American Southwest Family Vacation

We followed historic Route 66 on our way to see the Grand Canyon, the Petrified Forest, the Painted Desert, plus much more in New Mexico and Arizona.

End of Tour Summary: Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Here are our stories from two and a half years of living in Saudi Arabia while exploring the region.

Excursions to Oman

On two different trips, we strolled Muscat, hiked Wadi Shab, and sailed a dhow through the fjords of Musandam.

Our Expedition to Jordan

Highlights included tracing the steps of Indiana Jones into Petra, following Lawrence of Arabia into Wadi Rum, and floating in the Dead Sea.

Our Adventures in Sri Lanka

Safaris to spot leopards and elephants, swimming in the Indian Ocean, sipping tea in the mountains, and several more!

Thursday, March 31, 2005

A visit to Neruda's La Chascona

A very lazy morning. The sky is overcast again. We were on the move by 0900, and the sun is still kind of low. Breakfast was an omelet with bacon slapped between two pieces of bread. We took the /link/ metro over to Universidad de Santiago from Universidad de Chile. For some reason, we thought we were already there, as we stopped reading after “Universidad.” It’s a hike, but quick by metro. We were able to communicate our intentions to the cashier and secure two tickets on the morning of the /link/blog 5 April to Mendoza. Two other English speakers, blondes with no Spanish skills, somehow got their tickets faster than us.
We've got a ticket to ride.
Back on the Metro after scouting out the bus terminal, we rode it to the end of the line. There are two ticket prices, based on the time of day, but we always seem to get the cheaper ones for $340 each. The ticket-taking gate machines are pretty standard but just look different enough to make you look foolish trying to put your ticket into a seam instead of the slot. We exited the metro at Escuela Militar, where a military academy dominates the area.

We walked for a few minutes to /link/ Parque Arauco, a Western style mall with major brands. We got there around 10:30 and I said “my goal is to be outside and done by 11:00/” Well, after about an hour of walking the mall trying to find electronics stores that sell digital cameras, I had two finalists. The exact model I had lost for, get this, $550,000 (nearly $1,000 USD, I paid maybe $250 for mine) or a 4 mega-pixel camera with no optical zoom. With neither choice giving me warm fuzzies, we hit on a third option: I wait to get the camera I want at home and we use Kacey’s for the rest of the trip. It’s fairly easy to buy more compact flash storage cards and I’d be able to use them again…unlike the cameras I would purchase here that are so far behind the technology curve back home yet still cutting edge here.

So we settled on that plan and got McDonald’s (It’s a mall, and we needed food right now!) for lunch. We walked back to the metro and rode it to Baquedano and hopped off, then walked up to /link/ Pablo Neruda’s third house for a tour. The dude was a little obsessed by ships and the ocean, so much so that he designed “La Chascona” to incorporate many naval details for his mistress’s house. She was a woman with wild hair, which is what the house’s name reflects. There was also a neat water feature where water flowed from a pool into a canal that ran behind some amphitheater seats and divided them into single seats for each level, angling into a series of parallel lines that fed a fountain-type tube. /link/? At Neruda’s, we also saw his Nobel Prize. But it was kinda weird being in his place without him being there, you know? I mean, he’s dead and the place looks roughly the same, or so we were told.

We straggled down the sleeping-dog lined streets, first to the zoo (which we decided to pass on), then came across the Parque Metropolitano, where we rode /link/ the funicular up to see our lady of the cellphone towers. The real name is Virgen de la Inmaculada Concepcion, but it’s surrounded by ugly lights, radio towers, and antennae. /pic/? Kacey got it in her head that we should walk around the park, which is some 1800 acres (goes without saying that that didn’t last too long). We rode the funicular down, listening to UB40’s Red Red Wine on the radio, then cut through the bohemian area of Bellavista by way of Pio Nono. We patted out stomachs to pretend we were full as an answer to the waiter’s solicitations from the restaurant doorways. But it was getting on in hunger time, so we each got an /link/ empanada from a street vendor. The pico de gallo was fantastic. We strolled down Merced from the bridge where we bought our breaded snaks, up to the Basilica de la Merced. It’s huge, it’s old (1735) and had a little museum that we stopped into for 15 minutes. Just a little farther down the road, we stopped into /yelp/ Café Caribe, the other café with legs place. The women weren’t quite the same caliber in their bright, tight, and short green dresses. I had the cappochina, Kacey had the café frio.


After our caffeine recharge, we again found ourselves in Plaza de Armas. It’s a very busy place and my feet were feeling a little hot and swollen, so we hunted down an open bench and sat there people-watching. About 5 minutes later, an elderly gentleman sat next to me and struck up a conversation. The usual “where are you from/going to; isn’t our country great/beautiful; don’t go to these areas at night” kind of stuff. He was a type-setter at Santiago’s major newspaper, but with technological changes in the process, he’s been relegated to human spell-checker/proofreader. He’s here waiting for his daughter and for the classical music concert warming up on our left. All the while, he’s telling us how the younger generations are more criminally inclined as we see them scoping us out, but keep on walking. He advised us that most areas are dangerous, as in possible weapons, at night; the most interesting of which was Bellavista. Apparently, at night “it is full of prostitutes…and homosexuals.” He seemed intent on emphasizing this in those exact words and a pause after “prostitutes” which he indicated could be as young as 12 years old. We chatted until around 7pm, at which time we bid el señor “Adios!”

We walked back to the hotel, decided on dinner, and arranged a taxi to the airport for $12,000. We’d paid $30,000 on the inbound trip and sat there in the cab wondering if someone just scammed us and left us there in the cab while they ran away with our money since there was such a price difference. We also reserved a room (the same room, actually), on 4 April for our transit /link/blog through Santiago to Mendoza. For dinner, we got on the metro and rode it to El Golf. The restaurant of choice was /yelp/ Happenings, serving Argentine and Chilean fare. Our waiter was very attentive, so much so that the manager came over to address us in English and tell us that the waiter was worried that we didn’t understand him. No problema, we said. The steak at this place was absolutely fantastic. The empanadas were also delicious, the wine was quite good, and the flan with caramel was just this side of amazing.

 We paid for our dinner and caught the last (or very close to it) metro train back at 10:20pm. I think we got back to the room around 11pm. Arriving at the restaurant when we did (8-8:15) worked out well because the place filled up around 9pm and we were able to linger and relax at the local pace, even if it was a little earlier than they do it. We stayed up until 1am packing and watching the Full Monty ending (with subtitles) and writing about 5 pages in my moleskine journal before getting so tired my body crashed.

Some of the items I think that I missed while writing:
- The funicular had a Sprite logo endorsement on the side of it like it dreamed of racing in NASCAR.
- There were even dogs lying around at the top of the hill, I’m not sure if they caught a ride or walked the road up there. We saw half a dozen runners on the incline, which was just steep enough but not too steep.
- The smog over the Andes really didn’t do much in the way of making it a scenic vista. The cold weather keeps the pollution trapped in the valley and only clears out for a few hours when it rains. Best time to see the Andes here is summer because everyone leaves town and pollution is lower/less pervasive.
-The river here now is very low, since all the mountain snows are in their non-melting phase, but the water is kinda grimy looking right now…but low all the same.
- The people in town look very European. The old man in the plaza said South America is typically 20% European and 80% local, except in Chile where the numbers are reversed. At Neruda’s, there is a painting of an old woman who had a moustache to signify she was of European descent (natives don’t have facial hair).
- It really didn’t help my trust in the locals when my camera got stolen, which has somewhat affected my take on Santiago. When we went to dinner, we went sans bags and I felt we blended a little better, but still not enough to blend in.
- I still haven’t gotten the conversion to dollars down yet, so my math is all over the place. Such a deal? Maybe.
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Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Arrival in Santiago

At 10 minutes past midnight, we finally got rolling. My eyes are so dry, my eyelids feel like they are glued open. Thankfully, I have Visine. Unfortunately, we are seated behind a kid who seems to have devoured all the Keebler elves and wants everyone to know how loud he can screech. I slept intermittently until 0830 CST.

I awoke to a flight attendant delivering breakfast with the kind of authority that would make a German headmistress glow with pride. A crisp “Snack!” command removed all doubt that we had a choice in the matter, and we reluctantly accepted our meal of dried bagel chips, “natural flavored” Craisins in the strawberry variety, and a muffin bar that was slightly more moist than the /amazon/ Pemmican bricks we used back in Boy Scouts. I’m still not quite sure how a craisin can be natural, much less strawberry flavored.
We’re set to land at 0930 CST or 1130 Chilean local time. We stood in line until around noon to pay for a reciprocity payment to Chile - $100 USD. Picked up our bags, stepped into the terminal, and all of a sudden had three new best friends who were all taxi drivers as luck would have it. The most tenacious one helped us find _the_ ATM, then showed us to a cab. The ride into town was $30,000 Chilean, but so worth it. The streets are busy like any city, but tight and narrow off the main roads.
Downtown Santiago

Our /yelp/ Hotel Vegas at 49 Londres is quaint and nice. The whole area is home to some sweet architecture which we can see from our room on the top floor. After a little relaxation time, we were off to explore the city. The first destination was /link/ Cerro Santa Lucia, which is kind of like a fortress on a hill. I think I saw this place on /link/ The Amazing Race a few weeks ago. Some of the steps were quite steep, which is probably what deterred all the teenagers we saw making out on the park benches nearby. The Neptune fountain was the most picturesque venue in the area, which probably looks better when looking up to it instead of down and out over the city. By the way, Cerro Santa Lucia does offer a good panorama of the city with smog covered mountains in the distance.


We headed north from there to /link/ Rio Mapocho, which was rather unimpressive. Everything around us gives me the feeling of being in San Francisco in the fall, but with really misspelled signs. We followed the river to /link/ Mercado Central, which I also remembered seeing on the Amazing Race. Odd to think that only a few ago I saw this place on TV and now I’m here, thousands of miles from home but we’re not out of my comfort zone. We had dinner at /yelp/ Donde Augusto because their floor-man was much more gentile and less pushy than his competitors. Grilled salmon and rice with Tres Medallas 120 Sauvignon blanc d.o. valle central – Santa Rita. Good wine, a view of the market from the balcony, and lively conversation. Perhaps more unusual was that a guy who worked there, but not our waiter, said goodbye and shook our hands even after we had left the restaurant. Who does that?

From Mercado Central, we meandered towards the Plaza de Armas. On the way, we stopped in to /yelp/ Café Haiti for some “coffee with legs.” The place is known for hiring attractive girls and making them wear skirts. Like Starbucks if it were owned by Hooters. I had a café frio, quite good. We got got about a block further before we saw a gelato store, so we had to get that too.
I cannot see how this means "café frio"
We walked around the area a little more, listening to what we were able to determine was an evangelical music assembly. I took a good number of photos of the /link/ Catedral Metropolitana and Museo Historico Nacional at night; I had to play with the camera settings to get a couple of pretty sweet photos.

From there, we walked over to Plaza de la Constitucion, which had some huge Chilean flags outside, which look a lot like Texas flags.

/image/ chile & texas flags.

We saw even more dogs just lying around at the plaza. Throughout the day, it seemed like we would pass one every 15 minutes, either passed out on the sidewalk or lying in the shade. This plaza is no different, with half a dozen dogs lying around on the grass. And then a guy came by and fed them some kibble and walked away. The school kids (easily detected because they were still in uniform at 8pm) didn’t get nearly as much adult attention. Most were in groups hanging out, but some had paired off. We saw one guy who looked like he was trying out for lead singer with the Cure. But to his credit, he did have three chicas hanging out with him at the school supply store. We started out walk back to our hotel, stopping by the Plaza del Liberador O’Higgins, which looks to be the site of a new apartment complex.

On our way to the hotel, a guy stopped us to ask directions. Not sure why, since we don’t look the most local. But about 5 minutes later, I found out why. My camera was missing from my slightly unzipped messenger bag. I’d grown a little tired and placed it in the most convenient pocket, both for me and the thief. It’s actually the first thing I’ve ever had stolen, as far as I can remember. Which in itself is somewhat remarkable, considering how many places I’ve been to and stood out as a tourist. But still, not a great start to a very scenic vacation. But I had been looking into buying a new camera and only lost one or two photos that I can’t replicate with a new camera tomorrow. Hopefully, the thief won’t be able to find a battery charger (it’s an older model not carried any more). Looks like it’s a trip to the mall tomorrow, because the last thing I want to do is buy a camera from a guy in a back alley that already has my name on it.

For the most part though, we just wandered around under the overcast sky thinking that we could get better pictures tomorrow. Many of mine are similar to Kacey’s, but her camera is nicer and still in our possession, so it’s not like the day’s gone forever. But complaining and dwelling won’t get it back, so it’s time to enjoy the rest of the trip.
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Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Our South American Adventure Begins!

In our first international trip together, Kacey and I decided that we'd visit several locations in Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay.




Over all, it was a good trip (we saw penguins in the wild!), tamped down by the realities of the world (both of our cameras were stolen). And that's just one part of the adventure...




South American Tour - 2005
Date
Itinerary
30 Mar 2005
Pensacola, FL to Santiago, Chile
31 Mar 2005
Santiago, Chile
1 Apr 2005
Santiago, Chile to Punta Arenas, Chile
2 Apr 2005
Penguins in Punta Arenas, Chile
3 Apr 2005
Punta Arenas, Chile
4 Apr 2005
Santiago, Chile
5 Apr 2005
Santiago, Chile to Mendoza, Argentina
6 Apr 2005
Rafting in Mendoza, Argentina
7 Apr 2005
Wine Tasting in Mendoza, Argentina
8 Apr 2005
Mendoza, Argentina to Buenos Aires, Argentina
9 Apr 2005
Buenos Aires, Argentina
10 Apr 2005
Buenos Aires, Argentina
11 Apr 2005
Day trip to Colonia, Uruguay
12 Apr 2005
Buenos Aires, Argentina to Iguazu, Argentina
13 Apr 2005
Iguazu, Argentina
14 Apr 2005
Iguazu, Argentina
15 Apr 2005
Iguazu, Argentina to Buenos Aires, Argentina
16 Apr 2005
Buenos Aires, Argentina to Pensacola, FL
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End Of Tour Summary: Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

We spent two and a half years in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on our second tour in the Foreign Service with the US Department of State. As you migh...

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