Thursday, December 11, 2008

We've been home now for several months and everyone has adjusted to stationary life again. Getting back into home and school schedules was difficult but the transition is over. One of the biggest things we experienced when we returned to our house was how overwhelming all our stuff was. This prompted me to write an article for our local parenting magazine (Mountain Parent) called "Too Much Stuff". The essence of my piece is that stuff makes our lives harder not easier, and that our travels taught us how little we really need to be happy. You can check out the article at this link:

Here is a photo of the kids in the shadow of Mount Sopris after a 3 mile uphill hike soon after we returned.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

How about San Rafael??

We left the ranch with tears in our eyes the day after my birthday. The three hour ride out was made a bit interesting by the half arabian Cass and I were riding who would periodically spook and break into gallop! We reached the lower pasture and said our goodbyes to Sky and Horacio and headed with Ashley into El Huecu, the nearest town which doesnt have much more than a bus station and school. Since we were headed north towards Mendoza we hopped on a bus to Chos Malal (a town to the north) thinking that would be the fastest way to Mendoza. We were wrong! The drive north was stunning (which distracted us from the fact that T and C and I were all in 2 seats together and the drop off was terrifying looking!) We arrived in Chos Malal and found a hotel for the night but the next morning learned the only way to Mendoza was either back to Zapala (south), our on a small local bus in the evening that connected with an overnight bus from Buta Ranquil as far as San Rafael (3 hours south of Mendoza). There was no bus station for the second bus but we called the kiosco were the bus stopped and were told we could have 3 seats but no more and there wouldnt be another bus until 2 days later! Decided to take the plunge and headed north. Buta Ranquil was even smaller than El Huecu with dirt streets, one restaraunt and lots of folks staring at us. We ended up having 5 hours there before our bus left at 11 but to our pleasant surprise there was another seat for Cass. We left there at 11pm and arrived in San Rafael at 6:30 totally exhausted (the road was gravel and Dave and I barely slept at all). The first hotel we called would let us check in right away so we decided to stay. After a long morning nap we explored the town which seemed like our guide book said to be like Mendoza without all the hipsters. It is surrounded by fertile wine country and is notable for its tree lined streets and people of all ages and sizes on bikes everywhere. It also has really good icecream! At the ice cream store we met an italian ex-pat who invited us to her house for dinner. It seemed like such a good omen that we found a nice house to rent for the week and moved in! Our house was 5 blocks from a huge park and 5 blocks from the ice cream store. It was like I imagine living in a small European city to be like, we had a butcher shop, bakery, fruit stand and market within 2 blocks of our house but were in a very residential neighborhood. We spent the week visiting wineries (by bike on a bike path!!!), saw all the city's museums, played in the park and drove out to Valle Grande. Valle Grande looks very much like Utah including a lush river running through it that we took a raft trip on.

Ranch Friends

We made some great friends at the ranch that we hope to stay in touch with. Our friend Horacio made Toby these goat skin riding pants (we probably ate the animals meat too!). Our friends Anna and Juliana gave us breaks and played with the kids tons! The only two other kids around lived about a half hour away by horse back but we got together with them a few times for soccer games and art and language practice! And of course Ashley and Sky for hosting us at their beautiful ranch. We will miss everyone we met there and hope to see them again on our travels.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008


The kids learned to be very comfortable on horses and were riding by themselves (on mellow horses) pretty quickly. They can even ride bareback, a step I was never quite ready to take! Here are some photos of them riding separate and together. There was an area on the ranch with 3 small lakes about a 40 minute ride away that had the only producing apple tree this year that we rode to several times to stock up on fresh fruit which we ate in every conceivable form including an apple crumble cooked in our woodfired oven and apple fritters we improvised! Here is a photo of a cold ride we took there in the middle of the month! Shannon was lucky enough to go on a couple half day rides with clients and with ranch work. She also got to help round up the young steers which were getting pushed to the lower pasture to meet a cattle truck. Very fun!

Dave had an exciting day going to help our friend Horacio get a steer that had a broken leg and couldnt make it out to the cattle truck. They rode out with 2 others and herded the steer to a tree, lassoed it then Horacio slit its throat with his gaucho knife. Then they had to hoist it into the tree and butcher it, tie it on their horses and head back to the ranch 1 hr away. Dave´s horse freaked out about the meat being on its back so he switched to Horacio´s horse Pegasus (the name being a bad omen for a novice rider!). Pegasus then unbeknownst to anyone got a huge rock in his shoe and freaked out, taking off at a gallop uphill jumping over bushes until Dave could stop him! A little excitement in his life for sure!! That night had a gaucho asado in the barn of beef - a very welcome change from all the goat asados! We have nicknamed Cassidy the Barbarian Princess or carnivorous Cassidy for the way she chows down at Asados with a big chunk of meat in her hand!!

Life at Estancia Ranquilco

It is hard to describe the immensity and beauty of this part of northern Patagonia and this ranch called Ranquilco (which in Mapuche means place of trees beside the water which is an apt moniker). It is 100,000 acres owned by a former Aspenite Ashley Carriterhs and home to an every changing crew of volunteers, paying guests, Ashley´s daughter Sky, 2 other gringo

employees and 2 to 4 gauchos (cowboys) and a collection of dogs, chickens, cats, horses and aboug 600 cows and unnumerable goats! The headquarters area is perched on a hillside covered with some of the only trees in the area, overlooking a gorgeous clear cold river (see photo). There is the Big House where Ashley and guests stay and then a smattering of other crazy houses for relatives then the gaucho and volunteer quarters further up the hill in what used to be the historic ranch headquarters. We moved into the 2 bedroom volunteer house which had previously housed the other young volunteers and had the only kitchen and hot water bathroom (more on that later). The other folks were mostly heading out in about a week so they moved into other rooms throughout the place and we all shared the kitchen (a bit crazy for a control freak like me!). We had a fireplace, woodcookstove and wood fired hot water heater for the shower! No electricity because the water powered turbine broke last year.

We were given the job of salvaging a one acre garden which had been sadly neglected for several seasons. It was the perfect task for us because the garden was right next to our house and totally enclosed by a rock wall so that the kids wereunbothered by the roaming dogs and help us or play as they wished. We essentially dug it over and made paths and brought in fertilizer for the entire month. It was amazing to look at the progress and know that our work would provide the ranch folks with fresh veggies next year. Everyone was very grateful for our work which was very nice too.

The rythms of living on the ranch were so simple and fulfilling. We would wake up with the sun (8:30), work in the garden when it got warm enough and stop when it got hot, take a long lunch time then work more or hike or play or ride horses as the mood suited us in the afternoon. Making bread was a half day affair of making the dough, collecting firewood, heating up the huge woodfired oven and then baking it. Taking a shower meant planning for an extra hour of firewood and stoking it until it was warm enough for everyone to get clean, and thus only happened a couple times a week. The volunteers and gauchos were provided with an endless supply of goat meat, flour, rice, pasta, potatoes, onions and not much else. We were had some extra supplies brought in and never felt lacking but it sure was a change from the rich chocolate lifestyle of Bariloche! The kids adapted to the food really well though never became huge fans of goat meat. A few times we had fresh trout from the river and chickens from the ranch (Cassidy watched their necks get rung quite calmly!). The kids absolutely adored it and would have stayed for months if we could have.

Arriving at Ranquilco

We´ve been at Ranquilco now for almost 2 weeks and Im writing a blog entry now to transcribe later so it isnt too overwhelming.
First - our arrival! We took two buses back to back to get from Bariloche to our launching off town of Zapala. The kids were super psyched that our second bus was a double decker a
nd our seats were on top. They showed cheezy early 90s rock videos on the tvs the whole time which was rather surreal. After anight in Zapala we shopped with Ashley (the owner of the ranch) to resupply the ranch and then since there wasnt room in Ashley´s truck we took a 2 hour taxi ride to literally the middle of nowhere. Here´s a photo of the ¨taxi stand¨a shack in a lunar landscape with goat skins and no people, trees, water - nada! We then had to walk 7 kms on a faint dirt track to the ranch´s lower pasture Buta Mallin to meet up with Ashely, 3 others and our horses. We left for the ranch on horseback at 5pm for the 3 hr ride. The kids rode with us and were great sports even though it was pretty uncomfortable for them. At the top of a desolate windy pass we could finally look down on our home for the enxt month. A river winds through the canyons and poplars and willws starting to turn yellow mark the ranch headquarters. The last obstacle was a river crossing that wet our boots then an uphill slog and we were there just as dark falls. The other ranch volunteers welcomed us into our 2 bedroom house and had goat dinner underway for us but the kids fell asleep exhausted before they could eat!!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Off to the Estancia

Horses at the local beach in our village. Our house in Los Coihues
Tomorrow morning we head out of Bariloche by bus to the cow town of Zapala, as opposite to the touristy Bariloche as you can get in this part of Argentina. We will meet Ashley, the owner of the ranch we are going to, there tomorrow night. Monday morning we head by car or taxi to the trailhead and then onto horses for the 3 hour ride into the ranch. If you find Zapala on a map of Argentina (pretty much straight north of Bariloche), the ranch is to the east on the border with Chile. We dont know too much about what our life will be like on the ranch except that it is a combination cattle ranch, dude ranch. We will be helping out with gardening work, construction, cattle ranching and basically whatever needs doing. We will have a little 2 bedroom adobe house of our own with a wood cookstove, fireplace and no electricty (the water generator is broken for the ranch). There is a satellite phone there for emergencies but otherwise no communications. We will likely come out for a resupply at some point during the month and will send an update if possible. Otherwise we are planning on coming out at the end of April (maybe coming out on my birthday so I can go straight to a winery for the day!!) and going to Mendoza for the last month of our trip. Of course, anything could change! Have a great month. Love to all!!

Birthday in Patagonia

Yesterday was Toby´s 7th birthday, which was a bit daunting for us as parents because he has definitely been wrestling with homesickness this week and we were worried the birthday would make it worse. His 3 buddies here were all unavailable too for various reasons. The night before his day we asked what he wanted to do and he said
"basically, I just want to get lots of love all day. . . and chocolate"!!! Well, on that we could deliver! We started the day with pancakes (of course) and a chocolate heart lolipop. Opened presents and played in jammies for several hours. He got the Dangerous Book for Boys from his grandpa which got him VERY excited and will be the perfect thing for the ranch. He also picked out a chess game, bow and arrow and transformer in the city with his birthday money from relaties (thanks everyone!!) and got 2 more Harry Potter books from Nana and Pop! He loved the connect the dots and mad libs books from Ty and Stefan too. Not sure where we will fit everything but he is a happy boy. Then we gave him the choice of 3 Cerros (mountains) around here that have gondolas or ski lifts up to them and pastry shops on the top. He choose Cerro Catedral so we took the bus up there, rode the two lifts (the day was crystal clear and we could see lots of volcanoes as far away as Chile. At the top we hiked around and looked at the views then went into the Confiteria (restaraunt). Toby ordered cake and hot chocolate for everyone in spanish and just smiled politely when all the waitresses and many of the other guests sang happy birthday to him in Spanish. There was a major first when he said he couldnt finish his MASSIVE piece of chocolate cake but then after wandering around the restaraunt for awhile he was in fact able to finish it!. After taking the lifts back down, we walked the 3 miles downhill back to our village on the dirt back road to work off some of the sugar. We had ordered a chocolate torte (cake) with dulce de leche (caramel) chocolate frosting and whipped cream from PachiMamas, our next door neighbor take out gourmet restaraunt and we picked it up and headed home. Then we had an Argentinian steak grill in our backyard before eating the delicious cake. Needless to say neither kid was asleep until 10:30. He had a fabulous day. Thanks everyone who sent their happy wishes.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Refugio Lopez

After our Easter celebration
we headed back out to Llao Llao with our backpacks and hiked into Refugio Lopez (refugios are mountain huts, usually with bunks and food service). Lopez is one of the largest, and more importantly it is pink! It was a 7km hike in but a huge steep uphill (total of 800 meters elevation gain). The kids did great hiking up in the heat on lots of loose dirt and rocks. I was tired so I can only imagine how they felt! We were super lucky and it was almost empty. The hut is 3 stories and can sleep 100 but only 6 other people were staying there so we had a bunk room to ourselves. It is above tree level with superb views over the lake and spectacular rocky peaks towering over head. We arrived at around 5 and the kids had a renewal of energy when they saw the fun rocks to climb around on. We cooked pasta for the kids and ordered Pailla !! from the hutkeeper. The other guests were from Poland, Canada and England so the kids were happy to speak english with other people. The harvest moon over the peaks was amazing! After a moderately good nights sleep we woke up and played around on the rocks and at the hut until lunch. I scrambled up to the peak and then the kids came part way up with Dave to meet me on the way down. The hike down was very speedy and obviously much easier than coming up! Kids said it was the coolest thing ever and were very proud. Everyone we encountered were very impressed that they had hiked the whole way. We ran into a guide who said he had never seen a 4 year old up there before which made cass very proud!!

Semana Santa

Semana Santa is a big holiday in South America celebrating the days leading up to easter. There were tons of people vacationing around Bariloche and out and about. On Thursday we headed up to Cerro Catedral, the biggest ski area in Argentina which is just a short ways from our house. We rode the chairlifts to the top (it was a chilly day!) and hiked around the lunar scape of rocks around the top and took in the view. It is a huge area and we all talked about coming back to ski here someday. Toby´s dream is for our next sabbatical to be all winter just as this one is all summer since he is bummed to have missed a precious ski season!!
Friday was beautiful and warm again and we took the buses out to Peninsula Llao Llao and hiked up Cerro Llao, a small treed peak that looks over the arm of Nahuel Huapi that heads into Chile. Photo above is us on the top looking towards Chile. The kids are always much better on days when we get out and about so after their spanish class we motivated them out there and they had a great time. When Toby got bored we described James Bond movies to him which kept him endlessly entertained. The kids new favorite game they invented is Toby and Cassidy world, which seems to involve describing what the world would look like if it was all made of candy!!

We also made a great new friend over the holiday, her name is Punky Brewster! She is a wild kitten who now is living the good life with lots of attention and table scraps at our house. She is a tiny little calico who appeared in our yard on probably the luckiest day of her little life. Fortunately our landlady loves her too or it would be very hard to leave her behind!! Here she is with Cassidy in our back yard.

They dont do easter baskets here so the kids and I made baskets out of wine boxes (appropriately!) and filled them with real grass. They also dont dye easter eggs so we spent the week leading up to easter experimenting with various natural dyes. Eventually crayons ended up working the best. Fortunately we are in the hub of fine chocolate and the easter bunny had lots of treats to choose from. The Pascuas Conejo obliged us with full baskets and eggs hidden in the house (safe from Punky). Then in the Meyer tradition we had to re-hide them over and over again outside after breakfast!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Road Trip to the Glacier

Dave spent Wed, Wed night and Thursday climbing at Frey, a famous trad climbing site very close to us with our friend Maria´s boyfriend Jorge. They had an awesome time and exhausted themselves climbing as many hours of daylight as they could! Poor guy returned home at 11pm Thursday night to find the family had big plans for the following day! (see below). While he was gone the kids had 2 more spanish lessons with Mariana which they just love! They want class everyday, maybe just to get away from us! They also both went to the bi-lingual school our teachers work at and hung out in kindergarten and first grade for about an hour. It was good for them to have some kid time and Toby got to use some of his new spanish words in conversation.

Yesterday, Friday, we rented a car and drove down to the base of Mount Tronador, the biggest mountain around these parts that towers over everything with its massive glaciers visible from above the lake here. It is about 40 minutes south on the pavement and then 40 km of rough slow dirt road up into the Andes almost to the border with Chile. The road is only open for upgoing traffic in the morning and down travel in the afternoon which makes it a lot less scary. You travel alongside Lago Mascardi which is an amazing greenish blue because of the glacial runoff. We stopped at the end of the lake to hike into a waterfall which was incredibly tall and surprised all of us. Then we continued up the road to the village of Pampa Linda which means Beautiful Plains, which they really were. Cassidy explained that she knew what linda meant because that is what everyone always says to her! Yikes!! Our little red Fiat Sienna did us proud and made it up the steep rocky road (though much slower than all the Argentines in there similar little cars) to the Black Glacier. The kids were very disappointed they couldnt touch the glacier but it was very impressive to look at with a lagoon below with icebergs floating in it. Then we hiked up to the Devil´s throat, a set of waterfalls that drop hundreds of feet down from the hanging glaciers. Some of them freefall for so long that the water never touches the earth but just disaptes in the air. At the end of our hike we found the quintessential Argentinian Confiteria at the trail head with amazing homemade chocolate tort (cake) which of course we could not pass up. A far cry from what you´d find a national park service concessionaires in the states!! We intended to stop at a restaurant on the way home but as soon as the bumpy drive started both kids fell fast asleep. It was great for making the ride go quickly but then they were awake until midnight!!

We have decided to stay here another week to celebrate Toby´s birthday with friends and continue with all the fun and lessons we have settled into here. We will head to our cattle ranch destination March 29th and be there until the end of April.

Love to all!!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Hiker Kids

Kids at 8pm at the end of the big day with the sign showing 8kms one way from town!! note horse gathering in the background

Saturday we had our second day of rain in a month and enjoyed hanging out at home being mellow. We baked chocolate chip cookies which is always an adventure in a new country with different ingredients. We determined that they were better than our Costa Rica chocolate chippers but not as good as Nicky´s Chilean chocolate chip surprise cookies she made with the kids!
Sunday I ran from our village up to the ski area, Cerro Catedral, on the back dirt road which is about 8 miles, all up then all down. Then we went out for a training hike with the kids. We´d like to all hike into a Refugio to spend a night but wanted to make sure they were up for it. So we hiked to Playa Munoz, an isolated lake at the far end of our lake that you hike past our normal beaches, up through the forest, over a pretty big hill then down to the lake. From our house it is 9 km. The kids did the whole way there and back without complaint and were still running around pretending to be horses on the way home! That is almost 10 miles, so we were very impressed. We didnt head out until 1:30 so we got to the lake around 4 and only hung out for an hour before turning around. The push up from the lake was steep but we started playing games and they plugged right on to the top. We had the carrot in front of them of a stop at our beloved Tea House for delicious cake so they cruised on. The tea house arrived just as Cassidy was fading but the chocolate cake and hot chocolate revived them enough for the last 2 km to our house. Dinner didnt happen until 9pm and they were crashed out by 10. Unfortunately I think it was too much for my foot which now has a very painful muscle pull. But it was very exciting to realize we can now take them on more adventurous hikes.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Smiths Visit!

This post goes with the end of the previous post, the formatting got screwed up and the two got combined. Here are some pictures of my parents visit with us.

1) nana and pop and kids by our lake, 2) our rainy hike up Laguna Negra, 3) kids in arrayanes forest, 4) refugio above El Bolson 5) Nana and Cass on the boat tour

Dave and I also got a chance for an all day hike during their visit. Of course it was the first day of rain in about 30 days but we were still happy to be out and in the mountains. It has been really hot and sunny so it was actually nice to be cool and wet. We hiked up to a Refugio at a high alpine lake and were soaked and cold when we arrived. Their mountain hut system is like that in Europe, it is very civilized to be able to order hot chocolate after 8 miles of uphill hiking!!

Another highlight of their visit was an Asado or traditional Argentinian meat grill that we did in our backyard with heavy assistance by our landlords. The meat was delicious and the cultural exchange great and you would not believe the quantity of meat the Cassidy put into her tiny body!!!

We also started our spanish classes with Spanish in the Mountains, a school run by four outdoor focused women who lead 7 day treking and spanish classes. We are limited to classes at our house with our fabulous teacher Silve and the kids so far play well while we do an hour and half class three times a week. Toby will also take a few more classes, Cassidy probably not!

Off to Argentina

Toby at the bus station in Pucon and us playing Uno waiting at customs between Argentina and Chile.

We are very behind in our postings so I am writing retroactively about our trip over to Bariloche. We took a 6 hr bus ride over the Andes from Pucon to San Martin de Los Andes in Argentina. The trip over was amazing, narrow dirt roads winding up thru the mountains in a huge bus with other huge buses passing wherever they could! There were some amazing volcano views from the crest too then after a relatively painless trip through both Chilean and Argentian customs offices we headed down into the dry steppes of Argentina. Toby and Cass thought customs unnecessarily long and got pretty crabby for the first time on a bus ride. The biggest problem was the heat on the bus and by the time we arrived in San Martin we were forceably keeping them apart! We hadnt been able to get reservations in San Martin which was a bit stressful but fortunately found space at a very nice place right on the lake and only 2 blocks from the bus stop. San Martin reminded us a lot of Aspen, they had strict zoning restrictions so it has kept its small town character with really cute houses and beautiful public buildings of wood and white adobe. But it was also very pricey compared to other places in the area, fancy shops, restaruants and finally - the famous Argentinian chocolate, mmmmm!!! The next morning we caught a bus Bariloche via the scenic 7 lakes route (also mostly dirt) which is stunningly beautiful. It might have been nice to explore more of San Martin or Villa Angostura but we were very ready to find a home. We arrived in Bariloche around 2:30 and by 4:30 I was looking at houses with a realtor. We lucked out and found a fabulous spot about 10 km outside of Bariloche in a village called Los Coihues (means Big Trees in Mapuche). We chose this area because it is where the spanish school we hoped to attend was and it is rural while still being accessible to the city. We have a cute townhouse with no neighbors and the sweetest landlords, Lilliana and Ricardo who welcomed us with open arms (literally, the Argentinians kiss everyone all the time!). We are 1 minute from a grocery store, on a public bus route but across the street from a huge open space area and 5 minutes from the lake, Lago Guiterrez. There is a beach right in the village that is nice but rocky, and a sandy beach about a half hour walk (for the kids) down the lake in the national park. The other big perk is that we are only a 2 hour walk from ¨the Frey¨a famous rock climbing area that Dave is hoping to explore. The village has about 50 houses and probably about the same number of stray dogs. Unlike in Central America, the strays here are big, lots of german shephard types. Talk about immersion therapy, Toby is getting over his dog issues pretty fast. Toby and Cassidy were very happy to settle into a new house and love the cuisine here - lots of chocolate and pasta (big Italian influence) and for steak! (and for us, $1 bottles of wine that are tasty!!!).

Four days after our arrival, Shannon´s parents came for a visit. They had flown into Santiago then took a route over the Andes from Puerto Montt that goes from bus to boat to bus to boat (7 times I think). After a lot of confusion about the time and location of their arrival, we were united in Puerto Panuelo outside of Bariloche. We were all VERY happy to see some family. They stayed for 7 days and we had a great mix of touristy things and hanging out by the lake. We took a trip up the Gondola to Cerro Otto which overlooks Nahuel Huapi the huge lake on which Bariloche sits and did a hike from the top where we could look down over the back side and see our lake. The high point for the kids was a revolving restaraunt at the top with delicious cakes , I think most of our posts from Argentina are going to mention food. Another day we rented a car and drove down to El Bolson on a day they have their big artesan fair. We had heard that El Bolson was a hippie enclave and they werent kidding, lots of dread locks and patchuli oil there. We also did a hike WAY up above town, sorry rental car, to a Sculpture Forest, of literaly, carved tree stumps and then above to a beautiful refugio with really cute kittens and an amazing view of the valley and surrounding peaks. We didnt get back to our house until 12:30 and still motivated to go out on a boat tour of the big lake the next day. This tour took us to a famous Arrayanes forest, myrtle trees, in the only place myrtles grow as trees instead of bushes.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Refuge in the Refugio

On the advice of Brett and Nicki we decided to escape the overdeveloped Pucon and head to the national park with the unpronouncable name of Huerquehue (a Mapuche name as most place names here are). We stayed at the Refugio Tinquilco just outside and surrounded by national park on the beautiful lake of the same name. The refugio was adorable and the folks who ran it super nice. We were in our own tiny bunkroom which the kids loved but wasnt great for adul sleep. The refugio had a great library with lots of kids books in english, total bonus! Dave and I traded off hiking days, on our first full day he headed up San Sebastian and the kids and I went up the waterfall. They ended up hiking almost 4 miles to get there and back, it was much longer than we expected. Chileans are definitely hikers. There were people of all ages shapes, sizes, and preparedness out on all the hikes we did (mullets included of course). Its great to see. The forest is wild, from the outside it looks like east coast temparate forest but up close the trees are totally unfamiliar, all like something out of doctor suess! The Auracaria trees, monkey puzzle trees, are the craziest with wild reaching branches and sharp spiky leaves. The San Sebastian hike goes up and up for 2 or 3 hours but rewards you with a view to the Pacific and over the Andes to Argentina, down on lots of lakes and 7 different snow covered volcanoes!!
We are back in Pucon for the night then headed by bus to Argentina tomorrow morning.

Friday, February 15, 2008


We left Los Quenes by the local bus. There were 33 people on a bus that seated 19 and we got there too late to get any seats. A nice girl gave up her seat to Toby and Cassidy. Toby promptly fell asleep despite the heat and bumpy dirt roads. So Cass and I sat on our luggage in the aisle and Dave stood, for an hour! We took a beautiful, modern train down to Chillan. We had a great ride through the Central valley. It looks a lot like Californias Central Valley lots of agriculture and really hot and dry. We got a bit sandbagged on a sleazy hospedaje but were rescued by the taxi driver who knew a better place. Our first real night "on the road"- a hostel room with 4 beds. A bit noisy but clean and safe. A wild goose chase to find bus tickets, a place to change money, and a functioning ATM. Chillan is a busy valley city- hot but reasonable. There was a really nice central park with artesanias and a place to rent little pedal cars. The kids zoomed all over I dont know how they avoided collision. The next morning we had a great adventure in the central market. There were fruit, vegetable, nut, spice, artisan, trinkets, and useless plastic crap from China. The kids had agreat time checking out everything. We found beautiful alpaca sweaters for reasonable prices dangerous. Then we survived a 6 hour bus ride to Pucon. The buses are amazingly comfortable but we were seated to close to the bathroom for comfort "huele mal" Now we are in the Lakes District of Chile at a supercomfy hostel "Donde German". A toasty day at the beach, it is beautiful, a bit like Tahoe with a live volcano in the background. We rented sea kayaks and paddled around. It is definitely tourist season but still reasonable. Perhaps it is because there are fewer cars but it felt nothing like Hampton Beach. We have adjusted to Chilean time, dinner last night at 8;30, kids in bed by 10. We are still early for Chile but a long way from our US schedule. So far so good, some of you will be happy to know that the mullet has made a strong comeback here. It is genuinely fashionable with the dinner at 1130, cigarettes and dancing til dawn set. I have seen several mullet dreadlock combos. We hope that the travel gods continue to smile on us.

Rafting with Toodles

We are certainly scoring with the friends connections so far in Chile. After a wonderful four days at Brett and Nicki's, Carolyn and Greg's friend Todd, aka Toodles, invited us and our Santiago pals on a rafting trip down the Teno river. We headed south with 6 in the Peugot early Tuesday morning and met up with Todd and a guide of his, Jonathan King, in the small mountain town of Los Quenes. Of course, the C and G connection wasnt enough, turns out Jonathan's brother is a student of Dave's at CRMS! They were wonderful, fun and attentive guides as they took us down the very boney (ie dry season lots of rocks to bump into) class III river. The rapids were big fun and the kids LOVED it. As Toby said on our break, this is like Disney World, Busch Gardens and a Waterpark, all together, only better!!!! I loved the vision of Cass in a grown up lifejacket that covered her bottom and Toby in Todd's styly kayak jacket. The trip was awesome and we decided to part ways with our friends in Los Quenes and stay at a hotel there rather than head back into the valley. Todd hooked us up with a great Hostal with a pool that looks up into the Andes and we eat out at what he terms the best pizza restaraunt in Chile! This is saying alot since Los Quenes is one dusty street long. It is the local vacation spot for Chileans who come there to camp and swim in the river and escape the heat. Cass and Toby had a great time playing with some locals in the downtown park. It cracks me up that they say we speak Castiliian and wonder why we dont speak the language of Chile. Chilean is pretty much unintelligible to me spoken at it normal speed. Hope Argentina is easier!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Santiago Amigos!!

We had the softest of all possible landings in Santiago. After an 8 hour overnight flight we were picked up by our friend Brett. For the next five days we were treated to five star hospitality at Brett and Nicky's apartment. We rode the funicular and telepherique up to the top of the Parque Metropolitano. We swam in the swanky pool at the top of the hill overlooking the city and the Andes. Brett chauffered us to an incredible beach. We watched penquins, played in the sand, and basked in the super strong rays of the Southern sun. There was an incredible path along the beach that we hiked to another beach where Shannon and I actually swam. A bird sanctuary just offshore was home to penguins and pelicans. We could see them very clearly hopping around. Brett certainly knows how to pick a fantastic beach. The ozone hole is serious here. The sun also means that fruits and vegetables here are fantastic. We got more fruit than we could eat at a little roadside stand>grapes, apples, peaches, nectarines. Santiago is an amazingly clean and modern city. A marked contrast to San Jose and Panama City. The kids coped beautifully with their first real encounter with a big city. It helped that Brett and Nicky were such patient hosts and were fantastic with the kids. The new schedule worked okay/ dinner at 830 or 9, asleep by 10 for the kids. The sun goes down late here and families are still hanging out on their towels at the beach at 730. It was nice to hear Brett and Shannon make a little music together in the evenings. It made us realize how much the Hellroaring String Band is missed in our lives. Maybe the band can meet up in Chile for a world tour/penguin watching safari/ outdoor adventure sometime. The initial part of the tour was busy but relaxed/ it is hard to imagine a better way to spend the first five days inside a new country. Our sincere thanks to some of the world's best hosts. I hope that someday we can repay the favor.