Journal of my Second Trip to Chile

February and March, 1999

Tim Hilliard -- Copyright 1999 - 2003

Note: this is based on my journal kept during the trip but has been edited for brevity, completeness, and clarity. Some parts are added based on later knowledge.

All "thumbnail" pictures link to larger versions

Sat. Feb. 6, 1999: I got started today, but was pretty much ready to go yesterday. Or so I thought! I looked at my tickets Friday night and discovered that they were not the same as the first itinerary I was sent! I was leaving at 7:15 am from Seattle, not 1:00 PM. I hurriedly arranged a different ride to the airport and tried to get some sleep, but in my hurry set my alarm for 5:00 PM instead of am. When my friend Eric got there to pick me up at 5:15, I was still out cold. I rushed around and made the airport OK, barely, but no time  to shower or dawdle, just dress, grab the stuff and run. Then it was 7 hours - count 'em - in Newark. This passed slowly. The plane was quite full, and I sat next to an American woman going to visit a Chilean friend. I'm sure I was pretty ripe as I hadn't been able to shower before leaving.
Sun. Feb. 7: By Santiago I was very tired from 24 hours on planes or in airports, with minimal sleep 2 nights in a row. Even so I was not in the mood to fork over the $45 dollars for American citizens to get in to Chile (once per the "life of the passport").  I had my passport stolen in Chile a few years ago and the new one was issued there, so I pointed that out, saying it was obvious I'd paid once, and they bought the idea and let me in without paying. With saving the money and being so tired, I changed my plans a bit and used the savings on a taxi to town, a room in the hotel I've used before, and dinner. The hotel, "Los Arcos," is an old place I like on Agostinas not too far from downtown. I slept a bit, walked a bit, had a beer with a Canadian couple in the courtyard of the hotel (who gave me some tips for later in the trip). Also, I had some time to think about the philosophy of the trip and jot it down:
  • Enjoy myself
  • See some nice country
  • Work on my Spanish
  • "Eat local" as much as possible
  • Stay in comfortable, nice situations where possible, without spending much money
Mon. Feb. 8: I awoke and thought it was awful noisy for so early, but when I opened the shutters I discovered it wasn't early. Those shutters work great. I walked quite a way from the hotel to Estación Sur, and caught a bus at about 11:00 to Temuco. It looked like a good long day to cover some distance, which was the only reason I picked Temuco, though I plan on going there again later in the trip. The bus was steady but hot - I was on the sunny side all afternoon and the bus had no windows that opened, and they didn't use the air conditioning. There were bad movies (in English with subtitles), a bingo game, and nice views. Some of the views were volcanoes (Llaina was smoking) and there were rivers occasionally, but mostly I saw agriculture and scrub or forests until late. I talked a bit with a miner and some kids. I was the only gringo on the bus. There were a few areas of native forest (once with a billboard saying so!) but mostly if there was forest it was eucalyptus or Monterrey pine, occasionally Douglas-fir. I stayed at a too-expensive hotel, $30 with breakfast [as it would turn out, the most expensive place I stayed on the trip]. I ate in its dining room.  Dinner was reasonable, a big tomato salad, rolls, butter, and homemade ají verde (Chilean hot sauce, but usually red) with a small bottle of 1996 Undurraga Cabernet-Pinot, all for $3100 [I'll mostly use Chilean prices, it was about $500 to the dollar so $3100c is about $6.25US.]
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Tues. Feb. 9: I got up early, had a continental breakfast, and got on a bus on to Ancud, Chiloé. The bus stopped a lot, but the scenery was great. Llaina was still smoking and there were several other volcanoes in view all morning. When I reached Osorno I was in familiar territory again. When we came out above Lago Llanquihue at Puerto Varas, everyone oohed and aahhed and cameras were snapping all over. The scene with the wooden town below, the 50km wide lake shining and the ice giant volcano on the other side was terrific. I took some of my first pictures of the trip at 80 KPH from the bus window. In Puerto Montt, where I'd spent three wet days in 1997, the views were also incredible and the town seemed to warrant its popularity with tourists, which bad weather and my bad experience (robbed there) had caused me to doubt in 1997. Mountains, sea, islands, volcanoes, and people on a swimming beach across the bay! Wow. Then cam the ferry crossing to Chiloé, where several days of winds from due south had kicked up a good swell. The ferries, which run up on the beach to load, were having a bit of a hassle. Women were selling hot seafood empanadas for $250, two was a good lunch.   Talked to two Americans on the ferry, first I've seen. Ancud was crowded with folks, many retro-hippie youths with dreadlocks and guitars, smoking pot, partying noisily, not my scene at all, though the waterfront was quite pretty. All the yellow painted boats were photogenic. I found a crappy little room on the third floor that was noisy and hot, but the folks who ran it were nice. I wandered around the town in the evening. There was reggae music all over and lots of mobile foosball games outside. There are nice crafts and fish markets, and I ate a huge dinner of choritos (large greenish bivalves somewhat like a mussel) in the fish market, and walked along the waterfront some more at sunset. 04_ancud_boats2_tn.jpg (2689 bytes)

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Wed. Feb. 10: It was still fine weather. The drought has been going on all summer and the weather is abnormally warm and dry for Chiloé. I stored my stuff and wandered around again. At breakfast I met four gringos, all from Oregon (one traveling alone and three in a group). Then I went to the regional museum for a couple of hours before gathering my pack and getting on a bus south. I got off at a crossroads some distance to the south. A friendly woman on the bus had said her husband would give me a ride to Dalcahue, about 12 kilometers down a side road. He ended up also giving a ride to the group of three from Oregon, who were also on the bus.  He said something about being there filming a film about architecture and the churches (Chiloé is famous for its wooden churches).  [I discovered a month later that there was a miniseries being made about young architects restoring a church in Dalcahue, he might have been working on that].

I walked up the beach to the ferry landing (right on the beach again) and jumped on a bus to Achao. Achao is on a smaller (but still fairly large) island in the archipelago between the big island of Chiloé and the continent. The island is called Quinchao and is quite hilly, long and narrow. There are 120-meter or so bluffs on most coasts, and hills to maybe 300 meters along the crest. It seems to me that the best way to travel in Chile (or the most convenient at least) is to flag down or jump on any bus you want, and pay later. However, in this case, it was the quick way but not the comfortable way to get there - there were about 50 adults (and quite a few little kids) on the "20-passenger" bus.  I stood all the way in a wall-to-wall bunch of people, on the bumpy, hilly route along the crest of the island. He never failed to stop for a person waiting, even if we could barely squeeze them on.

Achao (sounds like a sneeze, no?) is a small but bustling place, about 3000 people I think.  Most of the town is on a small flat area, maybe a couple of km square, with a beach. Either direction there are bluffs with sandy or rocky beach below. Behind the town it slopes more gradually, and above the town there are farms and woods. The c. 1725 wooden church (made of alerce wood with hardwood pegs) is being restored.  It's a national monument topped with a 25 meter tower that sometimes has jortes, vulture-like birds, on the top. Beach is wide and flat with a lot of tide range (about 20 feet I'd guess). The whole town is a museum of traditional Chilote ("pertaining to Chiloé or its people") architecture with wooden houses, decorative shingle designs, and metal roofs. A fair number of tourists are here, lying in the sun, almost all Chileans. The views are so much like Puget Sound that it is incredible - glaciated mountains in the distance, bluffs, woods, fields, beaches, fishing boats. A great lunch of oysters with cheese melted on them, salad and a couple of beers was $4200 with tip. There was a great view from my table (on the second floor, above the waterfront) but the place had poor service for Chile. [Also it turned out to be most I spent on a meal on the trip, not counting a breakfast in the Newark airport on the way home]. I talked to an old guy who lived here all his life, who told me there is a fiesta and parade on a littler island offshore tomorrow. You have to arrange for a launch, as there's no ferry. My room here is very nice, all tongue and groove paneling, even the ceiling.

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Thurs. Feb. 11: I'm still in Achao - it's too nice a place to hurry on, and the inexpensive and very nice room, with breakfast and friendly folks,  is worth another night stay. Didn't go to the festival, I guess I'm not a good "Lonely Planet" or "National Geographic" type guy, can't push my way into private local occasions. None of the folks crowding the launches to the fiesta looked like even Chilean tourists to say nothing of gringos! Enjoyed seeing the fishing boat "Darwin" crowded with religious festival-goers. Instead I walked a long ways up the beach below the bluffs in the AM, maybe three km up was another spot with some level ground below bluffs and a small farm, looks as though the beach is their road, couple of horsemen and a few walkers were going one way or the other. The cliffs are mostly covered with a large-leafed (up to 2 meters) coarse plant called nalca as well as a native fuchsia.  I saw some really beautiful black-necked swans. I lunched in the other waterfront place. After lunch I walked a long way the other direction, to where I could see a huge volcano with a seemingly flat top, I think it is Volcán Minchimávida. There seem to be very few gringos here - the three from Oregon and an older Australian gent whose wife is from Achao. Dinner was a great seafood soup (paila marina). 06_achao_boats_tn.jpg (3556 bytes)

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Fri. Feb. 12: I made it into Castro ("Catro" in Chilote) this AM. This time I was able to sit on the bus. Castro, the capital of Chiloé, was quite busy with the annual "Festival Costumbrada." I had some great beer in a pub on the Plaza de Armas. It's called Kunstmann and is from Valdivia, and says "Das gute bier" on the label. There was light and dark - I had the dark. I rented a room in a crappy and expensive hospedaje, they seem to be mostly crowded and I was lucky to get it at all.  However (amazingly), it has cable TV in each room and includes breakfast for $7000.  Chiloé in general is very cheap, my hospedaje is the most I've spent on anything in days. The 45km bus trip, including a ferry crossing, from Achao to Castro was $800 (about $1.60 US). I took a siesta before dinner and saw on my TV that Clinton was acquitted by the Senate. Also I found an Internet terminal and sent and received some e-mail (Lin says my kitties are fine) and sent a bunch of postcards too. I saw quite a bit of the town including the palafitos (neighborhoods on pilings). I got a picture of a scene of a farmer with his oxen pulling a cart by a computer networking business that I thought made a nice contrast. There was folk dance / music in the plaza, then I went to the municipal hall for a great concert. Unfortunately don't know the guys name [I was planning to steal a poster the next day but forgot], but he was a terrific classical guitarist and I suspect an academic from his excellent lecture style. He discussed the history of Chilean music and played pieces ranging from Mapuche dance numbers to modern pieces by Violetta Parra, each introduced with some discussion. He was joined by a young guitarist and a man playing a ravel, which is a Chilean violin-related instrument with three strings. Later the young guy switched to ravel as well, but all three were on guitar at the end.  Terrific concert, they were touring the whole country with it.  There were two types of ravel used, Chilean and Chilote. Later I watched part of a live Credence Clearwater Revival reunion concert from Viña del Mar on TV, supposedly their first public reunion in 22 years. 13_castro_scene_tn.jpg (2327 bytes)

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Sat. Feb. 13th: I took my laundry to be done and caught a bus to Cucao on the west coast of Chiloé by the national park. The trip took an hour and a half, on mostly unpaved and winding roads, and I didn't get to sit once. Walked a couple of km to the ocean at the mouth of a river, and sat a long time on the beach.  It was cool and windy but didn't rain, waves quite nice, and very scenic. Cobble beach that is very wide, with bluffs to north and south and some offshore rocks.  I gather from the guide that both Darwin and Bruce Chatwin have written about this spot, will have to read them to see what they say.

When I got back to Castro in the evening I discovered that the laundry closed early on Saturdays, though the sign didn't mention it, and it wasn't open again until Monday.  I asked the women in a neighboring butcher shop if they knew where the laundry people were, and she called them for me several times but they were on the phone - this is the kind of thing Chileans will do for you.  One nice thing was that it was the parish festival day, part of the big festival, and they were making traditional Chilote food in the church courtyard.  I watched curanto, the local specialty, being made in traditional fashion (steamed in layers of nalca leaves over hot rocks) but didn't eat it because it was taking hours and I was starved. So I had salmon baked in foil over charcoal, with sausage and cheese and tomatoes in between the two big chunks of fish, as well as a couple glasses of wine and some clam and mussel ceviche (I hope they were cooked), for a total cost of $2100. There was Victor Jara music playing on a huge stereo, too! Finally, about 8:00 PM, I asked the butcher lady to try the laundry people once more, and this time I got them. They came right over and I got my stuff (another example of Chilean courtesy), which was a great relief as I would have had to spend another day in Castro which I didn't really want to do. I did get some more pictures of the palafitos from a small park across from the laundry while I waited, and bought a can of Guinness (of all things!) for a nightcap.

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Sun. Feb. 14 - el día de amor:  I caught a bus south for Quellón where the ferries leave to the mainland. They go to Chaitén in Chiloé Continental and Puerto Chacabuco in Aisén. I planned on taking the Aisén one if possible. The bus wasn't crowded and I got to Quellón fairly quickly, after a scenic ride through wilder country with more native vegetation. The ferry to Aisén wasn't going for a few days and the one to Chaitén was leaving in a few hours, so I chose Chaitén (I'm nothing if not a flexible traveler). Then went in to have curanto while I was still on the big island of Chiloé. Curanto - the most famous dish of the south - is a real experience! On the big oval plate there is a base layer with two types of dough-like substance, one white and one gray. I believe they are made from potato, one steamed and the other cooked in ashes. On top of that are lots of clams (two types), as well as cholgas and choritos (both mussel-like animals), chicken, sausage, potatoes, and a rib of some kind (smoked). Also there was a bowl of buttery soup to dip things in, rolls, and a side of fresh ají. I couldn't eat everything but made a valiant attempt. It cost about $3000 with tip and beer.

The ferry left about 5 PM, and I rode with two bicyclists (not travelling together), a Dutch man and a Swiss man, as well as a backpacker / fisherman from Alaska. I met a Colombian woman on the ferry and as we talked we saw a seal. She called her boyfriend over (another Swiss man) who was too late for the seal but said "look at the penguins." Sure enough a whole flock of penguins was swimming by! The couple had  ridden double on a moto-cross bike all the way from Columbia. The American, Mark, and I shared a room in Chaitén for $6000 each - expensive but very nice, great bathrooms and a good breakfast.

Mon. Feb. 15: I had planned to start south immediately and then later in the trip come back through this area, but was beginning to think that wasn't the way to go. At the bus station I met the "famous" Nicolas LaPenna, an American who lives here. The Canadians I met in Santiago on my first night of the trip told me he was a great asset here. He and his girlfriend run the bus station and a tiny tour business. The buses were full until tomorrow but he talked me into a tour to Termas Amarillas (Yellow Hot Springs) for the afternoon. I got to see some country too, the forests here look more like the tropics than what you might expect at 45 degrees south.  There are steep hillsides disappearing into the mists, tree ferns, 5 meter tall fuchsias, tall bamboo thickets, trees with flowers. The hot springs were fun, and I talked with the other folks on the tour, etc. An interesting sight was a home made out of a crashed DC-3. Nicolas is a really laid-back, pleasant guy, kind of an old hippie. He's a hit with the Chilean tourists who seem to get a kick out of his strongly accented but understandable Spanish, his old American van, and his flexible, very reasonably-priced tours. He talked most of us into another tour the next day, charging $5000 to go to the alerces and waterfalls to the north in Parque Pumalín. I had dinner is a little Chiloé style place, where I was joined by two women from Santiago, teachers, who had been on the tour. I had a huge salmon steak with potatoes, rolls, and salad, while the teachers shared a curanto. 17_dc3_home_tn.jpg (2628 bytes)
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Tues. Feb. 16: Today I rode with Nicolas again as planned. He started late but put in a long day. We rode north and into Parque Pumalín, the controversial national park-sized (and national park-quality) private reserve. It's owned by a foundation funded by the eccentric North American Douglas Tompkins, founder of North Face and Esprit. We walked along a lake early, then went on to a nature trail into an easily accessible grove of alerces. Alerces (Fitzroya cupressoides) are relatives of the sequoia that grow straight, tall, thick, and old. It was an incredible sight. In many other areas they are cut over and grow so slowly they will not be seen like this again in many generations. This grove showed damage from fishermen who cut bark to caulk boats. Some of the trees here are more than three meters in diameter and must be more than 80 meters tall. The sign says they are as old as 3000 years. The path was like a nature trail in a US National Park, raised over wet areas, with a suspension bridge in one place. Also of interest were the fuchsias, and 5 meter tall bamboo-like canes (not hollow like bamboo), nalca, and other trees such as canela, a large hardwood, and mañío, a large conifer (a type of podocarpus). The seemingly tropical aspect is striking here, and the forest floor was lush. We went on to a steep trail cut into a slope up a stream to a series of seven waterfalls and punchbowl-like pools with another suspension bridge, then on to a longer trail to a high waterfall. The trail descended to the base of the falls on a log ladder. There were more alerces there. In the late afternoon we went to a nice, mostly wild beach, Playa Santa Barbara. We took a long walk at sunset. All day film was flying through my camera. Like yesterday, I was the only gringo besides Nicolas, and the whole group (many of same folks as yesterday) was like a family by the end of the day. Again I ate with the teachers, as well as a couple from Concepción who had been with us both days. Fanny, one of the teachers, was surprised by a chance meeting with her daughter and three of her daughter's friends who were travelling as well. They also joined us for dinner, in the end quite a large group and a lot of fun. I had curanto a second time, as good as the first. The funny little restaurant, with crooked, crude building, old chairs and tables, etc. had an odd pricing scheme - everything was the same.  The giant curanto, the huge salmon dinner with salad and potatoes, or the chicken and fries were all the same, $3000. Stopped back by the station where Nicolas played his Colombian style Tiple, a guitar-like instrument with four groups of three strings each. He makes instruments and teaches music in the winter. Overall, in the last two days I lived my philosophy of the trip quite nicely, including talking a lot of Castellano with Chileans. 18_fuchsia_tn.jpg (2705 bytes)

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Wed. Feb. 17: I hopped on the 15-passenger van that passes for the bus to Coyhaique this morning.  This is the main portion of the famous Careterría Austral (southern highway). This piece is 425 kilometers, almost all unpaved, and quite mountainous. A lot of the trip was covered at 25 - 30 KPH, and quite spectacular. We stopped twice for flats and once at a tiny town to fix the spares, and several of us had to push-start the van once. However, I made the mistake of reading my map on a curvy stretch early in the day and was uneasy in the stomach all day, never quite recovered. Once while changing film going over a pass (another mistake) I almost lost it! I survived, though. Part of the trip cut through wild and little visited Parque Nacional Quellat. There were hanging glaciers, incredible rivers, very tall beech forests (60 meters or more), lakes, and arms of the sea. No town in this stretch is bigger than 1000 people, and there were only three little villages, but people got on and off at each. At first there were no gringos but after the junction with the road to Futaleafú at La Junta, and another stop, there were three. They were all native German speakers travelling alone, and their dialects were so different (one was Swiss, one was from southern Germany, and one was from the north coast) that they understood each other better in English than German. The four of us used a sort of "Spanglish" to communicate. The north German girl, whose English was quite good, was half bike-riding, half bussing from Peru to wherever she could reach. The trip took 15 hours and it was quite late when I reached Coyhaique. Wandering the strange town at midnight, I found an overpriced but OK place and collapsed! 26_quellat1_tn.jpg (3481 bytes)

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Thurs. Feb. 18th: This morning I stashed my pack and began to explore this oddly designed town. I had breakfast and was about to go to an Internet place I had an address for when I met Mark, the American lawyer who lives in Alaska. I met him on the ferry and shared a room with him in Chaitén. He was just leaving town but told me he'd found a nice inexpensive place in a private home and would show me if I liked. He also wanted Internet so we went there first then I got "checked in" to the home of Doña Enriqueta. This town is like a maze, deceptively simple but extremely easy to get lost in. The founder was a retired national police general who designed the Plaza de Armas to be shaped like a  pentagonal police badge.  Streets radiate from each flat side as well as each corner, but the ten spokes either curve and become part of the grid or disappear entirely after one more circumferencial street.  If you ever decide to go one more block and then loop back, you are lost! I got turned around  easily, often ending up going the wrong way entirely. It seemed strange to find a fair-sized city (40,000) after the long and difficult road.   But it's reachable by better (though longer and still only gravel) roads through Argentina, or by boat to from Chiloé to Puerto Chacabuco, and by plane. I found inexpensive bombillas (tea straws) and also bought a cup for mate here (the cups, like the tea, are called mate - you drink mate from a mate through a bombilla). These utensils for the mate habit are common here because this corner of Chile was settled mostly by Argentineans several generations ago and has a gaucho culture. I kept meeting folks I know - first Mark, then a couple from Concepción who had been on the bus I was on the day before yelled "hola" out another bus window, then I met a guy from Buenos Aires I'd met somewhere but I couldn't recall where. And members of a party of American missionaries (on vacation now, so not proselytizing) I seem to run into everywhere. [Some of them were even on my plane back to the US] I went to the little museum for a while, no one was there at first and the lights weren't on. I wandered around in the dark for a while then went back out. I found someone in the tourist office next door and paid my $400. Everything was mixed wildly - stuffed animals, rocks, fossils, native artifacts, etc. I bought tickets to Osorno in the lakes district by way of Argentina for day after tomorrow, so won't be returning by the Careterría Austral as I had guessed when I was in Chaitén.
Fri. Feb. 19th: I caught a bus in the AM to Puerto Aisén, Coyhaique's old port, now silted up. Puerto Chacabuco is about 15 kilometers from there and is the port now. Puerto Aisén turned out to be quite an unappealing town, at least in bad weather. I'd expect a small town in Southeast Alaska to be like this. Muddy, makeshift homes and businesses, misty views of mountains and glaciers, etc. Climate quite different than Coyhaique, which is like a steppe, while this is like the Washington coast though even wetter. I had lunch and then caught a bus on to Puerto Chacabuco. It had even less to recommend it, merely a ferry port and an industrial / fishing port area. I didn't even get off the bus, which stopped in an enclosed area by the ferry. I would have given the place a fair shake if the weather was better, but it was WET! I rode back to Puerto Aisén, and from there bussed back to Coyhaique. The scenic trip was worth it, however, as the road in between follows the beautiful Río Simpson as it cuts through a range of mountains to the fjord that the ports are on. It's in Río Simpson National Park, and there were lots of waterfalls on the mountainsides, views of glaciers high above, attractive trout pools, etc. The weather is much better here, away from the coast. I saw the Alaskan, Mark, with his fishing rod on the roadside, looking for a way down to a pool in the river. Back to Doña Enriqueta's home for the evening, where she'd done laundry for me while I was gone.
Sat. Feb. 20: I was still in Coyhaique most of the day as I was not scheduled out by bus until 4:00 PM. I read for hours on the Plaza then strolled to a restaurant to eat, but when I took off my pack realized I didn't have my camera!  I was already thinking about how to go about getting a cheapo 35mm camera as I ran back to my bench on the plaza. Of course, the camera wasn't there. But then a painter up on a ladder called and asked if I was looking for something.  I said my camera lost itself (se me perdió mi cámara), and he laughed, climbed down, and motioned for me to follow him. He unlocked his little four-wheel drive and handed the camera to me! I gave him some (too little) money which he took as though it was all a lark, laughed again, and went back up his ladder to finish painting the bandstand. Wow, what a stupid thing to do and what a lucky break! Also, another illustration of the good nature and basic honesty of the average Chilean - in the US it would have been gone forever. I got on the bus in the PM for the long trip to Osorno. The bus goes by the roundabout route through the Patagonia steppes. Again the bus was hot and sunny as we climbed into the Andes, which are fairly gentle around the pass. They sealed the baggage at the border so it didn't need to go through customs, but we still needed to go through Chilean customs as we left, and Argentinean as we came in.
Sun. Feb. 21: All night the bus ran over fairly straight, smooth gravel roads, stopping once at 3:00 AM at a bar in a tiny town somewhere. We pulled through the famous resort town of Bariloche at dawn, without  stopping. The road went through long stretches of poor barrios, putting the lie to the story that Bariloche is a great success story.  The resort and condo areas downtown and along the lake were small in comparison to the poor barrios. The lake (the east end of Lago Nahuel Huapi, a huge lake in the Argentinean part of the Lakes District) was very scenic, and the bus generally followed the shore for several hours. Then it climbed into the Andes and crossed a scenic pass between the two border stations (again having to spend time at each). The only other non-Chileans on the bus were a young couple from the Czech republic. The man spoke excellent English with a British accent (I thought he was from England at first) but neither spoke Spanish. I helped them some with translation as they begged to be allowed off the bus just over the border.  Usually you can get off a bus anywhere you want in Chile but the special two-country nature of this bus made it more touchy. The conductor was very against the idea. However, we talked to the driver at the last border crossing (you aren't allowed to speak to the drivers when the buses are moving) and he agreed. All together the trip was 22 hours, about 19 actually moving, and it did a number on my poor back! I got to Osorno about 2:00 PM and found a very nice residencial near the market and bus station. This city, which I was in two years ago, also, kills me - it's so un-South American. Many of the people are of German heritage, and look it. Businesses sport names like "Kaffestube" and "Óptica Alemán," and there are German restaurants, and a very august German Club (Club Alemán). The mall is called "Plaza Germania" (apparently a poetic name for greater Germany in Spanish) and many places offer wonderful küchen. Clean, friendly, and well-off, there are great old turn-of-the-century German homes, businesses, and (Lutheran) churches. I would hazard a guess it is the richest town in the country that isn't a resort or the suburb of a bigger town. There's not much reason for tourists to be here, however, except that the buses change here for mountain routes. I wandered about randomly, had a beer on the sidewalk, listened to a Andean street band (quite good). Also I had a great ice cream cone (many places in Chile have helados artesanales - homemade ice cream).
Mon. Feb. 22: Slept on a great bed, best bed I've ever had in this country. I couldn't make up my mind on what to do so I decided to take another night on the nice bed and rest my back and foot today in this easy-going though boring town. The only hitch is that there isn't enough to keep one interested for another day! Spent the AM around the downtown, looking for a few things, and had lunch at the market with a British guy from my residencial. We had pastel de choclo, which was great. In the afternoon I watched chess players and followed the shade around the two plazas. Two plazas? Yes, the main Plaza de Armas downtown attracts the middle class, while the Plaza Yungay near the market attracts the working class. There's a giant chessboard painted on the cement at the Plaza de Armas. Of all things, ran into the Alaskan, Mark, a fourth time here. The Brit and Mark and I met for dinner at a large, pleasant Chinese restaurant in an old German-style mansion downtown. We had a multi-course dinner, tea, and three Kunstmann lagers each. It cost us $12000 with tip - about $8US each. We went from there to the incredible Club Alemán, for more Kunstmanns, then to a smaller bar bar for another, and finally to a tiny bar in an alley for a few more. It was very late when I retired!
Tues. Feb. 23: I took an early bus to Puerto Octay on Lago Llanquihue for no real reason except the bus went there. I spent a couple of hours there, wandered to the waterfront, and had lunch. There were a couple there from Japan who had ridden from Alaska on big Kawasakis. Wow. Crookedest town I've seen in this country where they usually make them a grid. There's a little museum I went to, mostly about the German settlement. Then took another little back-roads bus in to Frutillar, and a collectivo to the waterfront there. [Collectivo - like a taxi but follows a set route, charges very little (like a bus charge). Very useful, I use them all the time in Chile.]. The collectivo driver (eager to collect a fee I'm sure) took me to a really nice hospedaje a block from the beach. It's the daylight basement of a very American seeming house. I have a key for the outside door and there's a living room with a TV, a dinette, a full kitchen, a small bath, and two bedrooms - one with a queen (mine) and one with two double bunks. She said she'd put someone else in if needed but no one showed. The view of Volcán Osorno is incredible. On the waterfront are many German-style homes and other buildings including the Iglesia Luterana. This town however, while pleasant, is way too boring to stay in long, it's a resort but quiet now (school starts next week). There is a big classical festival here and concerts of classical music and jazz all summer. 28_v_osorno_frutillar_tn.jpg (1824 bytes)

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Wed. Feb. 24:  Breakfast included the standard stuff, but the jam was homemade blackberry and there was a great big piece of tasty küchen with a layer of orange marmalade in it. The evergreen blackberries are weeds all around just like at home. I took a bus to Puerto Varas and immediately hopped on one to Ensenada at the far eastern end of Lago Llanquihue, a big round lake at the foot of Volcán Osorno. Puerto Octay, Frutillar, Puerto Varas and the hamlet of Ensenada are all on it. The country road to Ensenada is mostly along the shore. I got off there hoping to find an hospedaje recommended by the guide I carry, but discovered it had burned down and there were no others. I walked along to a set of cabins and asked about an inexpensive one. He seemed happy to see me - it was quite empty because the season is over - and I got a two bedroom cabin with a bath, hot water, and little kitchen but no heat for two days for $15000. That's more than I usually pay but it was nice to have a kitchen, space to wash and hang some clothes, and a place really to myself for once (well, last night too). Right on a nice beach and the view right up the volcano from the front door is unbelievable. I went to swim and sit on beach for a while, but later clouds gathered, and a storm seemed to be moving in. I walked a ways to a tiny store and bought some food to cook, what a concept, I haven't cooked since I left the US. The owners are older folks from Frutillar. The man is very German looking with snow white hair and twinkling blue eyes. The friendly (and maybe bored or lonely) nephew of the owner, Juan, who works for them, came by and talked a long time. I also walked up around the cove here into the edge of the national park. There's a huge old tourist hotel, probably folks came by boat in the old days, but it looks quite quiet now (though it was open). 30_osorno_ensenada_tn.jpg (1940 bytes)
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Thurs. Feb. 25: Wow, what a storm!  High winds, and heavy rain during the night shook the cabin. The surf is like the sea, not a lake. I planned to go up into the park but was unsure.  Juan, however, said to go for it and almost dragged me out to the road where a bus came by soon going to the end of the road at Lago Todos Santos, way back in the mountains. Along the road I saw signs that said "Precuacción deshielos" and just as I was wondering what a deshielo (de-icing?) was, and why it was dangerous, the bus slowed for a stretch of muddy, wet road. The driver pointed at it and said simply "deshielos" (I was the only passenger on the bus, by the way). Apparently they are sudden glacier melts when massive downpours of summer rain - like today - fall on the ice. A few kilometers along, the road was totally washed out, with a mudflow about ten feet below grade and about a 25 foot wide gap in the road. He turned around there, but said he'd be back every hour all day, so I hopped out. I found a dry crossing by leaping from rock to rock (no one else was crossing but there were folks with trapped cars on either side). I walked a mile or so and then some trapped fishermen gave me a ride to the end of the road. It was still very wet there, further back in the mountains. I hiked a couple of kilometers up the shore (then sat a spell under a big tree to avoid a downpour), and finally I went in to a natural food place at the lodge and ate. Finally, I hitched a ride back to the washout (where they were at least working on it), crossed again (managed to get muddy this time), and hitched a ride back to Ensenada where the waves have let up some but were still bigger than I expect on a lake. Later, Juan and I walked out to an interesting volcanic feature, a big hole filled with water with just a tiny connection to the lake, colored by green algae and closely surrounded by a dense forest. It's called Laguna Verde, and has a nature trail. From the end of the trail we saw a great sunset and talked to some wandering kids from the north. 35_sunset_ensenada_tn.jpg (2051 bytes)

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Fri. Feb. 26: This would be my Dad's birthday - how he would have loved this area!  I woke early and saw that there were stars, so I grabbed the camera and went out into the dawn. I went to beach where I caught the first rays of sun hitting the volcano, nice! I wandered quite a while then made breakfast, packed, and walked out to try hitching around the lake.My easy time hitching yesterday made me bold. I thought I'd go back to Puerto Octay by the very minor road along the north side of the lake. There's no bus and very little traffic on that link from Ensenada to Puerto Octay. An hour went by without a car, then a vanload of rafts stopped. The driver, in perfect English with a British or maybe New Zealand accent (didn't even ask if I spoke English), said he was only going a couple hundred meters. So I changed my mind and walked back to the crossroads where a bus pulled up right at that moment. I rode in to Puerto Varas, a somewhat run-down small city with a lot of German architecture, lunched, and caught a bus to Rio Bueno. It's a nowhere town but looking at the map I saw a route around another big lake, Lago Ranco. My guidebook was vague (obviously this area is WAY off the tourist trail) but it appeared a loop was possible. So I got on a bus to the tiny town of Lago Ranco. This was a different world - an old, dusty bus full of market goods, Indians, things in burlap sacks, etc. People came on selling things while we waited - in itself not rare in Chile but there was an old Indian with some miserable looking pears, a woman with tired looking tomatoes, a man selling kelp, and oddest of all, a man with a nice display (in English) of Super Glue in little tiny tubes.  He made inflated claims and sold some, actually. At little, overgrown Lago Ranco the folks laughed and said no, this is the end of the bus line. The town looked pretty boring (though the view of the lake and islands was killer) and I didn't see any hospedajes. Since the roads were very minor the rest of the way around the lake and I have no camping gear, I turned right around and went back to Rio Bueno on another bus (this one almost empty). Along the route there were plenty of ox carts, remote homes reached by trail across fields from the road, etc. I saw an interesting tableau. There were three females representing three to five generations. One was ancient, another - daughter or granddaughter? - middle-aged, and a little girl (again: daughter or granddaughter?). The two younger ones got on the bus, the littlest one waving frantically at the oldest one. The oldest and the youngest looked very Indian but the middle-aged one more Caucasian. When I got to Rio Bueno I decided to go in to Valdivia - I figured I could get there before dark. However, I had to wait more than an hour in Rio Bueno so I went to a bar and had a huge beer for 250 pesos, then wandered the town. Market day was winding down, but it was still more like Mexico than any other town I've been in in Chile. Maybe it was the serapes, the large Indian population, or the street market, I can't say what, exactly. The veggies and fruit were much better quality than those in Mexico but the variety was poorer. I was painfully aware that not only was I the only gringo, but I was the only tourist of any kind. In fact, I think I was the only light-complexioned type I saw in the town. However, as almost always in this country, everyone was polite, though the kids stared some. I bused on in to Valdivia and found a very cheap (but awful) hotel room ($2500 for the night) in an incredibly old building. Dinner was the daily special (oferta) at a tiny nearby bar - a big patty of ground beef, a pile of rice, a mixed vegetable salad, a whole sliced tomato, half an avocado, two rolls, and on top of the dinner, a fried egg. It cost $800 and the draft light Kunstmann was $500 a half liter. Two beers and a huge dinner ran me $1800, about $3.60 US. They gave me three Kunstmann coasters, too, when I asked if I could keep one. Long day! Covered a lot of ground. The hotel asked me for my Carnet (national ID card) number - I must have spoken good enough Spanish to make them think I was a resident alien, I know I couldn't pass for a native! Usually they ask for the passport number without bothering to ask if you are a foreigner.
Sat. Feb. 27: First thing in the morning I went downtown for breakfast - great küchen and espresso - and then found another hotel - next door to the one I was in (I was looking for it when I found the wrong one the night before).  The Hotel Regional is quite nice and only a bit more expensive, $3500. Did I ever mention the Chilean habit of polishing floors to within an inch of their lives then putting throw rugs on them that are like skates? A real hazard! It's almost universal in hotels and homes. Then to the waterfront market, the best I've seen, with very superior fruits, veggies, and seafood. The variety of seafood was incredible, shellfish, barnacles (picarocas), sea urchins (erizos), several types of clams, several types of mussels, oysters, and quite a variety of fish too. I took some pictures, of course. Then I booked a space on a tourist boat to the mouth of the river and back for the afternoon. It turned out to be the most touristy thing I've done but fun none the less, and very inexpensive. We rode down one channel and back another, in a maze of distributaries and tributaries that resemble a delta on a map but in person you realize the islands are hilly or almost mountainous. It looks like a great kayak or canoe area. There are farms and homes that are boat-accessible only. Nowhere I've been illustrated the replacement of natural forests with non-native species so well. There were huge stands of native forest but much more was the replacement species. At the mouth of the river (a scene a bit reminiscent of the Golden Gate, though no bridge) we visited two forts, one on an island and the other on the mainland. The second was Corral, where a famous battle was reenacted by the National Park Service. It was a battle between Spanish troops and revolutionary forces led by the English mercenary, Lord Cochrane. As a result, Cochrane is a huge hero in Chile whose bust is displayed in plazas all over the country. Made it back late, dined with another daily special in the same place (not quite so amazing this time) and headed back to this hotel. I decided to leave in the morning since my time in the country is getting short and I wanted to make the best use of it I can. However, as a place to hang out and maybe even live, I really like Valdivia, and I haven't seen a lot of it yet. There's a decent sized university, on Isla Teja (across a bridge from downtown) but I didn't go over to see it. There is lots of cheap housing, good restaurants, good Internet access, nice recreational areas, history, scenery, etc. It's a nice place to come back to with more time. Amazingly, I spotted no other foreign tourists (though there were a lot of Chilean tourists) during my two day stay in Valdivia, even during the long day on the water. 37_market_valdivia1_tn.jpg (3911 bytes)

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Sun. Feb. 28: In gringolandia, yikes! I got out of Valdivia early, my goal the tourist town of Pucón, hoping it won't be too bad with the lateness of the season. No such luck. It is awful, to me at least, though it appeals to many tourists. Actually there aren't a lot of tourists right now, foreign or otherwise, but the town is geared for them. It rained most of the way to Pucón. I walked to the center, had lunch in a very Americanized restaurant. I had a "Chicken-Tomate Ensalada" (those exact words, honest). There was a big sign in English for "Happy Hour." I left my pack there (I was only customer) while I ducked under overhangs and checked out the resort town. Found a small hospedaje (three rooms) about three blocks from the center for a decent price ($4000). Checked out the rest of town - culture-shock time, it's like an American ski resort. I can't imagine staying here very long, as it is very boring to me, and the weather is still very wet. While wandering around I found the offices of Termas de Panqui (Panqui Hot Springs) and signed up for a day trip out in the morning. It is supposed to be a remote place run as a "deep ecology enclave" by an American hippie type. I sat in a (covered) sidewalk cafe and talked to a group of Swiss, the first ones I've talked to in Spanish instead of English. They live in Santiago. Also I talked for a long time with the women in the office of the Termas who complemented me earnestly on my Castellano. I found "Libros Alemán" open late. "Libros" (as part of the name of a business) usually means bookstore in Chile, while "librería" means not bookstore but "stationers." Since I've been book-less for a few days, I bought a copy of "Devil in a Blue Dress" by Walter Mosley, in Castellano. I'd read it in English, so figured it would be a good one to tackle in Spanish. For dinner I bought a huge, tasty, hot humita (a bit like a Mexican tamale, but made with fresh corn instead of corn flour) from a street vendor and had it with a bottle of hard cider at my hospedaje.
Mon. Mar. 1: Even wetter!  I rode to Panqui in their four-wheel drive rig, a diesel Kia. Daniel, the owner (or "caretaker," as he calls himself) and a young Canadian named Mike who is living and working at the springs, were the only others in the truck. The place has a row of tipis, a main building with office and restaurant, and a hotel (very new, nice but very simple without electric power). And three baths from the springs - a large warm bath, a smaller hot bath, and a smallest very hot bath. I talked to several folks, an Argentinean woman travelling alone, a group of chilenos who came in in a 4-wheel drive, and an couple from the US (Seattle!) with two young kids in a rented truck. I'd never met North Americans travelling with kids here before.  Also I talked with a native couple who work here, and entertained their three-year old named Nahuel (puma in Mapudungan). He would chase floating objects such as small sticks for hours and return them, and he swims like a fish.  Daniel was too tired to want to take me to town, and asked me if I wanted to wait and go in in the AM.  He let me stay free in the hotel (after all I had paid for the night in Pucón and had expected to get a ride back) and I bought a big, excellent vegan meal prepared by the mother of Nahuel. Among other dishes were a big bowl of pehue nuts from the area, served hot.
Tues. Mar. 2: I woke up before dawn and went out in the rain and took a great soak in the springs. Later I walked about and took some pictures of the pehue (Auricaria auricans, "monkey puzzle" or "umbrella pine" in English) which live on the slopes above the termas. They are huge here and said to be 600 years old. When others began to stir, I had coffee and rode back to Pucón. My hosts there were worried that I hadn't returned the night before. I rescued still another set of laundry from a family around the corner and caught a bus to Temuco. I never saw the famous Volcán Villarica (immediately over Pucón) until I was heading through downtown Villarica (30 km from Pucón) in the bus. I always seem to be leaving places as the weather gets better.

I was in Temuco early in the afternoon and went to an hospedaje made out of an old hotel (I think). My room is carved out of the upper half of an older high-ceilinged room, small and funky but shares a toilet and shower with only one other room at the top of a hidden stairs, which is nice. Plus there are nice common areas (including a small kitchen) and a TV in the lobby. It reminds me a bit of Los Arcos in Santiago (except Los Arcos doesn't have a kitchen) but much cheaper, and also much cheaper than the place I stayed in the last time I was in Temuco. The municipal market is a block away, it's the most touristy place in town (not as bad as Pike Place Market in Seattle though). It has crafts and food, etc. It's very big and somewhat crowded, and I was warned to be very careful of my pack there. I decided to get gifts and things to take home in Temuco as it has the best selection of crafts, and prices in the country, and I'm near the end of the trip.  There is some nice stuff among the junk in market. I decided to stay another day and shop, etc. I bought a half kilo of Auricaria nuts for $250 (about 45 cent a pound). The maid in the hospedaje showed me how to boil them and I served them to a group of gringos I chatted with in the common area. They were an Australian couple and a Swiss couple. The two couples had met that day and decided to pool resources for a climb of Volcán Villarica. The nuts were almost as good as the ones at Panqui and we made a big dent in them. I didn't want to face the city much after dark (I've been mostly in small towns for weeks), so I went to a neighborhood place for beer and ave con papas fritas (chicken and fries), then back to write and sleep. I did some tallying: I've made about about 27 bus trips and 5 ferry trips in the last three weeks.

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Wed. Mar. 3: I was out and about very early.  I wanted an espresso and thought the free market (fería libre) would be the place for it. Hardly! However, I did want to see the free market and it turned out to be very interesting. It's huge, goes on for blocks, and very third-world, totally unlike the municipal market I was at last night. Ox carts line the side streets, there's all sorts of produce and meat and fish, etc. It's very bustling, and very unused to gringos with cameras or any tourists! I was stared at by little Mapuche kids all over, even adults. There were more types of ají than I've seen in this country before, in fact more varieties of everything, however, not the incredible quality of food I saw in the market in Valdivia. I grabbed a mid-sized duffel bag for $3000 near the market to carry the extra stuff I was buying in Temuco. The store owner had a son in the US, and had been to visit twice in Los Angeles. Back at the hospedaje I learned that two busses going opposite directions had collided north of Temuco - one could have been carrying me if I had not decided to stay another day! And both busses were from the company I usually like best for long trips, Cruz de Sur.  There were 6 dead, 60 injured. Later I had my café esprés and pan tostada in the municipal market - it looks almost upscale after the free market. I bought three small Mapuche drums (like wooden salad bowls with skin over them) and a nice set of narrow Mapuche wool belts, and a few other items such as a wool bag. Then I went to the Casa de Las Mujeres Mapuches, the office of a craft cooperative, and bought nicer (though more expensive) belts. I took a trip to the regional museum, in an old mansion a couple of kilometers from downtown. It has much Mapuche information and items, including a dugout, and also the obligatory German settlement displays. Pastel de choclo in the municipal market was lunch and then I did a bit more shopping and wandered around the city the rest of afternoon. I found the best Internet place I've used in the country - a computer school with a networked lab connected at T-1 speeds, and actually cheaper than the modem-only places I've used before.
Thurs. Mar. 4: Didn't ride on Cruz de Sur (I think they have suspended business for a couple of days because of the wreck) but there was an unexplained 20% discount on the ticket, making it a very cheap ride to Santiago. Maybe they are trying to woo passengers who are wary of busses after the wreck, which was the biggest news in the country the last couple of days (crowding out the sensational murder of an American couple by their expatriate ex-marine son living in Temuco, which had dominated the news for days before that). I saw the wrecked busses on the side of the highway in the dawn, not too confidence-inspiring. I did manage to sleep some on the bus, but it's hot and a long trip.
Friday Mar. 5: The trip is almost over, and I'm not at all ready. I made it north in one piece, and ended up back at the Hotel Los Arcos again. Had a big dinner of salty Chinese food last night and it settled poorly, I may have been somewhat dehydrated after the bus trip. In any case I was very dehydrated in the night and ran out of drinking water. I never drink the tap water in Santiago so had to hit a minimarket first thing in the AM. Then I called my friend Sylvia at the school where she works and she agreed to meet me at the hotel in the afternoon. I spent the day downtown, doing big city things - espresso and yogurt with fruit for breakfast, wandered stores and markets. I took photos of the city and of a group of Mapuches demonstrating. The bus crash news has been eclipsed by a Mapuche uprising in the south - a group of natives attacked and occupied a forestry camp on land the Indians had reforested in the 1970s but that had been taken from them by the Pinochet government and given to the big forest product companies. They attacked and wounded some of the workers, drove all of them out, and are holding the camp. Two foreigners (a north American man and a young French girl) who were observers were arrested and are being threatened with deportation. The demonstration (see picture) was peaceful, with music, dance, and chanting punctuated by speeches about land rights and environmental protection. The Indians were dressed in native garb and played on native instruments, danced barefoot, etc., but I didn't get any good pictures while they were dancing as there were too many people crowded around. Many of the well-dressed business people watching (it was in the heart of downtown a couple of blocks from the Plaza de Armas) were giving money. I also went back to the Museo de Arte Precolombiana (I visited it in 1997) for an hour or so, it's a nice quiet respite from the city, with a pleasant courtyard, clean bathrooms, and nice exhibits from all parts of Latin America (none of them about German settlement).

Sylvia came for me about five and we went downtown to a small crafts market she knew about, where I bought some items, and then we stopped at a tea shop for a while. Later her family picked us up and took us to Pirque where they live. They live in the country, with a few acres, two big German shepherds, lots of cats, and an enclosure where they help breed the endangered pudú, world's smallest deer. They keep a breeding pair. We had a late dinner and I was placed in the bedroom of Pedro, Sylvia's oldest son.

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Sat. March 6: They got up very late (Chilean weekends!) and I spent some time out with the dogs, who are quite friendly. Later Pedro took me to the school, Hueñicito, in La Pintana, where Sylvia is principal. La Pintana is one of the poorest communities (comunas) in Santiago and the whole country. I have heard that Pinochet rounded up the poor people from all over the city and gave them the undeveloped lands around La Pintana, which now, twenty years later, was finally becoming a real community. It has a lot of people (maybe 250,000?) and many of the homes are still quite basic although it is far better off than it was a few years ago, I am told. There are ancient carts drawn by old horses, and people hop on them with groceries, etc. and ride a few blocks, sort of like the colectivos but horse-drawn. You really know you are in the third world there - tourists to Chile often say "this country isn't really third world." But that's because they see the parts of the country that aren't so poor - and even in those parts, the parts of town that are better off.  If they saw La Pintana or other comunas like it, they would realize that this is still third world. The school takes minimal government money and is a place where students can learn about other subjects along with the basics, like equality, freedom, the rights of indigenous peoples, the role of women in society, and the environment. However, the lack of government support (except for some funds for specific purposes) means the school is extremely poor. Many windows and doors lack glass, classrooms have almost nothing in them - old desks, a few posters and maps. The playfield is an uneven dirt square with goals made of scrap wood. I believe the education is good - Sylvia's bright kids went there, and Pedro (who starts university next week) is one of the first students from Hueñicito to attend higher education. The school is in constant need of money and goods, and if anyone is interested in helping I can connect you with the "Amigos de Hueñicito" organization. Later we had lunch and I met many of Sylvia's relatives - in the typical Chilean fashion, each of the women kissed my cheek on meeting. I've certainly never been kissed by so many pretty women in such a short time in my life! Later, we all had a binge of watching the Simpsons in Spanish (the kids and I shared a love of that great comedy, parody, and social satire - "Hola, yo soy Troy McClure"). Then Pedro took me to the airport for my flight home. 43_huenecitos_tn.jpg (4312 bytes)

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Sun. March 7: It was an all-night flight from Santiago to Newark. I grabbed a couple different weekend editions of newspapers to read on the plane and take to friends. A major slowdown in Newark due to a dusting of snow meant I was super-late into Seattle and had been in planes and airports for 24 hours. While I would have loved a longer stay in Chile, I have got to admit, it was nice to get home and see the cats.
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