I'm Dreaming of a Scorching Hot Christmas!

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South America » Chile
January 14th 2009
Published: January 23rd 2009
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The Colorful Streets of ValparaisoThe Colorful Streets of ValparaisoThe Colorful Streets of Valparaiso

Pick a color. Any color. Just don´t match your neighbor!
I actually think it is a White Christmas, but to borrow a line from myself in a previous entry, that is exactly what I got. Okay, maybe it was not scorching hot, but the weather forecast for everyday I was in Santiago was 88 & sunny without a cloud in the sky (only smog).

So how should I get to South America? I looked into cargo ships, but that didn’t pan out. How about Sydney to Auckland to Buenos Aires to Santiago? Four capitals in less than forty-eight hours (yes, I realize that Sydney & Auckland aren’t technically their nation’s capitals, but to me that would be like if Los Angeles wasn’t the capital of California, or Chicago the capital of Illinois, or Miami the capital of Florida, or New York the capital of, well, New York…oh, wait).

Anyways, it was time to re-acclimate myself with life in an airport. It had been awhile. “Yah, mate! Laptops are the #1 hiding spot for explosives!”—Ummm, I don’t think he was supposed to be so stoked to tell me this. Well, I am past the baggage check. Time to follow the sheep through Vegas. Or at least it seemed like Vegas, but without the slots & poker tables & strip clubs & buffets. Instead of walking through the casino to my room, I had to walk for several minutes that seemed like hours past “cheap duty free” booze & fragrances & chocolate & cigarettes. Everywhere you looked! Buy buy buy! Consume consume consume! Spend spend spend! Ahhh, the vices in life…

There I am on the first leg of my flights reading The Buenos Aires Herald. On the front page, there is a big picture of George W. Bush meeting with the Iraqi Prime Minister, but this isn’t your usual picture of our goofy child President (thanks HST). The picture is more like a blur. What the hell? Somebody threw a shoe at GWB? A local journalist premeditated on attack on the leader of the most powerful country in the world with something so taboo in his own country? This event really brought forth a question that I have been searching for the answer of for an extremely long time. A question on par with: What is the meaning of Life?, To be or Not to be?, and Where do babies come from? I don’t think I am alone, actually
Floating with EaseFloating with EaseFloating with Ease

A true salt lake.
I know I’m not alone, when I stay up all night thinking to myself…

“Who throws a shoe?” - Austin Powers

The attention deficit disorder kicks in before I can flip to Page 2, plus I see the flight attendants heading my way. ¡Cerveza Numero Uno! This brings forth another interesting question: Who thought of serving free booze on international flights? I mean, don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining. Keep ‘em coming and might as well do the same for bus rides, etcetera, while we are at it, but is this really a smart and well thought out concept? Let’s get these sleep deprived, jet lagged, travel high foreigners Intoxicated! before they enter countries they have never been to (except on the Internet) and don’t even speak the local language and are likely to rent a vehicle and not even know what side of the road to drive on.

Now the flight attendants circle back through the restless passengers, but this time with Custom Cards. Ocupación: Vagabundo. Yeah, that should do…plus, that won’t raise any red flags as I enter with a one-way ticket, no clue where I am going to stay, and no exit
Mountain & MoonMountain & MoonMountain & Moon

Wandering around San Pedro de Atacama.
plan. Whatever. My Spanish is okay, which is a lot more than I can say about my fluency in any of the Asian countries I went to where I strictly followed one of my Travel Rules of Thumb: Always know how to say “Hello” & “Thank you,” and “Cheers” if you are feeling ambitious. Hola. Gracias. Salud. Done, done, and done!

Finally, I am done with the airports and have stepped foot in the heart of the most prosperous country in America south of the United States…Santiago. I hope I don’t venture back into one of those clusterfucks (or aeropuerto in Spanish) until I am back in my homeland. I am smiling from ear-to-ear. Spanish is being spoken everywhere. Spanish Chileno Spanish S-less Spanish Spanish. Leaning back and digging the sad sun setting over the sad sand in the sad dunes in the sad distance.

“Oh let the sun beat down upon my face,
Stars to fill my dream,
I am a traveler of both time and space,
To be where I have been”
- Robert Plant

Only a half hour van ride and I am at arguably the nicest hostel I have stayed in to date.
The Smog of SantiagoThe Smog of SantiagoThe Smog of Santiago

Up at Cerro San Cristobal.
What to do? Nothing extremely impressive, but the Funicular to sweeping views of the entire metropolis, Cerro San Cristobal, Cerro Santa Lucia, Pablo Neruda’s House, and Plaza de Armas (which is in every somewhat large city in this country).

My first day was cool, but I think the blonde in my hair and the slight language barrier might have given some certain people some certainly wrong ideas. As I have in the past, I will leave it at that…for now.

My first night brought back some recent memories. The honking horns. The late night commotion. The honking horns. The “Sorry, no change.” The honking horns. The developing country vibe. The honking horns. Back into the mix::::::

A new country, and continent for that matter, for me and so many new Characters being introduced to the Game of Life. My Game of Life. Dutch, Swedes, Danes, Germans, Brits, Irish, Ecuadorians, Brazilians, Americans, and of course, Chileans.

At this time of year, the sun doesn’t set until at least 9pm, which means dinner and the festivities that follow don’t really kick off until 10pm at the earliest. One night I met up with Enrique (thanks Morgan), who is a local of Santiago, with my Swedish friend Joakim, for a night on the town. It is always the best to be introduced to a foreign country with the help of a local, especially when his/her home is so different from the one you call home. A couple of micheladas (look it up) and whatnot later and things were flowing beautifully in Bella Vista.

“Let that boy boogie woogie!” - John Lee Hooker

The Big Day has finally arrived. Merry Christmas! ¡Feliz Navidad! Me, my Danish friends (Klaus, Mark, and Jette), and the rest of our hostel fill the open seats under the newly polished tables covered by the recently laundered table cloths for the freshly cleaned glasses next to the uncorked wine bottles reflecting the flashing green & red lights hugging the pleasantly aromatic Christmas tree hovering over the perfectly wrapped gifts for the smiling faces all around.

It was definitely a different experience (to say the least) celebrating such a family oriented holiday overseas (it was my first time and I am sure my mom would chime in “and last time”), but my hostel and everybody there sure made the best of it. Also, they
Pablo Neruda´s HousePablo Neruda´s HousePablo Neruda´s House

Don´t worry. I didn´t know who he was either, but I didn´t admit that to the locals. Not that I could have with the combination of their English & my Spanish lexicon.
celebrate it on what we refer to as Christmas Eve. Post-feast we wandered around the city and called it a night. The next day was filled with people departing for new destinations and me using Skype once again to celebrate a holiday with my family that is so far away. I might have not been there physically opening presents, but I was in the Living Room (or No Room) with the Fam & Tree & Fire & Music. The Yawns & Thank-yous & Hot Chocolate & Fake Surprise. The Happiness & Joy & Smiles & Smell of Bacon.

After a one-day stop in Valparaiso (or Valpo) with the Danes, we returned to Santiago for a few more days. It was overcast in Valpo and the Danes treat the clear skies and sun like a lost treasure that is going to evaporate into nothingness forever. Plus, they have to return home in a week and a half to winter in Scandinavia and I don’t really care where we go (they rented a car) as long as we are back in Valpo for New Years Eve.

Another big holiday has arrived. Happy New Years! ¡Feliz Año Nuevo! Me, the Danes,

Also known as the United States. The street where the former U.S. Embassy sits.
a British & German girl from our hostel in Santiago, and a few new characters and we were ready to bring in 2009. There we were in the San Francisco-esque streets of Valparaiso with its skinny roads and wonderfully multi-colored rows of houses stacked on top of each other to view the sea and witness Latin America’s Biggest Firework Show. The sea speckled with boats carrying fuegos artificiales to light up the sky. No less than thirty minutes the world above us was illuminated with red & white & orange & green & blue & yellow explosions as far as the eye could see. The voices getting hoarse and the bottles nearing empty and the Grand Finale! For half a minute it was bright as day, even though it was well past Midnight in this Summer’s Dream. After it returned to night, we followed the masses downward and stopped just above of the madness at sea level for the bacchanal revelry to continue into this new year.

New Years Day…a day spent watching classics. Classics like your eyelids as your body tries to wither the pain from the night prior. Or the classic of man triumphing over beast. The
Bush PuppiesBush PuppiesBush Puppies

I know jokes aren´t that funny after you explain them, but Bush Puppies is a play on Hush Puppies, which is a popular shoe brand in Chile and well, we know what happened with Bush & The Shoe.
classic man versus the classic beast. Trojans versus Lions with the Trojans prevailing with almost shocking ease marching out under the rose pedal rain…

It was time to say Chao to my Danish friends as they were heading east back to the capital and I was starting my trend of long bus rides north. They taught me offensive language in Danish and I taught them inappropriate hand gestures in the States. I’d say it was a budding friendship.

I had finally arrived to a beach city! Or so I thought. The dot on the map with the name La Serena next to it sure looked promising. I didn’t know la playa was a forty-five minute walk from this city´s Plaza de Armas. There were very few foreigners here and when I least expected to see one, I would run into some German I had met in some previous city. One night at dinner before meeting up with a Dutch friend, I sat next to a group of three of the roughest & toughest looking "backpackers" yet. They were from Slovenia and even though they were the first Eastern Europeans I had met since leaving home, they asked me
Team America!Team America!Team America!

A painting I liked at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes.
a question that I often received—"You are from California? Then why are you here?"

It was almost time to leave La Serena, but they have many shops and I desperately needed new shoes for my future endeavours. After going into many stores and leaving empty handed, I had to concede to defeat. They don´t make shoes big enough here!

The next stop was San Pedro de Atacama, which on the almost one-day bus ride I would meet my travel companions/Spanish teachers for the remainder of my time in the country, Ana and Erica from Argentina. Aside from being a lot of fun, it was great to be able to learn any Spanish phrase at any time, plus it made travel much easier.

San Pedro is a cool town that was much smaller and rural than I expected. Basically a 2 X 3 street dirt road box in the middle of the nowhere desert. It is so often visited because of all the beautiful nature in such close vicinity. There is Laguna Cejas where you can float effortlessly like you are in a water bed because of the salinity surrounded immediately by flat desert with monstrous mountains in
Merry Christmas!Merry Christmas!Merry Christmas!

Our Christmas dinner in Santiago. Jamie (England), Klaus & Jette (Denmark), me, Mark (Denmark), and Bruno (Brazil).
the distance. There are Salar de Tebinquinche & Salar de Atacama, which are salt flats of grand proportion. There are Valle de la Muerte & Valle de la Luna, which really peak an interest in how this crazy world has been shaped...rock & dirt protruding at odd angles for miles and miles, but really just telling a story. There are Laguna Miscanti & Laguna Miñiques, which are perfectly still blue lagoons over 4,000 meters in the sky as a result of volcanic activity a little before we all joined this planet. Lastly, there are the Geysers del Tatio sitting at over 4,200 meters above sea level. The largest geyser field south of the Equator and the third largest in the world behind Yellowstone (United States) and Dolina Giezerov (Russia). It was here that I was naked. Well, not naked, but the closest to it. We ventured up to this geothermic basin around 4:30am and it was below 0-Celcius. I show up the least prepared with jeans and a light sweatshirt. Not smart. Trust me. The adjacent hot springs that we were able to swim in later helped some, but I thought my fingers were going to fall off.

Along with all of the enchanting nature, there were many cool animals I had never seen before. Wandering around the Andes at seemingly uncomfortable altitudes for constant life were flamingos, alpacas, vicuñas, and llamas. The llamas were my favorite. So much so that I had several llama on a skewer when we stopped for a bite to eat.

The last stop was Arica. An actual beach town about as far north as you could go in this country. Here the Spanish of Ana and Erica really helped as I think I would have had to pay a bit more for taxis and accomodation without them. It was nice to chill out on the beach for a few days in bearable heat with a sea breeze. One day while walking through the city, I saw some Mormons. Of course, I had to say hi and see what the hell they were up to (as if I didn´t know). I found it pretty funny and am sure I will see many more. I needed to be somewhere (by needed, I mean wanted to be lazing on the beach) or I would have asked them to join me for una cerveza so they
Street ArtStreet ArtStreet Art

In Valparaiso.
could have declined my generous offer.

After a few days of taking in the sun, I was continuing north. I once again had to say Chao to my new friends and Muchas Gracias as they really helped me with Spanish. It was a lot of fun, but now I know I have some places to stay on the East Coast of América del Sur. Now where is that old-school Ford that looks like something a homelessman´s version of Tony Soprano would use to pack half-a-dozen corpses in the back? I am heading to Perú...

[Sidenote 14: There is a recurring problem for people all over the world, which is communication through speech. I am fortunate to speak English fluently (or so I think), which helps me get by in most places around the world, but NOT ALL. Something very important and afterwards seemingly obvious I learned while traveling with my non-native English speaking friends starting when I left home was: If I don´t understand what you are saying, maybe repeat it once more and if that doesn´t work, please rephrase it. That is the nice way of putting it. I have been on the receiving end of this
Street ArtStreet ArtStreet Art

In Valparaiso.
problem over and over again in Chile. If you say something in Spanish (or some other language) and I don´t get it, it is not necessarily because you are talking to fast, too quietly, or too lazily, it is because I don´t have those words in my vocabulary yet. Try a different approach. If you don´t, you often get a wordless response that looks like a deer in headlights. I know. I give that look all the time.]

Additional photos below
Photos: 32, Displayed: 32


Dinner in ValparaisoDinner in Valparaiso
Dinner in Valparaiso

Klaus, Jette, me, and Mark.
A Day at the FairA Day at the Fair
A Day at the Fair

Yeah, maybe we did ride the ferris wheel. By the way, I love traveling with these self-proclaimed Vikings. They make me look so much tanner than I really am.
Put on Your Sun ScreenPut on Your Sun Screen
Put on Your Sun Screen

That doesn´t seem too healthy.
The Vast Deserts of Northern ChileThe Vast Deserts of Northern Chile
The Vast Deserts of Northern Chile

Ramon y David (España), Erica y Ana (Argentina), and me.
Another Rough DayAnother Rough Day
Another Rough Day

Erica, me, and Ana at Laguna Cejas.

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