Sunday, December 29, 2002

Northern Chile


Hello to everyone!

What can I say...our trip is gradually wrapping up. Dan and I are feeling the pangs of homesickness, and so look forward to seeing family and familiar Californian friends - we're shooting for a late January return.

We are back in Chile, which feels like the closest thing to home. It has been an incredibly warm experience, in more ways than just the weather. I have been blessed with the opportunity to meet many of my Campos relatives, and feel a deeper understanding of my Chilean background and my Father's culture. I feel especially lucky that I have been able to experience this part of my adventure with Dan. It means a lot to me that he too is familiar with all of my family.

We arrived back into Chile in the Northern city Arica. Here, we met my grandfather Fernando for the 4th time in my life. It had been over 10 years since the last, very brief visit. With our language skills sufficiently improved from our February arrival to South America, we were able to communicate on a less superficial level, and I quickly grew very fond feelings toward my 84 yr. old Abuelo. I was surprised and deeply touched by his warmth and genuine happiness to have his gringo granddaughter in his home, maybe because I had felt so estranged by our distance. He lives with his younger wife, Nanni, and her 94 yr. old mother Rosa. Together, the three of them spoiled Dan and I rotten. Each day was a culinary delight, as the women prepared us fine Chilean meals with mucho amor. Before we left, I made it my goal to learn as many recipes as possible (such as creamy tomato soup, Cazuela -a stew, carne marinade, pebre - a spicy tomato-cilantro condiment, chilean salad, and cola de mono - a fantastic Christmas, alcoholic beverage similar to eggnog). I'd like to say that we spent our days touring Arica and learning all about the city, but we preferred hanging around the apartment in comfort and watching cable t.v.. My abuelo did take us on a few driving tours through the city, along the desert coastline, to a small agricultural town for olives, olive oil and other produce with ancient geoglyphs on the hillsides, and to the famous morro, which is a high rocky cliff that provides vast views of the city and the pacific ocean. Other than that, we did spend a few afternoons on the beach, with Dan braving the water, and me lazing in the sand and sun.

Our original plan had been to spend about 4 days in Arica, then rush our way down to Santiago for Christmas, with a few stops along the way. Parting from my family proved a much more difficult task than I had anticipated. 'What is the rush?' - we thought. Dan was the first to suggest that we should stay and spend the holidays in Arica. My grandfather had made it very clear that our presence would be the best Christmas present. It also turned out that my uncle Antonio, his wife Madeleine, and their son Tony (my cousin), were flying in from Atlanta, Georgia for the holidays. I hadn't seen any of them for over 5 years, and this was an added bonus. In addition, I had just met my aunt Loreto (my Father's half sister) for the first time in my life, and she and her fiancee, Lucho were also going to be present for Navidad. My abuelo was very happy to have 2 children and 2 grandchildren together for the 1st time in his life. If only my Dad and family could have been there too....

We had a week to go before Christmas, so Dan and I decided to try and get some of our planned sight-seeing done, and headed South to San Pedro de Atacama for a 5 day tour. The town itself is very small with dirt roads and single level adobe constructions. There are two main streets with tour offices, restaurants, little souvenir shops, and hotels, - all teeming with tourists. San Pedro and surrounds are located in one of the driest deserts in the world, near the border of Bolivia and Argentina. From here, we could see the opposite side of the same Volcano Licancabur we had viewed on our Southwestern 4-day Uyuni tour. Much of the land is flat and barren, but out of nowhere, you come upon beautiful fruitful canyons, moon landscapes, salt plains, indigo blue antiplano lakes, and secluded natural hot springs. In nearby Chuquicamata, we were also able to visit the world's largest openpit copper mine. We explored as many of the natural wonders as we could, enjoying a few nights of the full moon. While I took a guided tour of the striking Valle de La Luna, Dan had his own adventure, touring the area solo on a rented mountain bike. He rode at least 40 kilometers, stopping to climb ridges, search for minerals, and enjoy his solitude. The following day, his foraging ways paid off, when he found his first arrowhead, a perfectly carved, a pointed black treasure.

We returned back to Arica on Christmas Eve morning, after a 10 hour bus ride. We surprised my sleeping uncle, aunt and cousin with our arrival and had an excited catch-up. My 15 yr. old cousin, Tony, speaks less spanish than the both of us, so I think he was very pleased to have some more english speakers around. That night, we shared a Chilean Christmas with all the relatives mentioned above plus 2 neighbors and Lucho's aunt. The festive mood was happily enhanced with pisco, cola de monos, and really good Chilean red wine. We sat for dinner at 11PM, and were opening gifts after midnight. The next day, we found our way to the beach, which was packed with holiday-makers - a true Southern hemisphere Christmas!

The 26th was our last day in Arica. My Uncle Antonio made a delicious seafood ceviche and Lucho had all of us over to his parents house for a BBQ. I'm horrible with goodbyes, so our early morning departure made it easier to say quick groggy goodbyes.
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Back on the road, Dan and I stopped in 2 coastal towns to break up our long journey to La Serena. First, we spent a long afternoon in Iquique, admiring the old center of Georgian style wooden buildings and reading on the beach, before catching a nightbus to Caldera. Here, we caught up on sleep (an impossibility on an uncomfortable 12 hour roadtrip), and visited the most beautiful Chilean beach we have thus far seen at Bahia Iglesa. The sands were white, and the water azure with black stones jutting forth from the bay. The night was topped with a fantastic seafood dinner of grilled dorado fish. Today, we have made it to our destination on a dead Sunday - perfect for catching up on email. We await the arrival of our friend Chris White, an old coworker from Airtreks.

We really, really miss you all!
much love,
Sarah and Dan

New photos are up at http://www.pbase.com/dgsc/chiari and http://www.pbase.com/dgsc/chispa and http://www.pbase.com/dgsc/chiiqq

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