DH and I just returned from a 10 day trip to Chile. Our 4th time there. Bear in mind DH is a very active 70 year-old, and I am a mostly sedentary 56 year old, with the main purpose of this trip being to visit my side of the family.
We landed Friday morning April 23rd in Santiago’s airport, and aside from some ceiling tiles still not replaced, we could not tell there had been any damage from the earthquake. Immigration, Duty free, Baggage claim, all areas looked the same as when we were there in November 2009. Dogs walking around sniffing all bags and passengers, x-ray of luggage as one exits Customs, - like always. We stayed in Santiago 4 days, toured some of the city, enjoyed empanadas, porotos granados, marraquetas, pisco sour, of course, and nice late summer weather.
On Tuesday morning we started our drive to Chillan, some 500 kms south of Santiago. A drive that should have taken us around 5 hours turned into 10 because we decided to make a side trip to Santa Cruz and eventually Vichuquen. Beautiful drive, but oh so long!
Interior towns show damage, piles of debris outside most old adobe buildings. Very sad. The main highway is amazingly intact, with a few minor detours (from 2 lanes to 1) and the old dirt roads we took show no damage at all.
We finally arrived at our chosen hotel, M. I. Lodge, a few kms before Termas de Chillan. Finding the place at night was easy enough, even though signage could be improved. After turning off the main (paved) road, we turned into a long dirt road, crossed over a little wooden bridge, made another turn into another dirt road, this time one with mainly loose stones which kept hitting the underside of the car [Note to self: next time, definitely rent a 4 wheel drive ].
The sign said Lodge was 200 kms ahead – felt more like 500 in that dark, winding, narrow, loud road. Hotel is on the left, a beautiful sight after such a long drive (640 kms). The Lodge has 9 rooms, all meant for groups of 4 to 8 or more people, with double beds and bunk beds, each room with a private bathroom. We chose to stay there because it advertized outdoor hot tubs, and was close enough to the ski center we intend to visit in August. The gracious owners (Bertrand and Maylis) waited with a delicious dinner for us, even though we arrived past 9 pm. What a treat: french cuisine, our favorite.
We had no specific plans, so Wednesday, after breakfast, we drove to check out the ski center and decided we will return when skiing is an option. The scenery is different from ski centers near Santiago - lots of vegetation, huge trees, volcanoes, country roads – it must be beautiful when it’s all covered with snow.
Time for our best and most memorable 2 hrs of the whole 10 days – zip line time. Or as they call it in Chile, Canopy, and what I believe is known in New Zealand as Fox Flying. Bertrand was our “guide” and instructor. After a short drive to Eco-parque, we donned our harnesses and zipped through trees, climbed up a wall, down a couple of netting structures, balanced ourselves on swaying logs, walked tightrope-like wires. Had a blast!!!!!
Highly recommended. http://www.misnowchile.com/
That night we earned our hot tub soak. What could be better after such an afternoon: as the sun was setting, we were immersed in what seemed like 100 F degree water (40 C), with a glass of wine, looking at the surrounding peaks, then a full moon so bright, it obliterated some of the stars that shone above.
A quick shower and we were treated to probably the best dinner ever: Tomato and Goat cheese appetizer, Salmon crepes in some out of this world sauce, Crème Brule. Thanks Cristina, just the memory of it waters my mouth …. Yum! With a nice bottle of red, of course.
Thursday was the day we drove to Concepcion and the port city next to it, Talcahuano, epicenter of that horrific earthquake 2 months ago. And there is damage to be seen, for sure. Buildings torn in half, piles and piles of debris, roofless houses, crumbled buildings, broken windows, half-standing tall office buildings, collapsed bridges, wavy but intact roads, when they should be destroyed after such violent shakes is truly mind blowing. The economy of the region is a big worry. Small business owners will have a hard time this year. And unemployment, because of the losses small businesses have experienced will be an issue.
And people go about their daily lives, painting facades and nailing shutters in place, sweeping their dirt front yards, walking to the store and children back in school. Resilience. Hope. Grit. All on display. My hat's off to the people of the Bio-Bio region.
Lunchtime on Friday we started our drive back to Santiago. We stopped in Chillan for a little walk around the Cathedral, looked for a place to have lunch (we didn’t find one we liked), drove some more, stopped at a roadside Rest area to have a bite, and were back in Santiago by 7 pm.
We drove almost 1,000 miles (1,542 kms) and we both agree – unforgettable trip.
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