Guest Post: Time Off the Bikes

Hi TaperedWings readers, friends and family.  It’s Polly here, Katie’s mom, with a guest post from the 10 days I spent with Katie and James in Chile during late March.

When we told the barber about our stay with 87 year-old Anita, he responded ”What does she do?” He gave up midway through the shave and had James do the rest.

An odd mix, but imagine the following: push starting a rental car, banana milk, marmalade, volcanoes and waterfalls, floating rocks, empanadas, fresh cheese, an 87 year old barber, driving through tides, a humpback whale, Jesus in a pickup, and cobblestone streets.

What do they have in common? All were part of a wonderful week I spent with Katie and James in the Lake District of Chile, the Island of Chiloe, and the city of Santiago.  Some I’ll cover here; others you’ll need to ask us about.

I flew into Puerto Montt, Chile, and in deference to my not being in quite the physical shape as Katie and James, we opted for a rental car for the week.  The Lake District is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful places I’ve been in the world.  From Puerto Montt north to Panguipulli, it’s a mountainous land of snow-capped volcanoes with stunning blue skies and beautiful lakes.  The low-lying areas are covered with grass so lush that I wanted to roll on the ground and absorb the green into my pores.  The area supports a thriving dairy industry, and in winter, there’s snow skiing on the volcanoes.  When the snowpack melts, the waterfalls gush through the spring, summer and fall, giving bloom to carpets of hydrangeas still thriving during my early autumn visit.

The roads, mostly hard packed dirt and gravel, were lightly traveled since it was low season.  Chile is undertaking a major initiative to improve, i.e. pave, the roads between towns, so there were lots of construction areas.  It’s good for tourism and good for the economy.  From my perspective, I almost enjoyed the bumpy roads more, as we were forced to slow down.  Consequently, we stopped more often for things like homemade marmalade, country bread, and cheese so fresh it was in the cow the day before we bought it.  Blackberries were ripe for the picking along our route.  Small farmers’ markets were still chock full of vegetables.  We ate well and, until we reached Santiago, prepared all our meals, except for the empanadas, plump with ground beef, onion, and aji pepper, that we bought wherever possible. Their spicy kick was just enough to leave a calling card on my tongue.

From Panguipulli, we headed back south via the Pacific coastal town of Valdivia to take the car ferry from Puerto Montt to the Island of Chiloe.  There, we explored fishing villages, coastal towns, two to three century-old wooden chapels (many designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites), and more backroads that continued to open onto stunningly beautiful vistas of rolling hills and farms. More than once we drove roads only accessible at low tide, taking one out onto a beachy flat where James took the initiative to get a donut out of his system.

Fruit stand in Santiago, where we bought three humalitas (corn tamales), tunas (fleshy fruit of a cactus), and avocados.

After taking the car ferry back to the mainland, we picked up the bikes in Puerto Montt and traveled 600 miles north via the overnight bus to Santiago.  We hadn’t planned to spend any time in Santiago; however, the prohibitive cost of storing the bikes at the bus station inspired us to change plans and embrace the city.  We’re glad we did!  Pretty quickly, we found quiet, older neighborhoods, a haven from the bustling, noisy main streets near the bus station.  While James spent time at a local bike shop building out his replacement bike frame, Katie and I explored some pretty amazing city parks and neighborhoods.  Together, we ate a delicious Chilean dinner, visited one of the homes of the Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda, and enjoyed a farewell empanada near the university. From Santiago, I left Katie and James to the next leg of their journey and flew home.

What an incredibly rich time!  Thank you, Katie and James, for sharing your adventure with me.