problem. I also liked the touchless swipe system- just hold the card up to the electronic reader and wait for the beep that acknowledges your payment. That is why it’s called a bip! card. (In Spanish the “i” is pronounced like the “ee” in English.)

The people of Chile that we have met seem to know they live in a good place. They are happy and rightfully prideful of their great city. Many times we walked past restaurants with outdoor seating and saw tables full of friends laughing and smiling together as if there was no place in the world they’d rather be.

Random acts of kindness were easy to find, too. One day, Jessica dropped her coin purse- a small souvenir item she’d bought in Peru. We were walking by Ñuñoa Plaza when it somehow fell quietly to the sidewalk. We were a block away recharging our Bip! cards by the time Jessica realized she didn’t have it. Retracing our steps seemed futile, but it was our only option. Jessica continued to search her purse and pockets as we walked, eyes simultaneously scanning the cement. Out of the corner of her eye Jessica noticed a woman motioning for her attention. The woman came closer and asked, “Did you lose something?” Jessica replied and gestured the size of her lost coin purse with one hand. The woman smiled and pulled it into view while pointing to where she’d found it on the sidewalk. Awesome!

I don’t know if this counts as evidence that Chileans are a happy bunch, but we certainly witnessed many a public make-out session while touring the city.  Bus stops and subway stations were prime spots for many young lovers.  Go Chile!

In Part 1 of this post, I was pretty clear that Chilean food has a way of underwhelming the tastebuds. This opinion was primarily directed towards Chile’s “comida tipica” (typical food). However, Santiago is an international city with a variety of restaurants catering to all palates; delicious food can be found here. The other day, Jessica and I ate Risotto de Mote at a place called “La Jardin” and it was quite good. I also gave Chorrillana a second try (discussed and pictured in Part 1) at a different restaurant. It was much tastier at this second place…mostly because they put cheese on top of it. 🙂

Sharing a few photos of a day trip we made to Cajon del Maipo, a place that reminded Jessica of Big Bear in California. Thank you Coni and Camila for taking us. 20131101-203102.jpg
Part of our day trip included a 1/2 mile hike through an abandoned tunnel. Midway through it was completely dark. Here is Jessica posing in front of the light at the end of the tunnel.

Earthquake! Chile is well-known for its frequent earthquakes. On our final day in Santiago…we felt one. My first ever. It was a decent-size quake, but the epicenter was many miles north of Santiago. Jessica and I were at the mall on the fourth floor when the wave passed by us. The sensation for us was a gentle back and forth swaying motion. It lasted only about 10 seconds.

Jessica tackles Santiago’s most famous cocktail, the Terramoto. (Translation- earthquake).  Fill a big glass with Chilean wine, add some grenadine, then drop a couple of scoops of pineapple ice cream into it.  Be careful, though.  Drink more than one and you may feel the earth moving once you try to stand up.

Into the Santiago Sunset

On November 1st Jessica and I will repack our bags and hit the road again for more adventures. We have changed-up our schedule a little bit from what it says on the Itinerary page of our website. Instead of staying in Chile until the 25th of November, we will cross the Andes into Argentina for a few weeks before swooping back into southern Chile via Patagonia. This will probably be the only time we leave a country and then return to it later to see additional sites.

Final note, Jessica picked up the book Alive from our first Santiago hostel. It’s the true story of a rugby team from Uruguay whose plane crashed in the Andes mountains in 1972. The book is a compelling read and heartily recommended. You will also enjoy the inspirational documentary we located on YouTube, though you may not enjoy the Portuguese subtitles in this pirated video.


Chillin’ in Chile, Part 1

Time to slow it down….way down. Jessica and I have been traveling like mad since leaving the US on August 6th. Costa Rica, our first country, seems so long ago now. Then came Ecuador followed by Peru. Bish-Bam-Boom! It may not seem like that much to list them, but realize that each country has granted us thousands of new memories and…well, it is a heckuva lot. One glance back at the 11 posts I have made to this travel blog and all that we have done and seen becomes abundantly clear.

Now we are in Santiago, Chile and staying put for about a month. This means a whole different kind of world travel experience. In essence, we are living in another country. Granted, it’s just for one month, but that is still a sufficient amount of time for us to see the world (and our place in it) from a perspective neither of us has ever had before.

Why Chile? Why now? What are we doing here? Good questions all. Choosing to pause our hectic travel schedule at this point in time and in this place was a little bit arbitrary. Basically, we figured after two straight months of travel we might like a break-y-poo. Plus, we had not done any detailed planning of our trip beyond the first three countries. And finally, future planning from this point can now benefit from our experiences and inform our travel methods and pace going forward.

There was so much to say about this portion of our trip that I split my post into two parts.

Our New (Temporary) Life

As soon as we arrived into Santiago our hunt for a semi-permanent place to stay began in earnest. We used and quickly found a tiny but suitable one bedroom apartment in a middle-class part of Santiago known as Ñuñoa (so very awkward to pronounce). We feel really comfortable here. There is a nice park right down the street, two nearby grocery stores (and one newly built mall), and multiple bus stops all within a stone’s throw. We paid $870 for the entire month of October. That comes to about $30/day, right in-line with our budget. Check this out, our building even has its own doorman and weekly maid service for our apartment. Woot! And best of all (for me at least), there is Ultimate being played on fields just five minutes away from here on a (borrowed) bicycle.

The shift from travel-like-crazy to let’s slow-it-down-for-a-month contained a few interesting surprises for us. It was the little things that tickled– we bought toilet paper for the first time in ages. Fun! Both of us had on and off stuffy noses so we bought a couple of boxes of tissue for our apartment. So cool!  Mayonnaise, mustard, bread, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes…all our normal stuff. So very ordinary, which I guess is what made it so comforting.

Who’s ready to start their own business? Coin-operated laundromats in Santiago could be the next big idea. They don’t exist here. [Okay, that is not strictly true, we found there is actually one here, but located too far away to help us.] Whenever we needed to wash clothes in Costa Rica, Ecuador or Peru, we either did it ourselves in the sink or took it to a neighborhood laundry service. We had assumed (incorrectly) that once in Santiago we could do our own laundry at a laundromat. That didn’t happen. The good news is that every grocery store has its own laundry service counter inside, so that’s convenient. We are just not fans of having to pay $8.50 per load.

Being stationary for a while has allowed us to catch up on some movies. We saw Gravity, Elysium and The Heat. All were worthy! (Hmmm, Sandra Bullock was in two-thirds of the movies we’ve seen while in Santiago. Go Sandy!) We also went to a nearby community theater and saw a free show of Flamenco dancing. That was an enjoyable night out.

My Confession of Ignorance

Prior to this current trip to South America, Peru was the only South American country to which I had ever traveled. Jessica had never been anywhere in South America. Ignorantly, I had mentally lumped all South American countries into a similar bucket and assumed they were all more or less on the poorer end of the economic development scale. I was quite wrong. As represented by Santiago, the country of Chile is a world away from both Peru and Ecuador in terms of economic development and modernization. Chile is a 1st world country without a doubt. Yes, here you can drink the water right from the tap and no, they don’t drive like maniacs. Some of their driving habits even come pretty close to awesome. If we are crossing the street at a pedestrian crosswalk, even ones without any traffic signals, the cars will stop and wait for us as if we had thrown magic powder in their faces.

This crosswalk has signals, and check out those moves…

Further surprises were: one- just how expensive everything (except wine) is, and two- just how horrible Chilean food is. When traveling throughout Peru, we were warned that Chilean food is not very good. We assumed that was harmless smack talk between neighboring countries. But nooooo! In our experience so far, it’s just plain true. Chilean food is…um…uh…lackluster. Calling it bad or horrible may be too harsh, but in our honest opinion we have found that Chilean food has very little to offer in terms of taste. And then the fact that it cost so much is insult to injury. Since we have full use of a kitchen in our little apartment we are preparing most of our own meals. Occasionally, we venture out to a restaurant, but after getting burned a few times we not eager to go out and spend $12 – $18 on a plate of food only to come away disappointed.

We did a 4-hour walking tour of Santiago the first week we were here. It was a great tour in 18 different ways. Our guide (Franco) spoke very good English and filled the tour with great stories from Chile’s history. Here we are in front of the President’s office building.

One of our tour stops was in front of Galindos, a Santiago restaurant in business for 45 years. It was there that Franco shared his insights into Chile’s food culture. A few Chilean dishes were called out by name as being very much worth tasting- Pastel de Choclo and Chorrillana, being two of them. On separate occasions we tried them. Pastel de Choclo (corn pie) was no better than “just okay.” (Pictured first, below.) The Chorrillana (with its topping of 2 fried eggs) was “God-awful,” in my opinion, and a “missed opportunity” in Jessica’s.


One item Jessica tried and liked is called Mote con Huesillos. It’s a kind of chilled tea poured over grains of wheat. Peach halves are added to the tea and hover in the glass like ice cubes. It’s a big hit among the locals because it costs only about $1 and is both a refreshing drink on a hot day and (practically) a meal. I tried it, too, but didn’t find it appealing.

More sites from in and around Santiago. The ever-present Catholic Cathedral, General Valdivia- the founder of Santiago sits atop his steed, and so that you will never get lost….the mountains are always to the east.
Santiago’s central fish market:

Time to Serve

One of our commitments during this trip was to do some volunteering. Taking so much time away from working real jobs and giving that luxury exclusively to ourselves seems a little decadent and perhaps even selfish. Let us at least set aside some of our time for helping others. The type of volunteering we wanted to do never truly solidified in our heads in advance of our trip, but we figured it might have something to do with teaching English to kids or contributing to a shelter for women, etc. What we learned, however, is that it’s really difficult to volunteer when you only have one month of your time to offer. One month barely gets you through the screening process. Volunteer projects involving people are understandably more hesitant about bringing in outsiders- wariness of creepers and the hassles of potential personality conflicts surely play a part in their caution.

Turns out that dogs and cats are less particular than people about who helps them and for how long….so guess whom we started scratching to satisfy our volunteer itch. There are two separate but related animal rescue organizations that operate not too far from where we live, one for dogs and the other for cats. We’ve been enough times now that the dogs have started to recognize us. The cats…less so.

Another impromptu bit of community service we took on was cleaning up a particularly litter-strewn street we routinely walk down on our way to the grocery store. Santiago is not a “dirty city” and I don’t want to leave you with that impression, but there are definitely some areas that could use a little picking up.

Good Dogs and Stupid People

It’s hard to know where to begin telling you about Chile’s dogs. Perhaps a few quick sound-bites will get you oriented. There are a (relatively) large number of homeless dogs living in Chile’s major cities. Almost all of the street dogs we saw appeared healthy and happy. The dogs we met were sweet, friendly, approachable, non-threatening, and often quite good-looking. Most would make outstanding family dogs. The only thing missing was the family.
My street dog collage.

Where do all of these dogs come from? The story we got was that a lot of Chilean people are really “stupid” when it comes to their dogs. Families adopt them when they are small, cute and lovable little puppies, but they underestimate the lifelong responsibility they have assumed and abandon them to the streets once they are grown or otherwise become too much trouble. Obviously, this should not be taken as an indictment of all Chileans…only the stupid ones. Many Chilean people have dogs and take great care of them throughout their lives. Go anywhere in Santiago and you will see someone out walking their beloved dog.

Apparently the problem of stray dogs reached a level that the good people of Chile simply could no longer ignore because starting a few years ago both public and privately-funded campaigns have targeted the problem and achieved quite remarkable results. Below is a public sign that announces a new city ordinance banning the practice of abandoning your pets. One part of the signs say, Santiago Take Care of Your Pets.
Changing a culture is not instantaneous, but it can happen more quickly than you might think. One of the principle volunteers at the Ñuñoa Dog Rescue Center told us the number of abandoned dogs in Ñuñoa has dropped significantly in just the four years since the center opened. The spaying and neutering of strays has been effective, but so has their more general efforts to educate people and change the perception of dogs as pets.

One creative campaign to bring attention to the problem was initiated by a couple of college students in 2012. What they did was write messages on helium-filled balloons and then tie them around the necks of the stray dogs. The messages said things like, “Hug me,” “Don’t leave me” and “Play with me.” Of course, they made a video of it to spread their message even further.

The unifying theme of the stray dog campaigns is that these dogs belong to ALL Chileans. We heard that during the coldest winter months, random people will provide the dogs with sweaters, jackets and sometimes even stylish matching hats.

Meet Elena and her dog Gypsy. Elena was a good-good friend of my mother when they both lived in Houston some 20 years ago. Elena is Chilean and returned to Chile after she retired. We enjoyed paying her a visit.

(Come back for Part 2)