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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

PREPARING FOR THE GREAT ADVENTURE

A wise man travels light on the road trip of life.Wisdom is his map, wonder, his fuel,and a good story, his favorite souvenir."

I went to an information workshop about Chile last week and learned some important facts, like North Americans entering the country have to pay $135 U.S. entry fee. Well, that cuts into my travel fund somewhat but it's just one of those facts. No visa necessary though.

I'm also still trying to find out about the ATMs. According to the tourism people you can only use debit cards with a "cirrus" logo and this presents a problem as my card doesn't have that. And I simply have to be able to access my account while I'm there. I checked the internet and also my bank. Both say the ATMs in Chile accept cards with both Visa and "Plus" logos. But just to be sure I'll visit the Chilean consul this week and double-check.

Ah...there's always some little hassles that travellers must be confronted with and at least these are fairly simple to deal with. No innoculations necessary. Anyway, I've had all mine since I went to Malaysia and I even have some of the stomach medicine left over just in case.

We were shown some beautiful films of Chile at the presentation. In particular I was impressed with the film about Patagonia. Too bad we're only going for two week and will just travel around the Santiago area and Coast...but we do plan to take a bus trip across the border of Argentina to Mendoza, the wine-growing area. And on the weekend I spoke to a man who has spent a lot of time there (he was a mountaineer) and he assured me that we would have a marvelous time as it is quite spectacular.

My good camera has been broken and I neglected to get it repaired til now, debating on buying a digital, but realized I couldn't afford one just yet. So it's going to cost me to have it fixed but I need to take lots of good photos while I'm there. And my travel partner is a very talented photographer too, so Patrick says he's thinking of buying a digital which would be super then we can exchange photos.

I'm on the count-down now...only two and half weeks. It still seems incredible that I'm actually going there. I'm already getting butterflies in my stomach at the thought of it.
Pre-preparations? I'm trying to review what little Spanish I know. Couldn't get into any of the classes so I have my tapes and text books. But I'm still getting muddled up with Greek.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

CHILE: A Sentimental Journey

"Night, snow and sand compose the form
of my slender homeland,
all silence is contained within its length,
all foam issues from its seaswept beard,
all coal fills it with mysterious kisses."
Pablo Neruda

In just a month from today I'll be embarking on a long-awaited sentimental journey to Chile. Who would have guessed a year ago that all this would happen, and all because my special friend was dying of cancer.

I had heard Anibal talk many times about his country. He was an exile here, and always longed for his homeland, just as my dear friend and soul-brother Roberto (my friend in Greece) longed to return to Argentina. Both of them died before their wishes could be fulfilled. And now it's me who is heading to South America to follow in their footsteps. (Although I can't get to Buenos Aires this trip, I do plan on crossing the Andes to Mendoza, Argentina's wine country. As Roberto was so very fond of wine, this will be my tribute to him.)

While Anibal was in the hospital his ex-wife came to visit him from Chile. She and I formed a bond of friendship out of the love we both had for him, as did his daughters and I. My friend Patrick, who had made a special trip from Germany to see Anibal, but who sadly arrived too late, also became friends with Anibal's family. So we were invited to visit Cecilia in Santiago. It was an invitation we both knew we could not refuse.

Anibal had educated me about his country's political history, told me many stories about Santiago and how he'd worked in the shanty towns there, and he introduced me to his beloved favorite poet Pablo Neruda. Now I'm reading more to learn about the history and geography of this fascinating land.

Some facts I've learned:
Chile is the longest and narrowest country ini the S.A. continent (6,965 mi in length and an average of 285 mi in width) Chile has long had a history of democratic governments. (This was shattered in '73 by the CIA-U.S. backed military coup that saw thousands of Chileans killed or 'disappeared' and drove my friend and his family into exile) Chile is a land of extremes -- from the Atacama Desert in the north to the fjords and icefields of Patagonia in the far south of Antartica.

We will visit mainly the central valley and west coastal areas of the country beginning with Santiago, Chile's capital, founded in 1541 by the Spanish Captain Pedro de Valdivia. Santiago was Anibal's home and I am looking forward to retracing his footsteps there, sharing the memories of his life, meeting his family and seeing all the places where he and Cecilia and their children lived, worked and played.

On the Central Coast we'll visit Valparaiso, "Pearl of the Pacific", Chile's premier port, which may soon be dedicated as a World Heritage site. Close by are the seaside resorts of Renaca and Vina del Mar. I believe Cecilia has a beach house at Renaca where she has made a little shrine for Anibal so he can rest in peace and quiet solitude by the sea.

The Nobel Prize winning poet, Pablo Neruda, had three houses: one in Santiago, one in Valparaiso and one in the town of Isla Negra. This will be a highlight of my pilgrimage.

Besides these historic cities and the beautiful Pacific seaside resorts, I hope to visit at least one of Chile's famous vineyards. There are several wine tours offered near Santiago. The central Valley boasts an ideal climate for winemaking and Chilean wines are renown.

We plan to take a bus from Santiago to the Andes to cross the border into Argentina. The Andes Mountains rise to peaks of over 6,600 meters. the landscape is semi-arid in the foothills
with permanent snow-capped mountains. There are beautiful forests, canyons, glaciers, lakes and white water rivers. The city of Mendoza, in the Argentine wine region is a short distance from the frontier with Chile. It was founded in 1561 and was originally an Indian settlement. Besides the wineries, there are spas, and plenty of cultural activities and sightseeing as well as adventure sports. The town has good craft markets and we must sample some of the famous Argentine gastronomy specials such as fried pastries, casserole meat, and the classic tenderloin (beef sandwiches) together with the best beef and pork cuts and free-range farm chicken. And, of course, the wine!

Next week I'm attending an educational workshop about Chile to learn more about Chile's culture, history and entertainment.