Thursday, December 22, 2011

A trip to the Coast

“A child who does not play is not a child, but the man who doesn't play has lost forever the child who lived in him and who he will miss terribly.” Pablo Neruda

We rented a car this week for the first time in our travels.  We haven’t had our own wheels since Denver and it felt so freeing to jump onto the highway and speed out of town.  Danny was happy to be driving manual again (memories of the old turquoise Honda) and our only hitch was it took a day to figure out how to put the car into reverse! (Danny was very creative at finding ways to pull around in a circle if we made a wrong turn.)

Walking through the palm forest
About 110 kilometers outside of Santiago we stopped at Parque Nacional La Campana and hiked out into a palm forest.  We brought our lunch from home and picnicked under a huge 800 year-old palm tree.  The views of the valley (many of the farms were vineyards) and surrounding mountains stretched out below us from our lunch spot and we all felt grateful to be away from the tight streets and tall buildings of Santiago.  Harper and Cal happily ran the trail collecting their treasures and keeping their eyes peeled for flowering cacti.

Palm trees and cacti!

We spent three days in a sleepy town on the coast of Chile called Maitencillo.  It was a wonderful getaway from Santiago and Danny and I definitely noticed how happy our kids were to be out of the city.  We rented a cabana on the beach with a kitchen and pretty much stayed put building sandcastles, running our feet through the chilly water and watching the huge waves crash at the shore.  The water was cold but clear and the surf was enormous.  Although the beach was practically empty, the lifeguards kept a close watch on us- not even letting our kids fill up their buckets at the shore without Danny or myself there to guard against the undertow.  It was much different beach time than in Ecuador, where the water was so refreshing and warm, but we loved it all the same.
I think that is a cherry in Harper's mouth
Playing on the beach with our little cabana in the background
One afternoon we took a drive to the towns of Cachagua and Zapallar, the area we now refer to as Lifestyles of the Chilean Rich and Famous.  We accessed the public beach and walked the shoreline for a couple hours, walking down a picturesque rock path along the ocean.  The surf pounded the rocks along the side and ocean spray created a mist in the air.  It was paradise.
On the other side of the path were maybe the most beautiful homes I’ve ever seen up close- not the monstrosities you see along California’s southern ocean side, but conservative mansions built in classic styles of natural materials etched into the cliffs with winding gardens and rocky paths wrapped around them.  I could have stayed all afternoon peering into these places and checking out their decor!

If I had to pick one...
The best oceanside public walking trail ever!
Harper, Cal and Danny however were far more interested in the view out into the ocean where a rocky island sat across from the shore.  Covering the banks and rocks were tons of seabirds and most exciting for us was our first spotting of PENGUINS!  There was a docile little group of penguins on a triangular rock and we first weren’t sure what kind of seabirds they were.  Thankfully a nice British couple strolled up that same time and shared their binoculars with Harper.  We think they were Humboldt penguins but we haven’t done any further research online to confirm.  They weren’t moving around much besides preening and sunning themselves, so hopefully our next batch of penguins will be a little more active.  Also out on the rocks was a great tide pool filled with urchins and wavy green algae.  We all loved jumping from rock to rock inspecting each new crevice we found.

Penguin and pelican spotting

Tide pools

On the way home from Maintencillo we took a different route and drove down the shore along the coast.  The views were spectacular and we wanted to stop at every turn off.  Our goal was to arrive in time in a town called Isla Negra to visit the former home, now museum, of the poet Pablo Neruda.  He built his home on a rocky cliff above the ocean and filled it all kinds of art, collections and trinkets from his travels.  It was funky and artistic.  I was especially taken with the rock murals on the walls, one in particular above a fireplace, and all the antique furniture.  Harper liked the butterfly and seashell collections and Danny's favorite was the way the whole house was designed to feel like a boat, one of Neruda's passions.  One hallway was filled with ships in glass bottles on shelves set in front of a ocean-facing window- making you feel like they were all out at sea.  Really cool.
I scream, you scream, CAL SCREAMS for ice cream!

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