Being a Bolognesi
Editor's Note: This text still needs editing, I rambled so I wouldn't forget details of my trip.
If you can't, or are too lazy to, read, you can watch this video instead.
December 23, 2014
Andrew and I left IND for MIA. Flight delayed til next morning. Stuck in line with a guy who was originally from Uruguay who spent a year studying at Lincoln Trail Community College -- in Robinson, Illinois, where we used to live -- and a bunch of other South Americans. We stayed in the Holiday Inn courtesy of American Airlines and got free meals in the airport.
December 24, 2014
Flew during the day to STGO. Got to STGO around 8 at night, another night in the holiday inn. It was a great evening when we landed and we ate at the Holiday Inn and sports center was on with a solid hour straight of soccer coverage and nothing else.
Christmas. We flew to Calama where we were greeted by Don Freddy, Miguel and his brother Eduardo. Eduardo gave Andrew and I our first Christmas gift, a Chilean National soccer shirt. We then stopped to buy a 14 dollar Sandia, it was the juiciest most amazing Sandia of my life.
We arrived to Miguel’s aunt’s house, which is situated behind their family store and was closed for Christmas of course. We met his aunts, Isabella and Martha, his grandmother and his cousin Marcela and her husband Cesar. We later met their child Emma – named after the offspring of two Friends characters. We had a large Christmas dinner with all of his family including his sister and both of his brothers and their daughters, Fernanda, Antonia, Amelia, Valentina and son Fillipe. All of the youngsters begged Miguel to go on a walk and so the guys took the little kids around the block so they could run around.
Antonia, the youngest girl kept asking Andrew and I for our “manos” so she could jump over the colored blocks on the sidewalk.
We got back to the house and drank the night away sharing dumb youtube videos, a time honored traditions between Andrew, Miguel and myself.
We visited Chiu Chiu a small town situated on the Loa River outside of Calama, with Berto – who had worked for Miguel’s aunt for 35 years – and Don Freddy.
We drove past a cross, which was erected in the desert. This isn’t at all unusual in Chile, a country with 2/3rds of its population being Catholic, but then Miguel’s dad urged Berto to tell us the story behind it, translated by Miguel.
Apparently, in the days of despot Pinochet, a bank robbery occurred with the robbers taking 40 or more hostages to the desert where they were blown up by a pre-planted bomb. It was later discovered that the robbers were Pinochet’s henchmen and the cross honored those lost.
It was a grim reminder of what the country had been. Then we took a step even further back in time.
As an American driving toward Chiu Chiu, it would be easy to write it off as a backwater conglomeration of Chileans that farm the rare fertile ground of the Atacama’s oasis. In essence that’s what it is; but that reality makes the town seem frozen in time.
We parked near the town square – when the Spanish colonized their empire they set up all of their towns with a standard square: a municipal building, a nice park-like square and a church. We started with the church. The bells on the church were from 1819 and the doors were made of cactus. The church was far cooler than the air outside. I attribute that to the thick stucco walls and closed windows.
Maybe I am so used to the beautiful churches of Europe that the small church’s spartan interior had little effect on me. But it was unique and God-centric, how a church should be.
The panoramic view outside of the church was stunning. The “pre-Andes”, as Miguel dubbed them, marched in the distance with the lush oasis in the valley before them and the Atacama Desert everywhere in between.
We explored the Loa’s valley. The water was as clear as the desert sky, and a horse grazed by the riverbed – a photo opportunity that didn’t go to waste.
As we approached the town square another caballo ran through it, saddleless. One of the more random and interesting sites of the trip. Even Miguel was surprised.
We then travelled farther into the desert to see a true oasis by definition. The lake we went to was modest, perhaps a driver and a pitching wedge long and wide. The lake appeared in the driest desert in the world courtesy of underground water channels from the surrounding mountains.
We returned to Calama, took a nap and went to Miguel’s aunt’s home for dinner. His aunts spoke English from their time in Mississippi where they went for college, and all of his siblings spoke English from studying abroad, playing rugby with New Zealanders or watching American TV.
We shared stories of Miguel being a weon and of differences between our countries and our travels. Standard conversation materials for people with shared family but the nascence of our relationship didn’t dampen the conversation.
That night Miguel, Andrew and I shared stupid YouTube videos. We drank and looked to the clearest desert sky and repeated one of our favorite lines, “f******* smoke crack with me, bro.”
December 27, 2014
The next day, my birthday, was spent walking around Calama to the mall and to the market in preparation for the night’s coming cookout. Andrew and I ventured out with Ana and Marcela. Marcela, who had lived in Calama her entire life – except for her studies in Antofagasta – stopped occasionally to greet people she knew, introducing some to Emma.
She took us to the market to get some of Calama’s famous fruit smoothies.
White folks love smoovies.
The fruit in Chile was extremely fresh, partially because of the season and partially because it is grown nearby. In true Chilean fashion, half of the menu was unavailable, so I ordered a mango and milk, Andrew ordered a mango and Ana and Marcella got one with everything. They were all amazing.
We ventured through the market. It was a very open setup with small shops creating aisles and rows to venture through. It resembled the open-air markets of Aix-en-provence, where I studied abroad, but was enclosed by a high roof and was far more hectic. Live animals, including livestock for consumptions and puppies for pets, neighbored shops selling yellow underwear. The yellow underwear was popular during this time of year because if someone buys and gives you yellow underwear and you wear it on NYE, fortune should find you in that year.
We finished our market venture by buying snacks that were popular with Ana and Marcella during their childhood: puffed corn of some kind and colored rice cakes.
They proved useful for breakfast the next day.
That night my family was supposed to be in, but in true American Airlines fashion, they had the exact same delay in Dallas.
The night went on as planned. When Andrew and I came in the party had already started. Don Freddy was barbequing out back and the men of the group joined him, drinking beer.
I was offered red sausages and strips of steak. I ate around ten ounces of steak, a piece of chicken and a bbq sausage and had two beers before dinner even began.
When dinner began it was a second round of steak, chicken, sausage, ribs, beer and pisco sour.
Toasts travelled around the table like a toy train set. Toño, Miguel’s oldest brother kept asking why our beers weren’t empty and then raised his glass and said, “meet you at the bottom, mate,” with his tinged Australian accent.
I was so full it was hard to get drunk, but kept drinking until I was. His aunt’s introduction of explosive tequila – a shot of tequila topped with sprite, sealed with one’s hand and slammed against the table until it bubbled over, inducing a quick intake, got me as buzzed as I needed to be.
Then it was time for cake.
The lights went off and a cake with a single candle and an emergency flare-like candle was marched from the kitchen as “cumpleanos feliz” was sung.
She blew out the candles and began to cut the cake. Then Martha said, “wait, we forgot something.” Then Miguel’s nieces and nephews crowded around me and everyone sang happy birthday as I blew out my candles and emergency flare.
Toasts happened again. This time they were heartfelt.
Miguel’s grandma is the matriarch of the Tapia family. I can’t remember for sure – partially because of the language barrier – but all the evidence suggests she is from Bolivia. She came to Calama with her husband and established their hardware store in a time before state-run copper had made the region rich.
As mining boomed, so did their store. Miners came for any and all needs relating to their work, which funded Miguel’s family for generations. Everyone was thankful for what she had done for them. I would say by all of their success: a son as a surgeon, a grandson as a doctor, another as a medical technician, a granddaughter as a dentist and Miguel, her sacrifice was capitalized on.
Andrew and I then shared a toast expressing how grateful we were to now be a part of their family.
Having travelled to a number of countries, I know that visiting and experiencing a country are two far different things. I once measured the success of my travels by how many “things” I saw. I now measure it by the quality of the authentic experiences. Sharing Christmas and the birthday of a 93-year-old Chilean with three generations of her family ranks high on my list of special experiences.
After the same delay as us, my family finally arrived in Calama. My Mom, Dad, Kate and Henry arrived in Calama as Miguel finished a chicken and avocado sandwich in the airport’s restaurant. Why he needed that was a mystery to Toño, Andrew and myself, who all shared the same, “are you kidding me?” expression as Miguel rebutted with, “I don’t give a shit bra, I want it,” expression and Don Freddy replied with the same stoicism as usual, picking up the tab as he has done for so many years.
Toño greeted my family in a style befitting him, “hello, I am the beautiful one.” We figured out the rental car and went to Calama for lunch with his family.
As we arrived on Calle Sotomayor, my dad was having a hard time parallel parking the nine person, six speed bus, so Cesar introduced himself to the family by doing so with ease.
Introductions were made as food was dispersed. My mom was introduced to the explosive tequila and was taken by little Emma almost immediately. Like with Andrew and I days earlier, conversation was easy and we often came back to how big of a weon Miguel is, which Miguel took in stride.
We then took off for San Pedro, a popular tourist destination in the Atacama.
The drive took a little more than an hour. We spotted our first alpacas grazing the high desert shrubbery on the windy drive through the mountainous desert.
On our way in to town, we passed a sign pointing tourists toward Valle de la Luna, a site we would later visit.
The paved road gradually turned to dirt, which was the most official welcome sign to San Pedro. And as if the Chilean streets weren’t cramped enough by American standards, the dusty streets of San Pedro were equally cramped and more challenging still with pock marked pot holes filling the road.
We used the directions given to us by the hotel manager to navigate the windy streets eventually leading us down a road that seemingly led nowhere. We stumbled on our hotel and rang the doorbell and were greeted by a man who could pass as a Chilean rancher.
As night fell, he welcomed us to what would be our home. And it was a home. A couch and a few chairs with large, comfortable ottomans framed the ground-level living space that was overlooked by the fully functioning kitchen. The living space opened up to an outdoor patio that flanked the pool, which was shared between the mirroring house.
Above all of this was a rooftop patio.
We got situated and then made our way to the car on the stone walkway, greeted on our left by an aqueduct, which was presumably used to water the small plot of corn and the surrounding garden on the right side of the walkway.
We drove into town and found a place that served llama, which Miguel, my mom and myself all tried.
It was surprisingly good and tasted a lot like the beef stew my mom makes at home. We were joined at dinner by the restaurants dog, which I fed further, earning his favor.
That night, Andrew mused about his waning hemorrhoid before we all attempted to fall asleep before our 4:30 AM wake-up call the next day.
4:30 a.m. came sooner than any of us wanted, but to catch the famed El Tatio geysers, the early start was necessary. The night before, the ranch hand gave us the proper guidance on how to arrive at the geysers and even packed us breakfast to take in the car.
San Pedro is situated around 7,900 feet above sea level, but we had to climb another 6,100 feet to reach the world's highest geysers. Naively, we all assumed that we would catch up on lost sleep on the two-hour trek to the top while my dad sacrificed his sleep and drove to the top. My dad did sacrifice his sleep, but we were wrong about ours.
The road had more twists and turns than a trashy Chilean novella. Couple that with my dad's remedial stick shift capabilities all while having to dodge crazy Chilean drivers and it made for a white knuckle experience for all of us.
In between gasps we snagged pictures of the scenic dawn. Mountains encircled us, which made for plentiful, beautiful pictures.
Upon arriving at the entryway, Kate and my Mom were already feeling the effects of the altitude. The rest of us just had to deal with the cold.
Even though we checked the weather and Miguel told us how cold it would be, Andrew, my mom, sister and myself all wore shorts. One other tourist quipped that my mom just forgot her sandals or she would be set for a day at the beach.
I am used to winter and was unaffected by the altitude, so the cold didn’t keep me from seeing the sights.
El Tatio certainly was one of the more spectacular natural places I have seen. Andrew, Miguel, Henry and I all took chances acting like we were farting out a geyser (photos available on Facebook.) In doing so we stumbled upon an alpaca skeleton and tasted the natural salt that rested between the ground and our feet.
Later, Andrew, my dad, Miguel and I all dove into the natural spring pool that sat between the tourist entrance and the main group of geysers.
The pool was large, probably the size of your average neighborhood swimming hole and heated from the ground up. We dug our hands and feet into the sandy, rocky bottom of the pool and occasionally had to quickly retract our appendages for the fear of certain burns.
After drying off and setting down the mountain, I again thought I would catch some sleep, and I did for about twenty minutes. But the scenery in broad daylight was far more stunning than the sunrise that greeted us on our ascent.
The juxtaposition of the high desert mountains falling into the lush, fertile river valleys bursted with the color of a Giverny watercolor.
And the wildlife was equally captivating.
Alpacas roamed with the frequency of deer in a protected Midwestern state park and Llamas grazed in the lazy mountain towns. Flamingos pecked for lunch at the bottom of a stagnant pool left by runoff from the mountain and the scene was the perfect opportunity to stop for a photo.
Andrew, Miguel and I got out. Miguel bent down and gently brushed a small patch of grass that was growing from the dirt and he instructed Andrew to pat the top of the grass with his open palm. Blindly trusting Miguel, Andrew slammed his open hand on the patch of grass. As his hand shot up twice as quickly as it pounded down as he writhed with pain. Miguel and the rest of us let out roars of laughter as Miguel had tricked Andrew into slamming his hand into a prickly desert shrub that appears innocuously soft.
Even after all of these years, Miguel found ways to trick us into things that are just painful enough to be funny, but not so painful that we actually get mad.
Upon our return to our hotel/house, we all slept before lunching and venturing out for Valle de la Luna.
We passed a sign pointing to Valle de la Luna, which was only a handful of kilometers away from San Pedro to the sign we saw earlier on our way in, which we were sure was the right one.
After driving 75 kilometers into this dirt road and seeing no other cars, we were convinced we went the wrong way. It was a great time to test the monopod – a device that extends about five feet that holds a phone and allows you to take mega selfies. We took a group picture in the wind. I peed and watched the wind carry my stream a solid five feet away from its origin and extend another five feet. And Andrew stacked a bunch of rocks, because to him that is a great indicator of human activity and should be used in navigation.
We found the real Valle de la Luna, which was only around 17 km away from San Pedro.
We did awesome stunts in the caves before stunting even harder at a large sand dune. Andrew told a grand mensange to the group and him, Miguel and I all ventured far up the mountain ridge to do more stunts and watch the sunset, leaving everyone else closer to the base of the mountain, but still on the ridge.
Andrew and Miguel rented mountain bikes and did stunts in the desert in the morning while everyone else slept. Noon was approaching and we had to leave soon when Miguel sent a text that made my mom flip, “we are lost.” He was joking, of course, and we left on time.
We arrived in Calama just in time for lunch with Miguel’s family. Tia Leanne played with Emma again. She was amused with the candleholders more than she was with her Christmas gifts.
Lunch was pleasant and similar to the one we had when my family arrived. Martha introduced to Fanschop: Fanta mixed with Corona – a combination that will surely make its way to America.
Then we were off to Viña del Mar via Santiago.
When we landed in STGO we were greeted by a group of empty rental car companies, so we hired a van to take us to Chile’s most prominent costal city. Mom lost her phone in the van, but didn’t realize it until it was too late.
That night we ate dinner at McDonalds, and gambled at the casino. Andrew lost 30,000 pesos, Henry won around 20,000 at blackjack and I won 13,000 at roulette.
Henry’s birthday, NYE, whatever you want to call it, was spent in Valparaiso. We took a boat tour of the bay, where we saw Chile’s parliament building, the 46 hills of Valparaiso and Chilean naval ships.
After the tour, we took the famous Valparaiso elevators to the top of a hill to eat lunch and take pictures.
While everyone rested, I took a run around Viña while proceeding to have the worst diarrhea of my life. Not wanting this to ruin a perfect New Year's Eve, I used every recovery method possible and was just good enough to go out that night.
Dinner was nice, even though I didn’t eat much. We timed our meal with the fireworks to go off around midnight. We also made sure dinner was a short walk from the cove in which the fireworks would be launched.
Miguel and I found a liquor store to pick up some pisco, coke and beer. We all had drinks in hand for the hour preceding the fireworks and watched the sky lanterns float effortlessly over the bay.
Bomberos (firefighters) lined the streets. Ana told us that every Chilean bomberos is a volunteer and sometimes squabble with the police over not getting needed help from Chile’s paid first responders.
But there was no squabbling at this celebration.
Tourists and Chileans alike took pictures with the Bomberos and we took turns taking pictures with Miguel’s festive U de Chile hat.
As the New Year dawned, the Chilean national anthem played from the fire truck and fireworks filled the sky.
As the festive explosions ignited the night, hugs and well wishes were exchanged between respective family and friends.
Perhaps as impressive as the fireworks were the street-performing drummers afterward. Two men with large drums strapped to their backs topped with a foot-operated symbol danced and spun like a washing machine all while keeping a foot-tapping rhythm. This provided the soundtrack for our exit.
My mom, dad, Ana and Don Freddy found a friendly local bar to bring in the New Year while the rest of us ventured to Vive, the large celebration in Valparaiso.
We walked a considerable distance before getting some friendly, much needed advice from a Sheraton bellhop, “go to the flower clock and get on a bus, it will take you to Vive,” he told Miguel. So we did.
We found a bus that would be deemed overcrowded by every reasonable American standard. But this was the first day of 2015 in Chile, so we all boarded. I kept telling Miguel how “la raja” this was prompting a few chuckles from the partially bilingual girls clinging on to the same bar as us. They would be dancing like strippers later anyway, so clinging to a bar was an appropriate harbinger.
When we finally reached our stop, the back door opened, pinning Henry’s arm in an unfavorable position. Thankfully, he managed to hulk his way out of it unscathed and we found our way to the biggest party in Chile.
We set a meeting place and took in the scene. A large, abandoned industrial pier was the dance floor. A large bar ran the length of the peer with one of Valparaiso’s hills in the background. The ocean also met the side of the dance floor with Viña in the background.
Surprisingly unsurprisingly, Andrew was immediately engulfed by a gaggle of girls and dragged to the dance floor. He later emerged unscathed and without syphilis, and we all went to the bar. While Henry was alone, we was confronted by a short Chilean who was pissed off that an American would dare go to the party. Being that we were already outside, Henry skipped the formality of asking to take it there and just offered to fight, causing him to flee.
Kate and Henry turned in before the rest of us and I met my Chilean wife, who goes by Koo Kaa (coca) like cocaine. We exchanged numbers and Miguel, Andrew and I found our way to the exit.
On the way out, Miguel busted some insane dance moves (found on facebook,) we ate cold completos and found the same bus to take us back. It was so crowded that Miguel stood directly over the buses gearshift. The driver had to navigate Miguel’s crotch’s airspace each time he changed gears.
We got back at six in the morning on the first, which made for a late start. Wanting to surf and go to the beach, we travelled north to playa ConCon . There, we surfed all day. I actually caught some pretty impressive waves. A Chilean girl from Casablanca named Nosina (I can only do the phonetic spelling,) taught me a thing or two about catching waves and helped me catch even more impressive waves.
Traffic on the way back was unbearable – it took about three hours to go 15ish miles – but the scene was fantastic. The sun set over the Pacific with the lazy beach town providing scenes of rich Chileans walking their dogs or small shops making their last sales of the day.
Se termina la noche
Kate and Henry’s last day.
We set out for Casablanaca on the second in search of Chile’s finest wines. We found a large Viña there and scheduled a tour of the grounds. But before we went, we had time to kill. So I used the slowmo function on my iPhone to videotape Andrew’s awesome and inappropriate stunts. The tour was cool and led us to the wine tasting, my favorite part.
I GOT REALLY SICK. THE END
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