A lovely shot of the rental car dashboard.

A lovely shot of the rental car dashboard.

Yesterday afternoon – no doubt related to the wet weather – my camera went on the fritz. It stopped working completely by evening, to my dismay. The next morning, it worked again, but sporadically. For every 20 times I press the shutter button, it may actually work once. Now there is a blinking green light on the front of the body of the camera that apparently indicates there is a problem, but not the nature of the problem. The blinking green light drains a full charge on the battery in two hours, but at least the camera takes a shot now and then. I’ve decided to leave the battery out until I want to take a photo.

What this means for you, dear reader, is fewer photos. Instead of 200 to choose from like usual, this time I had 24 (that’s including the shots of the car dashboard and the gravel road, and other dumb stuff when I got impatient and just kept pressing the shutter button but stopped aiming the camera). Time for the Nikon doctor when I get home, wouldn’t you think?

Dessert cookie

Dessert cookie

We woke up in our Villarrica hotel, got another fabulous breakfast and pinched some more hockey pucks with meat and cheese, and more of those positively sinful cookies. They’re like a whole dessert in a cookie and it’s enough sweetness to last a whole day. I think it’s layers of cookies, frosting, caramel and cream, and coated in a vanilla shell with a walnut on top. Margaret’s preference is the same type of cookie, only chocolate. Anyhow, in that way we secured another picnic lunch.

We hit the highways with a map we had picked up in Pucón a couple days earlier. I navigated and Margaret drove, and we cut through the gorgeous countryside from Villarrica and connected to the Pan American Highway, down here called Ruta 5, at Los Lagos. We drove for about 4 hours total, and reached our hostel in Puerto Varas at 1:30pm. Along the way we pulled over and got out lunch, and continued driving as we ate. We had an appointment at 2:30, and until we found our room were not comfortable taking a food break. We stopped in Los Lagos for petrol, which was a fun stop for me because a man working there spoke English and said he had become fluent when he spent some time at West Point Military Academy in New York. I told him I was also a veteran, and we talked military shop while Margaret stressed about getting the attendant to pump gas and then pay him (she had to break into my conversation to solicit for pesos). It was a bit of an abandonment of my traveling companion, so I tried to balance it out by pumping the man for ideas of what to see and do in the region, and he was happy to comply.

I tried to get shots along the way and my camera hardly ever complied. There were a lot of scenes like this.

I tried to get shots along the way and my camera hardly ever cooperated. There were a lot of scenes like this.

I can't get over what a beautiful country Chile is.

I can’t get over what a beautiful country Chile is.

The rivers and forests and mountains make for stunning scenery.

The rivers and forests and mountains make for stunning scenery.

We saw a lot of this today, but even Ruta 5 is beautiful in its way.

We saw a lot of this today, but even Ruta 5 is beautiful in its way. Margaret was impressed by the mostly empty highway, which made for low-stress driving.

We found our hostel in Puerto Varas with very little trouble, as the Air BnB hostess gave great directions from Ruta 5. We are staying at Galpon Aire Puro, a refurbished ginormous potato barn. It’s four stories, with shops in the first level, offices on the second level, the hostesses’ living quarters and guest rooms on the third level, and another guest room at the top. It is gorgeous. Our hostess is Vicki Johnson, a sparking, popping burst of positive energy. She showed us to our rooms, gave us tons of information about getting around town and where to find good food, then whirled out the door to meet a friend. We then had 30 minutes to wait for our scheduled pick up from the river rafting company.

The common room at our hostel.

The common room at our hostel looks out over the town of Puerto Varas.

Looking through the common room to the kitchen. Guest rooms above, and on all sides of the common room.

Looking through the common room to the kitchen. Guest rooms above, and on all sides of the common room.

The stairwell between all the floors of our hostel.

The stairwell between all the floors of our hostel.

The rafting company is Ko’Kayak, based in Ensenada. They sent a van to pick up rafters Jaime, Daniella, and Alicia and us. Daniella was doing the rafting trip as a birthday gift for Alicia who had just turned 15. Jaime was a Santiago transplant who came to live in Puerto Varas after visiting and falling in love with his novia (girlfriend). We met Michelle, our guide from Australia, who chatted with us during our hour-long drive to Ensenada and put us all at ease as much as we could be prior to a rafting trip. Margaret and Jamie had done this before, the rest of us never had and were somewhat nervous, not knowing what to expect.

The rain had been falling all day, from the moment we awoke, and we were wondering if the rafting trip would be canceled. But rafting in the rain turns out to be a great idea since you get soaked anyway. Michelle ran us through the safety speech, and then taught us how to paddle and which commands would be used. Then we changed into wetsuits, got fitted for helmets, and climbed into the van again for the ride to the river.

The rafting headquarters.

The rafting headquarters.

Getting ready for our safety briefing.

Getting ready for our safety briefing.

Margaret, me, and Jaime in our attractive rafting uniforms.

Margaret, me, and Jaime in our attractive rafting uniforms.

It was a small group and we all fit into one raft. Our first order of business was to get another safety lecture, this time from the man who introduced himself to us as our Angel. He was in a kayak and explained that if anyone went into the river, he would be the rescue crew. He explained what we had to do if we found ourselves outside the raft and floating down the river. Then we all climbed into the raft and practiced paddling. Michelle is fluent in Spanish and English, and switched back and forth with ease, giving instructions in both so everyone could understand. In fact, the command “forward!” got a little lost in the river noise, and I found it easier to listen to “adelante!” after a few minutes. (I think, for the next few years, any time I see the word “adelante,” I’m going to hear it in Michelle’s voice, shouted over wave noise.)

Before we knew it, we were in the Petrohué River in the Vicente Perez Rosales National Park and our first rapids were right in front of us. It’s apparently a category 3 river, but I am ignorant of category definitions. I can tell you what it means though: giant waves that smash you in the face! It was terrifying at first. I’m a bit of a shy person in new situations and with new people, so I hadn’t said much to anyone since the van pick up. M and I were placed in the front of the raft, and right out of the gate we were rocketing down cliffs of water and facing huge walls of waves that just came right at us. I had the presence of mind to notice the aqua colour, the triangle shapes of the waves, the way the water was so clear we could see the black rocks below, causing all the commotion, even though we were separated from the rocks by a lot of water. The only time I have ever experienced waves like this was surfing, so I noticed how nice it is to get a faceful of fresh water vs. sea water. And likewise, how lovely that the water was warmer than the Humboldt Coast ocean I have known. The Pacific Ocean off Trinidad California is around 52 degrees in the winter when the best waves are available. The Petrohué River was much warmer – maybe 65 degrees – but that’s a guess.

Anyhow, despite my shy quietness up to that point, and despite my ability to find the good in the experience, at first I was scared out of my mind and let fly some expletives. At one point I actually yelled at Margaret, “I can’t believe you got me into this!” I hollered, as I flailed with the paddle while the nose of the raft was airborne, and then squeezed my eyes shut as the next wave smashed into my face. I said to Margaret, “Yeah, I think I change my mind about going rafting,” and she thought I was serious. But…I had realized I was going to live after all, and I was just kidding. After two sets of rapids, I found that it’s pretty easy to stay in the boat. Also, Jaime was sitting right behind me and laughing his head off. I relaxed and began having a marvelous time.

My camera was not working anyway, so I had left it behind and thus I cannot show you the absolutely stunning scenery we saw from the river. Stunningly beautiful. The river was wide and warm (well relatively warm), there were birds and plants to identify. I decided to leave my glasses behind too, but was still the first person to spot a kingfisher. We had a long discussion about the hillsides covered in Nalca (Gunnera tinctoria), that apparently is delicious. {postscript: M and I tasted some later, and it does taste much like rhubarb. Though another name for this plant is “giant rhubarb,” it is not actually related. The plant has been introduced all over the world and in New Zealand and Ireland has created a weed problem.} I could not stop thinking of how the scenery at the river looks like Japan, with the steep lush mountains rising out of the river.

Our Angel circled the raft in his kayak, played in the rapids, and stationed himself off to the side to watch out for us every time we went through rapids, but there were no accidents and everyone had a great time. Eventually Michelle suggested that we could get out and float in the river (buoyed by our wetsuits), and Alicia, Jaime, and I did. Margaret used the rescuing skills that we were taught, and hauled us back into the raft when we were done swimming.

After only about an hour of rafting, we rowed to the beach and the crew waiting for us hauled in the equipment while we went to the van. During the long ride back, we all got pretty chilled in our soaked suits. We changed back into dry clothes with lightning speed, and met up again to share hot coffee and tea and empanadas. I had heard about Chilean honey, and thought that honey was honey. But Jaime insisted that I try Miel, and it turned out to be amazing! I wish I had the means to buy twenty jars of it as gifts for all of you, but my luggage was already full. Jamie explained that the flavor came from a particular tree that the bees flocked to. I shopped for the honey later and couldn’t tell how to ensure that a particular jar contained honey from the tree I wanted…since I imagine bees to be reluctant to take commands from beekeepers. After empanadas and miel on crackers and coffee in our bellies, we were all good friends despite the language barrier.

Ko’Kayak took us all home and M and I turned in for the night. Though we wanted to explore Puerto Varas, it had truly been a long day.

On the way to the park. Chile is a stunningly beautiful country.

On the way to the park. Chile is a stunningly beautiful country.

Margaret and I took advantage of our buffet breakfast (included with the room) to collect enough extra goodies for a picnic lunch. The breakfast was awesome, I might add. One table held sliced meats, smoked salmon, and cheeses; the next table was heaped with fresh pineapple, oranges, pears, etc. There was muesli and a whole table filled with different kinds of breads. There were preserves and juices (juice choices were: pineapple, apple cream, and raspberry…uh, ok), coffee and teas. Eggs cooked to order and toasted croissants with ham and cheese. There was another table filled with desserts. FYI, raspberry juice is delicious.

We have been calling the common Chilean bread “hockey pucks” because they are of an equal size and density. Ok, maybe a bit of an exaggeration. I will say I’m not a fan of Chilean bread. I wasn’t a fan of Japanese bread either. Maybe I’m just picky about my bread. Anyway, we each nabbed a hockey puck, sliced and spread it with butter and cream cheese, and layered ham, turkey and cheese, then tucked our little sandwiches away into M’s purse, along with a collection of cookies. Viola! Lunch.

Driving to Pucón this morning was easy-peasy since we did it yesterday and knew the way. The tourist office man had said to follow the signs to Caburgua, and we did. We missed our turn, and ended up at Lago Caburgua. This area was windy and had kicked up a dust storm as the wind raged across the beaches. I did manage to snap a shot in between dust clouds.

Lago Caburgua, in between dust clouds. It's a tiny, nondescript town, and this beautifully built lakeshore was unexpected.

Lago Caburgua, in between dust clouds. Caburgua is a tiny, nondescript town, and this beautifully built lakeshore wall and walking path was unexpected.

Neither of us has working cell phone service in this country, until we get to WiFi, which – blessedly! – has been daily. Ahh, modern life. My phone for some crazy reason, keeps connecting to some kind of service called “moviestar” and I get that when I’m in a city. When moviestar is engaged, I get GPS, but out in the country I have diddly squat. Since I have no idea why I’m getting limited service in Chile, I’m worried that I’m paying for it. Margaret and I both turn our phones to airplane mode as soon as we leave the WiFi areas.

Thus we relied entirely on the tourist map we received, and eventually found our way onto a gravel road. Margaret drove us up, up, up into the mountains, dodging potholes and other motorists. There is much wood used in construction here. In so many places, a common construction material is concrete blocks: cheap and quick. Here in Chile, south of Santiago, wealth is displayed in wood. Gorgeous wooden homes and businesses are everywhere, with generous wood decks and wooden arches over driveways and wood carvings and wooden accents.

We spotted this great horse, patiently waiting for its master.

We spotted this great horse, patiently waiting for its master.

These birds filled the fields, using those awesome beaks to dig for some kind of yumminess in the grass. They have a very loud call that sounds like ducks.

These birds filled the fields, using those awesome beaks to dig for some kind of yumminess in the grass. They have a very loud call that sounds like ducks.

This darling little boy was hopeful that we would drop some cookie crumbs.

This darling little boy was hopeful that we would drop some cookie crumbs.

Finally we arrived at the park entrance. Fees were posted outside, and since I had my purse handy, I went inside and Margaret found a place to park the car. I studied Spanish for two semesters at Brandeis, and then immediately forgot everything. So…while I have had a bit of an introduction to the language, it’s most accurate to say I am not at all fluent in Espanol. But after a few days, I’m beginning to get the gist of things. So, I was proud of myself to complete the transaction solo. The Park official asked if we were hiking, and when I agreed, he explained that it’s moderately difficult and it’s 7 kilometers. He explained how much elevation gain and that it typically took 3.5 hours to reach the three lakes. He kept checking in with me “Do you understand? Is that good?” I think he was just making sure we knew what we were getting into. I understood him (entiendo) and asked about the fee, explained that there were two adults, and paid in exact change. He wished us a good hike, gave us a receipt, and we were good to go. The entire conversation was in Spanish.

Off we went, and I admit I was giddy with happiness. On vacation in another country AND hiking AND good company. Margaret and I seem to never run out of things to talk about, and we’re both so open to taking on whatever adventure presents itself. So we hit the trail at about 10:30 am at about 2300 feet in elevation. We walked along the shores of Tinquilco Lake and I could never quite get a decent shot because we were in the trees. Both of us remarked on how we did not anticipate seeing so much bamboo. We loved the huge fuchsias growing wild and taller than we are. We liked a tree that had needles like a Yew, and bark that peeled off in puzzle piece shapes. The sun continued to shine and light up the lake (I could see it through the trees), and I crossed my fingers that there would still be sun when we finally broke out of the trees.

Interestingly, the trail took us back to a gravel road after a half mile walk, and we were soon strolling past grazing sheep and cute little homes and fenced fields. Scotch broom is in bloom, wild roses, pussywillow, purple and yellow lupine, and foxglove. It’s late spring in Chile and it’s just wonderful. So imagine the most idyllic pastoral scenes: clipped grass slopes with sheep or cattle, eucalyptus trees fluttering in the breeze, little wooden cabins with lovingly attended landscaping. We crossed a creek on a wooden bridge, and finally struck out on the trail in earnest.

This is typical of the scenes we saw while walking along the gravel road part of the trail.

This is typical of the scenes we saw while walking along the gravel road part of the trail.

A river near Lago Tinquilco

A river near Lago Tinquilco

The sheep had recently been shorn and I could see the marks from the clippers in their wool.

The sheep had recently been shorn and I could see the marks from the clippers in their wool.

Bamboo was one of the primary trees in the forest, to our surprise.

Bamboo was one of the primary trees in the forest, to our surprise.

Baby bamboo sprout. Isn't it remarkable?

Baby bamboo sprout. Isn’t it remarkable?

The climb was rather steep, and our breath was coming faster early in the hike. We made several switchbacks and were treated to multiple views of Lago Tinquilco as we climbed. Then, it began to rain. Lightly at first, and gradually, as the day progressed, it got colder and the rain became more insistent. We added all our layers of clothing and continued to climb.

A trail to the side was marked, and we decided to head over to see the first Cascada (waterfall). It was an impressive waterfall, and this is coming from a woman who lives in the Columbia River Gorge.

The trail included many little wooden structures to help us out, like bridges and ramps.

The trail included many little wooden structures to help us out, like bridges and ramps.

A bridge over a river early along the trail.

A bridge over a river early along the trail.

I took a photo of the map at the beginning of the trail, to help us navigate once we got up there.

I took a photo of the map at the beginning of the trail, to help us navigate once we got up there.

Cascada Eyrie, about 1/3 of the way to the three lakes.

Cascada Eyrie, about 1/3 of the way to the three lakes.

Just before the first lake we saw, the trail crested at about 4000 feet. At Lago Chico we bumped into other tourists. These were from New Zealand. Soon after, we were passed by people speaking French, and later in the day, by a couple of guys speaking in a European language we couldn’t identify. At the waterfall earlier, we had too much fun jumping around the logs and taking photos of each other with a Chilean couple: none of us understanding a word that each other spoke, but still communicating just fine. Yesterday at the volcano we were taking photos with Japanese people who had also rented a car. Margaret said how much it felt like we were doing what traveling people do: since so many nations collided with our trip. We had obviously made the same choice that many others make, and it’s kind of fun to discover that doing the Three Lakes Hike out of Pucón is a thing people do.

As we spoke to the Kiwis, the wind started to pick up and the rain really began coming down. We were all getting pretty wet, and broke off talking in order to get along the trail. We ducked our heads against the worst blasts and made our way through the forest past Lago Chico. And we toughed it out as the rain lashed and the wind kicked up whitecaps on the lake. We arrived at Laguna Del Toro and wiped the water out of our eyes to see the cliffs across the lake, and saw that it was beautiful, and then we ducked our heads again, and hitched the sopping wet backpack a little higher.

Lago Chico was very beautiful, and the weather almost added to the beauty of the view.

Lago Chico was very beautiful, and the weather almost added to the beauty of the view.

The bridge between Lago Chico and Laguna El Toro.

The bridge between Lago Chico and Laguna El Toro.

Forest on the way to Laguna Del Toro. These are Monkey Tail (Araucaria) trees growing wild!

Forest on the way to Laguna Del Toro. These are Monkey Tail (Araucaria) trees growing wild!

Laguna Del Toro in the pouring rain.

Laguna Del Toro in the pouring rain.

At the junction for the third lake, we took 10 steps and then decided to bag it. I mean, really, what’s one more grey lake in the fog at this point? So we turned around and began slipping and sliding our way down the steep steep trail back to the car. Ok, yes, fine I’ll admit it, I did slip and fall and got red clay mud all over one sleeve of my jacket.

Passing Lago Chico once more, watching the wind whip up little waves on the surface.

Passing Lago Chico once more, watching the wind whip up little waves on the surface.

I love that aqua green/blue colour of the water.

I love that aqua green/blue colour of the water.

“Oh! Oh my gosh!” Yelped Margaret. “Look at that, look!” But I was behind her and couldn’t see what she was pointing at, on the trail. I peeped around her and saw the biggest, hairiest spider I have ever seen in the wild.

I'd say this spider is sufficiently large. I wasn't quiiittte brave enough to put my hand on the ground right next to it, so it's slightly bigger than what it appears.

I’d say this spider is sufficiently large. I wasn’t quiiittte brave enough to put my hand on the ground right next to it, so it’s slightly bigger than what it appears.

On our way back we took another side trail to Cascada Trufulco. You may be able to tell from the photo that I'm soaked to the core. If you can't tell, just take my word for it.

On our way back we took another side trail to Cascada Trufulco. You may be able to tell from the photo that I’m soaked to the core. If you can’t tell, just take my word for it.

We were cold and hungry and tired. Our morning’s plan had been to make our hike last till suppertime, and to stop in Pucon that evening for dinner at a restaurant. We had a new plan: run in to the supermarcado at the edge of town, grab a bottle of wine, some water crackers and brie, and head for the hotel swimming pool. And that is exactly what we did.

The heated pool was even more of a delight when afternoon rain turned into evening thunderstorms, and crackled and boomed while we swam and then ate cheese and crackers and enjoyed our wine.

The heated pool was even more of a delight when afternoon rain turned into evening thunderstorms, and crackled and boomed while we swam and then ate cheese and crackers and enjoyed our wine.

{P.S. Count them: five lakes in one day. Villarrica, Caburgua, Tinquilco, Chico, Del Toro.}

Entrance to the National Park.

Entrance to the National Park.

Can you believe I got lucky enough to find a volcano during my trip to Chile? Of course you probably already thought of it, but I was delighted to face Volcán Villarrica all day today.

Our day started on the overnight sleeper bus. Our sleep was fitful. Margaret heard the bus hit something metal, and go over it, and began worrying about a crash. I just couldn’t get comfortable. And ugh…I hate trying to sleep on a moving vehicle. Some people are lulled to sleep…but I am irritated into neverending wakefulness.

We got off the bus at the wrong stop at 6am and luckily the bus driver knew me well enough by then to correct the error. “This is not Temuco,” he said, and wouldn’t take my bag ticket. We laughed at ourselves and got back on the bus, to find that a hopeful woman had settled into our seats up front instead of her seat in the very back. Apologies all around and we settled in again for 20 more minutes of bus ride. We were met outside the bus station by a taxi driver who took us a very long way to the airport on a $46 cab ride. Wow! It was a half-hour ride, but I still think that was too much.

Margaret negotiates with the rental car employee.

Margaret negotiates with the rental car employee.

We were the only people in the airport at 7:30am. We had to kill a lot of time before the car rental window opened up at 9:15. I find that picking up a rental is never a smooth process, and this time, though Margaret had purchased trip insurance, and the fee showed, the insurance wasn’t added to the account. The people at the counter didn’t want to release us without a purchase of some kind, so we went around and around for an hour before Margert finally paid an additional deposit, and we finally picked up our car and were able to get on our way.

There we were in Chile, Margaret re-learning to drive a stick shift and in a new country. It ended up being a very easy trip though, and with sunny skies and great roads we arrived at our hotel in no time. Too early for a room, but they held our bags and we went down to the lakefront to share a bottle of wine, apples, cheese and crackers. Once our room was ready, we showered and changed and headed into Pucón. It’s a lovely little tourist town that was setting up for a Friday night concert on the main street. We visited a tourist information office to get a map for hikes the next day.

Heading down route 199 in Chile.

Heading down route 199 in Chile.

Sights of the volcano along the entire trip.

Sights of the volcano along the entire trip.

Our fabulous hotel on the shores of Lake Villarica.

Our fabulous hotel on the shores of Lake Villarica.

Every room in the hotel has views of Lago Villarrica.

Every room in the hotel has views of Lago Villarrica.

Mt. Villarrica from Pucón

Mt. Villarrica from Pucón

Lago Villarrica

Lago Villarrica

We asked at the tourist office where to take a good photo of the mountain, and he suggested that we go to the lake.

We asked at the tourist office where to take a good photo of the mountain, and he suggested that we go to the lake.

There are a couple of flower stands in Pucón that sell these astounding, huge bouquets of flowers that are painted to look out of this world.

There are a couple of flower stands in Pucón that sell these astounding, huge bouquets of flowers that are painted to look out of this world.

One of the things the man at the tourist office suggested was a drive to the base of Mt. Villarrica. So we left town and went 14 kilometers to see it. We didn’t go all the way (and it looks like there is a ski resort there), but we got close.

The road to the mountain was mostly paved, but included a few sketchy spots.

The road to the mountain was mostly paved, but included a few sketchy spots.

Near the base of the mountain.

Near the base of the mountain.

The area is surrounded by high mountains that aren't all volcanoes. But you know, it can't be all volcanoes.

The area is surrounded by high mountains that aren’t all volcanoes. But you know, it can’t be all volcanoes.

We kept seeing these clouds form and roll off the very top of the volcano. It was hard not to think it was steam.

We kept seeing these clouds form and roll off the very top of the volcano. We found out a couple days later that it *is* steam from the still hot volano!

We left the volcano and drove back to Pucón. It’s a small town but large enough that we didn’t get a chance to see it all. We browsed the shops and found a place for dinner. Then we wandered back to the main street to watch musicians doing a sound check for the concert. We didn’t stay for the concert, but we did enjoy the few songs we heard as they got ready.

This place sold preserves and cheese. We are surprized to find that Chile sells a lot of good cheese.

This place sold preserves, famous Chilean honey, and cheese. We are surprized to find that Chile sells a lot of good cheese.

The band was having a great time and people were already settled on both sides of the street to get good seats, even though the concert hadn't really started yet.

The band was having a great time and people were already settled on both sides of the street to get good seats, even though the concert hadn’t really started yet.

The sound check ended and we wandered into a supermarcado and purchased a few items for lunch the next day and headed back to the hotel and called it a night.

The sound check ended and we wandered into a supermarcado and purchased a few items for lunch the next day and headed back to the hotel and called it a night.

{Update! Two days later in a different part of Chile, we were informed that a year and a half ago, two volcanoes became active again. The one further south erupted, and Volcán Villarrica began spewing dust and ash and steam. So all those times when we stood there looking at the top of the mountain, remarking that it seemed as though there was steam billowing from the crater…well…. that’s exactly what it was! ha ha! Even better. 😉 }

So far, I particularly enjoy the cool empty streets of morning.

So far, I particularly enjoy the cool empty streets of morning.

Since we hit the markets Tuesday, today the plan was to lean toward culture. Our Air Bnb host told us how to find the area considered more cultural (i.e. less touristy), with lovely neighborhoods and museums. We struck out in that direction, and did not have to try very hard to admire everything we saw.

Churches are always beautiful to see.

Churches are always beautiful to see.

The architecture is just wonderful.

The architecture is just wonderful.

We find a surprising amount of Tudor architecture here, and the same in Vina del Mar.

We find a surprising amount of Tudor architecture here, and the same in Vina del Mar.

We notice police everywhere, los cabineros.

We notice police everywhere, los carabineros.

We walked through the beautiful neighborhoods of obviously wealthy families, on our way to Vega Central. It’s a huge market area, but we were not going to shop; we wanted to see it. We walked along the river, Rio Mapocho, which is a particularly ugly river for a downtown anywhere, and spotted our destination easily from a distance. Vega Central is worth the visit. There is a rather big flower market, next to a very big two-story market, with grocery on the ground floor and mostly clothes on the second floor. I am impressed with how mouth-watering the produce looks. Sometimes markets are just not that appetizing, even if they sell “fresh” food. Here, however, everything tempted me. We bought spiced peanuts and blueberries to munch while we walked.

Rio Mapocho, the one thing in Santiago that is not so beautiful.

Rio Mapocho, the one thing in Santiago that is not so beautiful.

The flower market.

The flower market.

Inside the grocery and clothes building of Vega Central

Inside the grocery and clothes building of Vega Central

The groceries looked amazing at every single stall.

The groceries looked amazing at every single stall.

The fruits and veggies looked mouthwatering. Check out these crazy multicolored potatoes!

The fruits and veggies were mouthwatering. Check out these crazy multicolored potatoes!

...and black corn.

…and black corn.

Outside, surrounding the grocery and stretching for a couple of blocks are street vendors selling vacuum cleaners, strollers, kitchenware, batteries, you name it. If anyone in Santiago needs anything, this is the part of town to get it. The markets are jammed though, with stalls almost in the streets, so you negotiate vendors and wares and traffic and other people, and the occasional stray dog, all while watching where you place your feet (just in case), and it gets overstimulating quickly.

We crossed the river again and came out by the fish market we saw on Tuesday. We had only explored one side of it the first time, today we explored the other side. We had a particular lunch in mind and tried to find a shop that would sell it. As we stood gazing at a menu for Tio Lucho, the proprietor came out to tell us what he thought was most important. He held a magazine of what to do in Santiago, then turned a few pages in and pointed out his establishment. The message being pretty obvious: his was the place to eat. So we tried to explain what we wanted. Empanadas…”oh yes!” he says. “But no,” we continue “empanadas with…” Margaret and I struggled to remember the word for crab. Centolla I thought, but that was the word to describe the King Crab we ate the day before. So M pulled out her phone translator and finally got the word: cangrejo. The proprietor knew right away what we wanted. “Con queso?” he asked. With cheese? So basically, yes, Margaret and I walked into a restaurant at a fish market in Santiago and ordered off menu. Spoiled Americans, anyone? The crab and cheese empanadas were outstanding, and came with two special sauces that the proprietor explained how to apply. As we left, our new Tio told us to consider the place our home.

Marget gets ready to enter the enormous fish market.

Marget gets ready to enter the enormous fish market.

The fish looks very fresh.

The fish looks very fresh.

We also found a meat market.

We also found a meat market.

At the meat market we found tongues, hooves, and a pig head.

At the meat market we found tongues, hooves, and a pig head.

Waiting for our special meal with another Pisco Sour.

Waiting for our special meal with another Pisco Sour.

Our fabulous empanadas made with Chilean love.

Our fabulous empanadas made with Chilean love.

After we ate, we walked back to the wealthy quiet streets and strolled through more vendors. These sold quality goods, i.e. jewlery, fine art prints, books. We aimed for the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes. This building caught our eye earlier in the day, and was a perfect stop for the heat of the afternoon.

Inside we were allowed to take photos of the statuary in the main hall, but not allowed photos of the original oil paintings in the side rooms. The sculptures were of such high quality tht we found ourselves admiring knees and shoulders and feet as much as the whole image. Some of the paintings were outstanding; take my word for it. I fell immediately in love with a small one of a reclining woman smoking,  called La Fumadora.

The Magnificent Museo del Bellas Artes.

The Magnificent Museo Nacional del Bellas Artes.

Detail from the front of the buillding.

Detail from the front of the buillding.

A display of just the sails, but no ship.

A display of just the sails, but no ship.

How irresistable is she?

How irresistable is she?

Columns holding up the roof.

Columns holding up the roof.

The details of this one are perfection. When I spotted the expression on the face of the man holding Jesus, it brought tears to my eyes.

The details of this one are perfection. When I spotted the expression on the face of the man behind and holding Jesus, it brought tears to my eyes.

This one made me think of Indians plaing stickball. I read the info card and sure enough, it's an indigenous boy.

This one made me think of Indians plaing stickball. The info card confirmed it’s an indigenous boy.

La Fumadora. 1900 by Vincenzo Irolli. Image by Jorge Olave Riveros.

La Fumadora. 1900 by Vincenzo Irolli. Image by Jorge Olave Riveros.

After the museum, in the heat of the afternoon, we went back to the apartment – stopping first at the supermarcadero to pick up a bottle of Chilean wine. We were both tired enough to nap, and sadly, I have never been a person who can nap. I can lie down for an hour, but not sleep. If I lie down long enough to fall asleep, and have to wake up 20 minutes later, I’ll be a bear. Best not to go there! Instead I began a blog post because I didn’t know when I’d have access to Internet again. Margaret reclined, but also did not sleep, and instead carefully plotted out our evening travel.

Refreshed, we went back out into the streets, our third day in Santiago comfortable for us as we had learned so many shortcuts and landmarks. In one corner area, as we went from place to place reading menus and checking prices, we enjoyed a guitar player. He was so good that we stopped in the shade and listened for awhile. I would have been happy to sit there in the shade until he was done, and happy to pay for a personal concert. But it was time to eat.

We settled on a place specializing in coastal dishes from southern Peru and northern Chile. Margaret and I are such fans of the Pisco Sours that she ordered another and I ordered a flight of different Piscos in order to taste the liquor itself. We were told it is made from grapes, and I am surprised at the flavor being nothing like wine. The three I tasted were 40 and 42 proof. A liquor I can’t compare to anything I have tried before. The lightest one most reminded me of tequila – isn’t that interesting? The second had strong floral flavors and was Margaret’s favourite. I remarked “I taste plants!” The third, apparently very rare Pisco, was my favourite because of the complicated mineral flavors and creamy oakiness. I had enjoyed the ceviche so much the day before that I ordered another today. M had steak and mushrooms with polenta.

A lovely street corner in the evening.

A lovely street corner in the evening.

A talented guitar player.

A talented guitar player.

Next we went to the GAM (Centro Culturo Gabriela Mistral), a modern museum right next to our apartment. It’s a huge building so we expected more art, but the space is dedicated mostly to conference rooms. We did find displays of contemporary artists using folk art styles such as metal work, clay, and baskets, with the older art mixed in. Soon we had seen all the displays and we wandered through a bustling book sale. The GAM seems more like a college campus to me than a museum, and kids were everywhere. I settled on a book to purchase as a gift for Tara, and the vendor asked if I wanted the author to autograph it. Until then I had not realized that the place was filled with people selling their own books. The author turned out to be fluent in English and autographed in both Spanish and English. What a treat!

We went back to the apartment and soon after, Angelo and Evelyn (his roommate) arrived. After an enjoyable chat over wine, Angelo saw us to the metro station. With kisses and hugs and many thanks, we separated over the gates and M and I hopped down the stairs to the subway. In moments we were at the bus station and there was only one hiccup of the evening. We asked which bus went to Temuco, and when bus 12 was pointed out, I took my roller bag there and had it loaded into the back. When we went to the front of the bus, the driver wouldn’t let us on. It was a regular bus to Temuco and we had purchased a ride on a sleeper bus. A kind man took pity on us and took our reservation over to the Tourbus counter and got us assigned seats and boarding passes that told us to go to bus 20 instead. And that’s fine…but I needed to get my bag. I tried and tried to explain (in English of course, which was not helpful) to the man at bus 12 that I wanted to get my bag back. I held up the ticket and pointed to the bag storage. The man just shook his head, “No.” Not that he refused to get my bag, but he refused to try to understand what I was saying. Margaret and I became more emphatic, pointing to where the bags were kept, and I kept holding up my bag claim tag. The man simply shook his head at us. The helpful man spotted us still at the wrong bus. “Come with me, bus 20 is over here,” he said in Spanish. “No! We need our bag!” we protested. This man understood instantly. He began hollering at the first man, gesturing at him to come help us, and opening the luggage compartment without even asking. I reached in and got my bag. The first guy, though he hadn’t helped with anything up to that point, stopped me and asked for my bag claim ticket to make sure the bag was mine. Hmpf. I guess you can go anywhere and find people like that.

We got my bag onto the proper bus and we boarded. The seats were huge and reclined way back and we settled in for a 400 mile journey to Temuco.

Margaret on bus 20

Margaret on bus 20

 

The view out the apartment window of Cerro San Cristobal.

The view out the apartment window of Cerro San Cristobal.

I woke at 6:18 am refreshed after a great sleep. Soon Margaret was up too and we were out the door around 8:30 and headed for Cerro San Cristóbal, or hill of St. Christopher. It would be quite a hike and we wanted to hike in the early morning coolness. And…can I say…after the heat of the day yesterday, it cooled down overnight and was deliciously pleasant sleeping weather. The morning was cool and breezy and perfect.

Street art on the way to the hill of St. Christopher.

Street art on the way to the hill of St. Christopher.

Empty streets in the morning.

Empty streets in the morning.

More art. I can't help myself.

More art. I can’t help myself.

We walked a few blocks north, a few blocks west, and there we were at the bottom of the hill. Rather than go up, we backtracked a little through the tree-lined empty streets in search of coffee and sustenance. I am impressed by so much street art here, and stopped so often to remark and take photos that Margaret began to point murals out to me!

We found the perfect cafe, some sandwiches to go, and off we went on our trek uphill. It was a slog, but with plenty of shade, continuing morning breezes, and fabulous views of a hazy city, it was really no chore. At the top we found the beautiful white statue of the Virgin Mary. Surrounding it at the top of the hill were a lovely garden area with many benches in the shade, and a small and lovely stone church called the Motherhood of Mary Chapel. To save our feet, we rode the funicular (a….train?) back down.

The Virgin Mary, surrounded by admirers.

The Virgin Mary, surrounded by admirers.

Holy water in Mary's Church.

Holy water in Mary’s Church.

I am standing just below Mary, getting a sunbun as we speak.

I am standing just below Mary, getting a sunbun as we speak.

Our car is passing another as we ride the funicular down the hillside.

Our car is passing another as we ride the funicular down the hillside.

View of Santiago from the funicular.

View of Santiago from the funicular.

Bridge at the bottom of the hill covered in locks of love.

Bridge at the bottom of the hill covered in locks of love.

Lovers names inked onto them.

Lovers names inked onto them.

Our host Angelo had raved about Valparaiso and Viña del Mar (vineyard of the sea) the previous day, enough that we were convinced, and made on-the-spot plans to catch a bus there after our hike up the cerro. And that’s exactly what we did: back to the room, freshened up a bit, and headed for the metro. We took the metro to the bus station, and then we asked enough people in broken Spanish to express our need. (bless the patient Chileans) Tickets in hand, we jumped on a bus for the nearly 2 hour ride to Viña del Mar.

Views of the Andes from the bus.

Views of the Andes from the bus.

We saw multiple wineries from the tour bus.

We saw multiple wineries from the bus.

Our plan had been to explore both cities, but we stumbled serendipitously upon a Chilean-born Canadian, who was working for the Viña del Mar tourist office. She easily explained why we couldn’t do both cities – not enough time. And since we were walking, she quickly mapped out the best walking route through her fair city, so that we would return before the last bus of the evening.

We were so impressed we followed her suggestion exactly. First through the Parque Quinta Vergara, a lovely park but not especially remarkable. Margaret pointed out that the tourist lady was very proud of the place and eager to send us there, and for that reason, we were happy to go see it for her. There was renovation underway at the park, of the old Governor’s mansion. Restoration is something we have seen regularly here, and I think that’s a good sign of how well a city is doing.

A tree at the park. The fruit is bright orange/red as you can see, and are dropping to the ground.

A tree at the park. The fruit is bright orange/red as you can see, and dropping to the ground as it ripens.

Fabulous houses in Viña del Mar

There are fabulous houses in Viña del Mar.

I get happy in water.

I get happy in water.

We continued walking toward the beach, and enjoyed the small landscaped flower garden pointed out to us by the tourist guide. Almost as soon as we reached the sand, one of the many women selling things offered us something we actually wanted: a flaky sugary pastry and we scarfed it down, only after a very long discussion about how much it should cost. We began the conversation at something that sounded a lot like $5,000 pesos for a single pastry (close to $8). When it was clear that we were shocked and walking away, the women quickly explained that we didn’t understand. After much talking and confusion, many prices being discussed, always with the woman saying we weren’t understanding her. Finally we paid $1,000 pesos for two pastries, which is more like 75 cents each. Now THAT I can understand just fine. 😉

We ate our pastries on the beach and I was not able to resist the water. I stripped off my shoes and socks and splashed in the sea. Imagine! Swimming in the ocean in December.

Lovely views of the seashore are found in Vina del Mar.

Lovely views of the seashore are found in Viña del Mar. Wulff Castle is in the center, on a rock outcrop in the sea.

Pelicans groomed themselves into awkwar poses, though I begged them to raise their heads for a more flattering photo.

Pelicans groomed themselves into awkward poses, though I begged them to raise their heads for a more flattering photo.

We find the cities in Chile to be tastefully lovely and very clean.

We find the cities in Chile to be tastefully lovely and very clean.

This tree has seen better days.

This tree has seen better days.

Castle Wulff

Castle Wulff

Pisco Sours

Pisco Sours

We were able to walk inside Castillo Wulff (you can barely make it out in the shore photo above). It was purchased in 1906 and transformed into a castle in 1916 by Gustavo Adolfo Wulff. Inside was empty but for an art show of local bird photography. We crossed the mouth of a river and continued on along the playa, past a splendid casino in a huge building with classic architecture. There were horses with carriages out front, but that was too touristy for our mood just then.

Finally, tummies rumbling, we went in search of a place to eat. Margaret has been pining for local seafood, possibly a Chilean seafood soup, so we walked past the Peruvian Thai restaurant (Er?), the many pizza places, the Italian restaurant. We skipped a few that looked promising because they were closed. Finally we stepped a place advertised as a pasta restaurant, because we spotted fish on the menu. The beach here is touristy, and thus the waiters brought us menus in English. Sure enough, seafood was on the menu, so I ordered Chilean Pot (mussels, squid, and shrimp sauteed in garlic butter) and Margaret ordered white fish ceviche. We sipped Chilean Pisco Sours, an alcoholic drink made of egg white, Pisco (a brandy made of grape wine), syrup, lemon juice and bitters, and found that our luck remained with us because the generously-sized dishes came out made to order and scrumptious.

We have been admiring so much of Chile’s architecture. The lovely folks at Castle Wulff had provided us a walking map of some of the more remarkable homes in the city, so after we ate we headed for the bus station via these homes. We spotted a couple, but even more fun was that in front of one such gorgeous mansions was an event of some kind. At Palacio Carrasco we stood with the crowd and watched schoolkids take the stage and sing songs – one song for each school – and watched the parents and grandparents cheering and smiling and holding up their phones to get videos.

Schoolkids singing

Schoolkids singing

At the bus station.

At the bus station.

Subway entertainment.

Subway entertainment.

We left for the bus station and settled in for our 2-hour ride back. After that long long day, and after two days together, Margaret and I had finally exhausted our supply of things that needed to be talked about in order to catch each other up on our lives, and our trip home was somewhat more subdued than the one earlier. We caught the metro back to downtown Santiago and were surprised (shocked actually because of the deafening volume) when a man came up and played his boom box, then accompanied the song with his saxophone and pipe. He had a woman in tow, who was asking for money. Eventually they moved off. Soon they were replaced with two teenage boys who looked like they were having a blast earning their coins. They also played boom boxes, but brought mics and began rapping about the passengers on the subway. Smiles all around showed that their show was much more appreciated than the first one. But it was our stop and we hopped off and easily made our way in the dark to our apartment. It was about 11 pm as we sat down at the kitchen table with a glass of wine to get ready for bed (me to begin my blog post), and M figured we had spent $40 each today for all those adventures. Wonderful!

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View from the Santiago apartment that is home for a couple days. Below is the Catholic University, and you can also see the hill with Hidalgo Castle.

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Looking the other direction from the apartment window, with the GAM on the left, and Cerro San Cristobal on the distant right.

Everything went smoothly for the first flight. D dropped me off outside the terminal. I had checked in the day before while at work, so I headed directly for security even before checking for my gate. My printer had been low on ink so my printed boarding passes were too light for the scanner to read in the security line. “I think I can get it on my phone…” I tentatively suggested. “Yes, that would be better,” said the TSA woman. “Just place your phone face down right there,” she instructed, once I had the electronic boarding pass displayed. I was through the line in 3 minutes. I pulled out my phone and looked at my United app to see if it had updated for the gate. It had, and 45 seconds later, there I was at my gate. From curbside drop off to standing at the gate in six minutes. I love PDX! And how about technology making life easier?

I had a 3-hour layover in Houston, and I took that time to find Margaret’s incoming plane from San Francisco. I sat at a bar next to her gate and had a couple glasses of wine and waited for her. I met several really nice people and had an enjoyable stop there. In no time, Ms. Margaret was entering the terminal and we had some catching up to do! We easily got the counter attendant at our gate to seat us together.

We both popped sleeping pills and both barely slept. I’m not sure I slept at all. Margaret thinks she must have slept because her tray table was cleared at one point and she didn’t remember anyone doing it.

Stairs up the hill to Hidalgo Castle.

Stairs up the hill to Hidalgo Castle.

The center of the lovely castle and park grounds.

The center of the lovely castle and park grounds.

The castle-like bit is here up at the top. Great views of Santiago from here!

The castle-like bit is here up at the top. Great views of Santiago from here!

Looking out over the city from the top of Castle Hidalgo hill.

Looking out over the city from the top of Castle Hidalgo hill.

We disembarked in Santiago earlier than scheduled and were through customs in a snap. We were feeling adventurous despite having no sleep, and by 10am we were outside the airport asking for the city bus. All thanks to Margaret’s sleuthing, we took the bus to the Metro, then the Metro to downtown, then we walked to the address. It cost about $2 and we got to be with the regular people.

With really very little trouble at all, considering, we were knocking on Angelo’s door. He’s our host for the Air BnB room. We are just renting a room in his apartment with his roommate. He showed us around, explained everything he could think of, then went to sleep. Both Angelo and his roommate are Emergency Room nurses and he’s on the night shift.

The place is great. We can see Hidalgo Castle and the Catholic University on one side, and the Cerro San Cristóbal on the other. M and I took showers and hit the town, sleep deprived and everything.

Streets in the capital city are full of these impressive buildings.

Streets in the capital city are full of these impressive buildings.

Correos de Chile

Correos de Chile, the old Post Office (You can see the golden head and shoulders of one of the buskers.)

Detail work inside the post office.

Detail work inside the post office.

Glass ceiling and chandelier of post office.

Glass ceiling and chandelier of post office.

Our first stop was to the supermarket right at the base of the apartment tower. We toured the whole place, noticed an entire aisle of just cooking oil, and finally spotted the empanadas and bought a few. Out on the street, we soon came upon the Catholic University of Chile. We admired the architecture from outside, and loved the courtyards inside for students. We walked through an art gallery, then went back out onto the street.

Next we walked through the first of many open-air markets and got a taste of the kinds of things we could find here. I bought a gift right away because today is a friend’s birthday, and she asked me to find her a gift today. “And it can’t say ‘Made in China’ on it,” she insisted. I found something lovely, but I won’t say in case she’s reading.

Next we hiked up the hill to the Castle Hidalgo, which we can easily see from our apartment. It is a beautiful beautiful park with a castle on top. The hill has been the center of the city for over 450 years, and is the site where the city of Santiago was founded. Construction began on the current castle-like appearance in 1982, and the hill itself is now an impressive park and garden.

The

The Metropolitan Cathedral

The main hall of the cathedral.

The main hall of the cathedral.

Along the west side.

Along the west side.

The archangel St. Michael along the east side.

The archangel St. Michael along the east side.

We found more mercados (markets) at street level again, and began wandering. Margaret spotted the Correo Central, which is a splendid old post office building that we went in and explored. Right next to it is the Catedral Metropolitana de Santiago. At street level and next to all the other large buildings, I didn’t even realize it was a cathedral from the outside. Thus I was truly blown away when I saw the inside.

From there we continued north to the Mercado Central and found many many more streetside shops and kiosks to browse, but a whole entire fish market! We wandered deep inside the fishy place because it was compelling, and found a huge room in the center, occupied by a seafood restaurant. We spent so much time asking questions and lingering there, that they finally talked us into eating a meal. We asked so many questions about the menu that the waiter Nicholas brought the owner who could speak English, to help us with questions. But mostly, everyone wanted us to eat the Centolla, or Chilean King Crab, in season right now. It was an expensive meal, but they had all earned it, and we paid our pesos without hesitation.

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Inside the huge fish market and Donde Augusto, the restaurant.

Nathan shows us our crab.

Nicholas shows us our crab.

Interesting things I noted while eating. There were many many waiters, who were all very friendly and withhout customers appeared to be invested in getting people to come sit down. Passersby could not escape their attentive calls. While we sat, street vendors walked through (because, though under a roof, the fish market was still open-air) and approached the tables and tried to sell us things including a fire starter, a small electric fan, copper jewelry and photographs of ourselves. There was a black and white stray cat that wandered through on a circuit, waiting for crab scraps to fall.

Buskers dances for money.

Busker dances for money.

When we were full, we also found that we were tired. It was nearly 4pm and we were proud of ourselves for doing so much stuff despite our low batteries. However, it was time to head back to the apartment. We had walked a couple miles and it took several consults of the map to get us back. More people were out, and more buskers were out. Today we passed a particularly talented Stevie Ray Vaughn style electric guitarist, a man tossing discs and telling jokes to a large crowd, a person dressed as a transformer entertaining onlookers as it danced to electronic music, and a man painted all in gold who sat still as a statue in the blazing sun, but would perform a slow, tai chi- type dance for money.

We gratefully returned to the apartment and turned in early with hopes of restored energy mañana.

A sign we spotted when using a drive way to turn around. Tara and I thought it was hilarious.

A sign we spotted when using a drive way to turn around. Tara and I thought it was hilarious.

In my “About Me” page, I say that this blog is my online journal. And it is. But it’s public, of course, and thus some of the more complicated personal stuff is left out or glossed over. Happy happy happy: that’s me.

I have been sensistive to the fact that I nearly dropped out of the blogging world completely this Spring. Some of you I haven’t read in a year. I can hardly stand it. I miss you more than seems reasonable for a group of people I have mostly never met. I’ve been resisting telling you guys what’s going on with me for a long time, but I now have a way to bring it up that isn’t painfully awkward. Just painfully real. Sorry. Like everybody else in the world, I’ve got layers. 🙂

I’m leaving in a couple of days for Chile! Isn’t that awesome and amazing? It is! A couple days in the capital, then down south to the wine country and the lake country. I’m nervous and excited and hopeful, and I’ve been casting meaningful glances at my Nikon, every time I pass her, sitting on the desk. “You are getting ready for this, right? You have a lot of work to do.” It’s the first last-minute, spontaneous overseas trip I have ever taken. It’s the first trip I have not been the one to orchestrate. All that is kind of surprising, so let me explain.

One of the most brilliant things about me is that I have a crazy intense will to Live. And by Live, I mean that with a capital “L.” Not staying alive, but living with intent, Consciously Engaging with my life because it’s the only one I’ve got and I am loathe to squander it. Things knock me down, and I do not stay down. When there is an obstacle that threatens to make my life begin to resemble merely existing and surviving, things inside kick into gear and get me out of that spot. It is a very good thing. That’s why I’m going to Chile. But…. let me back up a little bit.

Because of some traumatic events during my military service, and the fact that I had no support group of friends or family back then to ease me through it, I developed posttraumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. I didn’t know it at the time. Over the years I built a toolbox for myself of defensive strategies to get through life that are good in times of crisis, but unhelpful when there is no crisis, which is nearly always. So after 20 years of wondering why I was struggling so much, I finally got a therapist that specialized in military trauma, who helped me learn how to give up my crisis strategies. She began to teach me a more accurate way to view my life: not as this enormous, uncontrollable, scary place, but just a place with good and bad things, and none of it was to be taken personally.

In May 2015, my therapist retired. I was doing so well with her that I announced that I did not need a replacement therapist. In July 2015, I moved from the city out to a big property in the country and began country living for the first time in my adult life. In September my only child left home for college, and I began life alone, really alone, for the first time in 18 years. In October I got a new, challenging job. Blam, blam, blam, all these big life events. And it was too much. I sort of lost control of the organization of my life. The old crisis strategies took over.  And by November, a year ago, I nearly fell to pieces.

I worked too much. I drank and smoked too much. I was depressed and angry and irritable and yelled at Tara when they came home from college. I didn’t clean the house. I didn’t buy groceries. I cried. It has taken me all this time to come back, and I’m still not totally better, but I am confidently on the path to better. I got a new therapist. I’ve been binging on your blog posts now and then. I even won the award for Most Comments On Blog Posts In A Single Day, on Curt’s site, ha ha!

My girlfriend Margaret called me earlier this month and said, “What’s new?” Because something is always new with me. I am a woman who keeps pots going on all burners at all times. Even the small stuff is interesting and exciting. And I replied, “Uh, I’ve been working. And Tara’s still at college. And…um…” While I was saying it, I realized that when she called the last time, 4 or 5 months earlier, I had said the exact same thing. Margaret must have noticed it too. “Meet me in Santiago at the end of the month,” she insisted. “yeah, right, Margaret.” In my mind I was thinking, now wait…in what country is Santiago?  She said the trip was already plannned, I’d have to split the Air BnB costs, and taxis and stuff. I explained about the big property, and the chickens, and the fact that vacation time at work is always set in January, so it’s too late anyway. She wasn’t buying it. “That’s no obstacle,” she said. I think it was her brassiness that caught my attention. I mean, we’ve been friends for 16 years, but was that appropriate? I asked, “Did you just tell me that the responsibilities I have in my own life are no obstacle?” “I did,” she said with no humility at all. “Crystal, I know you. You are smart and capable and you can figure it out. I’ll call you in two days and get your answer.”

And that will to Live sparked up like when a breath of wind hits a bed of coals.

I realized the trip was just the slap in the face I needed. I made a bunch of phone calls and 24 hours later I texted Margaret to say we’d be on the same plane from Houston to Santiago.

My flight leaves Portland at noon on Tuesday, and arrives in Chile at 10am on Wednesday. That’s a lot of time in a plane. Wish me legroom and no crying babies! (I know, impossible request) I’ll bring the laptop, and with any luck, my brassy friend will indulge me at an occasional wifi hotspot. If not, I’ll be gone two weeks and my beloved Nikon and I will share our stories with you when I get back.

The M winery. First stop on our quick tour.

Apolloni Vineyards. First stop on our quick tour.

Did you know Oregon makes great wines? Pinos, in particular. I moved here in 2007 and Friday was my very first visit to an Oregon winery to do some tasting. A co-worker got a couple of us together for a quick tour on the federal holiday. Yes, for Veterans Day, we went out drinking.

During the day I picked up a winery tour map for Washington County, west of Portland (so you must mentally add the other nearby wine regions to the following figures). Along the mapped route are 31 highlighted wineries within a 30 minute drive of the city. Twelve breweries are also noted on the map, a relevant fact since Portland is famous for it’s beer. Portland sits in Multnomah County, which boasts 55 breweries (and probably more by the time I finish this post). There is one Oregon saké brewery, and you’ll hear about that shortly.

Big house on a hill. The vines have lost their leaves this late in the season.

Big house on a hill. The vines have lost their leaves this late in the season.

Morning fog cloaked the low hills in the Forest Grove area, and we enjoyed mysterious misty scenes on the way to Apolloni Vineyards, 30 miles out Highway 26 from downtown Portland. We were impressed at first with a huge, gorgeous home on a hill of vines. I assume it belongs to the Apolloni family, who have named their vineyards after their children. The tasting room is nearer to the base of the hill, and is also used as the winemaking area for their Italian-style wines, showcasing the famous Oregon Pinot Noir.

In the early 2000s I lived in northern California and was introduced to wine tasting when the experience was free. Possibly tastes were charged in Napa back then, but I toured the most in Mendocino County. A taster could do so properly, by swishing the wine, spitting the rest out, and dumping the remaining contents of one’s glass into the bucket. The vineyards were spread quite a distance, and to drive all the way to Pacific Star (my favourite in those days), I needed to be sober.

Things are different now and you pay for your tastes. Luckily, in humble Forest Grove, Oregon, the charge was acceptable. Still, at $10 per flight, I was not going to waste a drop. There was no spitting and no pouring out. I got happier and more chatty as the day went on, as you can guess. Thank goodness for my friend and co-worker who had not only planned the whole day but also volunteered to be designated driver.

Winemaking, aging, and tasting come together in the Apolloni winery.

Winemaking, aging, and tasting come together in the Apolloni winery.

Our flight at Apolloni

Our flight at Apolloni {photo MN}

Inviting wicker furniture beneath a mostly leafless maple.

Inviting wicker furniture beneath a mostly leafless maple.

Autumn-yellow leaves on some of the Apolloni vines.

Autumn-yellow leaves on some of the Apolloni vines, and candy-pink berries in front.

We were offered a nice variety of wines, beginning with their Pinot Gris, including a recently popular 2014 Pinot Noir Cuvée, and finishing with the dessert wine 2013 Viognier Dolce Vino. All our questions were answered and we happily browsed the gifts for sale and admired the oak casks as we tasted. Outside once more, I had to take photos of the scenes around us.

Our next stop was spontaneous, based on the recommendation of the wine stewardess. In minutes we arrived on another hill at Shafer Vineyard Cellars. Curiously, the sign also said Miki’s Christmas Shop, and at first I ignored it. The views here were outstanding, and I was unable to walk into the building without first climbing down a slope and snapping a few photos.

The view from the parking lot at Shafer Vineyard Cellars.

The view from the parking lot at Shafer Vineyard Cellars.

I imagine this area hosts more people in warmer months.

I imagine this area hosts more people in warmer months.

Finally we made our way inside, where the steward was playing Leonard Cohen, in tribute to the unparalleled Canadian poet/singer who left us with so much melancholy. He was eager to tell us about the German-style wines at Shafer. These vines were planted in 1973 and have recently passed on to new owners. I assume this means there will be a shift in character out at Shafer, so I’ll stop by again in a couple years. Our flight included mostly whites, and leaned toward sweet wines.

German-style wines at Shafer Vineyard Cellars.

German-style wines at Shafer Vineyard Cellars.

Scrumptious cheese plate.

Scrumptious cheese plate. {MN}

We asked so many questions about the difference between the Gewürztraminer and the Müller-Thurgau, he gave up and said he would include his favourite Shafer wine in our flight, though that was not one of the wines that he had planned to offer.  By the time he poured it, other tasters had walked in and we all fell in love with the 2014 Müller-Thurgau, and purchased several bottles.

A bit peckish, our designated driver spotted a menu on the wall and couldn’t resist the cheese plate. I didn’t think I was hungry, but my friends insisted I join in and the cheese was irresistible. While we munched and sipped, another group came in and said hello, then went directly to a door in the back and disappeared. “What’s back there?” we asked the steward, who told us about the old style German Christmas shop that is apparently open year-round. Before we left, we had to take a look. The bonus after all that shopping is that if you spend $25 or more, your flight is free.

Quite unexpected, this local favourite shopping spot was tucked in the back of the Shafer tasting room.

Quite unexpected, this local favourite shopping spot was tucked in the back of the Shafer tasting room.

Every traditional German Christmas decoration is here.

Every traditional German Christmas decoration is here.

Our driver explained that we could make it to the 1:00 pm saké brewery tour if we headed there next, and we voted to switch to saké!

SakéOne is in Forest Grove, Oregon and began in 1992 as a saké import company. By 1997 local saké was brewed and bottled, taking advantage of the right kind of Coast Range natural water. It is the home of the award-winning Junmai Ginjo Genshu saké Joy. The company has won more awards than the other five American saké breweries, placing it at the crest of the first wave of saké production which surely must be followed by more, if the explosion of wine-making and brewing in the region is any indication. dsc_0023

Mack – we’ll call him the saké steward – took us on a tour of the nearby facility. Outside the building he gave a bit of the history of the original owner and the choice of location and the vision of the company. We gazed at murals on the walls as he spoke. “These days,” Mack said as he finished, “while we maintain traditional methods, we have changed a few things. We do wear pants.”

Inside the facility, or kura, we were allowed to get a close look at how this traditional Japanese drink is made here in Oregon. Original ceramic tanks still in use are being replaced with stainless steel when they become unusable due to cracks or stain. The first stage of the process is in a warehouse room with two-ton bags of rice that are husked and polished to remove the unwanted pieces.

Rice is first husked and polished in this station.

Rice is first husked and polished in this station.

You can see the powder left from polishing.

You can see the powder left from polishing.

The polished rice is then piped to this station, next to 2-ton bags of rice.

The polished rice is piped to this station, next to 2-ton bags of rice.

“We’ve won a few awards,” Mack said with a sly smile.

To maintain the integrity of their product, we all donned booties and entered the rooms where a mold is added to the rice to turn it into sugar. In each part of our tour was a subtle smell of brewing, but here we breathed in the aroma of fermentation, which was not subtle! We looked deep inside the tanks with giant paddles for washing the rice, and in one tank we saw the starter brew with thick white and crumbly bubbles. We remarked that brewing saké appears to be a complicated operation, and Mack confirmed this by noting that it takes about a year to make the full journey from a grain of rice to bottled drink.

Mack explained the steps with the help of this panel.

Mack explained the steps with the help of this panel.

Smiling tasters.

Smiling tasters.

Our feet had to be covered to prevent unwanted contamination.

Our feet had to be covered to prevent unwanted contamination.

An enormous mixer.

An enormous mixer.

The cedar-lined room

The cedar-lined koji room, where the koji mold grows on the rice.

The fermentation room that smelled thickly sweet.

Inside the thickly sweet-smelling fermentation room.

Bubbling rice

Bubbling, brewing rice {MN}

Imported saké in the tasting room.

Imported saké for sale in the tasting room.

I tasted the

I tasted the “moldy rice,” which was chewy and sweet. {MN}

Back in the tasting room, our flights were only $3 (we chose a smaller flight) and our tasting questions were then answered by Lou, who tag-teamed into our service after Mack returned us to the tasting room. As well as the water-clear options, Lou proferred two types of milky sake, which they clarified is only less filtered, not “unfiltered” as some people call it.

By then we were sated and it was time to go home. We purchased a few bottles of Oregon saké (I took home the Momokawa Silver) and made our way through the beautiful countryside with ideas of what we wanted to try the next time.

{GREAT big thanks to Maria Nguyen for several photos that I was not able to get, and for having the fabulous idea in the first place.}

Autumn sun heats the surface of my pond.

Autumn sun heats the surface of my pond.

I have an idea to plant a weeping willow on this tiny island one day.

I have an idea to plant a weeping willow on this tiny island one day.

On my podcasts it’s all election all the time today. Even on the BBC! Thank goodness I have something else to think about. Fall brings some delicious warmth after an unusually cool and wet summer. If I still worked for NOAA, I would have been reviewing charts and models all year, and would know if it was the result of El Nino patterns, as I suspect. It’s typical Autumn weather now, and it suits me just fine. Mostly rain, but broken up with scrumptiously warm and sunny moments. Warm as much for the colour as for the heat.

See how patriotic I am! The flag has complicated meanings in the States, which pains me. Despite the meanings I *don't* want others to take, I take the chance and display my country's flag anyway.

See how patriotic I am! The flag has complicated meanings in the States, which pains me. Despite the meanings I *don’t* want others to take, I chance it and display my country’s flag anyway.

Each evening, there is a brief moment where the sun has an opportunity to hit the front of the house through the trees. That is, if it's shining.

Each evening, there is a brief moment where the sun has an opportunity to hit the front of the house through the trees. That is, if it’s shining.

I voted days ago, taking advantage of Oregon’s statewide mail-in ballot. It was an instant relief to get that double sealed and signed envelope into the mail. Ah, to be able to ignore the clamouring voices. And now I’ve sought them out for entertainment value. I watched all of the Saturday Night Live debates between Kate McKinnon and Alec Baldwin. They’re a riot. Kate does such a great job of portraying Hillary Clinton that I was actually able to see how people can dislike her. Personally I find the prospect of having a smart, introverted, strong, and empathetic woman for President to be nothing short of exhilarating. My anticipation dulled only slightly at the knowledge that there is a good chance that Congress would fetter her as effectively as they have our current President.

This handsome 3-point stood just on the verge of eating the rest of my honeysuckle.

This handsome 3-point stood just on the verge of eating the rest of my honeysuckle.

The next day he ate my apples, to which he is welcome.

The next day he ate my apples, to which he is welcome.

Then he napped in the grass. It warms my soul that these deer feel comfortable sleeping here.

Then he napped in the grass. It warms my soul that these deer feel comfortable sleeping here.

I was proud to be a part of my own friends group when a rousing text-conversation burst up over the topic of Meaure 97, and whether to tax multi-million-dollar corporations at a level corresponding to the rest of the nation. It’s good to know the people in my life care as much as I do about voting intelligently. I imagine Nike, Intel, Columbia Sportswear and the rest of the corporations (most not headquartered in Oregon) could stand to pay their fair share in taxes. I was taken aback that my fave bookstore in the whole wide world, Powell’s, spoke out against Measure 97, saying that if they had to pay higher taxes they might go under. I do hope they’re being dramatic. The biggest shock of all this election season came when I reviewed the voter booklet that explained the issues, and found that a corporation in Oregon has to have sales in mega millions before they are taxed as much as my own personal income tax. I am astonished to learn this.

I have yet to get a close up photo of this remarkable fellow, who is attracted to my pond for fish reasons.

I have yet to get a close up photo of this remarkable fellow, who is attracted both to my pond and my creek for fish reasons.

Here he is again, even farther in the distance.

Here he is again, even farther in the distance.

These geese make a wonderful call, that sounds somewhat human-like. I have yet to identify them.

These geese make a wonderful call, that sounds somewhat human-like. I have yet to identify them.

Lets talk about emails, because, why not – everyone else is. Emails. Emails. I recently commented on a friend’s blog that the idea of having my own personal computer server to manage my government work sounds divine. At my home office, just like the Secretary of State, I am allowed to use only government equipment. I use an aging CPU with outdated software. I call her Old Bessie, and she takes around 22 minutes to be up and running each morning (I’ve timed the process), after logging in to the protected network and verifying my identity with passwords and chip ID cards and the like, through multiple firewalls. I can sing the Jeopardy theme song after each click, while I wait for my 0’s and 1’s to travel to the hub in Illinois and back again. Our government IT department is understaffed and underfunded. I get these little warning messages all the time “You are using an unsupported version of…” but since I do not have administrative authority, I am not allowed to touch any of it. And don’t talk to me about getting new hardware, because that’s up to you, the taxpayer. There are hundreds of things in more critical need of taxpayer dollars.

Anyhoo, when I heard that Mrs. Clinton had a personal server, the emotion I felt was envy, not rage or suspicion. “If only!” If the rest of us peons had the means to acquire our own systems, you can bet the lady candidate would be only one of legions who engaged in the practice.

In the back of the property

In the back of the property

One last look at the lovely pond.

One last look at the lovely pond.

Tomorrow will be a frenzy. Thank heavens I work till 6pm and I’ll miss most of it. I have a demanding job and I won’t even be tempted to follow things a little bit, because I need to stay focused.

But ok, honestly? I’m still thinking about it. As soon as the work is done I will find some kind of live stream to plug into. Because it really does matter how this goes. I know the President is only one person, and that one person does not have the power we think she has, and that one person does not have the power the majority of people insinuate upon her. She will be a face to the world, and a champion of causes, but a woman who has to find a way to work with the team, whether that team is hostile or friendly. She will have to continue to do her job while crazies try to find a way to impeach her, and straightjacket her, and defame her. She will have to stand tall while people talk about her wrinkles and her waistline and her butt and her voice and her taste in clothes. And like many women in the workforce, she will have to do the job spectacularly to maintain even the mildest respect from the masses.

We’ve been oh, so scared to talk about it, but we are right on the edge of electing a woman as a President.

It is so important that she is elected. Who else (among women who want that job) is baddass enough to pull off a woman in the White House? I think she doesn’t care if you hate her, and I don’t care if you hate her, but she can do the job. And oh, my fingers will be crossed all night long that Americans will give her that chance.

A silver and orange moon floats just outside a gas cloud in the galaxy

A silver and orange moon floats just outside a gas cloud in a galaxy far, far away.

A friend of mine had a booth at the gem and mineral show this weekend, and invited me to stop by.

I parked and walked toward the Hillsboro Fairgrounds building, and passed several nerds with big grins, clutching recent aquisitions. It was then I knew I was going to be among my people!

My reason for going to was to visit my friend Joe whom I had only seen twice before, and then only for 5 minutes each time. Once at a Mt. Hood Cherokees monthly meeting, and once at our summer Cherokee Event. Through a telephone interview and several emails over the past year, we knew instinctively we’d have things to talk about, but until now the planets had not aligned to put us into each others’ path. Interestingly, that morning I told him I probably couldn’t make it because I was going to a picnic at a park in town, and was hoping to play Cherokee marbles in the rain with other Indians from our group. I walked around the park in the rain, watching children on the jungle gym and middle school girls play some pretty impressive soccer, but no one I knew showed up. Finally I discovered (via facebook on my phone – just love technology) that the picnic had been canceled and viola! The planets had aligned for once, and there was time enough to visit.

(Since there would be no potluck, I brought the fresh baked walnut-apple crisp home for myself. Score!)

Gem Show - perfect choice for a wet day!

Gem Show – perfect choice for a wet day!

These were the shiny jewelry-looking pieces, but I preferred the regular rocks.

These were the shiny jewelry-looking pieces, but I preferred the regular rocks.

My best friend just bought a house and I am convinced she needs this remarkable switch plate. How clever and beautiful it is!

My best friend just bought a house and I am convinced she needs this remarkable switch plate. How clever and beautiful it is!

We had a great visit, and things were slow enough that my friend took a break from his booth at one point to walk through all the booths with me. This was bad news. I am smitten with lovely things. And I do think rocks are lovely. Soon I was clutching several irresistible slices of stone. My friend selected an agate from the table of a lovely woman from Oklahoma (who, yes, also turned out to be Cherokee), and she handed me a tool I had never used before.

“You’ll need a loupe for that,” she said.

“A whatsit?”

The professional rock hound taught me how to use it, and I gasped with astonishment at the magnified Moroccan berber agate in my hand. I gasped in exactly that way the first time I looked through a telescope powerful enough to show me Saturn’s butter-coloured rings.

“There’s a cluster of stars here,” I told them excitedly, pointing at the rock. “And this is a whole galaxy! With a cloud nebula off on this side, see it?”

Joe chuckled and took the stone from me and said he was going to photograph it.

That’s why he was there at the show: to exhibit his art. This guy has fixed a magnifying piece to his beautiful old lens that he used to capture east Asia after he fought in the Vietnam war. The lens has served him well, and now it has a new life. At his booth he had a 17-inch computer screen set up for visitors, and his camera, screen, lights and computer in the back. For most people he explained what they were looking at, and how he made the images, but for some who eagerly handed over their treasures, he photographed their rocks.

The results are magical.

Two of the pieces I bought. The piece on the right came from McDermitt, Nevada. The piece on the left is my agate from Morocco.

Two of the pieces I bought. The piece on the right came from McDermitt, Nevada. The piece on the left is my agate from Morocco.

This is only one magical outcome of the rocks my friend photographs. Can you find this portion in my photo of the same stone above?

This is only one magical outcome of the rocks my friend photographs. Can you find this portion in my photo of the same stone above?

A different perspective at the same place on the stone.

A different perspective at the same place on the stone.

I sent a text to another friend and mentioned that the gem and mineral show was near his house. The next day I got a text back. He and his wife had gone to the gem show, and he bought a rock too!

Smoky crystals on my friend's rock.

Smoky crystals on my friend’s rock.

I am still curious about the Cherokee connection, right? The punch line doesn’t seem to include any Indians, but they were all over the story in the beginning. My friend who went the next day is from east Asia, and his wife is not indigenous American as far as I know.

I found the connection in an old email in which Joe talked about his upcoming residency at the Crow’s Shadow Institute on the Umatilla Reservation outside Pendleton, Oregon. He told me that in his art the Cherokee component is necessary. In his work he tries, in the Cherokee tradition, to see clearly and understand what is around us right now, and in that way make links to what has happened over time. One example of that is when he showed me photos of petrified wood, and I could see the cells! Cells in rock. Fascinating, don’t you think?

Whenever I open myself up to what’s out there in the world, I have the best adventures. Joe gave me permission to share more of his images, so I’ll leave you with them. Click to enlarge. Look for unexpected landscapes.

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