One of the beauties of Chile is that the country is so easy to navigate. Route 5 goes through the country north to south and hits most of the major cities. I have been up and down it several times.
The first trip I took out of Rancagua was with my sister who was visiting from the states. I was young and never had planned a trip; she was older and didn’t speak the language. For that matter, I am not sure I spoke much of the language after 3 months in country. First we went to Valparaiso for a day or two. It was a great trip highlighted by empty beaches (it was November) and seafood. We continued on to La Serena where we had a cute little beach front cabin. Most of what I remember from the trip was us going to the little bar next door (think seaside shack that sells fancy drinks and speaks no English) to ask for ridiculous things like a cup of sugar or some bananas. I am pretty sure they thought we were nuts. We might have been.
The second trip I made was with my real parents who were visiting from the states. We took a tour down south; this was my idea. I didn’t want my dad to drive (or me to have to navigate for him). So with 4 months in the country I went to a little travel agency and got us the cheapest most complete tour I could. My poor parents—I am not sure how they put up with me. So, we were on a bus tour with a lot of Chileans and Jean Paul from Luxembourg. The guide didn’t speak English so I had to translate. For my 16 year old self a translation to “it is a church” from a 5 minute lecture on the architecture and history of the church was just fine. It probably left something to be desired. We stayed at this cute little bed and breakfast where each day my parents attempted to order in Spanish. (I am telling you, they are great sports). By the third day there, the entire kitchen staff would come out to watch them practice their order and then flub it. We saw Puerto Montt, Puerto Varas, Lago Todos Los Santos, Chiloe (excellent curanto and probably the best food of the trip), and Osorno. Sadly, like most tours, we couldn’t stay long enough at the places we liked and were forced to spend eternities at places we didn’t.
The third trip I took was with 6 friends; we were in high school. Some of it was in a train (Rancagua to Temuco), some of it was by bus, and some of it was hitch hiking. We went from Temuco down to the island of Chiloe (where we camped on a beach). The camping would have been fabulous had we had a tent made for more than three people (meaning we had to sleep inside and leave our bags outside) and if there had not been a torrential downpour which flooded the tent and soaked our stuff—lets just say my bag weighed about 200 lbs to carry out, the only dry clothes I had were PJ bottoms and a wool sweater, and it took us two days to find a laundry mat where we could dry off.
The fourth trip was with my host family to Panguipulli. I have no idea exactly where this is, although it’s way in the south and I have been their twice. I am also not sure that this is how it’s spelled, but it is how the name sounds. It is a place my host family camps at—big lake, lots of forest, wild berries.
The fifth trip I took was for my 17th birthday. I went with a friend (or two) on a boat cruise to see Lago San Rafael, a glassier way in the south. This trip was absolutely amazing despite the fact that we were supposed to spend 5 days sleeping in the equivalent of airplane seats. Again, this is because we were cheap and took the best price over the most comfort. Luckily, the Chileans actually tried to sleep in the seats while we spread our sleeping bags out in the isles.
The sixth trip I took was back to Panguipulli with my family in college.
The seventh was with the exchange program. They took us through the south (again). I climbed Volcano Osorno and we went rafting near Puerto Varas. This was also the trip that I learned how deeply embedded my Spanish was. At one point, while we were hiking, we came to a lake made from the runoff from the snow at the top of the mountain. The lake was very deep and one could jump off a cliff (prolly 15 feet) into the water. Two by two the people in my group jumped and without fail they came up from the water swearing like sailors in English. Being 20ish, each of us was stupid, overly self confident, and sincerely believed that everyone else was just a crybaby. I jumped with a friend. As I hit the water, the cold entered like 1000 daggers and my only thought was “get out of water NOW.” Like those before me, I came up swearing like a sailor; however, I was swearing in Spanish much to the amusement of the guide and the program director.
The eight (and last) big trip I took in Chile was to the north; again I was traveling with the exchange program. See, they go each semester as most students are semester students. Those of us who spent a year in college got to go on both trips! We flew to Iquique and saw the sights up there. Highlight of this trip included waking up to vultures sitting in our open (no screen) window watching us sleep. We also so hieroglyphs and visited the Indian villages. We also stood on the spot where Argentina, Bolivia and Chile meet (this is the closest I have ever been to being in another Latin American country). Instead of flying home with the group, I took my leave and winded down through the country visiting major cities along the way. It was a great trip to relax, contemplate life, and be by myself. I loved San Pedro de Atacama where I spent several days seeing the flamingos in the lake in the dessert, going to the geysers, and taking in the town. I also visited a friend in El Salvador, mostly a mining town. Best of all, just as I was leaving the dessert, I got to see the beginning of the flowering season where the sand is speckled with flowers.