Unintended Adventures on Horseback

It was not lost on me that this was taking place in La Valle de la Muerte. It seemed fitting that here, surrounded by red stones, in a valley where the elderly had supposedly come to die in ancient times, I had lost something so valuable–so invaluable. As the 30 minute mark passed, I felt myself becoming less optimistic. The winds were continuing to pick up, blowing a constant wave of sand over my hopes of finding my wedding ring.

La Valle de la Muerte (The Valley of Death)

Ori and I were at the halfway point through our morning tour on Horseback, and currently located about 6km outside of San Pedro de Atacama. There was only about a 10 minute portion of our 3.5 hour ride that took place on the sand dunes, and of course that was where my ring had chosen to fall off of my finger.

Happily making our way up the Valle de la Muerte on horseback

Riding the dunes above Valle de la Muerte

There were three of us, Ori, our guide Karen, and myself. Very fortunately, I felt the ring as it slid off my finger, tugged by the reins of the horse, and I even heard it as it struck something—the sand? My foot? But upon looking down at the sand I couldn’t see any sign of the ring. Karen, our guide, told me to stay still, lest the horse stomp on the ring and drive it deep into the desert sand, and I did my best to stay calm, knowing my ring was somewhere nearby. After 5 minutes of her fruitless search, I dismounted and joined Karen in looking. She led the horses to the side, hopeful that they would not bury the ring deeper, and we sat and dug, using our hands as sieves, looking for the ring I had lost.

Just before I lost my ring, we had stopped so the horses could rest

We were surrounded by Karen’s 5 dogs, who had followed us on our ride (as they apparently always do) who were lying around in the area we were searching. Could they be making things worse? At one point, one of her dogs began emulating us and digging—fortunately he was not in the area of interest.

After 20 minutes Karen told me she would soon have to return to town. I could stay and continue looking, it would be about a 90 minute walk back. I looked down at my nearly-empty bottle of water. Ori had water too, and more than me, should she and Karen return, leaving me to hunt for the ring? I told Ori there was no way I would leave without the ring. It had to be within 5 feet of were I was standing. I would not, could not accept that it had been lost.

Ori dismounted to help out in one final search. I found four rocks and marked out the area of interest—a 15×15 foot excavation site. We continued to search, the three of us together. How deep should I dig? I left the immediate area of interest to look from afar, kneeling down, my cheek on the sand, hoping to see the glimmer of the ring on the surface of the sand in an area we had not looked. No luck. I returned to the 225 square-foot area I had marked and began methodically looking for the ring. An organized approach would be best. I starting in a corner, working systematically. I then felt an impulse to move towards the center, where Karen was looking. I don’t know why. That just seemed like the right spot. I was merely two feet from her, sliding my hand through sand we had certainly sifted through before, when at last I felt something round, lifted it up, and saw my ring. The same ring I had pulled out of a bowl of rice during my wedding ceremony in India just 5 months ago. Something made this episode of rummaging around a bit more nerve wracking.

Ring in hand, I shouted out “lo tengo, lo tengo!” and held it to my chest as I let myself fall backwards into the sand. It was at that point that I took a good deep breath, realizing it was my first normal breath since the ring had slipped my finger.

The Scene of the crime: I finally found my ring just to the right of where that dog is lying. You can see the sand was all turned over in the search!

Anyone no a good place to re-size a ring in Boston?

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Valparaiso

Ori and I spent 3 days last weekend in the port town of Valpariaso. This city of 200,000 came to prominence in the 1800s as ships from Europe would make their first stop in Valparaiso after rounding Cape Horn, en route to California for the Gold Rush. The city lost much of it’s maritime significance with the opening of the Panama Canal about 100 years ago, but it is still a mecca of art and culture in Chile, and is also the seat of Congress.

Not going to write a long post here, but wanted to share some photos that we snapped over the weekend while wandering the narrow, hilly streets of the Cerros (hills) Concepcion and Allegre. These areas, UNESCO world heritage sites, are beautifully preserved, with strict guidelines about what changes can and cannot be made to buildings there. Our Bed and Breakfast was on Cerro Concepcion, on a street that felt like it belonged in Greenwich Village–with many artsy cafes, galleries, and boutiques.

The food in Valpo was excellent, albeit expensive. We enjoyed wonderful seafood, Italian food, and tasty cookies called Alfajores, often from a restaurant high on a hill offering beautiful views of the colorful city and the ocean below. Definitely a city to check out–we’d love to go back!

View from Paseo Gervasoni

Cerro Alegre, as seen from Cerro Concepcion

Funicular "Concepcio" the oldest in the city, built in 1883. This one was 69 meters long and had a pitch greater than 45 degrees! You don't need to consult a compass to know, that's steep!

View of Valpariaso from the top of funiclar Artilleria

Don’t hate me– I had a great weekend

I had several “pinch me so I know this is real” moments during this past weekend. With Oriana here now and us feeling so at home, it’s hard to believe we are in the southern hemisphere–a hemisphere in which I am pretty sure I only knew one person just 5 short weeks ago (An HMS Classmate in Buenos Aires for the year, in case you were curious). It’s hard to believe that I am here learning so much and earning two full months academic credit, and yet having so much fun at the same time. It is hard to grasp this now, as I sit in my apartment, and it was even harder to comprehend on Saturday as I was whitewater rafting my way down the River Maipo, south of Santiago. It’s also hard to know that I almost backed out of this trip at the last minute, out of concerns about the logistics not coming together. That would have been such a shame!

Anyway, after 5 weeks here in Chile, I finally left the smog behind and made my way out of Santiago for the first time this past Saturday. The trip wasn’t a long one–Ori and I went to nearby Cajon del Maipo, a trip of only 90 minutes to the south, and only 30 minutes beyond where I work every day in southern Santiago. In fact, Cajon del Maipo is so close you can get there by public transportation! All you need is a 1 dollar metro fare and 3 dollars for a shared taxi (collectivo) to drive you the last thirty minutes!

Cajon del Maipo (Canyon of Maipo) is a rural area just outside of Santiago, and a favorite weekend-escape for Santiaguenos hoping to get out for some cycling, hiking, boating, skiing, or just exploring small towns. We limited our experience to a rafting trip accompanied by lunch in the town of San Jose de Maipo, so we definitely still have an excuse to go back.

The morning started with us arriving at the rafting place a bit early, around 9:30 for our 10am trip, and we found all the people working there putting the equipment together while blaring the equivalent of Chilean MTV. They looked like a fun crowd, and were friendly and suggested we pop next door for a snack and then return. We entered the neighboring restaurant/supermarket/town center, basically one of two stores that seemed to be open on the tiny 1-block strip that constituted the heart of this town, and plopped down to a champions breakfast of a pino empanada (barbaqued beef, onion, hard-boiled egg and an olive inside). We were at one of four tables in the front of the restaurant and could see people coming and going, and it seemed like the business was mostly regulars–everyone seemed to know the septegenarian behind the counter, who had some good banter with the customers. It was a nice feeling to be in such a community, and certainly a far cry from the anonymity that comes with spending most of our time in a city of 6-7 million here.

When we returned to the rafting company at 10, we found two other couples there to join us, making six for the group. One was a couple in their 20s from Santiago, but they were “just friends”…there are many gradations of friendship here, and it takes a lot to call someone your boyfriend or girlfriend…first you are “andando” (literally ¨walking with¨, this is casual) then you are “pollolos” (this is the boyfriend/girlfriend equivalent) and then you are “novios” (which I learned meant boyfriend/girlfriend but here it is reserved for being engaged) . Anyway, apparently this young couple was still in an early stage of their relationship. The other two people were a couple from Ecuador who were in their 60’s. If they could do the rafting, so could we!

This was my first time rafting in about 10 years, and Ori’s first time ever. We suited up in our wetsuits (the water is 7 degrees celsius, about 45 fahrenheit), neoprene booties, windbreakers, helmets, and life jackets, and then we were ready to go!

All geared up and waiting to head out on the river! Guess we didn't need sunscreen afterall (except for the faces of course!)

We piled into the van with our guides and gear and drove 12km up the river to where we would start our trip. There we met another company, whose two boats worth of customers would be joining us, making us three rafts total. Each raft had a guide, and there were also 3 guides on kayaks who made there way down the rapids with us, one going ahead to scout out the route, and two trailing behind to pick up anyone who fell into the water.

Before we headed out on the river we had a 5 minute safety instruction. In Spanish. Perfect for Ori, with her 5 days of Spanish classes under her belt. Actually, the instructions were pretty self explanatory, and the guy giving them was funny, so there wasn’t a lot that was lost in translation. In fact, it was a great way for ori to lean more vocabulary, with words and phrases such as “forward,” “backward,” “weight to the left/right,” and so on.

Once out on the river we spent about an hour and twenty minutes making our way down the 12km section that we would raft. The river had mostly class I-II rapids for the first half, and several class III-III+ rapids in the second half, providing a nice warm-up followed by an exciting finish. What was most notable, I thought, was that even in the areas between rapids, there were no truly calm-parts of the river. Unlike the rafting I had previously done in Oregon and California, it felt like we were always moving along at a good pace.

 The two rapid highlights came in quick succession about 2/3 of the way down the course, and our guide had us row to the shore to discuss them before we made our way down. The first rapid “Big Wave” was the most technical he explained, as we MUST enter to the right and quickly make our way to the opposite side of the river to avoid a large rock further downstream. If we were to hit that rock, he’d yell “peso izquierda” to have everyone dive to the left and keep the boat from tipping. Fortunately that wasn’t necessary.

The second rapid, hardly separated from the first, was graded a class III-IV and was called ¨fu–ing wave.¨ Need I say more?

Check out my rowing mechanics!

The entire rafting experience was a blast, and as I said at the outset, I had some introspective moments on the trip where I couldn’t help but reflect on how cool it was to be spending a Saturday morning whitewater rafting in South America, 5,000 miles from home. Sure beats my typical weekend in Boston!

After our day of rafting we enjoyed a lunch of turkey sandwiches with avocado that I had brought with us in the town square at San Jose del Maipo, and then made our way back to Santiago for a much-needed afternoon nap. That night, we had a dinner of typical chilean food (pastel de choclo and cazuela de pollo) and turned in early to be ready for our big day the following day.

Sunday we awoke, ate breakfast at home, and then headed to Parque O’Higgins for Lollapalooza Santiago. Santiago first hosted Lollapalooza in 2011, and is the only city other than Chicago to feature this festival. It was a two day festival with roughly 60 bands performing, but we only attended the second day.

On our way in, about 12:30 in the afternoon and it was HOT!

The festival was simply a blast. We went with our friend Alex, who is here teaching English for a year and a half, and all of us had a great time. There were six stages total: two large stages for the big rock groups (mostly from the US), two smaller stages featuring local acts, a kids stage, and a large indoor arena that hosted all of the electronic music acts.

We started out by seeing Foster the People, and they were awesome. Given that they are so new (formed 2009) they have a limited repertoire and so they played every song off their album Torches, which Ori and I love to blast in our apartment in Boston. They gave a great performance, and while I like all their songs, I think they did best with Warrant, Miss you, and Pumped up Kicks. Pumped up Kicks was the last thing they played, and about four minutes in, at a point where the song normally ends, they broke it down into a more techno/trance version that they continued to play live. It was a perfect way to end a fun set–I’ll have to post the video I have somehow.

Following Foster the People, Ori, Alex and I had lunch and some much-needed liquid (it was blazingly hot in the direct sun, standing in a large crowd) and then made our way to see Band of Horses for a bit, before Ori and I broke off from Alex to see Crystal Method, the first electronic act we would see in the indoor arena. I have to say, this was probably the most amazing, adrenaline packed experience I have ever had at a concert. I love listening to electronic music, but had never been to a live show and mostly just listen at home (and to be honest, haven’t listened to as much recently as I used to.) Whatever experiences I had had prior to Sunday paled in comparison to the experience of being in a cement arena, partially underground, surrounded by roughly 10,000 fans listening to the Crystal Method as their beats were pumped out by an incredible sound system and would then echo off the walls of the arena. Oh, and did I mention the music was synchronized with an audiovisual display? Or that Foster the People came onstage with Crystal Method for yet another remix of Pumped up Kicks? (our second time hearing the song that day, but this version was very different, and very cool.)

The Movistar Arena, where all the electronic shows played
not my photo: http://www.infobae.com/adjuntos/jpg/2012/04/600x0_525091.jpg

The only thing that could have made our experience watching Crystal Method better was that Ori and I sat off to the side, rather than being in the pit where everyone was dancing, which meant the visuals were not  aligned for us. Fortunately we would fix this later when we returned to that arena for the headlining group that night to see the British duo “Above and Beyond” who were just amazing. We quickly danced away the 90 minutes the played, with an energy and excitement that was just exhilarating. I’m definitely going to buy their album “Group Therapy,” which Ori and I both felt was a perfect name that summed up the experience of carelessly dancing the night away surrounded by a crowd of thousands. (It was also interesting to read today’s NYT piece about the increasing popularity of electronic dance music shows in the US, and their new profitability: (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/05/business/media/electronic-dance-genre-tempts-investors.html?hp)

Other shows at Lollapalooza were good, but didn’t measure up to Foster the People, Above and Beyond, or Crystal Method. MGMT gave what I thought was a somewhat lackluster performance, certainly a disappointment because I had really been looking forward to them, and the Foo Fighters just felt a bit too high school to really listen to anymore. Ori and I were certainly in the minority in having that opinion, as there were far more people watching the Foo Fighters than there were who joined us for Above and Beyond. Their loss.

Exhausted, after an incredible weekend, I returned to work in the Consultorio on Monday and Ori returned to her Spanish courses. It’s been a tiring week, given that we had scarcely a moment to rest this past weekend, but we are now very much looking forward to heading to Valparaiso tonight, where we will spend the next three nights in a bed and breakfast!

I’m about to bring this post to a close, but wanted to first share one last picture along with some advice: if you ever go to a foreign country where there is a popular national dish that rhymes with your name, order it. In our case, this meant ordering Chorillana (rhymes with Oriana) and it was an experience. Fries. Steak. Chorizo. 2 fried eggs. Onion. And, as a dish for two, of course it comes paired with a liter of Chilean beer to share.

We ate a salad the next day.

A Classic Chilean dish for those with Heart Disease