We had some chores to take care of in Santiago before Richard’s mom arrived for a visit. Santiago de Chile (in case you get confused with which Santiago I am speaking of) has a population of around 5 million people. Manicured parcels of grass fill the boulevards, palm trees line the streets, and shiny Mercedes, BMW’s and Porsches speed through highway traffic like race cars with exhaust notes echoing through the underpasses. The rest of the traffic is made up of the 60 different vehicles types available in Chile, many of which are Chinese-made and have entertaining names such as BYD (Build Your Dreams– no seriously, that’s what it stands for), Chery, Foton, and SsangYong (the maker of the coveted Actyon Sports). The multi-laned ring road around the city made driving a breeze most of the time but the abundance of no left turn signs was a navigator’s nightmare.
I apologize for the atrocious iPhone 4 photo shot through the dirty window of the moving truck, but this was our most favourite billboard of all time. “No pants Sundays, be yourself.”
There are malls everywhere in Santiago. There is even a shopping centre called Mall Sport, fully kitted out with a wakeboard, boat and jetski show pond in the courtyard, outdoor wave pool for bodyboarding, a monstrous indoor climbing facility and American clothing companies such as Vans, Nike, and Patagonia. The ubiquitous Starbucks coffee shops made an appearance once again. We entered several of the shopping centres (usually to kill time while the truck was getting some TLC at Monster 4×4) and immediately felt like bums. Patrons gliding through the shops were made up as though they were attending a wedding. A delicious perfume-y fragrance wafted throughout the open-air walkways. I’m not going to lie, we kind of liked it…. especially when our plan was to sleep in a parking lot that night.
After catching up on the North American film offerings (a.k.a we watched the new Star Wars movie) and experiencing more than our fill of window shopping, we camped out in the dirt lot of the Santiago Metropolitan Park with six other French RV’s and a long-term resident who lives in this brightly painted bus.
As Christmas was quickly approaching we made several trips to our favourite grocery store to stock up. Apparently every Chilean and their abuela in the greater Santiago area had the same idea. On one occasion there were literally no shopping carts to be found. We elbowed and pushed through the crowds, filling our shopping cart (eventually we found one) with supplies for our Christmas feast. The meat counter swarmed with shoppers and all that remained in the baked good section were a few crumbs. We waited patiently in the check-out line for about half an hour, and not so patiently for at least another half an hour after that.
The next day we met Richard’s mom, Louise, at the airport. It was Christmas Eve. While we waited, I was reminded of the opening scene from the movie Love Actually– the heart-tugging airport scene. It is a magical place. A half-moon shaped crowd of people gathered in the arrivals section which was gated in order to allow the passengers to move through the airport with their various pieces of luggage. People smiled, their eyes filling with tears as they saw their loved ones. They hugged. They cried. One woman confidently strode through the crowd with a party hat and amazing neon-coloured plastic costume glasses. How could you not tear up in this place of raw emotion and happiness?! Then it was our turn! We saw Louise through the crowd and ran after her, hugged her tight, took her suitcases and crammed ourselves into the front seat of Little Red.
Christmas in Chile was kind of an odd feeling. While there were traditional decorations, Christmas carols, wrapping paper and snow-flake decals in the shops, it was sunny and almost 30 degrees Celsius outside. Young Chilean girls wore cutoff jean shorts, belly shirts and platform sandals. There were blow-up Santa Clauses straddled on apartment patios and gift bags with reindeer and snow hanging in the shops, but there was no snow to be seen other than a tiny bit of a dusting on the Andes, which were barely visible from the city due to a smoggy haze. To up the ante of our Christmas ambiance we fled to the mountains. Our cozy wood cabin in the little ski town of Farellones was the perfect fit.
The owner of the group of cabins, a friendly guy named Fernando, informed us of a patio party taking place the next night. It would probably be loud. He asked if we would like to move to another cabin outside of the party zone. We said no, it wasn’t a big deal. So he gave us all free passes to take the chair lift to the top of the ski hill! There was a big downhill mountain biking event on, so we had a blast watching the fully geared up bikers make their way down the rough single-track below.
After a very relaxing and enjoyable time in Farrellones we headed to another AirBnB cabin in Cajon del Maipo, where we made pizza and stove-popped popcorn (and salads!) and shared the couch for multiple movie nights.
There were two wee little felines roaming the property. Mostly they just infiltrated the cabin and meowed at us until we gave in to their demands. During the dark of the night one of the cats jumped up onto the hood of the truck and launched itself at Louise’s bedroom window, crashing its way into the cabin. We were unsure how to interpret this desperate act, but all became clear a few days later.
We were packing up on our last morning in the cabin while the cats meowed at us like a broken record and went for the full trash bag of scraps. We felt we had been pretty generous to these little rascals during our stay and they were working our last nerve, so we locked all of the doors and returned to the task at hand. Richard went outside about fifteen minutes later and saw one of the cats walking cautiously out from underneath the cabin, calling her KITTENS out to her. I guess she realized that we didn’t understand what was going on and brought her kids out for show and tell. We gave in and fed them as much as they could eat and finally they stopped meowing, took a quick cat nap, and mom fed the little ones.
We wanted to give Louise an idea of what a ‘typical’ day in the life was like on the road. We packed up Little Red and headed up to the El Yeso Reservoir for some sightseeing, dirt road driving along narrow cliff-side roads, and a grilled cheese lunch to top it off.
We stopped for a cool-down at this funky cafe filled with antiques and The Doors blasting through the speakers. Lemonade with fresh mint and empanadas con queso kept us going while we browsed through the attached vintage clothing store and relaxed in the courtyard.
We battled through more holiday traffic on our way to the coast and stayed at an awesome modern cabin surrounded by lemon, avocado and orange trees. A quick stop at a fruit and veggie stall on the side of the road filled our grocery bags with summery treasures including fresh cherries, strawberries, blueberries, and mangoes. It was only appropriate to mix this goodness into a fruit salad and enjoy it on the patio. Oh em gee, that’s fresh.
New Year’s shenanigans. Probably at 8:30 p.m. Pretty sure we were asleep by 10 p.m.
After a couple more days of lazing by the pool, eating, and slothing around it was time to head to the coast and actually do something that required a schedule, responsibilities, and the rest of those grown-up tasks we had become unaccustomed to in the previous week and a half. The three of us jammed ourselves into the cab of the truck, me with a pillow beneath my bottom and no seatbelt, and headed to Lorraine’s place in La Ballena for our month long dog+house sitting gig.