Saturday, February 26, 2011

The next stage...

Valparaiso was our first destination after we arrived in Chile about 6 weeks ago. At that time we were enchanted with it: a UN World Heritage Site, with artistic surprises around each corner of its twisting, steep roads and alleys, its buildings clinging precariously to the steep hillside overlooking the busy Pacific port. It was like nothing we had seen before. But after 10 days or so we had tired of all the steep hill climbing, the lack of greenspace, the constant dodging of poop on the sidewalks from the city's huge population of scruffy stray dogs.

For 6 weeks we toured the North, the South, and everything in between. We saw beaches, lakes, islands and volcanoes. We met wonderful people everywhere, and we all agree that we would be happy living out the year in any of the places we've visited.

And yet, we find ourselves back here in strange, wonderful Valparaiso, and we've found a beautiful apartment where we plan to spend the rest of the year! In the end, we realized that this year is about experiencing something different, something we can't find in our everyday lives in Minnesota. And it doesn't get much different than Valpo. We still need to figure out a school, but we've heard about several great options and we're confident that we'll find something great.

On to the next stage of the adventure!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Land of glacial lakes and live volcanoes

Now that we're back on-line, I'm going to try to catch everyone up on our travels through the Lake District in the south of Chile (please excuse the long summary).

Welcome to the view in Puerto Varas! Beautiful..with Volcán Orsno in the background. We really enjoyed our time there. We experienced the famed rain of the south and it wasn't a drizzle. Wow! It poured for an entire day on two separate occasions and we got some welcome down/Kindle time.

Our bus ride to the Cochamó Valley took us by a magnificent fjord. So cool! At the valley we went on a 5 hour horse-back riding trip. It was really exciting for some of our family (the younger contingent)..."it was awesome" GH and "who knew a horse could act so much like a panda" TW, referring to his horses penchant for bamboo along the trail. For others the scenery was awesome but the horse-back riding was, well ... "4 hours too long" was the exact quote.

Finally, as we stayed a week in a backpacker's hostal, we made some great new friends. We had such fun sharing dinners with folks from Holland, Switzerland, Poland, Seattle and Chile. One night we traded favorite YouTube videos. Our friend Elmer, a teacher from Amsterdam, introduced us to "Where the Hell is... Matt", which inspired his 2nd grade class to make "where the hell is klas U". At first, I thought it was Europeans making fun of US goofiness, but not so - just a very fun video.

From Puerto Varas, we went north a couple of hours to Pucon. The small tourist town sits at the bottom of an active volcano - Volcan Villarica. Kind of crazy!

There, we rented a car and drove up through the mountains to a beautiful national park and had an incredible 14 kilometer hike up into the mountains to some glacial lakes. Dan and I were so impressed that the kids made it!!! It was a really strenuous hike (I'm still a bit sore 3 days later).

After our great hike, we braved the unpaved road again and went over to some of the natural hot springs in the area and soaked! Heaven. Here you can see a picture of one of the hot springs -there were 6 springs - all at different temperatures, all in a row, right next to a river. Nothing like soaking in the hottest one and then taking a cold shower! Almost like a northern MN winter sauna/frozen lake jump!

If it weren't for the relatively isolated location and the soon to be very rainy climate - we would have loved to live in the south. But after a painful 11 hour - no pit stops-and broken- bathroom- bus ride- we made it back to Santiago on Saturday. Sunday we left for Viña - again to see if we can find a neighborhood that suits us. We found different things that we liked about Valpo, Viña and La Serena- so we're taking this next week to try to see if we can figure out where to settle.

We're all well. Its been fun watching the kids gain confidence in Spanish, but I think it will really take off when they get in school. I'm so proud of their traveling so well thus far. We've been living out of small suitcases for five weeks now and they've managed well despite odd schedules, long bus rides, and lots of pulling wheely backpacks along never-ending bumpy walks.

We've also been loving the Kindles - perhaps our best pre-trip purchase. The kids have both discovered series (thanks Auntie Siobhan) that has them eating up chapter books as soon as they can download them. A public library would be nice, but its all for a good cause. The kids have also discovered the joys of Scrabble on their Kindles too!

Dan has been doing a great job of really working hard despite us vacationers recounting our adventures every day. He took off some days so he could join us on the trip south the last two weeks and that was great. And I'm doing well. Busy coordinating our trip logistics wherever we are and wherever we've been heading next, making connections with Chilean contacts, searching out laundry facilities, grocery stores and the likes. Feeling very fortunate (and perhaps a bit pooped) just about now.

Sorry for droning on. I'll try to get some other family members to post soon too.

El Mundo de la Papa

Post script on Chiloé by GH:

Two more cool things about Chiloé

1. really interesting and strange but cool restaurant called El Mundo De La Papa (world of the potatoes) which had pretty much every thing on the menu made out of Papas (including our pizza crust and gnocci- yum!).

2. really cool hats that were made out of wool from sheep that were from Chiloe.

p.p.s. Carla, who works at "el mundo de la papa" (pictured with Grace and Theo) told us that 98% of the worlds' potatoes have genetic origins from those of Chiloé. According to Carla potatoes originated in Peru and Chiloé and when Colonial Spaniards exported the potato to Spain, the ones from Chiloé took. We haven't fact checked this, but it was fun to hear that el mundo de la papa has three goals; 1) run a successful restaurant, 2) function as a co-op for small potato farmers on Chiloé, and 3) promote understanding and pride in the potato heritage of Chiloé. We highly recommend the pizza and gnocci, next time we'll try to potato pie crust!

Sincerely, Grace and Laura

Monday, February 14, 2011

An island update 2.14.11

Feliz Dia de San Valentín everyone! I'm afraid our exploring has outpaced our blogging. So, we have some catching-up to do.

Here's a quick update though to catch everyone up on our whereabouts.

Last Sunday we left La Serena and headed 7 hours south to Santiago again. We spent the night and then got on an overnight bus that headed 12 hours south to Puerto Montt.

We then hopped on a bus-ferry that took us to the island of Chiloé for the next three nights up until last Friday. We stayed in Ancud in the north of the island. We didn't have much access to the internet there, so here's a little about our days on Chiloé.

Chiloé is a beautiful island that has a rich history and culture that is distinct from the mainland in many ways. Its fascinating to be able to still see a way of life that harkens to the past. We watched fisherman going out in the morning in small boats, seafood being cleaned at market, seaweed harvesters diving and cutting it by hand, etc. The food, the people and the legends all reflect a different culture from the mainland.

We were on the island for four beautiful days - a few in the whole year when it is not raining (some parts get 4,000mm or approx. 160 inches of rain per year!). We ate seafood, visited the much photographed houses (and restaurants) on palafitos (stilts), and walked through a heavy mist at night. We visited one of the beautiful, world heritage churches and marveled at the woodwork. We took a hike along the coast and saw Magellanic penguins (different from the Humboldt ones we saw up north). And we sat out, watched the sunset on the Pacific from our hostel's front garden, and read Harry Potter.

We're all doing well. We're in Puerto Varas now (also in the south). More on that soon. As much as we are loving exploring the country, we are all looking forward to settling in somewhere. We'll have to decide a general direction by the end of this week (still lots of discussion going on). More on that later too.

Sending our love to all,
Laura and crew

Saturday, February 12, 2011


As all of you now, we have been on a lot exciting adventures and on almost all of them we have seen different animals, (which was on my criteria).
Here is a list of some the animals we saw.
  1. Penguins, (both Humboldt and Magellenic).
  2. Lots of pelicans.
  3. Other birds, (we don't now the names).
  4. Turkey vultures.
  5. Sea lions.
  6. Vicuña
  7. Llamas
  8. Lizards
  9. Lots of farm animals (horses, cows, pigs, sheep, goats).
  10. Stray dogs EVERYWHERE.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Thinking of Concepción

Yesterday we shared a bus ride with a volunteer firefighter from Concepción, the Chilean city hit hardest by the earthquake a year ago.  He's a friendly, humble college student on vacation with his girlfriend, and as we waited in the sunshine for the return bus from the beach, he told us of 4 days of backbreaking (and heartbreaking) work in the days following the earthquake, pulling survivors from the rubble and guarding the city's stores against looting.

Today while Theo and I were browsing in a bookstore, someone came in off the street and started talking about a new earthquake in Concepción.  The guy behind the counter turned on the radio and everyone in the store froze, listening to an eyewitness report from today's tremor.  While there were apparently no injuries, and they don't expect a tsunami, it clearly stirs up a lot of fear and bad memories among people all over this country.   Our wish for the folks in "Conce" is for a safe and quiet night's sleep.

We arrived in Puerto Varas today after a beautiful few days in Ancud, on the island of Chiloé.  More about that soon...
- Dan

Thursday, February 3, 2011


Hi everybody! Yesterday we went to Isla Damas. It was very fun. We got to see a bunch of animals, here is the story...

We got on the boat. The boat could fit 10 or 12 people. We started heading towards a little island called Isla Choro. Then when we were getting close to the shore we saw something in the water. It was like it had wings but they were actually flippers. But it turned out to be a sea lion. And then it turned it's head so that we could see it's head and on it's face it had whiskers. It was really cool. Then we went around the island but we did not see any penguins, but saw a lot of birds.

Then we went to the big island which is called Isla Damas. The island had penguins. The penguins were really cool. They were like two feet tall or something and it was really cool to see the penguins in the wild. Then we saw pelicans. They had very long beaks. Then when we went further around the island we saw a ton of sea lions and a pair of them was fighting. It was really funny (see the video).

Then we went out into the ocean a little ways to see if we could see some dolphins but they were not out that day. I noticed that out in the ocean there were big waves. I got a little scared. Then we went back to shore. It was a really fun trip. It was special because I GOT TO SEE PENGUINS AND THEY WERE IN MY CRITERIA. -Grace


Hi everybody we had our first earthquake a couple of days ago. It was very exiting. Here is the story.

We were hanging out in our cabin (I was going to the bathroom)and we were just sitting around. My dad and theo were talking about earthquakes and talking about the building right on the other side of our hotel and they were saying that it probably got hit pretty badly by a big earthquake because it looked deserted. Then all of a sudden the ground started to rumble and then it was all over and we went outside and we were like,WE JUST HAD OUR FIRST EARTHQUAKE. And then my dad explainded that if it was a really big one that we would have to get up high because there might be a tsunami, but that never happened. So that was our first earhtquake.


Wednesday, February 2, 2011

you'll never guess what happened on our geocaching adventure.

Grace, my dad, and I were off to find a geocache, but little did we know that another surprise was waiting for us...

The geocache was on the top of a small mountain not from where we were staying in Viña del Mar. When we got to the foot of the hill, we saw a small stand and a big poster on the next small mountain over. The poster said, "Canopy". We weren't sure what it meant, but then we saw someone go over us and realized it was a zip line (see first video). So we found the geo-cache and then we went back to the foot of the other mountain. We had a snack and decided that I and possibly Gracie would do the zip line!!!

When we reached the zip line, we learned that Gracie and I had to go together to reach the minimum weight limit. So we got belted in, hooked together, put our helmets on, buckled our shoes to our life jackets (good thing Mom didn't see all this) and then we stepped off the mountain and went zooming over the ocean!!!! (Mom says, really good thing she didn't see this). See second video of us zipping. About 29 seconds later we felt a jolt. It was the thing that was supposed to stop us and it succeeded in its job. Gracie took both videos. This zip line is special because its the only one in South America that goes over the ocean. It was the funnest thing ever and not a bit scary.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Another city, another update 1.31.11

Well, we said a fond goodbye to Viña del Mar and Valparaíso on Sunday. Before we left, we had a great boat ride through Valparaíso's harbor with some Chilean friends to get an up close look at the big boats, the docks, and the sea lions. We had a delightful evening with Carlos Caceres, a Chilean professor who taught at Oberlin College recently. We also put some serious kilometers on our tennies, walking around and checking out lots of neighborhoods in both cities. Finally, Dan and the kids had a fun geo-caching adventure, but Theo has promised to blog about that....

On Sunday, we headed to La Serena. It was a 7 hour trip through really arid foothills, with the coast on one side and far off mountains on the other. We were riding in style; front seats, top floor of a double decker bus!!! Needless to say, there was lots of excitement about that.

La Serena sits on the coast and our hostel is close to the beach. The center of town has beautiful colonial architecture. Though less convenient to get to know the town, we opted for staying out of town in some cabañas, so the kids could have some outdoor space where they can run around and a pool.

We've also found a Spanish tutor for Grace and Theo this week. Paulina is a elementary teacher on summer break and the kids had their first hour and a half lesson with her today. It was the first time they have been without Dan or me for the last three weeks! Theo commented that having Spanish lessons with Paulina was a little easier than doing them with me.. we are all in agreement about that!!! Hurray for Paulina.

We had a little excitement when we arrived to La Serena, but Gracie says she'll share about that. Stay tuned. Hope you are all well.