Remember the time we woke up at 3am in the morning to drive to Santiago to catch an early flight that we didn’t have legitimate tickets for? Remember then how when we finally did secure some reasonably priced new tickets, we had to be shuttled through the airport because we were now cutting it close to check our baggage and get on the flight? Remember later how we decided to go on a tour until 9pm and then got a bit turned around in the pitch-black desert before finding our way back to the lodge?
When the five of us reconvene after the trip, I’m confident that this will make for a great story, but as we were living it, it lacked some of the comedy that it will probably have in the future.
The day, however, wasn’t without its silver linings. We still did get reasonably priced round-trip airline tickets to Calama, which is only a one-hour drive from our final destination of San Pedro de Atacama. We arrived at our lodge without too many adventures, had some lunch, took a nap, and set off for our first desert adventure. And in the evening, we made it back to our lodge just in time for dinner, enjoyed a nice meal, showered, and slept very well.
Zapallar and its neighboring towns to the south feel like the Chilean version of the villages and hamlets on the South fork of Long Island, New York. Not that I’ve ever been to the Hamptons, but based on my extensive television viewing, this seems to fit most of the stereotypes of that region. The homes are extravagant, built into hillsides, and accessorized with their own elaborate swimming pools, expansive driveways, and umbrella-covered patios. The beaches are full of teenagers summering at their parents second home. Some of these kids have guitars, some have braces, some have paddleball equipment, and they all have immaculate tans. White summery dresses can be seen a plenty and the alcohol and marijuana are ubiquitous. The cars are all upscale, the restaurants all a bit expensive, and there are few views of the ocean that are unimpressive.
One morning, we venture away from our Hotel Isla Seca to explore a nearby Expo entitled La Feria boutique del verano (The boutique summer fair) in a beach town just a couple kilometers south called Cachagua. The price of admission buys us free tastings of champagne, beer, cheeses, and other delectable foods. The local attendees of this summer fair are dressed stylishly from head to toe, and each brand is represented by very attractive Chileans. The fair is complete with a fashion show runway, massage booths, and new car raffles.
Other than the locally famous seaside restaurant of El Chiringuito in Zapallar, the small town has little to offer in the way of food and we were forced to venture slightly farther south to find more options. Thus, we pretend to be part of the Chilean elite by hopping from town to town along this stretch of Chilean coast. Along with Zapallar and Cachagua, we visit Maitencillo, where we enjoy our first night’s dinner at Puntamai.
Most of our time in and around Zapallar is spent in a mode that is almost too relaxing. I know that vacations are supposed to be restful, but I have been trained to try to pack each day of travel with activity when in a new place. Therefore, on this trip, one way that I am attempting to step outside of my comfort zone is try to feel not only okay but to feel good about spending days lounging on the beach and by the pool while occasionally moving to find food or drinks. I am embracing reading my current book titled “By Night in Chile” by Chilean author Roberto Bolaño. I am relishing the opportunity to people-watch while lying on the beach. And I am taking advantage of the opportunity to better get to know my travel companions.
After two full days in the Cajon del Maipo valley, it would be an understatement to say that we all felt a little soar. We got an upper body workout during rafting, a couple nice bruises on our bums from the horseback riding, and our legs and feet got their fair share of exercise during the 10-mile hike in the Monumento Natural El Morado. I’m not complaining, but I am looking forward to a couple more relaxing days on Chile’s Central Coast in a small town called Zapallar.
Other than when we pass back through Santiago, the roads are beautiful and varied. We drive through winding mountain roads, down flat green expanses, and along coastal highways. Some of the driving reminds me a little of driving on the 5 Freeway in California in that the two-lane road is covered in trucks and everyone, including the trucks themselves, are attempting to make good time by weaving in and out of both lanes.
After almost three hours of driving and an hour lunch stop, we arrive in Zapallar and immediately head down to the beach to commence our relaxing couple of days.