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Report from the road: Peruvian Amazon and Chile

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I´m in lovely lively Santiago de Chile right now, so I'm just going to post my emails here for the moment; my apologies already for any lack of clarity!

Airport, Lima, Peru, 11:35PM. I have a secret meeting: counter 53 at midnight. Will I make it to Chile, or am I doomed to spend my life in Lima airport´s food court? Hmmmmmm....They´ve offered me vouchers and such for switching my plane, so what´s really supposed to happen is that I get to Santiago a little later (a good thing; originally it was 5:35AM) and get maybe a free hot chocolate. (Yes, it is hot choc weather here!)

I´m just in from a wonderful three days in the Amazon (Iquitos, Peru, part.) Just standing on the top step of the Explorama dock and breathing in felt like a homecoming. I´m not sure why I´m so in love with mosquitoes, humidity, and such, but there´s nothing like the rainforest. Walking through the huge trees, vines, and plants that we´re only used to seeing indoors, seeing the tiny colorful poison dart frogs and the cool hairy tarantula and the ¨"hey, guys, I´m a pacifist, let me alone" army ants is an incredible experience, but there´s more: blue morpho butterflies, huge lizards, and...(drumroll please)

I caught my first piranha! My first fish ever, in fact, but then, I only fish for piranha. I mean, really, fish without teeth? What´s up with that? Actually, I caught two, the second one even bigger. (Okay, it was nine inches.) We had gotten stalled in the boat, but after the piranha fishing a nice man in a small motorboat towed us; he wasn´t going that way, but there are some lovely friendly people in la selva.

And...the pink dolphins were showing off! It was a gorgeously blue sky day, and the dolphins were showing the kind of pink that makes you think of carousels and cotton candy. Just beautiful, and of course they were having fun showing off just when the camera wasn´t ready. But I think there are a few glimpses.

SANTIAGO

This could be a long historical and political polemic, or it could be about Bip!ing one´s way around a city in the sunshine with one´s very little Spanish, or even a recounting of the superb weather: sunny and 50´s, thankewverramuch.

But I have to start with an ode, or a declaration, or something, on:

THE EMPANADA

I don´t even have the words to tell how good this was; it was like a poem for your mouth. Flakiest pastry crimped turnover of incredibly fresh huge shrimp, cheese, and a bit of herbs. It was just insane. And the conger eel that followed was delicious, too.

This was all at the Central Market, Mercado Centrale, a mostly fish and some veg market that also, sublimely, has restaurants all over. (Similar to Reading Terminal, but, well, as much as I love the Reading Terminal, I want to bring Mercado Centrale home with me.) Every restaurant has someone outside to call people in; the Tio Willy´s guy (the place recommended by my guide of this morning) has a huge mustache and looks like he should be singing opera.

I got here yesterday, on, guess what, my original flight! A LAN airlines dude had to whisk me through the airport in order to make it, so that was fun. (And much quicker than usual.) I got to my hotel at 7:30AM and pretty much collapsed, but then bounced up in the afternoon and found my way to the Metro (subway) with its five different lines and its Bip! (yes, it has an exclamation point) card system. Without getting too lost, I made it to Plaza de Armas, the main square, and the pedestrian walkways around. As the day was beautiful (I am so blessed with good weather: Santiago in winter is supposed to be gray, cold, and rainy) I decided next to go up to the highest point (statue of Mary) on the funicular. Thanks to an Edgar Allan Poe (happy version) dude saying the three loveliest words in the English language (which are, ¨"May I help?", of course; what were you thinking?) I got to the funicular and up the steep hill in time for the sunset, and watching the Andes snow turn a soft glowing pink in the reflected light.

This morning I got back on the Metro (it´s very, um, social during rush hour) and went to meet my tour guide for the Human Rights Tour (i.e. Pinochet history). Just as a recap for the young´uns among you, General Augusto Pinochet took over Chile in a military coup against its president, Salvador Allende, September 11, 1973 and then proceeded to have a lot of people disappeared, tortured and killed. (A favorite was dumping in the Andes lakes from planes, but sometimes they just added extra bodies to the cemetery plots.) Nixon and Kissinger were backing him up, and there are those who might say that the crime Nixon should be most remembered for isn´t Watergate.

Francesca, my guide, was a font of information. Usually I go alone with a guidebook, but I´m really glad that I took this tour. I know it probably doesn´t sound like a vacation to most people, but it´s fascinating stuff.

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