Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Developed World Amenities Help Us Catch Up On Our Blog

Re-entering the developed world is both shocking (prices seem outrageous) and, to be honest, a little bit comfortable (almost all the bathrooms are pretty nice). So it was back in Chile after our bus ride from the Bolivian border. We were back to paved roads, beer selections, trendy-seeming restaurants, and high prices. We arrived in San Pedro de Atacama, a town we knew absolutely nothing about except that we would be able to get a bus to Santiago. After being on the road for what felt like nearly five days straight, though, we wanted a little R&R. We had built in time for things to go wrong in Bolivia--a bus to break down, a tour to not be available, something--but nothing happened, so we had a few extra days on our hands. So we decided to treat ourselves with the 16 hour bus ride to La Serena, a coastal town about two-thirds of the way down Chile rather than the 23 or so hour ride straight to Valparaiso or Santiago.

Probably due in part to reading a great work of nonfiction about the American Dust Bowl (The Worst Hard Times) during an early part of the trip, much of Peru and Bolivia reminded me of what much of America probably looked like not that long ago--lots of agriculture, people in sod or underground houses until they could build, literally, up, ramshackle cities. However, much of Chile so far has reminded us of California--with the coast, the somewhat arid climate, profusions of flowers, wine (though we have not experienced as much of that yet as we'd like), horses. Oh, and a flag that is disconcertingly like the the Texas flag....

Chilean Flag:

Texas Flag:

La Serena was our first trip not on our itinerary. Before we left, Tyler and I created a folder full of only the travel book pages we'd need, because you just can't possibly carry that many travel books. For most of the trip, this meant cutting out the country sections from a regional book (e.g., Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia from SE Asia) but I had cut more drastically for our first and most planned out leg, meaning we had no information about La Serena. In some ways it was nice. I had just read a chapter in Alain de Botton's book, The Art of Travel, talking about the 'tyranny of travel guides' which I was beginning to feel. You're supposed to see these things, appreciate them in these degrees of excitement, turn left now, etc. It felt a bit liberating to just have a bad map from our hostel owner and the run of a town.

La Serena isn´t that exciting in and of itself. It has a main square, as most South American towns do, where Tyler almost got himself caught in the middle of a dog fight, a lighthouse, some OK beach, and an anachronistic Japanese garden that is actually quite peaceful and pleasant. But it's good to end up in a town with little or nothing to do when you need some rest and relaxation. I, for one, had hit a bit of a travel low after 3+ weeks, where nothing sounded very interesting and I just needed a bit of a break to regroup and regain some enthusiasm. La Serena did a pretty good job of that. We did a little bit of walking, a little bit of grocery shopping, and a fair amount of watching fuzzy futbol games in our room.

After two nights, though, we were ready to hit the road again. With the extra time on our hands, we'd considered finding something else unexpected to do in Chile, but Arica, one place we'd heard good things about, was too out of the way (on the Peru-Chile border, north of where we were) and Patagonia and the far south needed more time than we had. So we decided having a little extra time for Valparaiso and Santiago might actually be OK, especially since we´ll be moving fast through Easter Island and Tahiti in the next week.

So now we're in Valparaiso, a city on the coast, almost directly west of Santiago. It is very colorful, with hills, fun bars and lots of crafts and artsy shops. We're happy with our hostel run by a German on the Cerro (Hill) Concepcion. Today we walked around another hill, Cerro Bellavista, complete with an Ascensor ride and Pablo Neruda's La Sebstiana House here in town. I wasn´t sure whether the tour would be worth it, but we ended up being totally charmed by his home. He lived on the 4th, 5th and 6th floors of the house, which was filled with nooks and crannies and felt very ship-like. It also had lots of portholes and windows overlooking the city and the bay. Because he'd been a state department person around the world for Chile, he also had tons of neat art and exotic things around his home. While Tyler and I aren´t travelling to shop, I hope we can find a few things along the way to grace our home and give us little reminders of this time together.

On the eve of our fourth week travelling together, I've been thinking a bit about our travels together so far. One of my last errands before leaving Seattle was going to the doctor to get the prescription for Cipro. My doctor was on vacation, so I saw another in her place. When I told her about the trip and our plans, she asked how long we´d travelled together before (two weeks) and then paused and wished us luck. However, travelling together thus far has really been a wonderful gift. Not many people at our stage in life and in marriage get the opportunity to do this. While of course there have been times when we've been over-tired and hot that we've perhaps been shorter with the other than necessary, we get to laugh or share our thoughts and experience happily the vast majority of the time. I can't wait to see what the following six months will still bring to our reflections, interactions, conversations and time together.


jflynn said...

Love the blog - love living vicariously through you both! Sharing experiences like you are having with your favorite person in the world is the way to go - glad you are having a blast so far and I'll raise a glass to your future travels!

ambika said...

1) Amazing photos in the most recent post. It's great to actually *see* you guys among the things you've been talking about--even with you gone, even with these posts, it doesn't seem quite real that you're there until I see Tyler crouched in front of Incan ruins in a goofy hat.

2) Having travelled alone (which does have it's own advantages) I have to say I vastly prefer travelling with Ben. The few trips we've done--road trips to Oregon, to Belize, to S.F.--it's been so much better to *share* what's going on. To be able to turn to someone and say, "How rad is ___" or "Doesn't ___ remind you of ___?" is just better than recording those thoughts in a journal.
3) Sarah, I'm sure my sewing adventures will be a lot more professional upon your return to if you join the craft nights Christine and Meghan & I have been intermittently enjoying, I'll hopefully have a few pointers for you by then.

The General said...

Ambika, yeah, travelling with someone else is always better. Having been Santiago before, its much more enjoyable to have Sarah here to share the experience with this second time... even if Sarah seems to be allergic to Santiago (a blog post for another day.)