Chile! Feliz Navidad, Happy Holidays and Happy New Year from the Diaz Family (or How I Spent my Christmas Vacation)

December 30, 2017

When we meet people and tell them about our travels, I like to joke that we have run away from our children. Well, in December, they found us! 

When we left Mississippi in September, we also purchased tickets to Santiago, Chile for our kids to visit us for Christmas during their college break. And, I am happy to report that we have had three wonderful weeks together with them in Chile! That is why we haven’t been blogging during the holidays.

We enjoyed exploring the city of Santiago and it’s neighboring beaches, vineyards, and mountains. Chile is an astonishing 2,650 miles long, but averages only 110 miles wide. Because it is so narrow, we were only an hour an half away from the mountains to the east, and an equal distance to the beautiful Pacific Coast beaches to the west.

 Like all family vacations, we have had our ups and downs. We laughed until we cried and we have been on each others nerves. 

There was the time I asked Ollie the name of the Uber driver. I wanted to be sure to greet him by his name to get our Uber rating up (because Ol is already on “restriction” on his account from when a Colombian Uber driver couldn’t locate us due to poor cell service). 

“The driver is Alejandro and he is driving a Dongfeng Korean vehicle” Ollie said.

When the driver arrived I quickly jumped into the car and greeted him by saying “Hola Dongfeng! Feliz Navidad!” The kids couldn’t control their laughter at that and Alejandro must have thought that we were insane. 

They were laughing so hard that I didn’t hear him reply “Thanks but I’m a Muslim.” So, when we exited the vehicle I loudly said again “Feliz Navidad!” 

Alejandro just looked at me with an expression that didn’t need translating. Ol pointed out the situation was quickly turning into an episode of Netflix’s Black Mirror. I could just feel my 4.7 Uber rating slipping.

Too much togetherness, has also caused each one of us to momentarily snap. While the meltdown wasn’t pretty, once it was over, once again, everyone just laughed until we cried. We particularly enjoyed Ol’s meltdown at the gas station while driving in Santiago rush hour traffic. He didn’t know how to say “Fill it up” in Spanish so he loudly told the attendant “mas, mas, de nada.” Repeatedly and at a rather high volume. 

The attendant couldn’t figure out what the crazy American was saying so he left to get a manager. Finally, they realized that we wanted a full tank of gas. As we were driving away, the attendant was laughing and yelling at us saying “mas, mas, de nada!”

It must be universal that our family members can bring out the best and worst in us. However there is nothing more wonderful than being together with family, especially during the holidays.

Ollie and I continued our family winning streak in Spades. Playing was a bit challenging, because we didn’t realize we purchased Spanish playing cards. There is a bit of a difference, the cards are all red, they have clubs that look like pickles, cups, swords, and coins. It took us two days to realize that there were only 48 cards, that didn’t stop us from bidding 13 when there were only 12 tricks possible! Also, I wasn’t going to bring this up, but Ol was caught cheating twice (bless his heart) and Liv once!

We hit a few speed bumps on this trip, and I mean that literally. We are not used to speed bumps on most roads, and certainly not on highways. The rental car still has a perfect implant of Liv’s lipstick print on the back seat when Ol didn’t see one of these many speed bumps. 

We also struggled a bit cooking a traditional Christmas dinner in a propane gas oven with no temperature settings. But, everyone was sweet and said that it was the best meal they had in Chile. Maybe that’s because we think that we may have eaten a pigeon that was passed off as chicken on day two!

This was the first meal that I have cooked since August, and I still don’t miss it! We also were on trend with decorating a pineapple this year.

There is always a learning curve when in a new country. For example, Chile has different electrical outlets than other countries in South America. That is important to know when four Americans have to constantly charge electronic devices. It took us three days to find enough adapters.

We struggled with simple things like how to get out of our apartment. We couldn’t figure out the locks and door knobs. We also had to take out the owner’s manual to figure out how to start the rental car the first time we turned it off. I could give a daily example of something like this happening. On the last day, Liv summed it up best, “It’s either Chile or we just aren’t that bright”.

We also decided that nobody likes Ol when he drives. Four months of having drivers has totally spoiled him. It’s the first time the kids have ever seen their dad cranky. In his defense, our car had a manual transmission (it has been at least 20 years since he drove one) and the first city we visited had streets that were steeper, narrower, and more crooked than any in San Francisco, California. The dead ends, one way streets and the lack of cell service for navigation, didn’t help any. Five minutes into town and heading down the steepest hill that l have ever been on, which led directly to the bay, had us all gripping our seats! I admit the swear words I usually reserve for the tennis court, started flying.

Our trip started out great. We arranged for a driver to pick up the kids at the airport. Even though they had a long, delayed flight, and were a little jet lagged, after a big reunion of hugs and kisses we hit the town of Santiago. We headed out to the central plaza in Santiago, the Plaza de Armas where we found a ceviche restaurant for a wonderful meal.

We all loved our apartment in Providencia, which was next to a beautiful park and nice restaurants. We spent the next 5 days exploring every barrio of Santiago.

We enjoyed the Human Rights Museum and our hike up San Cristobal Hill with it’s gorgeous views of the city. The views from the hill were only outdone by the views from the tallest building in Latin America, the Costanera, which is nearly as tall as the empire state building.

In South America it is the middle of summer, and with the Mediterranean climate, we have all enjoyed the weather. Also, Santiago and the Chilean coast feel more like California than a South American city. Everything is clean and modern, and unfortunately the prices reflect that. I quit entering our expenditures in my trail wallet on day two, because it was too depressing.

We enjoy going to movies as a family and we quickly caught up on all the latest movies. Santiago is two hours ahead of the East Coast and Liv and Ollie were thrilled to see the new Star Wars movie several hours before any midnight showing in the States. 

After a week in Santiago, we headed east to explore the coastal towns of Valapariso, Vina del Mar, Con Con, Maipassio and Zappallar.

It was a relatively short drive to the Chilean coast and much of the drive was through the wine country. Even though it is only an hour and a half away with traffic, I could see how we could spend several days visiting the beautiful wineries.

Okay, I couldn’t quite get that idea out of my head, so that is exactly what we ended up doing on our way back to Santiago! 

We were all a little disappointed with the town of Valapariso. If you ask Chileans, Valparaiso is the heart and soul of Chile and is a place not to be missed. But, if you ask tourists, they will say that the city is a rough port town not designed for visitors. 

However, we all did enjoyed visiting the home of Chilean Noble laureate, poet Pablo Neruda, enjoyed the city’s graffiti, the beautiful mosaics lampposts and walkways. But, after one day, we were ready to leave the colorful bohemian port town for its glitzier neighbor Vina del Mar. 

Along the coast, the beaches and the weather were beautiful. In the morning it was foggy and chilly but quickly warmed up in the afternoon. The cool Pacific Ocean keeps the temperature mild. We were content to sit on rocks and watch the crashing waves crashing and playing in the tide pools.

We spent several days watching playful sea otters, sea lions, sea birds and penguins!

Yes, penguins! 

The towns of Mairpasso and Zappalar  are not to be missed. Along the shore there are beautiful gardens and beachfront mansions.

These beach towns north of Santiago are considered the Chilean Riviera. The beautiful sand beaches lead to beautiful stone boardwalks along the waterfront. In Mairpasso a protected island of penguins is just off shore.

Before we headed back to Santiago, we spent a few days exploring some of Chile’s best wineries.

We loved our wine tasting at Kingston Family Vineyard and our meal and tasting at Casa Del Bosque. The entire Casablanca valley was beautiful. 

I think that we may be making progress with the kids on hiking. They admitted that they enjoyed the short hikes we took in the Andes. We were blessed to see wild horses, goats and six Andean condors! 

Ol and I just kept telling the kids “look, look”, as they swooped down. Liv threatened us with bodily harm if we said “look” one more time. That is the difference between being in your 20’s and mid-life. We know how special some moments are. Condors are so rare, we know we may never see them again. To have snow capped glaciers and wild goats in the background was even more spectacular.

Ol and I both feel blessed that we also spent both of our birthdays with our children this year. We spent Ol’s birthday at the beach and watching a sunset filled sky with thousands of sea birds, putting on a show for us.

The kids surprised Ol with the new iPhone X (be prepared for more amazing pictures, like the Moai below) and also brought gifts from our family. Ol’s mom and dad got us wonderful new shirts with our “Ol Around the World” logo, some much needed hiking gear, and a Mississippi home candle.

I don’t know if it was the driving, lack of sugar in Chile’s baked goods, or Syl’s presents from home, but I think Ol is finally a little homesick. Suddenly my “Ol around the world” odyssey seems in jeopardy.

 I, however, got to selfishly spend my birthday doing all of the things that when I first suggested them, received sighs, groans, or were just plain vetoed. Because it was my birthday, no one could say no!

 So we spent several hours doing a bicycling wine tasting tour through one of Chile’s oldest wineries. 

We also had lunch at Santiago’s famous seafood market. It makes Seattle’s Pike Market, seem tiny. I loved looking at all of the different varieties of fresh fish brought in, and I enjoyed eating the Chilean corn and crab bisque.

We took wine induced naps and then headed out to find margaritas and a good Mexican meal. I also got a much needed haircut (which deserves it’s own post). What a great day!

 So, yesterday morning we (happily returned the rental car, damage free!) and flew to Easter Island. Liv and Ollie left exactly twelve hours later and as I write this they just texted that they had just landed in Atlanta and were boarding the flight to New Orleans. They said the flight home seemed much easier than the flight to Chile. 

In a few more months maybe coming home will be easier for me as well. Right now as the sea breeze blows my curtains, and palm fronds wave in front of my ocean view cabana, this small island has filled me with wonder and excitement. I can’t imagine coming home just yet. 

We hope that all of our family and friends have had a holiday as wonderful as ours, and we wish y’all a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year. May it be fill with curiosity, adventure, excitement, and a sense of wonder like one gets from exploring the world. And, if you can’t travel the world, we hope that you can enjoy our adventures as we share them with you through our stories and photos on this blog. Stay tuned!

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