Valdivia’s heart & soul

You know you’re at home in a new country when you establish your local hangout. This place became my touchstone and main meeting point. When everything else was unfamiliar, I knew I could come here to see the same people and begin to adjust to this new town.

This spot is near and dear to my heart. A Berkeley and San Francisco vibe right here in Valdivia. Navigado mulled wine. Pink Floyd. A warm fire. This is La Ultima Frontera, my favorite cafe-bar in Chile.

The front door, bearing stickers from worthy causes.

“La Ultima Frontera” means the last frontier, or the final border. My friend Maribel explained to me that it could have to do with the Mapuche, the indigenous people of Southern Chile, and their struggle to retain their land as it was colonized by foreigners.

Crafty

Salud!

Pisco: Perú vs. Chile

Pisco tasting in Chile’s Elqui Valley.

I may never be allowed into Perú again for what I’m about to say.

I like Chile’s pisco sours better than Perú’s. Yes. Perú may have better food, but Chile takes the gold for this fiery grape brandy.

It’s a touchy subject. Perú and Chile rival each other in more ways than one. From territory disputes and battles lost, the two countries have a simmering rivalry.  And pisco is a matter of national pride for both countries.

To be fair, the Spanish  originally brought the grapes to Perú and began making pisco there. But they also began making pisco in what’s now Chile. Both countries claim pisco as their national drink. (Nowadays, Chile is the main exporter of this potent liquor.)

However, after trying the pisco sour, both country’s signature cocktail, I realized that they’re very different. From the way the pisco is made to the very ingredients in the cocktail, you can barely call it the same drink.

Anyway, some photos from my field research…

A Chilean pisco sour

A Peruvian pisco sour

Distilling pisco in Chile’s Elqui Valley region.

Pisco bottled by hand in Chile’s Elqui Valley. “Fuego”, on the right, is sold exclusively in Chile. 40 Pisco is exported internationally.

Chilean pisco sour recipe:

  • 3 ounces of Chilean pisco
  • 1 ounce of lemon juice
  • 1/2 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 egg white 
  • 3-4 ice cubes

Put everything into a blender and blend on high speed until ice is crushed. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Salud!

Desert sun and cliff roads

I’m writing from Arica, Chile, a surf town 12 miles from the Peruvian border. I’ve embarked on a 3 week solo trip to the north of Chile and Peru.  I’ll meet up with a friend in Cusco, but until then, I’m traveling solo.

Buses in Chile are safe and very comfortable, but I just got off a creepy one. The 12-hour overnight trip from San Pedro was eerie.

We left at 8:30 pm, driving into the Atacama desert with nothing but sand dunes under a full moon. We were on the Panamerican Highway, which goes up the coast of South America. And this seemed to be it’s most desolate part.

Sometime during the night, I looked out the window and that saw that the bus was hugging a cliff with no gaurd rail. I was on the second story, and below me was a canyon, hundreds of feet below. I’ve never been afraid of heights, but something about being on a top-heavy bus didn’t sit well. The bus began taking the turns, as we drove past white crosses scattered across the cliffside in memory of others who’d gone over the edge. It was hard to sleep that night.

Apart from the bus ride, the San Pedro de Atacama part of the trip was great. San Pedro is a touristy town in the middle of nowhere in Chile’s Atacama desert. It’s a popular jumping off point for exploring the surrounding area, where the borders of Chile, Bolivia, and Argentina intersect.

Here is a bit of life in the driest desert in the world…

One of the main streets in San Pedro

Chile’s is divided into 15 regions. We’re in region 2

Old cars
Photo by Karin Kleine

The first day I arrived in San Pedro I joined some people from the organization StartUp Chile. We all went to swim in Laguna Cejar. The only person who stayed in the water for more than 15 seconds was the Finnish guy we were with. The water was freezing, but floating is easy since it’s so salty.

The Scandinavian braves the ice water. I swear it’s in their DNA.

Salt

Laguna Cejar

Valle de la Muerte.

Valle de la Luna

Chile’s El Tatio geyers are one of the region’s main draws. Along with New Zealand, Iceland, and the USA, Chile has one of the world’s biggest geyser fields.

Since they’re most active at dawn, it meant waking up at 3:30 am to go see them. After the van picked us up at 4 am we began the two hour trip into the Andes mountains.

We’d been warned about how cold it would be up there, so Karin and I joked that we would just wear every piece of clothing we had. (We came pretty close.) My three pairs of socks and seven layers still didn’t keep out the freezing morning.

Once at the geyers, our local guide warned everyone to stay clear from the geyser named “The Killer”, which got its name after several people got too close and fell into the boiling water. (We steered clear.)

But we were tempted to jump into the hot springs with the loads of other tourists. It was such a relief from the cold, and it was funny watching everybody scramble for their clothes after getting out into the cold air. (It wasn’t funny when we had to do it.)

Wearing every layer of clothing possible at El Tatio geyers

9am back down the mountain

Llama crossing on the way back from the geyers

Vicuña sightings!

Stopped in this tiny town on the way back from the geyers.

Coca tea, the local remedy for altitude sickness.

Tomorrow I’m crossing the border into Tacna, Peru. Next up: Cusco and the Sacred Valley.

English Winter Camps

I just finished working the winter English camp in Valdivia. The English Opens Doors Program sponsores these annual camps every year for students in dozens of towns throughout Chile. They’re free for the students who sign up, and are meant to be a way for students to experience a week of English language immersion.

During the week, me and the other teachers lead activities, while trying to keep warm in Escuela Espana’s freezing hallways. (Thankfully every classroom has its own woodburning stove.)

It was such a different experience working with students in a non-classroom setting. For all I knew, the students at the camp actually wanted to be there and had an interest in  English, making our jobs that much easier.

Our group at Escuela Espana

One of this year’s projects was creating a lipdub music video to the song “Moves Like Jagger” by Maroon 5. It was a national project that every camp across the country had to do.

So in one afternoon we filmed and uploaded this epic masterpiece. Get ready: