Our visit to Chile was a quick one, just about a week, but we packed quite a bit in. The highlights included the bus ride over the Andes from Mendoza, seeing the sunset from the coast in Viña del Mar, eating a fantastic lunch with a view on the hillside in Valparaiso, seeing a distant galaxy with our eyes, and completing a 26k running event around Lago Aculeo. Read on to hear the rest of the narrative from our week in Chile.
Crossing the Andes
On March 15th we took a double decker bus across the Andes from Mendoza, Argentina all the way to Viña Del Mar on the pacific coast of Chile. Our boarder crossing was a bit complicated. First, at the border we got off the bus leaving our big packs and two food bags on board because no one told us to take them. We then got our passports stamped and followed protocol like a cattle being herded. Next, we lined up like inmates at the agricultural check and that’s when our trouble began. Being a health nut I like fresh produce and raw plant products which are not welcome to cross country lines. The bus driver came into the room holding up my green pack and food bag. I claimed them and the food bag was confiscated but returned after the guard approved the sandwiches. We eyed the bus waiting for Will’s big pack to wander out and after anxiously waiting for 20 minutes the bus driver held up the backpack along with the other food bag. Will claimed both, but the food bag got him in a pickle. With an apple, avocado, almonds and chia seeds the food bag was rummaged through, and those items were confiscated. The guard made Will fill out another customs form. Oops! After all this hassle we then had to go one-by-one with our bags through the agriculture check (we were clear). As our row came forward the guard said “William, No” and pointed to go around the table not in front. We both laughed that he was on a first name basis with the border guard… probably not a good thing. We finally re-boarded the bus and made it into Chile. Lesson learned — eat all raw plant based food before entering a new country!
Viña del Mar
We stayed at an Airbnb with a host whose breakfasts came highly recommend. Turns out he is a chef in NYC for part of the year and a landlord/airbnb host for the other part. Not a bad way of life. He gave us maps, advice on the city and direction to the best supermarcado, Lider (which is owned by Walmart). All we had time for the rest of the day was a trip to Lider and a stop at the beach to get our toes in the sand. Lider was a blessing of a supermarcado after Argentina. The first item found was peanut butter! First time we’ve seen it since the States. Then we found real Greek yogurt, soy milk, trail mix, fresh fruit, spinach, almonds, granola and more which were either rare or not found in Argentina. I was comforted by these food finds, but felt bad supporting the Walmart empire. The beach, a 10 minute walk west, was refreshing after the crowded store and being on a bus most of the day. It was nice to see the Pacific Ocean again, smell the sea air and feel sand. My gut, which hadn’t fully recovered from being sick acted up so we called it an early night after eating some peanut butter banana sandwiches.
We woke to a breakfast of pancakes with peanut butter and jam and some fruit from our host which fueled our jog to some of the sights in Viña. We visited the Wolff Castle, flower clock, rode a funicular (gravity based escalator) to the top of Villanelo, jogged a trail (which turned out to be a dump) in Quinta Vergara Park and admired a beautiful garden surrounding a old political building. After the three hour exploration we stopped for lunch of gyro sandwiches then relaxed at our airbnb before heading to the beach. We soaked up some sun while laying in the sand. I listened to my audio book Born To Run and Will read next to me. We watched the sun go down over the ocean and felt blessed to see a beautiful day go by. For dinner we tried to find a certain seafood restaurant with good reviews on tripadvisor, but it must have closed considering we couldn’t find it. Turns out the reviews were a few years old. No biggie, because on the street I spotted a restaurant named Margarita. If you know me then you know I can’t resist good Mexican food and a chance to sip on a tequila beverage so we landed there. It was delicious. I had salmon tacos, Will had carne enchiladas and we shared a mango margarita. Muy bien!
The next morning, on Saint Patrick’s Day, we woke early for a spin class at a small local gym we found down the street. Our host was kind enough to have French toast, fruit, juice and tea waiting for us before we went. Properly fueled we went to spin. Little did I know it was Will’s first spin class. He rocked it as our intense Chilean Lance Armstrong look-a-like instructor directed us to go faster and the electronic music boomed loudly through the room while the bright nightclub lighting flashed. Not to mention Will was the only male other than the instructor in a room full of women. After class we did an upper body strength training circuit where I found a TRX to use. Another comfort of home.
Back at our airbnb we ate our second breakfast, showered, then took the city bus to Valparaiso for the day. The city buses were short shuttle like buses that came about every five minutes. Since the buses were smaller the drivers fended to be a little more daring when turning corners. Thankfully we quickly learned to hold on and lean into the curves. In Valpo (for short) we wondered the old streets lined with colorful houses much like an aged San Francisco and found a modern lunch restaurant with balcony seating that overlooked much of the city and the ocean. We sat on the balcony for a while taking in the view and eating a quinoa shrimp stir fry and smoked salmon salad. When done we took a funicular down to the town center and explored the markets. The “artisans” market turned out to be commercial knick-nacks not handmade goods, but we bought a sticker for our laptop since we are trying to make it look non-appealing for safety reasons. Sorry Mom, no beads or baskets. We caught the bus back where Will almost left his hat on the bus but quickly charged back on, snatched it up and exited in a minutes time. It was a close one even if the hat was free from The Clymb!
That evening we spent some time on the beach, bought dinner at Lider where we opted for the rotisserie chicken instead of having to cook, and went out to try some local beer. We went to a Cervasaria called The Clinic which turned out to be a let down when they didn’t have any of their brewed beers (2 total) on tap or in bottles, the inside smelled like raw fish and my mojito tasted like uncarbonated Sprite. We left quickly to check out the Glasgow Pub in honor of Saint Patty’s Day. We toured ourselves around the crowded bar and left when the beer selection looked mediocre and they didn’t have a dessert menu. We had a craving for chocolate. We then stumbled upon a nice restaurant with cozy looking chairs, a full dessert menu and a beer that appealed to Will. A relaxing end to the day.
On Wednesday we decided to get in one more long run; it was early in the morning after our delicious omelette breakfast. We followed the sidewalk that boarded the coast for five miles north and four back. Being oceanside with a breeze and a beautiful view was a runners dream. It was one of our favorite running routes we’ve ever been on this trip. After the jog Will went back to finish our taxes and I went to a kickboxing class. This was the only time I could take the class so fit it in and had a blast. The instructor was very disciplined in boxing and since their were only three others in the class he helped correct my form. What an amazing workout that reassured my enjoyment of boxing even though I have had little exposure. Maybe I’ll take it up when I my legs get sick of running. Will successfully completed our taxes abroad which he didn’t find too challenging because everything is digital these days.
That afternoon we decided to catch a bus to a beach town called Concon eight miles north of Vina. The town was dead since it was the end of busy season and the weather decided to hide the sun right after we arrived so we found a cafe on the beach to get Wi-Fi, some coffee and a treat. We worked on some Peru planning then ventured to the beach for a little while. After the sun was completely consumed by clouds and the air cooled we walked through town where nothing was happening. Will got a seafood empanada at a well known empanada stand and it turned out to be the best he’s had. We gave up on Concon and took the bus back to Vina where we found clear skies and warm sunshine. So we figured we’d go read on the beach. After wading in the chilly ocean we went to Lider to get food for our lake trip. It had become late before we knew it and dinner time snuck up on us. We felt like pizza but ended up wondering around in search of the right restaurant for way too long. By the time we settled on one I felt like sleeping instead of dining so we ordered panini sandwiches and a salad hoping they would come quick. A grueling 20 minutes later we downed our foods and exhaustingly walked straight into our beds.
Heading to Lago Aculeo (south of Santiago)
Thursday we woke early to pick up our car rental so we could spend a few days at the lake where the 26k race was. After our last chef-cooked breakfast of egg frittata we went on a confusing jog to the Sheraton hotel a few miles away to get the car. Will ordered a manual in hopes he’d be able to use his limited stick shift skills so we were both a bit nervous. After a little paperwork the Europcar rep handed over the keys to our 2015 Pougot 208 hatchback. Will started it up and after only stalling it once we were off. We drove around practicing for a while in the busy streets of Vina, which were not ideal, but he didn’t have any trouble (minus a few stalls). We went back to the airbnb, packed up, showered, grabbed Starbucks conveniently located a two minute walk down the street and drove south only killing the car a few more times. On the road we passed a few unexpected toll booths and choose to wind through the countryside instead of through the big city of Santiago. We arrived in mid-90 degree weather to Pintue resort on the lake. The heat was a bit of a shock and the resort attendant explained they were in a drought so the lake was almost gone. We explored the property and were sad to see the docks were sitting atop dried earth, cows and horses were roaming the land where water once resided, dust hung hazy in the air, and what was left of the lake was a few yards away. We unpacked into our cozy room and Will cooked dinner in our outdoor kitchen. We were some of the only people at the resort and were strongly out numbered by cows, horses and dogs roaming around on the property. Two stray dogs quickly realized we were sucker Americans and hung around our room the entire stay to eat our food scraps and drink some water I put out. I couldn’t help it. I could show them a few good days of their homeless lives. We both liked the quiet and it felt like a break from the go-go-go of city travel. Not having wi-fi helped to. We finally had time to watch Downton Abby, play some games and prep for the run.
The next day we ate a simple breakfast and went on a slow three miler to loosen up our legs. We then decided to drive the loop around the lake which was our race course for the next morning. We stopped off at a roadside snack shack that said “Wi-Fi” on the sign. Will ordered a coffee which was a make-your-own Nescafé instant coffee, so we could snag some internet. We booked a room for our stay in Santiago which was in two days and continued to finalize Peru plans. An hour later we continued our drive and transitioned from pavement to gravel road. The single lane gravel road was fairly desolate so I decided it was time to learn how to drive a manual. After watching Will drive I caught on fairly quickly. Turns out I was okay at it until I killed it on a hill. Oops. Will got us up the hill and I continued my lesson the rest of the way around the lake. I enjoyed it and had a great teacher! That evening we rested and ate our camp style dinner (soup and beans). Before we headed to bed we wandered out to the dock (with no water) and looked in the sky for a galaxy that you can see from the southern hemisphere. We used Will’s app “Sky Guide” and found it! It was strange and awesome to be able to see a distant galaxy with our unassisted eyes. Will snapped a few nights shots and then we went to bed to get some good sleep before the race.
The Big Race!
The Aculeo Lago 26k/16 miler took place just south of Santiago and the course circumnavigated the lake. It was a rolling hills route half on dusty gravel roads and half on paved road. The field of runners was small, about 200, but the race atmosphere was great. I haven’t raced in 8 months and didn’t realize how much I missed the adrenaline of race day. The horn went off at 10am and runners set off for a few hours of running in the desert like conditions. Like any race, some contestants flew like the wind effortlessly and some huffed and puffed to a struggling finish. I noticed most of the runners belonged to a running club since they were sporting bright club shirts. Few runners, including Will and myself (the only US participants), were not with a club. We dubbed ourselves team Bandana since without team shirts, but wore team bandanas and set out to tackle the dusty hot path. The biggest hill is at the 5k point which was at the perfect point in the race. Our legs were warmed up and not tired yet. We then winded down the road with confidence. Maybe this race won’t be so bad. With the race being so small there was only one aid station at the half way point. Thankfully they had one so we could refill water, down a banana and walk for a minute. Will and I split at that point since my legs wanted to ramp up (I blame the banana and adrenaline) and his wanted to keep a steady pace. The few miles before the end are always a test for any runner. The mental push becomes key as your physical strength is tested. Legs, back and feet embrace yet fight the ongoing steps to the end. That’s when the mind steps in to narrow in and focus on the finish. In the last mile the terrain shifts from pavement to dusty gravel as my legs fired away. A speedy paced swept me across the finish line while my body celebrated a slowed motion. Will followed shortly and although we shared some bodily pains we were elated. We both completed our first international race and Will’s longest race ever! The finish had the basic refueling snacks, water, Gatorade, and hamburgers as well as free 10 minute massages which we took full advantage of. We high fived some of the runners we met on the course (a gal from Spain and a few guys from France). Overall the race was similar to some I have run in the states, but this 26k was an unforgettable experience that I am beyond thankful for.
While earlier in the week the resort was quiet, that evening the resort was hopping (even though the lake had no water!). Lots of families with trailers and almost all the rooms were booked. One party of families in particular kept us slightly entertained (and annoyed) by singing to their karaoke machine all night. Exhausted, though, we drifted to sleep to a few drunken Chileans belting Enrique Iglesias’ ‘Bylamo’ into the a mic. The joyous sounds of nature were long gone.
Santiago for a quick visit before Peru
The following morning we packed up and drove an hour north to Santiago. I started driving the stick shift to practice and didn’t stop until we hit Santiago traffic where we Chinese fire-drilled and Will finished the commute. We checked in to our airbnb and went out to see what we could of
Santiago in one day. We settled on Tea Connection to have brunch after not finding our original lunch destination. At lunch I noticed a guy wearing a Hood To Coast 2010 t-shirt. Turns out him and his friend were from Portland and had been working in Santiago for 3 months. Small world! We chatted a bit and finished brunch.
We had only the afternoon to see Santiago, so we decided to go to the only place where we could see all of Santiago at once: Cerro San Cristobal. We decided to hike (yes, more leg workouts) to see the Emasculate Conception statue of Virgen Maria. The hot hike was tough for our sore legs, but we enjoyed being outside and were looking forward to the view. It was worth it. We could see the entire city and surrounding Andes mountain range. “We saw all of Santiago so I think we’re good,” Will said as we took the stairs down from the statue. We decided to take the funicular (a gravity based escalator) down to save time and Will bought a traditional Chilean drink called “Mote con Huesillo” which is like sweet tea with oats and an entire plummed peach. Strange drink, but we had to try it. For dinner we treated ourselves to true Italian pizza with a thin, crispy crust topped with pesto, chicken and arugula at a small local pizzeria. So good we left them one of our only Tripadvisor reviews. We couldn’t resist some gelato afterwards and since the street was lined with gelaterias, cafes and restaurants it wasn’t hard to find. They mixed up our order a bit and ended up giving us double the amount of gelato which we didn’t seem to have a problem with. We took a leisurely walk home eating the dripping gelato before it all melted and before we realized how full we actually were. Wiped from a fun filled day in Santiago we unfortunately slept lightly due to the loud city sounds that we weren’t accustom to.
In the morning we had a few hours before our flight so we cooked some breakfast, drank some tea and went on a self-guided walking/running tour around a portion of the city. Santiago has some beautiful parks that emulate parts of Central Park in NYC. We stopped at a workout station to join some locals in an upper body circuit. It was nice to give our slightly sore legs a break and our arms and upper bodies some work. After jogging through a few more parks we looped back to shower, pack up and catch our van shuttle (highly recommend TransVIP) to the airport. Off to Peru where the often rainy mid-60s weather, sightseeing and trekking await.