We hoped our son Brett could meet us in January for a week or so. But our plans kept changing. For awhile, we discussed meeting in Quito and going to the Galapagos. But the logistics of timing return flights to Quito, from 2 different countries, and then on to the Galapagos islands made planning difficult. It was easier for us if he flew to Santiago. Except the riots were still ongoing. Then the arson that destroyed many homes in Valparaíso. We listened to the news, and spent hours on google. After a lot of discussion we decided on meeting him at the Santiago airport. Coming from the north we could get to the airport without having to go very far into the City.
Dash in, pick him up, and dash out.
We had a lazy week on the coast before Brett’s arrival. With 8 kilometres of beach front, La Serena is a large city with modern shopping and numerous highly rated seafood restaurants.
Nice bike trails along the beach, and afternoons on the beach. People here bring their own sun umbrellas so we bought a cheap blue and green one at Líder, the Walmart of Chile. We sat on towels under our new umbrella and felt like Chileans – just chill-ay-on.
Vanna desperately needed a wash. We had spotted a 4-bay wash not far from our camp. It looked similar to home. Should be easy. The directions were in Spanish but we didn’t read them. How hard could it be. Well harder than it looks apparently. At first we could not see a price. But no problem, the guy washing in the next bay said we needed 1000 pesos. So we put ten 100 peso coins into the slot. No water came out the wand. The coins seemed to be jammed. Bob banged the box. Still no water.
So we moved Vanna to another bay. Here is when we had the aha moment. We spied the token box. Oh we were suppose to use the pesos to buy tokens, and put tokens into the slots. That worked! Water gushed out the wand. But problem not solved. The nice lady who had just helped me buy tokens, had parked in the same bay where we had jammed up the box with coins. And she had already pushed her tokens into the slot. The one we had jammed up with coins. No water for her.
I walked over and explained what we had done. She was not happy.
She went into the office and dragged out two young guys. They had a ring of keys, to unlock the box. But none of the keys worked. In desperation, one guy started poking into the slot with a wooden skewer. All this time the woman kept pointing at me saying “esa mujer” (that woman). They yelled at me “this is not for coins it’s for fichas.” Well maybe we should have read those directions.
The guys kept trying to poke at the coins through the slot. The woman moved her car to another bay. I ran over and gave her a 2000 peso note. She took it and she smiled. All okay. How can you get into this much trouble at a car wash.
Route 5 took us through hills of sand covered with short green shrubs and cacti. A few olive groves appeared, then road side stands selling local products. We stopped to buy olive oil and fresh goat cheese. With crackers the cheese was delicious.
Later we saw stands with large bags of oranges and lemons which we learned grow in this region.
The night before we drove into Santiago, a man stopped by our camper to talk. I thought by his looks that he was Germán but he was Chilean from Santiago. He said we could buy fresh Chilean bread at the camp cafe. Then he brought over a avocado and told me “that’s breakfast”. Smashed avocado on fresh bread. How nice of him. When we told him we were going into Santiago he said we would be fine. Then waved goodbye with “Welcome to revolutionary Chile.”
Hmm, what does that mean?
Thursday night we drove into Santiago, staying at a nice hotel near the airport. Brett’s flight from Toronto had a late start so it arrived about 2 hours after the scheduled time. We waited with the crowd, necks cranked, eyes fixed on the door between Customs and Chile. Dribbles of people. Then Brett. So exciting when he walked through the doors.
The political unrest hadn’t seemed to deter anyone from coming. Brett’s Air Canada flight was full, 450 people from Toronto, and it flies every day. He froze in his window seat. It was -50 C outside the plane and exceptionally chilly by the window, even with a blanket.
Bob and I had planned a route south of Santiago. But you know what happens to plans. “So Brett”, we asked “What do you want to see?” “Whales and the Atacama desert”. Once again, the plan is out the window. So we head north.
The first two nights we camped at Los Molles. Bob and I had spent a few days there earlier and we loved the place. Obviously a summer retreat, with surfers, boogie boards and a sea doo pulling a long tube of riders.
But at the campsite end of the beach it was tranquil. We enjoyed camping in sand, the heat in the day, a fire pit at night.
At the beach, the waves were huge rollers and the water icy cold. Us hardy Canadians barely got in to our knees.
Perched on a hill, the village was full of summer homes, everyone on the sidewalk with a bathing suit and towel. Walking across town, we reached Bioparque Puquen, a protected space with a wide well marked hiking trail hugging the rugged coast. On the way, there were numerous types of interesting shaped cacti, some flowering.
From high points we could see below to huge waves crashing on black jagged rocks, and hear the sea lions barking as they lazed on outcrops.
At the furthest point there was a blow hole. From a distance it sounded like thunder. We sat and watched up close. Waves far below would force water up through a narrow channel, blowing out the top with such a force it seemed like a geyser. Very cool.
Driving further north, we headed for the Reserva Nacional Pingüino de Humboldt which is made up of several islands just off shore. North of La Serena, we drove east off route 5 to the small fishing village of Caleta Chanaral Aceituno.
Two streets and a lot of small painted plywood cabanas for rent. It’s so small it is not on most maps. At our campground, each site was protected from the wind by wood fencing. The first night was so windy, Brett’s tent floor filled with sand.
We walked to the harbour and booked a morning boat tour with a company called Orcas. A 9:30 AM start.
The boats seemed small for such a large body of moving water, aka the Pacific Ocean. There were only about 10 of us including 2 policeman, Javier and Angelo, from Santiago. Javier told us that during the entire two weeks of riots they were not allowed to go home. Quieter now, they had a few days off and were staying at the police station in the village.
The tour was excellent. And the boat rode easily over the waves. We sped away from land, then bobbed around in the open ocean while at least 8 black Fin Whales surfaced and dived right around us. It was amazing. Occasionally one would blow, with a huge stream of water skyrocketing upwards. Weighing 8 tons, they each eat about 2 tons of phytoplankton per day.
Next we headed closer to one of the islands. Dolphins played around our boat, back flipping and jumping. They were having a lot of fun, but so speedy they are difficult to catch on camera.
Moving closer to the rocks we watched a colony of sea lions lolling. And some fighting. A few brown marine otters were busy scurrying about the rocks. When they catch something for dinner, they swim on their back while they eat. So cute floating with their feet in the air.
The Humboldt penguins are small. But they have the suit! Little business men standing at attention, surveying out over the ocean. According to the guide a large number have relocated to Peru. Unfortunately, fox had been introduced to the islands, and of course ate the penguin eggs. For protection, the fox have been eliminated and people are banned from setting foot on the island.
As you would expect, there were the usual seagulls, pelicans, and cormorants but it was our first time to see Peruvian Boobies. No blue legs on these guys.
It was an excellent trip. So glad we drove the extra mile to get there.