Day 2 – Parapente

This was the big event of the trip, the kids jumping off a cliff and gliding over the Pacific Ocean for a half hour. In Spanish: parapente. This seems to be popular in adventuresome Chile, but the closest paragliding I could find was in Maitencillo, a 90 minute drive north. Santiago has plenty of options, but not over the ocean. The place I found, Parapente Aire Libre, has a total of 4 Trip Advisor reviews and nothing on Yelp. I’d usually look for more than that for an activity that puts your life in their hands, especially when all my communication over WhatsApp was in my broken Spanish. They even called me yesterday in the middle of my bad headache, expressing some concerns and asking about their ages of the kids. I still don’t know what exactly they wanted, as all of this information was already shared. I knew there was a friendly human named Carolina on the other side at least.

We meandered through coastal town, stopping for sandwiches (very popular in Chile!), in the little town of Puchuncavíl. The launch site was on the top of a cliff, and we found other people flying too, seemingly without dying. Maile offered to go first and loved her 20 minutes floating along the coast. Same for Melina. They were physically attached to Victor, who whipped them around in loops a few times, flying within a few feet of us in the strong wind. I’ll definitely be the first Yelp reviewer, as this was super fun for them, even if the language barrier with Victor made the flight a quiet one. I was surprised that there were no release forms to sign, especially since they’re both kids. It was nice that they had Go Pros that are free to use, for anyone who brings SD cards.

While we were up north, we found Isla de Cachagua, a protected nature preserve that has penguins on it. It’s 100 meters from the the beach, but we walked to the edge and could see over 2,000 endangered Humbold and Magellan Penguins in the wild. I could only think of Sam on Atypical, and how he would have loved seeing them. I’m still not sure how they got this far north, and can’t find any info online.

We walked around another small town, Zapallo, before heading back south to Viña del Mar, where we found a nice beach for the sunset and Mexican food for dinner. It was good, but nothing special. We haven’t made food a priority yet, but plan to tomorrow.

I can’t create any nice photo galleries on an iPad, so all the photos from today are below.

Day 1 – Sleep

We landed on time at 10 am local time, 6 am in Denver, and stood in a trance through the long lines for immigration and customs. Our Suzuki Swift was ready for us at at Sixt, without all the upsell on extras we get in the US. While going over the details of the car, the employee switched to his very decent English, but then apologized for how bad it was. I took 3 years of Spanish in college but everyone here so far has better English than my Spanish, and then they apologize for it.

Valparaíso is such an interesting city to start our travels. It’s a 90 minute drive from Santiago, on the Pacific Ocean. It was a big pre-Panama Canal port city with steep hills reminding me of San Francisco, but with cobblestone streets of Edinburgh and the crazy drivers of Manila. Michele found a great hotel on the top of the hill overlooking the ocean, which was a challenging drive with all the cars double parked and up on the curb of the narrow streets. The Cirilio Armstrong is a hard to find hotel that works for families–2 single beds and a loft with a queen. Historic, clean, and affordable for our 3 nights. Free breakfast and drinks at night with friendly staff is how they have their 9+ rating on booking.com. The view from the top of the balcony doesn’t hurt. Upon checkout later, they would ask us what drinks we had from the fridge, as opposed to US hotels that have scales in the fridge and charge you when sensors detect a drink has been removed!

After such a long day of travel, we found the first restaurant we could, for pizza and calzones, and returned to the hotel for a quick nap. Or so we thought. We all ended up sleeping for over 4 hours, and I was nursing a bad headache. By the time we recovered, we had time for a walk to the grocery store and that was it.

The normally boring shopping for basics is never boring in a new country. We found avocados for 10 cents each, great local beer (chocolate and orange!), and ever the cultured travelers, some new Doritos and Cheetos to try. What we thought was a local store turned out to be owned by Wal-Mart! It’s called Lider Express, and we saw the logo while we were checking out.

Navigating in a different language is something we all should experience. Simple questions get asked of me, and I smile and pretend to understand. It takes some serious concentration to understand, leaving behind the social cues that can also make conversation challenging (for me!). In a restaurant, I answered “yes” to the question of what I want to drink, and our other Spanish speaker Melina loves to laugh at me while sitting quietly. Thankfully, she is gaining confidence and starting to do the communicating for us. At one restaurant, after I ordered first, the employee carried on with all the questions to her, including the bill. AP Spanish paying off!

I was warned about the stray dogs of Chile, but its still hard to fathom how many there are. Around here, they seem healthy, but they’re walking everywhere and barking all night, we found out later! We were told that there is no Humane Society for them, and they were originally expected to catch the mice and rats. Now that the rodents are gone, they roam the streets, sometimes weaving in and out of traffic, surviving on food set out by the restaurants. We never did see a dog that looked malnourished.

On our walk home from the grocery store, we let the kids navigate the winding hills back to the hotel. Even with a map and Google, we went in several different directions, finding dead ends by parks with teenage boys with beers. We went through many dark alleys and narrow staircases, passing tables of empty beer bottles from the Chile vs Honduras game that night. A great improvement to the Google Maps walking feature would be displaying the crime rates along the route, just like it shows the traffic speed for driving. Around here, its mostly petty theft and nobody bothered us, but in more dangerous areas, this could be a big help.

Tomorrow will be our big day of driving up the coast for paragliding over the ocean. Thankfully, we all slept right away, even after all the napping.

Chile!

We leave today for Chile. After debating over Peru and Argentina, and then trying to see multiple countries, we decided to keep our 10 days simple in one country. We fly from Denver to Houston, and then from 10 pm to 6 am to Santiago, Chile. We drive 2 hours to the coast, to spend the first 3 days in Valpariso. It’s 65 degrees there, but will be 85 once we spend the last half in Santiago. Melina will get a chance to test her Spanish on this trip. And since Maile switched to French, she’ll have to wait for that same chance.

With the girls now 15 and 17, they’ll have visited every continent except Antaractica before they turn 18. Good memories we hope, and inspiration to continuing seeing the world.

Focusing on one country lets us (mostly me!) dive into the history and culture before we go.

  • Il Postino
  • House of Spirits, movie (I couldn’t finish the book!)
  • My Invented Country

I’m reading the Dictator’s Shadow now and brought along a Pablo Neruda book. I didn’t even know who he was (considered the best poet ever) so its time to learn to appreciate some poetry. Regardless of the poetry and taking place outside Chile, Il Postino is a great movie. Learning the history of the military coup on 9/11/1973 and ensuing dictatorship until 1989 is even more scary when thinking about the authoritarians getting elected around the world now. Jon Oliver just spelled out the traits of such a leader that fit so many. Pinochet hid behind the military to show strength and manufactured some enemies, which in his case were Communists, Socialists and any foreigners. Surprisingly, he was apolitical before the coup, quietly moving up the military ranks without expressing much of an opinion, similar to how Trump seemed apolitical early on, donating to both parties and seeking to advance his company by any means. I now know more of the details of the US involvement in the overthrow of Allende in 1973 and will try even harder to cover up our Americanness here. I’m sure Richard Nixon will feature prominently in the museum about all this.

Many Americans now are facing the same question about whether to stay or flee, though thankfully the conditions are nothing like what Neruda faced:

How can I live so far away
from what I loved, what I love?
From the changing seasons, clothed
in steam and cold smoke?

Something to think about as the exiles are not coming from Chile anymore, but instead from Syria, Honduras, Mexico, Venezuela, etc.

Day 9 – Iceland

Today was our one full day here, and we saw everything except the Northern Lights. All day, the skies were so clear that we thought tonight would be a good one, but there wasn’t enough solar activity. We even drove out of the city tonight, away from the lights of Reykjavic, and still nothing. The aurora forecast shows a good chance tomorrow morning, so I may try again then.

We did have a fun day though, driving for all of the 6 hours of sunlight we had. Thrifty Car Rental was great, responding to my emails since I don’t have a phone, and met me at 9 am to give us a new car. Its not often we are up for the sunrise and sunset, but here it was 10:30 am and 3:45 pm. For the one day we had, the Golden Circle was our best option, a 140 mile loop. War on Drugs felt like the perfect music for the drive, the beauty and the pain of the incredible landscapes in the harsh conditions. Not helped by our lack of warm clothes for the short hikes.

  • Þingvellir National Park, site of the oldest parliament, formed in 1000 AD. Viking pride! Even includes the shooting location for Game of Thrones, which I have not seen. And the best view from a bathroom.
    Game of Thrones Locations: Þingvellir, Iceland (Path to the Eyrie and Arya's and Sandor Clegane's journey) img_0282
  • Geysir. The geyser that erupts every 10 minutes.
  • Gullfoss Waterfall.

Iceland is split by the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, which are separating an inch each year. People can even scuba in the snow melt that fills these ravines. There are also ice caves and glaciers to explore, but none of that could fit into one day.

 

img_0296We’ve been looking forward to swimming in the natural, geothermal water. Before we went, I saw this article about pool etiquette that led to just Michele and I going. They have mandatory (and enforced!) pre-swimming showers without swimsuits on. They take their swimming and etiquette seriously here, so just two of us went. The Laugardalslaug pool was great, lots of lanes for swimming laps and several hot tubs, each at a different temperature. The indoor pool was packed with swim teams using all 18 lanes. The shower rules reminded me of my experience at the onsen in Japan, and far worse, the trauma of high school gym class.

Another differences we noticed here is that lack of alcohol for sale, outside of restaurants. I found out that it is only sold at state owned liquor stores and they all close at 6 pm. The tax makes it very expensive. Beer was banned here from 1915 to 1989. I learned too late that the trick is to buy beer from the duty free shop at the airport.

Also, everything is super expensive. A box of pasta in the grocery store is $4, espresso img_0297shots are $5, and I saw a winter hat today for $60. Gas is $7.50 per gallon, when their liter prices are converted to gallons. We bought Subway today to take on our hikes and it was $10 for a 6 inch. Everywhere else, its a minimum of $20 per person to eat. I don’t believe they don’t have an official, legal minimum wage, but it sounds like its customary to pay at least wages that equate to $17 per hour. To be here, it helps to have Iceland wages. And to be able to pronounce their street names.

Today, we saw the sunrise…

…and the sunset.

 

 

And the geyser and heat vents in between.

Day 8 – Travel to Reykjavik

londonOur rental car was leaking gas and almost out, but we managed to pull into a gas station, only to find it was closed. It was only 8 pm on a Sunday, after just arriving from London, and I thought we had a rough night ahead of us. It was already a long day, arriving at the London airport 3 hours before the flight, flying for 3 hours, and taking 2 hours to get luggage and a rental car.

As we drove away from the Reykjavik airport for the 45 minute drive to our AirBnb, the gas was going down much too quickly. It was hard to tell what was going on until it started to smell. We didn’t even know if the AirBnb was for real, since the owner hadn’t responded to my requests for the code to get in. To add to our mess, our internet data wasn’t working, we had no phone service, had no local currency, and the temperature was in the 20s and dropping. Not a great start!

We managed to find the apartment and parking in the congested downtown area, all while wondering when the car would actually run out of gas. While driving, our internet started working and a message came through with the info for the apartment. The store next door even let me use their phone to call Thrify about the car issue.

Day 7 – London

We ended our trip with a shopping mall, Tottenham game, and wedding reception.

It was the first indoor shopping mall we’ve seen. So many people here are wearing

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Canada Goose jackets, a brand I’ve never seen before. Now I see that in Denver, they’re just sold at Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus. The girls liked the British stores New Look and Fat Face, plus the Spanish Zara and Pull & Bear.

Wembley Stadium was super cool for a soccer game. Its 90,000 seats is the biggest in the UK, second in all of Europe. The 66,000 at the game today still seemed like a lot, especially on the train training, packed so tight the doors could barely close. We all swayed together on the turns, trying not to cause the dominoes to fall. It was a disappointing draw against a team without a manager, but we did see Kane score a goal. Interesting how there was no food or drink in our entire section. Beer is not allowed in the seats, and everyone was there for the game, not the dipping dots or halftime show (there was none).

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We wrapped up the trip at Jenn’s wedding reception. It was pure coincidence that my co-worker had this planned during our time here, and we met others there who I work img_0271with. Was cool to meet in-person several people I work with over email only. The girls walked Oxford Street on their own while we did this, which seemed similar to 16th Street Mall. I asked others at the reception how safe this would be and they told me about a possible shooting there last night. However, they ended up safe and the scare turned out to be a panic started on social media and people running out of stores, maybe triggered by a fight. After all the recent terrorist acts, people understandably really on edge here.

We wrapped up the past week averaging 8 miles per day. Tomorrow, we head to Iceland and say goodbye to our great AirBnb next to Latimer Road Station.

Gorgeous bright light and large living room area - all brand new. Sofa can turn into King Bed if needed. Lots of window, 40 inch TV with regular TV, Apple TV and Amazon Fire. Books, games and fireplace.

Beautiful large balcony. South facing so sun all day. Has chairs, lights, even a fire for the evening. For looks and warmth. A beautiful space.

Day 6 – London

It was a full day of Melina’s agenda. She did pay for all of our flights, afterall. After img_0240sleeping in and leaving at 10:30 am, we still logged over 10 miles of walking, partly due to some navigation mistakes.

The morning was the girls chance to venture off on their own. They went to 221B Baker Street and then met us at Big Ben. That gave Michele and I chance to try a new app that I can’t say enough about. Detour.  I swear I was talking about an app like this 5 years ago, one that could use your GPS to guide you along historic routes with an audio tour, shared with others using bluetooth headphones. It could work in museums too, instead of img_0042renting clunky headsets. A founder of Groupon started Detour and now its in several cities, though not many in the US yet. We walked the streets around Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, and 10 Downing Street. The audio stories and history were perfect, which points out what is on your left, on your right, and waits for you to cross streets before continuing. It knows exactly where you are, which is more than a little ironic when we walked place where Winston Churchill often stayed and the inspiration for George Orwell’s Minister of Truth. We learned about the burials of Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin under Westminster Abbey, and walked past the National Heath Service headquarters, which gave free health care to everyone in 1947, despite the immense war debt of the country.

We found the great Indian Street Food restaurant Dishoom for lunch, so highly rated on Yelp we waited an hour at 3 pm on a weekday to eat. Well worth it, for some less common menu options. Street food apparently, though around here every restaurant seems too be street food.

A lost Underground pass meant we had to walk an extra mile to the London Eye. It was perfectly timed for the 4:00 sunset, though I discovered later that my panoramic photos were taken from my camera without a memory card! Phone cameras to the rescue.

After that, I successfully navigated us to the London Philharmonic headquarters, rather than the Royal Festival Hall, where we had tickets to see the Vivaldi Four Seasons. That added 2 miles of walking to our day, but we were still on time. Melina had the seats up front, while the rest of us sat in the nosebleeds. Nice to see a full house, and mixed ages, for their orchestra.

Those were some of mishaps today, but nothing major. Michele’s only transgression was clapping (twice!) between movements. Orchestral movements, that is. Nothing compared to the teenager I saw jump the Underground turnstiles, and then ask the station agent for directions. his reaction was beyond sarcasm, but the kid wasn’t fined or removed.

As the trip winds down, I’ve thought of some more travel tips, mostly for international travel.

  • Detour, the app mentioned above. It could see it being used to learn other languages, since it is multi-lingual. And if it were made into an open platform, local tour guides could provide their own content.
  • Anker Power Bank. You can charge a phone 5 times with this monster portable battery.
  • iPhone for iMessages. Or WhatsApp. We can use only data, not phone and text, but we can still send messages with iPhones.img_0237
  • Offline Google Maps. Download maps of the city while on wi-fi, to keep it available without service. You can’t do directions, but you can at least see where are on the map.
  • In London, Oyster cards for the Underground. Half price Underground rides by using the reloadable card, with discounts for kids. Reload in the station or using the app. Once you hit the daily maximum, the rest of the rides are free.

One last interesting thing I saw today is the Being a Man festival. In the age of mass shootings, terrorism, and sexual assaults, it may be the US that needs public discussions and lectures like this.