Who Inspired Me To Travel

It’s interesting to stop and think about what initially sparked the desire to travel often. Was it a semester abroad? Childhood travels? A book?

For me, it is my dad: The person who introduced me to language barriers and foreign roads. Taking our family on work trips when I was a kid, we went off-the-beaten track as much as possible, staying in remote villages in Liechtenstein and finding tiny restaurants along the Costa Brava.

I remember our rental car pulling up to a small farm house in Peratallada, Spain, and wondering “How does he FIND these places? Does he just Google ‘farthest town from nearest road’?'”

The woman who ran this little farm guest house was named Daniella. She didn’t speak English, but we didn’t need a common language to communicate, and I’ll always remember her as one of the most hospitable people I’ve met on the road.

It’s in these places my dad took us- the hills of western Ireland or kayaking in the Pacific Northwest, that I learned how to really connect with a place. When I travel now, I find myself looking for those hidden corners, and wanting to learn the stories of the people who live there. Thanks to my dad, these “off-the-beaten-path” experiences have become my foundation. They’ve shaped me into who I am now, and I can only give thanks.

Cheers to the all of the people who inspired us to travel!

Dad

Dad

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Valparaíso

Valparaíso… a coastal city about an hour and half from smoggy and congested Santiago. It’s Chile’s cultural center, an eclectic mix of crooked streets, bright walls, and cafes .

Cerro Alegre, one of the two main hills in Valparaíso. Cerro Concepcíon is the other.

Valparaíso used to be one of South America’s biggest and most important ports, and its crumbling facade represents this era gone by. Despite this, it was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2003.

Mural of late President, Salvadore Allende.

Chile 3

“El Desayunador” cafe

Chile1 chile 6

Chile 2

Where’s your mama?

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!

Perú

I scribbled more phrases, the pages becoming chicken-scratch notes to anyone but us.  “I’m going to Lima,” I wrote, is, “Yo voy a Lima.” 

Next, the past tense.

Our lesson sprawled across two pages.  When there was no more room, I ripped  out the pages for her to keep. One page tore, leaving behind a piece containing a few sentences. She delicately extracted the missing piece.

“I studied English, but not too much,” she smiled.

Giving an impromptu English lesson in Cusco’s San Pedro Market was one of the moments I’ll always remember. She helped me with my Spanish, and we talked about what it’s like learning a language.

Apart from Cusco’s markets, the streets are full of people selling Chica Morada, a sweet drink made from purple corn, sunglasses, paintings, roasted cuy (guinea pig) and coca toffees. Then there are the drums thundering from the Plaza de Armas, where everyday seems to bring a new festival or gathering. Last night was Carnival de Cusco, with elaborate dancing and masks. The next morning, police lined the steps of the church as teachers staged a peaceful protest for higher wages.

Like most others here, we came for the new Seventh Wonder of the World: Machu Picchu. It started with a two-hour bus ride to Ollantaytambo, a town in Peru’s Sacred Valley. From there, we caught the train to Agua Calientes, the last town before Machu Picchu.

Making lunch at the train station.

Peru Rail, which of course isn’t owned by Peru, but by the Orient Express.

Agua Calientes, the last town before Machu Picchu.

The next day, Cami and I woke up at 4 am to begin the hike to the top. Flashlight in hand, we began the ascent at 5 am. Two hours later, we reached the top, where the fog and silence were overwhelming.

Sunrise

Every day, over 3,000 people visit Machu Picchu. As the morning continued, so did the flow of tourists. Big, noisy tour groups, pairs of backpackers, children, old, and young couples mixed in the Inca ruins.

No matter how many people arrived, you can always find a quiet spot in this stone labyrynth.

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.