29 October 2003
Greetings from 32,000 feet over Greenland…
Well, the trip is over and we’re sending out our final chapter. When heading into this final month, we thought of all of the places we would be going to in South America and knew that once looking back we would be content, and in some ways sad, with the outcome. What we had not planned for was an unexpected detour early in the month. This detour added more richness to our experience and further reminded us of the things that are most important to us: love, our families, and friends.
First, let’s start with the trip and then onwards to our detour.
Our last update left us in Lima, Peru. We were enjoying the time there by recovering from our high altitude experience and our kamikaze-like travel between four continents. In other words, we had not been this lazy on the entire trip and sleeping 10 hour nights was good for us. While we were a little over-indulgent with our laziness, we did spend time to explore the richness of Lima. We visited several museums and churches within the city and were introduced to some great people who directed us to some “secrets” of the city. The first secret was the private museum of Enrico Poli.
This museum contains the most exquisite collection of Inca and South American art in all of Peru and perhaps South America. The collection was far richer than the artifacts found in the public museums and several items have been featured in National Geographic. Enrico Poli is an Italian who moved to Peru in the 1950s and has been involved in many archeological expeditions in South America. The tour, led by himself, starts in his private home where he showcases many paintings, furniture and other items dating back to the 15th and 16th century. This introduction is used to prepare you for the second half of the tour, which is located in a separate building in his backyard. In this building are several rooms that contain a wide range of exquisite items such as gold masks, jewels, sculptures, and mummified heads of Inca princes / princesses. In addition to the stunning museum pieces, Mr. Poli is an engaging man whose excitement and love for what he does leaves you overwhelmed. We were speechless after this tour and recommend that if you ever make it to Lima, take time to go to this museum even before heading to any other.
The second secret, well maybe not a secret but a find, was a couple of terrific restaurants. Okay, what would be another location for us without finding good food? There was especially one restaurant, called Astrid y Gastón, which is a must when in Lima. We had such a memorable experience at this place that we ended up going to their outpost in Santiago as well, which was just as outstanding. When you get the chance, ask Mike about their warm chocolate truffle desert; giving an explanation in this report may put this email at risk of being stopped by x-rated spam filters! ;-)
After spending seven days in Lima, we left for the Atacama Desert in northern Chile. To start off, words cannot describe this area! We finally found a place with such serene beauty that has not been destroyed by tourism…yet. This region consists of various mountain ranges (including the Andes), salt basins and thermal geysers in a rain-free landscape that eerily resembles that of the moon; in fact, NASA uses this area to test its Mars / lunar rovers. We stayed in a small village called San Pedro de Atacama at an elevation of 2,500 metres. This village is on the boundary of the salt flats and is the host to those who come to explore this natural beauty. It is a very picturesque town with dirt roads and adobe / clay buildings and a very unique, peaceful, feeling to it. We only had two full days there and we could have easily stayed for a week, yet we had enough time to explore the various valleys and caves, salt flats, and some desolated thermal pools. And of course, we also searched out the best places for food.
After the desert, we headed to Santiago. Given our new-found passion for wines, we wanted to spend some time tasting the increasingly famous South American wines. We discovered rather quickly that the wineries in Chile are not accessible like wineries in Australia, South Africa, or even the States. The only way you can taste their products at the origin is to sign up for a guided tour that restricts you to visiting two wineries, not of your choice, in a day. We opted for not doing the Greyhound bus thing and decided that the best way to discover their wines was to go to the distribution source—a good wine store.
By visiting wine stores and reading books, we learned more about Chilean wines. And because we couldn’t taste many of them, we bought a few extra bottles to ship back to the States for later tasting, but only later learned of the expense; we don’t recommend doing this unless you declare you’re shipping “pottery” or other such thing. Overall, we tasted “good” wines, not “great” ones, and the pricing for these wines was far higher than other wines we tasted on the trip. In other words, this experience left us under whelmed, and our expectations were not met. Ohhh the woes of us, we can’t find good cheap wine. We’ll stop complaining here. ;-)
Our next stop after Santiago was Easter Island, a.k.a. Rapa Nui. The trip to the island was scheduled for five days, but was reduced to three due to a family emergency. Before we provide some detail on the emergency, we’ll share some of our experiences there. First, the island is impressive but in its own way. It is part of the Polynesian triangle but is the only island that is not tropical. The moais that are scattered around provide mystery and natural wonder on what type of culture lived and survived on the island hundreds of years ago. It’s a place that we highly recommend (it was Mike’s second visit) and we hope to be able to return—under better circumstances.
Our other memorable experience there had to do with the one French restaurant, which is run by a large, round and obnoxious French man from Tahiti. Think of a circus master (or Obelix) with the rolled up mustache and rotund pot belly, and that was the owner. We were smart by bringing some wine with us from Santiago because the restaurant had an 8 times markup, i.e., the cost of scarcity. This “gentleman” mocked our wine, even though it has higher ratings than the outrageously expensive ones on his list, and, while he attempted to show us his eloquence and outstanding knowledge of wines, he gave us a used flower vase for a decanter. Hmm… it turns out that red wine with dead flowers in it is not that bad! Anyway, with everything we were going through, this little restaurant lightened our moods.
At the end of our third day we rushed to Europe for a family emergency. We wanted to tell you about our trip before getting to this part of our story. When we were in Santiago, we learned that Mike’s dad, Roberto, had a third (and light) heart attack while on his 50th anniversary trip to Spain retracing his honeymoon. We talked with him on the phone and he sounded well, and we were told that he was medically stable and everything was fine; no need for us to be alarmed or to change our plans. However a few days later (on a Wednesday), Roberto had an intra cerebral hemorrhage stroke leaving his right side paralyzed and his situation precarious.
We did not learn the full severity of this until we were on Easter Island on Thursday, but since the island is served by flights only every couple of days, and we had just missed that day’s flight, we had to wait until Saturday to get off the island. We then had to overnight in Santiago for the earliest flight to Spain; as you can only imagine, this wait felt interminable. We finally got to the hospital in Salamanca the following Monday. We weren’t sure what to expect and were only hoping for the best. We were so happy to see him and he was happy to see us.
We, along with family even before us, were attending to Roberto on a 24-hour basis. We decided to take the night shift because we would be jetlagged no matter what, so it would be just as easy (difficult?) to adjust to the time zone of Spain as one corresponding to Australia. We would wake up at midnight or so, our “breakfast” (of sandwiches) would be around 1-2am, we would arrive at the hospital around 2-3am, and we would leave for our “dinner” around 11am. Our “night” would be the afternoon and evening. On the lighter side, we truly got to see the nightlife of Salamanca (while having our “breakfast”) and this was the latest we were up on the whole trip. But on a more serious side, being together with family supporting someone we love so dearly truly reminded us of what is important in life: love, our families, and friends.
We won’t go into all the details here but we can tell you that a week after we arrived, Roberto was airlifted from Salamanca and moved to Milano. We all have seen a great improvement in his health but we know it’s a long road full of patience for recovery. And while it was extremely difficult for us (Mike and KB) to get on the flight to San Francisco, we look forward to Roberto’s continued improvement and seeing him in the near future.
As for our trip, we know we were fortunate to take the time for such a wonderful journey. We met so many people and saw so many things; this has been a lifetime experience that will never be forgotten. We look forward to reconnecting with friends, family, and establishing a sense of normality, if there is one. On this parting thought, here’s an excerpt attributed to George Carlin. The words are true to what we were reminded of during our trip and especially during the last few weeks.
Best wishes to all and we look forward to reconnecting with you soon.
KB e Mike