As some of you may know, this isn’t my first time in Chile. When I was in the midst of writing my first book in 2010 and trying to figure out how to get to Antarctica, Bill and I flew down to Bellingham’s Chilean sister city, Punta Arenas, which happens to sit at the very bottom of the continent.
We made some friends there and spent nearly two weeks getting to know the city (here’s a link to my old blog post about our visit there). When we got the news this year that we were going to come back to Chile, I hoped we would get down to Punta Arenas for a visit, but time didn’t look like it would permit us to go. Punta Arenas is 1600 miles away from where we are—about the same distance as Phoenix, Arizona is from Bellingham, Washington. And flights aren’t always cheep. But the closer we’ve been getting to the end of Bill’s Fulbright, the more we both kept feeling it would be a shame not to get down to see our sister city and our friends. Bill and I made a decision that I would go on my own. At least one of us should make the journey.
I’ve traveled alone plenty of times—even in foreign countries where I didn’t know the language—so while I wasn’t overly fearful, I did want to prepare. I sat down with Rodrigo, my tutor, and made a list of possible questions I might need to ask, and then off I went on a six hour bus ride to get to Santiago to take a plane to Punta Arenas.
When I got to Punta Arenas eleven hours after saying goodbye to Bill, my amigas, Mackarena and Maritza, were there to pick me up and whisk me away to lunch at a special restaurant in a gorgeous old building that belongs to the Airforce. Their sons, who are four years older, taller, and more handsome than the last time I saw them, came along and regaled me with their English. There’s nothing like growing children to mark the passing of time (and to make a person feel her age)!
I stayed with Mackarena the first two nights and Maritza the second two nights. Mackarena, it turned out, had been training for her first road race—a 3K that was to happen the next morning! I was so excited to be able to do it with her.
Macka’s dad, Andres, joined us for the race too and we both had a good time cheering her on.
Andres and his wife Aurora were key people in helping us plan a 42K run in Punta Arenas when we were there in 2010. And the moment I saw them, I felt like no time had passed. You know people like that, right? These two souls are people I must have known in another life, familiar and comfortable. Aurora and I can’t understand a word of what the other has to say, but it doesn’t matter. Friendship doesn’t always have to be based on language.
Aurora made lunch of seafood and rice after the race and we lingered at the table for a couple of hours catching up until I was stuffed and ready to roll into bed. In Chile, lunch is the solid meal of each day and dinner is only a bit of bread with jam or cold cuts (in fact, I’ve noticed that my Chilean friends are downright confused about what to do with me at dinner time—worried they aren’t feeding me properly in spite of the fact that I reassure them I ate enough at lunch to last me two days).
Monday I visited Colegio Miguel de Cervantes for a few hours. This is the colegio (a private elementary and high school) that Bellingham has a longstanding exchange with. Each year high school students from Miguel de Cervantes visit us, stay with host families, and visit our local high schools. In the picture below are the three who came last year (on the right) and the three who will come this year (on the left). In my opinion, the brilliance of the sister city program is in informal exchanges like this one. I say “informal” because there’s no profit made by anyone in a sister city exchange. Students don’t apply to an organization that runs like a business. These students have been chosen by their principal, Maria Angelica, and they will stay with Bellinghamsters who know of (and in some cases have traveled to) Punta Arenas and who share in a long-term citizen-to-citizen commitment.
The next day (Tuesday) I had lunch with Silvana Camelio, a world class adventure athlete (check out her video below) who has participated in the Patagonia Expedition Race (Seriously? Look at the expedition race website—OMG!!!).
Silvana has participated twice in Bellingham’s Ski to Sea relay, so Bill and I met her back at home when she gave a slideshow of her 2013 expedition race at Back Country Essentials. Her husband Enrique and her 13-year-old daughter Sofia joined us at lunch for one of my HEALTHIEST and most delicious Chilean meals so far. Silvana is a rocking’ cook in addition to being one of the most inspirational humans on the planet. Some people can do everything…. I don’t envy, I just admire.
And then Silvana took me up to Club Andino, Punta Arenas’ ski club, which serves for hiking and running in the off season.
When Silvana took me back to Maritza’s house, I had only one more wake-up before it was time to get on the plane to come “home” to Conce. There is a superstition that says if you kiss the toe on the statue in the town square you are certain to return to Punta Arenas:
Notice I’m holding Macka’s little dog Bart in the picture? A special benefit of this trip was that I got some badly needed dog love.
Wednesday morning I hopped on the plane and started the journey back to Concepcion. The view from the plane flooded me with awe. Even knowing that my pictures couldn’t do justice to the lonely land I saw below, I couldn’t help but snap picture after picture. So I leave you with some images from the bottom of the Americas. Love to my friends there. Until we meet again!!