It will almost be a year to the day since I traveled to Chile for the first time in 18 yrs. I was expecting an infrequent trip there in the year to follow due to work but a couple of months in, the game changed and I got to practically be based in Santiago for most of 2010. The surprise was pleasant for the most part, except I had not planned to live far from home for so long, even if I did get to come home for long weekends at least twice every month. Now, I have one more trip down to Chile of a few weeks before this chapter of my life closes…
It is important to note that I had wanted to stay in Chile back then in 1991. I enjoyed life there SO much. But without too much on my resume yet, being “too green”, and no easy way to figure things out (no Internet!), I just went back to the U.S. when the assignment ended.
Seeing Santiago after 18 years was a strange experience. I was able to recognize places from my life those 3 months around 1990-91 (my apt building, work, Brannigan’s on Calle Suecia, the McDs by Parque Arauco where I used to go eat after playing racquetball, and the old parts of town among others). But, of course, 18 yrs in a good economic climate bring about lots of change. I recall back then a skyline littered with cranes of high rises being built. Well, by now, I am happy to report they finished the buildings… and then some! Sanhattan did not exist when I was there – not in its current form, at least. The area around Parque Arauco and Parque Arauco itself have been developed beyond recognition. I got to re-connect with friends from those days there and while their lives of course had changed, the friends were pretty much as I remembered them (physically and personality-wise).
I got to sample numerous excellent restaurants from a list built up by recommendations from a couple of choice people who clearly know food. I have hit just about every recommendation except for some. By now, with 3 weeks left in my assignment, I am more interested in eating at my favorite places than discovering new ones. Tiramisu and Cuero Vaca (http://www.cuerovaca.cl/) rank up there in my book (good eats!). I will be eating there again for sure! [Check out this review of Tiramisu at the NYT: http://tinyurl.com/2fcbum7]
Of course, I got to be in Chile on or around key events in its national history: the earthquake of February 27, the national elections that made history, the trapped miners, the bicentennial (bicentenario), and the national soccer team making it to the 2nd round in the World Cup. Wow, what timing, don’t you agree??
I got to sample the Atacama desert, hop over the Andes to Mendoza, and explore more of Valparaíso. Hopefully, before I return, I will also get to see Patagonia and the key sights down there – Torres del Paine, the Magellan Straits by Punta Arenas, the Perito Moreno glacier, and a few other sights. Places left to see or see again include Valdivia, Puerto Montt, Puerto Varas and neighboring towns along the area, and the lakes crossing of the Andes to reach Bariloche. Had work stretched into January, I would have been able to add them to my “itinerary”. But with work wrapping up mid-December, I only had time for one destination before coming home for Christmas. So I think I chose well with the trip to Tierra del Fuego.
Now, I need to focus on the hardest week of work in the whole year, then stabilize things before I move on. I am thankful God granted me the opportunity to return to a land that I love and to have made it for a long stint so that I got to internalize it all. Now, I am ready to leave Chile behind knowing I can always come “home” but ready to focus on my life in my real home…