Week of June 20, 2004
We resumed our trek southward and decided to detour onto a dirt road and into a National Park, Pan de Azucar. Not quite the National Park that we are used to, but for South America it was beautiful, wild and open. And, the fact that as we were negotiating the washboard road (Cindy absolutely hates those type of roads), we spied a Zorro Andino contemplating life alongside of the road. We stealthily stopped Cindy and we watched the "fox" watch us for a breath-holding minute.
We made it to a little camping spot outside of the fisherman village that the park is named for and we walked the entire town in less than a minute. We saw no more than three people and no other signs of life. Supposedly, the village gets "crowded" in the summer months (January - April). I am sure the town goes wild...
Onward to La Serena and Coquimbo (Ko-keem-bo), other beach towns that take on entire new lives during the summer months. Gerson and I had dizzies of deja vu because it reminded us of Huntington Beach to Newport Beach. The shoreline stretch has sloping sandy beaches, curling waves, condos, rental cabanas, a bird refuge/marsh, a river jetty, small restaurants, etc.
Add to this that the entire beachfront is in the process of being reconstructed with a large pedestrian sidewalk, a wide bike/roller-blading lane and ample parking - if you know Huntington and Newport, you can see the similarity. The only differences were the homes are still affordable and there were a few rather large boats run aground on the shore.
As it happened, Gerson enjoyed his official entry into the 40-something age group on Friday, June 25th (he turned the big 4-0). He celebrated as any old man would...he slept in, had his coffee, took a long walk along the beach, consumed a nice lunch and watched a Euro Cup soccer game on our TV. And, I did not nag at him all day...
Happy Birthday to G!
We stayed in La Serena for a few days and had quite the scare that our laptop might need an operation (as in the removal and replacement of its hard drive). According to the supposed "computer" technician, he thought our operational system was failing. But, with us being rather hardheaded, we thought we would seek another opinion, or at the very least, try to upload the website at another, better equipped internet facility and to see what would happen.
Well, if you are reading this, you know what happened. The computer worked like a charm and it appears that the only thing wrong with the laptop was its not getting along with the other (very slow) internet machine.
Leaving La Serena and finding another national park, this one a UNESCO Biosphere Preserve, we ventured into Fray Jorge National Park. Another jarring dirt road brought us to yet another incredible desert/mountain shoreline that was topped by a cloud forest.
Our next stop was another National Park, Valle de Encanto (Enchanted Valley), home of the El Molle and the Diaguita peoples which existed here over 4000 years ago. Seemingly cultures without a written language, they left their mark via petroglyphs, pictoglyphs and piedras tacitas. And, besides all the history, it was a beautiful, you might even say "enchanting" valley to trek through.
We made it to a wonderful beach city called Pichidangui (Pee-chee-dang-gy) and settled into a very nice campground for a couple of days. We were fortunate to camp next to a fun foursome from Santiago that were enjoying their maiden voyage with their trailer. Within moments, Gerson and Francisco (the trailer's proud owner), were swapping suggestions and investigating the workings of Cindy and the new kid on the block.
We must have looked underfed because it was insisted upon that we join the group for lunch, so we casually dashed over and lined up for a wonderful steak, pasta and wine meal accompanied by free-flowing and humorous conversation. I have a feeling that we will find this foursome again when we visit Santiago.
We wandered around the exquisite little Pichidangui which comes alive during the summer months. Being only two hours from Santiago, this area is the mecca for the Santiagans and it is definitely one of our favorite towns we have visited. It is lively but quaint, the people friendly and outgoing and the town has just enough dirt roads and salt-water worn bungalows to keep it humble. We do not expect that to last long, but for our visit, it was charming.
Our next stop for a few days was just north of Vina del Mar/Valparaiso in a small enclave called Renaca. We found a camping area that is normally closed for the "winter" but the owner appreciated our business and let us have the lush grass covered camping area to ourselves.
The 120 km drive down the coast was a lengthy cruise due to our going very slow to enjoy the spectacular deja vu view of this side of Chile. If you could wrap up Laguna Beach with the Big Sur coast and Carmel and send it to shores of southern Oregon, you would have all that we saw in that small area. What a magnificent landscape!
Staying in Renaca, just north of Vina del Mar, allowed us comfortable access to the neighboring cities and a nice, cozy "summer" town to wander around. In Renaca, we enjoyed the uncrowded beach and watched several groups of sand-carvers applying their trade to the beach shoreline.
We spent a day in Vina de Mar and other than just strolling among the buildings and through the construction (a very growing city), we spent some time in the Museo de Arqueologico e Historia Francisco Fonck. This museum is dedicated to the history of the island Rapa Nui, or as we are more familiar with, Easter Island, as well as Chile's history. This is the island where they found hundreds of huge stone monoliths carved in homage to deceased family members.
And fortunately, while we were in Renaca, we located a great little "sports bar" that just happened to have the huge mega screen that just happened to be showing the Euro Cup and Copa Libertadores futbol games. Many an hour was spent a hootin and a hollerin with the Chilean locals for the various teams. One particular futbol marathon day reminded Gerson of his entrance into "middle age" and thus he was, shall we say, a tad spent the next day.
Neighbor to Vina del Mar is the port city of Valparaiso. As shown above, Valparaiso's harbor is significant enough to host the USS Ronald Reagan as well as the sizeable Chilean Navy. We were told to be careful of taking pictures of the Navy ships as it could be seen as suspicious activity, so we were rather subtle in our tourist photography.
Valparaiso is a maze of streets built up and around the steep hillside that creates the prominent border for this city. Along with the warren of precipitous avenues and the web of charming cobblestone streets, there are many "ascensores" that were built between 1883 and 1916. These "ascensores" are trolley-like lifts that convey you up the steep hills and into the various neighborhoods as opposed to hiking up the million or so steps to the same areas.
As is our wont, we wandered around Valparaiso for many hours and for many kilometers and soaked in the color (the building/home colors are hard not to notice), the smells (many small bread shops and eateries abound) and the people (lots of mural and mosaic artists were decorating bare walls). It was a pleasant way to spend a sunny Saturday. And how was your Saturday?