Visiting with locals while traveling always makes for a rich experience. Our daughter Emma is living and working in Santiago, and we are fortunate to be able to spend some special time there with her.
Emma’s then boyfriend, Carlos, is a native Chilean and between him and Emma we experience the best of Santiago. That includes shopping for clothes for Tim who ends up with his luggage lost until literally days before we return home. He is a great sport about the situation. (I ashamedly admit that I am glad that it is his suitcase and not mine which is missing.)
Highlight activities in this beautiful capital city bordered by the Andes and Coastal Mountains include watching the changing of the guard at La Moneda (Presidential Palace), visiting Cerro San Cristobal monument, watching street protests and walking around the Cementerio General. We drink tasty Pisco Sours, eat wonderful food and taste local specialties including completos (Chilean style hot dogs) and mote con huesillo (a whole peach with husked wheat swimming in peach nectar).
Most memorable for me personally is visiting the Museo de la Memoria (Museum of Memory) with Carlos. I learn somberly of the human rights violations during the period of the Pinochet dictatorship. Carlos lends his knowledge and understanding of these times gained from his parents and other relatives.
Speaking of his parents and relatives, we have the opportunity to attend a local wedding in Carlos’ home town of Rancagua. It is a lovely event and we are honored to be there. Another day, with Carlos as guide, we take a rainy day hike to Reserva Nacional Rio de los Cipreses with the snow covered Andes as back drop. It is exciting to see the wild burrowing parrots (loros tricahues) with their nest holes in the cliff face along the river. While in Rancagua, we visit the store owned by Carlos’ parents and are treated to wonderful meals and lodging at their home. One evening we visit the beautifully lit Plaza de Los Heroes in the peaceful center of Rancagua.
Being July and therefore winter in the Southern hemisphere, we head north with Emma and Carlos to the Atacama Desert, the driest desert on earth. We are wowed by the remote beauty of this Mars-like landscape. We discover first hand that you can get a little lost driving along the dirt roads. A quick turn-around is made when we come upon a lonely sign stating “Peligro campo minado” (Danger mine field)! We stay in an airbnb - a traditional adobe home in a small village just outside San Pedro de Atacama with an awe inspiring volcanic view.
Highlight activities on this desert adventure include visits to the open air market, church and old cemetery in San Pedro, tramping around the Valle de la Luna with its salty crust, observing flamingos and other migrating birds in the Los Flamencos National Reserve and seeing brilliant Southern Hemisphere constellations at a star gazing facility nearby - this area is one of the darkest in the world!
We are sad to bid Emma goodbye but truly grateful for this special taste of Chile!