I guess it´s about time for the report on the family visit to Chile. (I know you´ve all been waiting with baited breath)….. well… It went swimmingly and made me love both my family and the country I call home so much more. Last summer Jon and I had the grand pleasure of hosting both of our sets of parents (AT THE SAME TIME!), so mom and dad had already done a bit of traveling in Chile. On that trip we visited the port city of Valparaiso as well as the beach resort of La Serena and the Elqui Valley: a sort of desert oasis area filled with cute little towns and the birthplace of pisco, Chile´s national liquor. However, this was Ali´s first trip ever to South America so I was anxious to show her some of the great things to do in and around Santiago.
To preface this entry, the four members of my immediate family had not taken a vacation together since 2003 when mom and dad drove to Prude Ranch in western Texas where Ali and I had, for some inexplicable reason, chosen to become camp counselors and horse experts at a real live dude ranch for the summer. (Don´t laugh… I may still have the scar from when I was branded during counselor orientation/hazing as proof…) Regardless, it was my final year of college, and the four Timmses decided to celebrate my graduation with an epic camping trip that took us from the hills of Fort Davis, Texas to Great Basin National Park in Nevada, the Redwood Forest in Northern California, and finally the deep blue waters of Crater Lake in Oregon. Wow… that trip seems so long ago, but what great memories. Historically, most of my family´s vacations were either spent in England, visiting our grandparents, or in our pop-up Coleman camper traversing the United States. In addition to collecting black brochures from as many National Parks as possible, my mother took great pleasure in introducing my father, sister, and me to the natural beauty and historic landmarks of my birth country. In truth, there are few places in the world that can boast mind-blowing scenic landscapes like the good ol´ U S of A. However, I must say that the Republic of Chile gives some of those scenic vistas a run for their money….. I haven´t yet found a Grand Canyon equivalent, but I have seen the Chilean version of Napa Valley, the Big Sur, the Rocky Mountains, the lakes and volcanoes of the Pacific Northwest, as well as the Mojave desert. Have I inspired more of you to visit me yet?
Anyway, in the years following my graduation from college, family rendezvous became more complicated and usually took place in Houston at Christmas time with various boyfriends,etc in tow. These get-togethers were always fun, but usually much too short and packed full of visits with other family members and friends. During the three years I lived in Dalian, I was fortunate that both my sister and parents were able to make it over to China on separate occasions. I will never forget climbing on hands and knees with my mom and Jon on a steep and lonely section of the Great Wall during an April snow shower. (Unfortunately we only saw the sign “Do Not Climb Here” after we had finished our perilous journey.) Likewise, I remember with fondness an evening spent in the rice paddies of rural Ping-an where I forced Ali to sample baijiu (Chinese fire water) on the floor of the stilt bamboo house we were staying in. This trip to Chile was not quite as exotic as our romps through Asia, but it was still a great deal of fun.
I will be honest, Santiago isn´t the world´s greatest tourist city. I absolutely love living here, but it isn´t a cultural mecca like Paris, London, Beijing, or Rio. Santiago is very modern and there aren´t a lot of important historic landmarks or jaw-dropping museums to visit. There is the central Plaza de Armas, a few churches and palacios from the 1800´s, some art museums, and the Chilean Nobel Prize winning poet, Pablo Neruda´s, home in Bellavista. However, there are some very interesting neighborhoods to walk around in, some delicious restaurants, some great parks, and of course, scenic views of the Andes (when pollution permits…) What I like most about Santiago is that there are some amazing places to take visitors that are only an hour or two away by car. The capital of Chile is the gateway to majestic mountain scenery, beautiful beaches, local craft towns, and amazing wineries. I thought I would try to show some of that to my family. So we headed down to the Colchagua wine valley in Santa Cruz where a friend of mine from school owns a delicious Italian restaurant called Vino Bello and a similarly named bed and breakfast. It was very relaxing, scenic, and the wine was delicious. We even took in a very random antique horse carriage race taking place at Vina Santa Cruz. Who knew???
The second part of our trip included a jaunt to my favorite Chilean city: Valparaiso and the coast north of Valpo including the fabulous beaches of Cachagua and Zapallar. But since this blog has taken me forever to write AND the computer just erased the entire second part of my post, I will have to postpone that… Wait for Part II:-)