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Saying Goodbye to Chile: On Making Decisions, Taking Risks, and Following Your Heart

Flowers in Ancud, Chiloé, Chile
Flowers in Ancud, Chiloé, Chile

I started off 2016 fulfilling a travel dream: visiting the island of Chiloé.  To reach Chiloé, you have to take a ferry from mainland Chile, crossing the canal while watching the volcanoes recede from view.  Fittingly, I made this journey on January 1, starting off the new year right.  Despite the swirling doubts and anxiety I faced at the end of my time in the Valle de Elqui, I went into the new year with an open heart and open mind, filled with excitement for what lay ahead.

Boats from Dalcahue, Chiloé, Chile
Fishing Boats in Dalcahue, Chiloé, Chile

During my last week of backpacking through the Lakes Region of Chile, I explored Chiloé with a lovely travel friend going through her own transition from living in Chile to moving back to France.  I saw penguin colonies, visited small fishing communities and artisanal markets, headed to the national park, and even stayed in one of the famous palafitos, houses on stilts, as seen below. (Of course, this journey will be documented in a future post!)

Afternoon Light and Palafitos in Castro, Chiloé, Chile
Palafitos in the Afternoon Light in Castro, Chiloé, Chile

After a few days on Chiloé, I followed my intuition to squeeze in a visit to Valdivia, where I explored the rivers and old Spanish forts and even tried some artesanal beer.  The best part of this decision was that I randomly met other interesting, inspirational fellow travelers and seekers at the hostel, where we fell easily into conversations that reiterated one theme: follow your intuition, listen to your heart, trust your gut feelings.

Pacific Ocean from Cucao, Chiloé, Chile
Peaceful Moment in Cucao, Chiloé, Chile

Are we noticing a theme here? After a year of listening to others and doing what I could to help meet their needs, I had lost sight of what I was moving towards, what my goals were, and, quite honestly, what I actually wanted to do with my time and even where I wanted to be.  Santiago? Somewhere else in Chile?  Back to the Valle de Elqui?  What about Peru or even Ecuador?

Sunset in Zorritos, Tumbes, Peru
Sunset in Zorritos, Tumbes, Peru

With all this floating around my head, I headed to Lima, Peru for a meditation retreat and to catch up with my dear friends.  Upon arrival, I was startled by how natural it felt to be in Lima, how easy it was to reconnect with my people there, and how much the city felt like home, even though I had never actually lived there.  During the 10 days of meditation, I had plenty of time to think during the off hours, and the answer became clear: embrace your liberty by going back to teaching online and find yourself a home base.

One of my dear friends helped me gain clarity on where to move by suggesting I separate out different aspects of my life: professional, financial, social, emotional, spiritual, familial, and so on.  Where would serve me better in each of these aspects?

Professionally, teaching online gives me opportunities no matter where I find myself, but I want to be somewhere where I can also focus on writing about travel, somewhere I feel inspired to explore, like Peru.  Financially, Chile is much more expensive than Peru and I was only able to save minimally, which I immediately turned around and invested in my travels.  Socially, my support network in Lima is solid and reliable, whereas in Chile I often felt lonely and like an outsider.  Spiritually, I feel a connection to Peru that I never managed to develop with Chile.  And with regards to my family, it is much more affordable and convenient to fly to the US from Lima than from Santiago.  All things considered, the answer was staring me in the face: move to Peru.  Give life in Lima a chance.

Crossing the Bridge in Diaguitas, Valle de Elqui, Chile
Crossing the Bridge in Diaguitas, Valle de Elqui, Chile

For someone from the outside, this answer may have seemed obvious, but I doubted myself.  To be perfectly honest, on the eve of leaving for Peru, I still feel twinges of uncertainty and anxiety.  But the reality is that nothing lasts forever, everything keep changing, and what matters is right now.  And right now, I am spending my last day in Santiago before heading to Lima.

Two weeks ago, I introduced my replacement to the Valle de Elqui, where her energy and motivation shined through and showed me that the program is going to be just fine.  I spent one last weekend saying goodbye to friends there, packing up the last of my things, and closing that chapter of my life.  While it was bittersweet saying goodbye to the mountains that were my home, my last few days reminded me of why my life is not there and why I need to keep moving forward.

Posing in Barrio Bellavista, Santiago
Barrio Bellavista, Santiago, Chile

And that brings me to Santiago.  A week ago, I officially finished my job and said my professional goodbyes. And just like that, I am on my own.  Over the past 10 days, I have invested my time and energy into bringing my teaching website up to date with new photos and new offers, and into exploring Santiago’s most famous sites and hidden corners, trying to get the most out of this truly awesome city in a short period of time.  I’ve had fun with photography and started making lists of all the awesome aspects of Chile I want to write about.  This blog may not bring me income, but it brings me joy to share my experiences with the world, and little by little I am getting more feedback showing that I have helped people plan their trips and learn about South America.

Puente de los Candados, Providencia, Santiago, Chile
Puente de los Candados, Santiago, Chile

Tomorrow, I head to the airport with the rest of my belongings and make the official leap into being a freelancer, living where I want to live, and trusting that things are going to work out.  This is where it is important to take things day by day, to break my plans into little steps towards bringing in income or opportunities or both.  It’s easy for me to get overwhelmed by the uncertainty – I’m American, we do not like uncertainty! – but all of the decisions I have made over the past few years have brought me to this point, to trusting that it’s all going to be okay.

Over the past few weeks and even months, friends from all different moments of my life have commented that I am brave, that I live an inspirational life, that they are fans of me and my journey.  This is certainly not the easiest or most clear path through life, and I would be lying if I said that I always feel confident about the decisions I have made recently.  But then I remind myself of the biggest lesson of the past year: remain in the present.  And right now, at this moment, things are totally fine, I am comfortable, happy, energetic, and ready to move into the transition.  I certainly can’t predict what’s next, but when can we ever? Why not just wait for it to happen rather than imagining it?  Maybe that’s the biggest decision I’ve made recently, which I repeat time and time again: release expectations and be with what actually is.

And instead of reading about it, studying it, questioning it, I am practicing it.  Today is all I have.  So I better embrace it.  And on that note, I’m heading out into the summer sun to enjoy my last afternoon in Santiago. 🙂

Sunset in Barrio Bellavista, Santiago, Chile

Sunset in Barrio Bellavista, Santiago, Chile

On Change, Endings and Beginnings, and the Past Year Back in South America

Views towards Paihuano, from Rivadavia, Valle de Elqui, Chile
Views of the Valle de Elqui from Rivadavia, Vicuña, Chile

A year ago today, I left Boston for South America, this time without a return date in sight.  I started in Lima, headed to Santiago to get my bearings in Chile, and spent the rest of the year in the Valle de Elqui, working with volunteers and Chilean schoolchildren.  I managed to squeeze in some travel over the year, most notably to Buenos Aires and Iquique.  And now, a year later, I am currently in Puerto Varas, Chile, enjoying a working vacation and the gorgeous blues of the lakes region, as you see in the photos below.

Saying Goodbye to My Volunteer Family in Pisco Elqui
My Volunteer Family in 2015, Pisco Elqui, Chile

I have made no secret of the fact that this has been a challenging year, both professionally and personally.  But at the same time, it has been a year where I have learned how to live a more intentional life, taken responsibility for my own happiness, and continued practicing being truly present when spending time with people close to me.  In particular, my year included developing friendships beyond the professional with the three volunteers-turned-friends pictured above.  We experienced so much together, ranging from heavy rains early in the year to a major earthquake later on, ups and downs coming from volunteering in local schools, and even the early departure of half of their volunteer cohort and adjusting to the arrival of three energetic new recruits to help us finish out the year strong.  Of course, we also shared our own struggles and successes with adapting to a new life style in the very traquilo Valle de Elqui, something we all resisted at first but then were reluctant to leave.

Clouds over the Hills of Diaguitas, Valle de Elqui, Chile
Clouds over Diaguitas, Valle de Elqui, Chile

The past month has been a month of change and of resisting change, and then finally, finally just releasing any attempt to influence or control the outcome and going with the flow.  Early in the month, the volunteers started to leave, and it made me realize that, like it or not, my reality was going to be different.  My simple life was simply going to feel more empty without the support and company of my volunteer family.  At the same time, I was considering prolonging my life in the Valle de Elqui, looking for work locally, finding a place to live, continuing to develop connections and think about putting down roots, even temporary ones, in the place that had become my home.

Volcán Villarica, as seen from Pucón, Chile
Volcán Villarica, Pucón, Chile

But that’s the funny thing about life: you can’t really make plans.  You have to gesture in the general direction of where you think you might like to go, and see what happens.  Most importantly, you have to think in terms of what’s possible – maybe something beyond your wildest dreams.  For the past couple of months, I began limiting myself to what was comfortable, what was known, what had sustained me over the past 11 months.  Out of fear, out of hope for a stable future, out of the desire for something more profound than that lingering feeling that my life here was just temporary, that I was just passing through, so that any attempts at deeper connections were misguided.  In some respects, I grew defensive of my intentions to stay here in Chile, or at the very least, here in South America.  I left the US without a return date in sight, but having to explain time and again that my intention is to stay here definitely grew exhausting.  One of the biggest challenges of living abroad is demonstrating to people who haven’t been through the experience that you are looking for true connections, regardless of what the future may hold.

Volcán Osorno, as seen over Lago Llanquihue, from Llanquihue, Chile
Volcán Osorno and Lago Llanquihue, from Llanquihue, Chile

But in the end, I realized something: once my friends left, my home felt much less like my home.  And the changes continued rolling in: my living situation changed, a brief but deeply felt relationship changed, my work changed, and as a result, my idea of what was possible changed.  And in the end, I decided that I needed to go with this change and give myself a change of scenery.  Even despite my certainty a few months before that the Valle de Elqui wasn’t for me, I grew anxious about leaving.  Leaving meant losing the semblance of security that I had developed over a year of cultivating connections, routines, and appreciation for the life I was living at that precise moment.  Leaving meant saying goodbye.

Sunset in Puerto Varas, Chile
Sunset over Lago Llanquihue, Puerto Varas, Chile

But that’s the thing about endings.  In the first place, we never know how permanent they are, because life is long and brings many unexpected twists and turns.  But really, endings allow us to explore other beginnings, other possibilities, open new doors.  And for me, leaving the certainty and stability of my life in the Valle de Elqui has led me to southern Chile, where I am now, where I feel inspired by the gorgeous volcanos and deep blue lakes and fulfilled by embracing my body’s full potential and connecting with the earth through biking, kayaking, walking, and exploring.  Instead of spending so much time in my head or working closely with others to try to troubleshoot interpersonal issues, I am in nature and giving thanks for all the beautiful places I have the privilege to visit.  I am meeting new people who have interesting dreams, hopes, experiences, and stories and deepening my connection with multifaceted Chile.

And that’s really what travel does for me – it reminds me of the many possibilities life holds for us.  The funny thing is that I am still working as I travel and explore, but once I hand over my work to my replacement, I have no plan.  I am encouraging myself to let things happen, to let opportunities present themseles, to let the universe work its magic.  I am trusting that it will all be okay because if there is anything I have learned this year, it’s that I do not actually know what’s best for me because my imagination is limited to what I already know.  And I have so much more to learn.

So here I am, a year later, with fewer plans, but more possibilities.  After Puerto Varas, I am heading to Chiloé, an island known for its mystical heritage and relaxed approach to life.  From there, I head to Lima, where I will once again visit with friends, challenge myself and push my internal limits with a 10-day meditation retreat, and potentially head north to Máncora, that famous beach town that I have yet to visit.  In February, I return to Chile to welcome my replacement and introduce her to the Valle that became my home in 2015.  Once I officially hand over the reigns, my work here is finished and I will move on to my next step.  A step that is not certain just yet, because it does not have to be.  No matter how many times I have been asked the question recently, the plan has not solidified yet.

And in the end, that was what I wanted – I wanted to be open to whatever the future holds for me.  Even still, I resisted.  But even still, my life as I knew it came to an end, and I am just beginning the next part of my journey.  That feels light.  It feels like freedom.  Let’s see what happens.

(More travel posts to come on all the beautiful places I’ve visited over the past year!)

Reflections on Having 12 Weeks Left in the Valle de Elqui, Chile

Horcón, Valle de Elqui, ChileMountainous Views from Horcón, Valle de Elqui, Chile

Yesterday, I took a colectivo (shared taxi) to the fería, or open air market, in Vicuña, and got to chatting with the driver, one of the few who doesn’t already know me and my destination after eight months living here. Most of the foreigners who pass through the Valle de Elqui only stay for a few days, maybe a week, so those of us who are here long-term are pretty conspicuous, especially someone as chatty as me!

In any case, once he learned I’d arrived back in January, the colectivero asked me, “Do you like it here?” And I answered, “Yes, I like it here. If you had asked me three months ago, my answer would have been different. It was the middle of winter and I was freezing!”  We both laughed.

Post Rain Scenes in Diaguitas, Valle de Elqui, Chile
Horses by the River in Diaguitas, Valle de Elqui, Chile

Over the past few weeks, I’ve started to tune in to how I really feel about my life here. For the past few months, it has been difficult to separate my reality from that of the volunteers, my colleagues here, and my host family, all of whom have been going through tough times. When I am alone, reading by the river, enjoying embroidery while listening to a podcast, or cooking a meal with the plentiful fresh vegetables found here in Chile, I usually feel joyful, in the moment, and content with my reality. (That’s one of the reasons I wanted to create an intentional routine for myself while living abroad.)

But as a highly sensitive person, I couldn’t help but be affected by all that was happening around me. In fact, it is my job to try to understand and troubleshoot the issues the volunteers were having, and thankfully, at this juncture, both my nonprofit and the Chilean host organization are taking my input and making changes to improve the volunteer experience so that they can better serve the needs of the English project, their students, the teachers they are collaborating with, and the local schools.

(On another occasion, I plan to revisit my thoughts on what to consider before becoming a long-term volunteer, because both the organizations I have worked with in South America have seen a fair number of year-long volunteers resign before their commitment was up. If you are thinking of volunteering abroad, you should also check out this well-written article providing even more food for thought about the realities of international volunteering and what you need to think about before doing it.)

Rivadavia, Valle de Elqui, Chile

Clouds over Rivadavia, Valle de Elqui, Chile

There are many avenues to living abroad and being able to experience the joys of travel. When I accepted this position, I wasn’t sure how long I would stay here in the Valle, but I knew I wanted build a longer-term life in South America. I see the advantages to sticking around; in the past few weeks I have made many more connections with local businesses and see opportunities for greater cultural exchange and positive impact on the community, all because I live in the Valle and express curiosity about people’s stories, including their wants and needs for the future. (This is really why we are here, not to teach English, but to connect, but it is easy to lose sight of that when you get lost in the mundane challenges of the day-to-day.)

However, the reality is that this is not the place for me. Thanks to the broader perspective I have gained here and during my travels to Santiago, Iquique, and other parts of Chile, I am thinking bigger and noticing a lot of untapped opportunities here in Chile, as well as in Peru and Ecuador. I am realizing how I can pursue freelance teaching and translating opportunities by making connections with other small businesses and entrepreneurs who want to meet the needs of tourists and share their love for their culture through its food, drink, and landscapes. I know that having a solid internet connection will enable me to offer my specialized lessons through English with Kim and finally catch up writing about my travels in northern Peru and Ecuador, which I am now sharing pictures from for Throwback Thursday and Flashback Friday on Instagram.

Cloudy Days in Gualliguaica, Valle de Elqui
Cloudy Day in Gualliguaica, Valle de Elqui, Chile

But even though this particular location hasn’t worked out for me, it has shown me a lot of things. First, though I love having backpacking adventures, I now know I like living somewhere long-term and developing relationships and routines, using my base as a place to travel from. At the same time, I like the idea of being my own boss and having the flexibility to visit family and friends back home whenever I’d like and to take my business on the road for a few weeks, especially in those cold winter months. So that’s what I’m aiming for, and as scary as it is, I know that it is the logical next step for me and something I’ll commit to because it’s what I truly want.

Another thing I’ve realized is that I do need my community around me. I am proud of using the solo time here in the Valle to go within and recharge my batteries, but in the end I have felt isolated here. Making connections is not the same as making friends. Having limited internet access to call and Skype my support system has been my biggest challenge, and now that we *just* got a slow but unlimited internet connection, I am reaching out to everyone to reconnect and show them that our relationships are important to me. I am really looking forward to moving somewhere where my people are, be it Santiago, Lima, or elsewhere.

Posing with the Volunteers in the Valle de Elqui, Chile

Posing with My People in the Valle de Elqui, Chile

It’s also interesting to contrast how I felt when I entered the countdown to the end in Huaycán versus now.  There, I was always on high alert due to the safety concerns of living in a shantytown. Here, life couldn’t be safer (if we ignore the occasional major earthquake and its aftershocks and the flooding from heavy rains). There, I was living with 8-12 other people, couldn’t really control my diet, and had trouble establishing any routines other than doing yoga on the roof; here, I live by myself, get to cook whatever I want as often as I’d like, and have even found my favorite local café and other places to relax, like my beloved river. There, I connected deeply with the kids we worked with, because the relationship was so personal and even informal because of all the games we played together; here, I still love the kids, but our relationship is much more formal, a product of working in the schools and Chilean customs regarding respect for your elders.

Even considering the differences, there is one thing that continues to be clear: the highs and disappointments, frustrations and successes all come and go as part of a natural cycle. I continue to learn how to let go, accept the reality that things are how they are, and recognize that everything changes. And I am seeing even more clearly how I can choose joy on a daily basis by being appreciative of all the lovely small moments that come my way.

Spring Flowers, Diaguitas, Valle de Elqui, Chile
Spring Flowers in the Valle de Elqui, Chile

Yesterday, I was feeling super sick but, as I mentioned, I went to the fería to stock up on nutrient-rich fruit and vegetables. While there, I ran into two of my students got to meet their mom. That unexpected encounter gave me a chance for me to tell her that her son is the best English student in first grade and for her to tell me that he has come home saying how beautiful my eyes are and that she has to meet me. We chatted for a while, and I told them that they re-energized me and brightened my day. I also thanked her for raising a lady and a gentleman, as her kids are noticeably better behaved, poised, and respectful than many.

Maybe it has been lonely here at times, but moments like those matter. That’s what I’m about, that’s why I do what I do, that’s why I travel, teach, and volunteer, and then write about it here. While I’m excited for what’s next, I’m glad I’m moving into the best part of the cycle – that of embracing every moment, made more poignant by the fact that this reality will end soon.  Thankfully, this coincides with spring and summer, everything in bloom, and fun activities to close out the school year.

Fiestas Patrias Sunset, Diaguitas, Valle de Elqui, Chile
Sunset over Diaguitas, Valle de Elqui, Chile

And what, exactly, is next? I finish here on or around December 18, and I am heading south to explore the Chilean lakes region, Chiloé, and Chilean Patagonia, hopefully making it to Torres del Paine. These have been some of my travel dreams since 2002 and I am perfectly poised to make it happen this year.

From there, I’m heading north to spend the South American summer on the coast, but whether that will be in Chile, Peru, or Ecuador remains to be seen. I’d rather keep my options open and stay flexible to all the surprises life has in store for me. But one thing is certain – I will be looking for a place to stay for a while, a place where I can build relationships, routines, and my business. And I can’t wait to discover where that is!

Felices Fiestas Patrias, Chile! Viva Chile!

A photo posted by Kim Dodge (@blueskylimit) on

Flags in a School in the Valle de Elqui

Today is September 18, which in Chile marks the anniversary of the establishment of the first independent governing body in the country; in other words, Chilean Independence Day. Cars, houses, schools, streets, and even people are covered the colors blue, white, and red, representing Chile’s flag. Families across the country will be celebrating with an asado (barbecue), empanadas, and lots of red wine. Chileans everywhere will dance the cueca, Chile’s national dance, visit pampillas or fondas, basically big markets selling food, clothing, and everything Chilean, and enjoy time with friends and family.

This year, the celebration is especially welcome. This past Wednesday, just before 8PM, an 8.3-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Illapel, reverberating through the central region. I was at an outdoor birthday barbecue with Chilean friends, and we quickly walked out to the orchard, away from the buildings. Although by now I am used to temblores (tremors), this one was different because it was much more powerful and it didn’t end for what felt like two minutes. It was definitely scary, but, thankfully, since we live in the mountains, there was actually little effect on us. I was only a minute walk away from my home, so I checked on my host family, spoke to all of the volunteers, and sent out updates that we were all fine. The construction of my house was solid, and only a few non-breakable items were shaken loose off their higher perches around my apartment.

I headed back to the party for a few hours, drinking wine to steady my nerves, as the aftershocks kept rolling in. Even though they are normal, they are still unnerving, especially the strongest ones. Around midnight, one of the volunteers arrived to my house with her parents, visiting from the US; they had been in nearby La Serena, in the tsunami zone, on the 11th floor of an apartment building, and had to evacuate quickly. It was nice to be together after a major earthquake, and I did my best to help them relax after their very real scare.

That night, it was hard to sleep due to all the réplicas, or aftershocks, but they decreased in intensity over the course of the day. Power came back, allowing us to charge our phones and reach out to friends and family around the world who were concerned about us.

While the impact of this major earthquake is still being assessed, it has caused a reassessment of plans for Fiestas Patrias. Many local schools had to reschedule their celebration; Coquimbo decided to cancel the artistic performances in their major Pampilla due to damage and safety concerns in the seaside city; and overall people just feel a bit uneasy. But Chileans are resilient, and they are going to celebrate their country with shows of solidarity and moments spent with loved ones.

And thankfully, they are going to include me in these celebrations! Felices fiestas patrias, Chile! Chi Chi Chi Le Le Le! Viva Chile!

Santiago, Chile: Quick and Easy Day Trip to Viña Concha y Toro Winery

Concha y Toro Winery, Santiago, Chile
Viña Concha y Toro, Santiago, Chile

Beyond the incredibly diverse landscapes worth visiting all over Chile, the country is also well known for its wine. Though I’d spent quite a bit of time visiting the various wineries around Mendoza, Argentina, before July, the closest I’d gotten to an actual winery was glancing it through the windows of my bus to Santiago. After trying so much pisco, I was interested in tasting some Chilean wine varietals, and I used my friend Sara’s recent visit as an excuse to go.

Concha y Toro Winery, Santiago, Chile
Welcome to Viña Concha y Toro!

There are several valleys near Santiago which are famed for their wine producing climate, but visiting most of them requires renting a car or taking a tour, something I may well do at another moment when I have more time and funds. But there is good news for the budget-oriented wine lover: there are several wineries located on public transportation around Santiago, and one of the most famous, Viña Concha y Toro, is even accessible by Santiago’s metro!

Concha y Toro Winery, Santiago, Chile
Views of the Pretty Concha y Toro Building

Concha y Toro is most known for its widely available brand, Casillero del Diablo. When I lived in Lima, this was the wine most often available in neighborhood shops; it is dependable and fairly tasty for about $10USD. So I asked myself, why not visit where the vineyard where it is produced and try out a wider variety of the winery’s offerings?

In order to visit Concha y Toro, it is a good idea to reserve a tour on their website, although they are usually so busy that there is likely to be availability if you show up without a reservation. We decided to splurge for the premium tasting ($20000CLP per person), led by a sommelier, and paired with a cheese platter.

Concha y Toro Winery, Santiago, Chile
Checking Out the Landscaped Grounds at Concha y Toro

Arriving at Concha y Toro is fairly straightforward. You take Línea 4 (Line 4), or the blue line, of the Santiago metro to the Puente Alto stop, which lets you off in a busy shopping district. From there, you hail any taxi and tell them that you are going to Viña Concha y Toro. They will charge you a fixed price of $3000 and drop you off at the gate. When you leave after your tour, you can grab a cab at the taxi station around the corner from the vineyard. Super easy!

Concha y Toro Winery, Santiago, Chile
Posing Among the Dormant Winter Vines at Concha y Toro

The tour itself is fairly basic. First, you head to the attractive house where they hold major events and take pictures of the scenic property. Next, you head to the tasting vineyard, where in the summer there are vines of several varietals of grapes so that you can compare their flavor. In winter, it was brown but attractive. From there, you head into the storage room where the wine is aged in barrels, hearing a bit about the process of making wine along the way.

Concha y Toro Winery, Santiago, Chile
One of the Grape Varietals in the Tasting Garden

After this brief overview, the tour guide leaves you inside to watch an entertaining multimedia presentation about the legend of the winery and where it got the name, Casillero del Diablo.

Concha y Toro Winery, Santiago, Chile
The Devil is in the Wine at Concha y Toro

Both the regular and premium tours end with a tasting of some of the most commonly available wines as well as a premium wine. They hand out a souvenir wineglass as well as a box to take it home in, a nice touch.

Concha y Toro Winery, Santiago, Chile
Premium Wine Tasting at Concha y Toro

After this first tasting, it is time for the premium tasting with the sommelier. I appreciated the chance to sample some of the more unusual varietals of wine and try to see how they matched with the cheese most commonly available in Chile.

Concha y Toro Winery, Santiago, Chile
Enjoying the Wine Bar at Concha y Toro with Sara!

If you’re not that interested in taking a tour, Concha y Toro has an on-site restaurant and wine bar, with outside seating for those lovely sunny days and a full menu that includes vegetarian options. Sara and I opted to sit inside at the bar, and I tried a nicer glass of wine while she went for a tasting flight. It is a good way to save some money but still get a broad range of flavors.

Concha y Toro Winery, Santiago, Chile
Wine Bar at Concha y Toro

Of course, the winery also has a giant store for buying any kind of wine you want at slightly more affordable prices before heading home in a pleasant wine haze. As usual, I always visit wineries when traveling to several locations, so I opted out, but it is always an option!

Concha y Toro Winery, Santiago, Chile
Saying Goodbye to Concha y Toro

As you can see, visiting the winery was a pleasant day trip to make the most out of the chilly winter weather in Santiago. On our visit, the skies were clear, giving us an awesome view of the snow-covered cordillera from the metro. The area around Puente Alto was also interesting and very different from the high rises of Providencia, so I suggest wandering around and taking advantage of the delicious street food around the plaza.

Recommendations for Viña Concha y Toro, Santiago, Chile:

  • Check out the scheduled tours at the Concha y Toro website and make a reservation before you visit.
  • To get to Viña Concha y Toro, take Línea 4 (the blue line) to Plaza de Puente Alto. Outside the station, hail a cab and tell them where you are going; it will cost $3000CLP.
  • While the tour is interesting, it is not the most educational one I have ever been on. If you already know about the wine making process, you can save money but still sample a number of wines by ordering a flight of wine at the wine bar.
  • Here is a little more information about visiting the winery, including directions on how to walk there if you so desire!

Vicuña, Chile: Appreciating the Charms of this Historical Little City in the Valle de Elqui

Vicuña, Valle de Elqui, Chile
Calle Gabriela Mistral, Vicuña, Chile

If there is one thing you can say about Americans, it is that we believe we have a sense of control over our lives if we plan for our futures. When we accept a job, we make sure to ask as many questions as possible so that we know what we are getting ourselves into. When things don’t go as we expected, we often react with indignation, frustration, or even anger.

Having spent 20% of my adult life living and/or traveling in South America, I sometimes believe I’ve learned to let go of expectations and that I’ve gotten better at recognizing that I don’t actually have any control over how things turned out. And then I realize that quite a few expectations have crept in, and I learn to readjust them yet again. It is a constant practice as I continue to grow and explore my own spiritual path.

I still recall a conversation I had with a dear friend from Buenos Aires back in 2007, when I was visiting my former home during my travels as I did research for my Master’s thesis. It was late evening and we were chatting over helado at one of the many heladerías around the city. I was probably talking about my concerns about my future, as I was halfway through my Master’s degree and had no idea what I was doing my life. She said to me, “That’s the thing about Americans. You believe that you can plan for the future and always have a five-year plan and a bank account for retirement. Here in Argentina, we can’t count on the future. In the blink of an eye our currency lost its value, so we always have to readjust our expectations for the future.”

While I am paraphrasing her words, the sentiment has stuck with me, eight years later. Why do I bring this up? Because my initial arrival to Vicuña was full of letting go of my expectations. When I signed the contract for my job, I thought I would live in Paihuano and researched the town as much as I could to see if I could live there. I don’t even remember reading anything about Vicuña!

While I was in Lima for a couple of weeks before starting work in Chile, I learned that the Chilean program coordinator had actually found me a home in Diaguitas, a small (very small!) town in the comuna (similar to a county) of Vicuña. Just like that, I was forced to readjust two of my biggest expectations. Naturally, my American side started to freak out, so I sought advice from an Italian-Peruvian friend living in Lima. Wise as all my friends are, she said, “If you wanted things to be stable and predictable like in the US or Europe, you wouldn’t have chosen to live in South America.” Touché!

Diaguitas, Valle de Elqui, Chile
The Valle de Elqui Looking More Mystical on a Cloudy Day

So after a week of preparations while reacquainting myself with Santiago and catching up with friends there, I boarded a night bus, destination Vicuña. The buses to Vicuña stop first in Coquimbo, then La Serena, so even thought it was early in the morning I was wide awake as we enteres the Vallw de Elqui. I remember gazing out of the window over a cloudy, foggy valley, trying to feel the mystical energy so many of my Chilean friends talked about. And then, after an hour around the twists and turns of the now-familiar highway, I arrived to the Vicuña bus station, gathered my three backpacks, and hopped in a Diaguitas-bound colectivo (shared taxi) to my new home.

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Gabriela Mistral’s Stone Head, Plaza de Armas, Vicuña, Chile

A few days later, my host family took me to Vicuña so I could get a sense of the city and check out the fería (farmer’s market) and buy some much needed food supplies. It was the middle of summer, so the skies were a brilliant blue and the plaza was lined with stands with artisanal crafts, food items, plants, and other interesting wares. We stopped at the giant cement head in the plaza, honoring Gabriela Mistral, the Valle de Elqui’s patron saint, who was born in Vicuña.

Plaza de Vicuña, Chile
Plaza de Armas, Vicuña, Chile (pre-construction)

(Mentioning the plaza is a little awkward as of the writing of this post, because the plaza has been under construction since the heavy rains in March, and won’t be finished until 2016. Instead of a pleasant central plaza, there is a boarded up perimeter, which is partially covered in beautiful bright murals. The artisan fair has relocated to an empty lot next to the bank.)

Vicuña, Valle de Elqui, Chile
Plaza de Armas, Vicuña, Chile (under construction)

Despite the fact that there isn’t too much to see or do in Vicuña, I actually like the calm city. It has a number of little charms, and I am happy to repeat my same routines on each visit. Moreover, I can buy just about everything I need there, with the occasional trip to La Serena for some less-accessible supplies, clothes, or high speed internet. Vicuña has a neighborhood-y feel, and I always run into someone I know. It is a nice central hub for people living in the Valle de Elqui and is well worth exploring on a sunny day.

Museo Gabriela Mistral

Museo Gabriela Mistral, Vicuña, Valle de Elqui, Chile
Museo Gabriela Mistral, Vicuña, Chile

Gabriela Mistral was born in Vicuña and raised in nearby Montegrande, and she is celebrated almost everywhere in the Valle with schools, businesses, streets, you name it named after her. After feeling a bit overloaded by the constant celebrations in her honor in April, the month in which she was born, I realized I needed to get to know her story for myself.

Museo Gabriela Mistral, Vicuña, Valle de Elqui, Chile
Museo Gabriela Mistral, Vicuña, Chile

The Museo Gabriela Mistral is located down a pleasant commercial street also named Gabriela Mistral, which is lined with small businesses and hostales, which are busy in summer but appear closed in the off-season.

Museo Gabriela Mistral, Vicuña, Valle de Elqui, Chile
Museo Gabriela Mistral, Vicuña, Chile

The museum begins with a reconstruction of the house where it is believed Gabriela Mistral was born, complete with period furniture and housewares. After peeking into her house, you can walk around the little plaza containing a Vía Láctea (Milky Way) marking all of the many places Gabriel Mistral lived during her life.

Museo Gabriela Mistral, Vicuña, Valle de Elqui, Chile
Gabriela Mistral’s Personal Milky Way at the Vicuña Museum

After crossing Mistral’s personal galaxy, you arrive in a modern museum containing lots of displays with objects, quotations, photos, and other artifacts from her life. You can retrace her childhood upbringing in Montegrande, see furniture she used in one of her diplomatic offices, find out about her love of education, and learn about her travels.

Museo Gabriela Mistral, Vicuña, Valle de Elqui, Chile
Museo Gabriela Mistral, Vicuña, Chile

I was actually profoundly moved by the exhibits, realizing that there are many ways to live a life. Mistral certainly did not follow a traditional path, and she struggled to pursue her passion for education and receive recognition for her writing in her native country. But she is much loved and remembered for all of these things today.

Museo Gabriela Mistral, Vicuña, Valle de Elqui, Chile
Library at the Museo Gabriela Mistral, Vicuña, Chile

After exploring Gabriela Mistral’s life story, you can head into another building where temporary exhibits show local artists’ textiles or photography. On site, there is also an interesting library dedicated to children’s literacy, which is a cause that is also dear to my own heart. In addition, there are collections of Mistral’s poetry and local literature, worth perusing.

Museo Gabriela Mistral, Vicuña, Valle de Elqui, Chile
Lavender in the Garden of the Museo Gabriela Mistral

My favorite part of the museum is the beautiful garden located behind the museum and library. This garden is full of lavender and rosemary plants and honors the fields and orchards Gabriela Mistral grew up with. In the off season, the museum receives few visitors, so the garden is a quiet oasis in noisy Vicuña.

Museo Gabriela Mistral, Vicuña, Valle de Elqui, Chile
Museo Gabriela Mistral, Vicuña, Chile

Casa Solar de los Madriaga

Museo de la Casa del Solar de los Madriaga, Vicuña, Valle de Elqui, Chile
Casa Solar de los Madriaga, Vicuña, Chile

On my friend Sara’s recent visit, I finally satiated my own curiosity and took us both to another museum on Calle Gabriela Mistral. The Casa Solar de los Madriaga is one of the traditional houses that you see all around the Valle, but you can actually explore inside. Many years ago, the family converted the front of their house into a museum, preserving the family’s history and lots of period decorations, furniture, and appliances. Your guide is the owner, and he is friendly, funny, and open about his own life story.

Museo de la Casa del Solar de los Madriaga, Vicuña, Valle de Elqui, Chile
Inside the Casa Solar de los Madriaga, Vicuña, Chile

Most of the house is preserved in its original condition, and a few of the rooms have been converted into a modern hostal, where you can stay in great comfort. There is also a small dance studio that can be rented for events and a lovely garden in the family’s living quarters. Cafe Frida, located next door, rents space from this giant house-turned-museum, so it is possible to appreciate the vintage charms over a Mexican-inspired meal.

Museo de la Casa del Solar de los Madriaga, Vicuña, Valle de Elqui, Chile
Succulents in the Garden at the Casa Solar de los Madriaga

Torre Bauer and Iglesia Inmaculada Concepción
Vicuña, Valle de Elqui, Chile
Torre Bauer, Vicuña, Chile

Another place that characterizes Vicuña is the distinctive red Torre Bauer on the corner of the plaza, kitty corner from the attractive old church. This tower was made in Germany and then brought over to Vicuña, where it was constructed on the site of the old Cabildo. Behind the Torre Bauer, you find all the municipal offices, including the post office. The tower hosts a small museum.

Vicuña, Valle de Elqui, Chile
Iglesia Inmaculada Concepción, Vicuña, Chile

Across the street is Vicuña’s pretty church, the Iglesia Inmaculada Concepción. I haven’t actually been inside as it is usually closed when I pass through town, but like most of the churches in the Valle de Elqui, it is worth stopping by. It is about a century old and retains the regional charm from this era.

Café Oveja Negra

Oveja Negra, Vicuña, Valle de Elqui, Chile
Hanging Out with Sara in Café Oveja Negra, Vicuña, Chile

I have recently started to frequent Café Oveja Negra, located on Calle Gabriela Mistral, right on the plaza. With comfortable benches in the window and outside seating, it is a great place to spend an afternoon people watching. The café is small but cozy, with lots of sheep decorating its walls. It is a pleasant place for a pot of tea, fresh juice, freshly prepared sandwiches, and tarts (known as kuchen here in Chile), and has a long list of coffee options. And they have free wifi, which makes it a nice option for writing emails.

Empanadas Paladar Arte-sano

Paladar Arte-Sano, Vicuna, Chile
Empanada at Paladar Arte-Sano, Vicuña, Chile

The best place to get empanadas in the Valle de Elqui is Paladar Arte-sano, located on Calle Chacabuco, almost directly across the street from Supermercado Rivera. When I took over this job, I saw several references to volunteers loving these empanadas, and nothing has changed with this year’s cohort. The owners are a friendly, kind couple who share the workload of making empanadas and baking simple, healthy pastries. They have a full list of vegetarian empanadas along with the standard Chilean options like pino, all using quality ingredients, mozzeralla cheese, and avoiding lard. If you are lucky, you will stop in when they have recently baked gingerbread cookies styled after Gengi, the character from Shrek, which kids and adults alike get excited about.


As with most tourist towns in Chile, Vicuña has (at least) three artisanal ice cream shops, where you can get a number of fruit flavors as well as local favorites like canela (cinnamon) and tres leches (three types of milk). All of the ice cream shops are located on Calle Gabriela Mistral, heading toward the museum.

Permanent Artisan Market

Another place worth checking out is the artisan market located on the plaza, down a small passageway. Because of its bohemian vibe, the Valle de Elqui attracts a number of artisans, and you can buy a number of well-made and affordable goods in this permanent artisan market. I am particularly impressed by the jewelry made from copper and other metals common in Chile.

Temporary Artisan Market

During the summer, there is another artisan market around the plaza, but since the plaza is under construction it has been relocated to an empty lot next to the BancoEstado on the other side of the plaza. Formerly open during holiday weekends or school vacations, it is currently open daiky and may no longer be so temporary. Here you can get local fruit and nuts like papaya and pecan, honey, more ice cream, natural beauty products, and other interesting things, like jewelry, textiles, and handcrafted souvenirs.

Casa de la Cultura

One of my other favorite places to spend time in Vicuña is the Casa de la Cultura, located on the same block as the Unimarc, BancoEstado, and temporary artisan market. Tucked inside the Casa de la Cultura is the public library, which offers free wifi (if you are a foreigner, you can ask the computer room attendant for a code that gives you 1.5 hours of wifi). They also have a pretty sizable collection of English language books.

The Casa de la Cultura has a pretty courtyard with tables where you can sit in the sun, but the most interesting aspect is the small gallery containing exhibits of local artists, many inspired by the Diaguitas culture, regionally popular weaving, or mandalas and other spiritual symbols popular in the Valle.


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Lunch at Govinda, Vicuña, Chile

In a place known for its spiritual energy, it is no surprise to find the Hare Krishnas in Vicuña. While they have an EcoTruly in Diaguitas, they also have a restaurant located on the main plaza serving fixed price lunches. For a vegetarian like me, this is one of the few places I can get a full meal instead of a salad or empanada.

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Lotus Window at Govinda, Vicuña, Chile

As you can see, Vicuña is a compact city which still boasts some quality food, art, and museums. I am sure there are a number of hidden corners I will still discover in the time I have left in the Valle. Since coming back from my vacation, I realized how much I like pleasant Vicuña and I will definitely miss its charms when I leave at the end of 2015.

Recommendations for Vicuña, Chile:

  • If you are coming to the Valle de Elqui from Santiago, you can take a direct bus to Vicuña on Expreso Norte, but these buses are only semi-cama. The bus leaves Santiago twice daily, once in the morning and once at night, and leaves Vicuña twice daily at 11AM and 9:45PM.
  • Alternatively, you can take any bus to La Serena and transfer to the Via Elqui bus in the La Serena bus terminal (or the Coquimbo bus terminal), or take the Sol de Elqui bus from its stop across from Líder, anywhere along Calle Brasil, or from the Unimarc parking lot next to La Recova.
  • Since I live here, I haven’t stayed in any of the hostels, but after seeing the cute rooms in the Casa Solar de los Madriaga, I would suggest staying there.
  • As of writing, the Museo Gabriela Mistral is free to visit and absolutely a must-stop for anyone interesting in the history of the Valle or Chile’s Nobel-prize winning poet.
  • If you are curious about the traditional houses of the Valle de Elqui, you can get an intriguing peek inside at the Museo Casa Solar de los Madriaga, which costs $900 for a guided tour. I really enjoyed my visit.
  • The best empanadas in the Valle are at Empanadas Paladar Arte-sano, located at Chacabuco 448, a block from the plaza, across from Supermercado Rivera and not far from the bus terminal.
  • Don’t forget to check out the artisan markets and shops around the plaza and peek into the Casa de la Cultura to see its temporary exhibits or enjoy the sunny courtyard.
  • On Saturdays, Vicuña has a fería, or farmer’s market, where you can get local produce and food items at low prices. The fería is located in the market area next to the Shell station and is especially fun in summer when there are lots of things in season.
  • If you want to visit the Mamalluca astronomical observatory, the ticket office is located the municipal complex off the San Martín side of the plaza, behind the Torre Bauer. It is much more affordable to book your tour and transfer from the municipal office if you stay in Vicuña, rather than booking with a tour agency in Pisco Elqui.

Buenos Aires, Argentina: Revisiting My First Love in the Form of A City

Buenos Aires: there is not much I can say about this capital of a nation of contradictions that you haven’t already heard. Buenos Aires is a city of faded elegance teeming with life, perched on the banks of a river which runs straight to the ocean. And it is also one of the places I once called home.

Buenos Aires, Argentina: Bosques de Palermo
Sunset in the Bosques de Palermo, Buenos Aires

Back when I was a fresh faced girl straight from the woods of New England, I decided to spend a year abroad in Buenos Aires, studying Latin American literature, history, and culture, but most of all, to learn Spanish. I chose Buenos Aires because I wanted to experience city life, and once I got a taste of its culture, I was hooked. I fell in love with Buenos Aires, and fell hard.

Buenos Aires, Argentina: Recoleta
Appreciating Fall in Parque Las Heras, Near My Old Apartment

I lived in Argentina from mid-2001 to mid-2002, experiencing the ups and downs of its economic crisis in December 2001 and the resulting devaluation of the peso, a decisions whose aftereffects continue to reverberate in the nation’s economy today. I visited the city in 2007, spending two weeks refamiliarizing myself with its streets and trying to gauge the nature of the changes post-crisis. When I went back to Argentina in 2013, I opted not to visit Buenos Aires again, as it was too far from my route north to Peru and Ecuador.

One of the awesome aspects of living in Chile is that I have several friends in Santiago, one of whom is my dear friend Diego, a Buenos Aires native currently living and working in Chile’s capital. In February, I finally got to meet Diego’s then-fiancee, Alejandra, and they invited me to celebrate their wedding in Buenos Aires this past June. Of course, I said I would be happy to attend and started looking for affordable flights!

Buenos Aires, Argentina: La Boda!
Enjoying the Fun at Diego and Alejandra’s Wedding in Buenos Aires

When I booked my ticket to Buenos Aires, I wrote to the rest of my Argentine friends to schedule some time to hang out. I also made a small bucket list of things I wanted do during my short visit to Buenos Aires, and especially things I wanted to eat! Here is a chronicle of my brief adventures in Buenos Aires, captured on my smartphone.

Savoring My Favorites in Argentine Cuisine with Friends

Buenos Aires, Argentina: Empanadas en La Querencia
Delicious Empanadas at La Querencia, Buenos Aires

While Chilean empanadas can be delicious, Argentine empanadas are the best. I particularly love humita empanadas with their creamy corn filling and any empanadas featuring leafy greens and herbs.

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Humita at La Querencia, Buenos Aires

My dear friend Cynthia knew a good place to take me so I could get my fix and also some of my much loved northwest Argentine cuisine, including an actual humita, a corn husk stuffed with the same creamy corn filling. We headed to La Querencia in Recoleta. It was a good place for us to escape from the rainy weather and catch up.

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Posing with Cynthia in La Querencia, Buenos Aires

The next night, I met up with another group of friends, whom I met 13 years ago when we were all traveling in Mendoza. We headed to Cumaná, another restaurant specializing in traditional Argentine cuisine.

Buenos Aires, Argentina: Reencuentro en Cumaná
Empanadas, Crayons, and Wine at Cumaná, Buenos Aires

Of course, I decided to take advantage of the opportunity to have more empanadas along with a delicious salad, and we shared the “pinguino,” a penguin-shaped pitcher filled with house wine. We spent hours laughing and catching up, and marveling about the fact that we are still in touch all these years later!

Buenos Aires, Argentina: Reencuentro en Cumaná
Posing with My Friends in Cumaná, Buenos Aires

Of course, I also had to sample Argentina’s rich helado (ice cream) a few times for old times’ sake. I always have to enjoy chocolate and dulce de leche flavors when in Argentina.

Can't forget to have helado in Buenos Aires! #helado #buenosaires #argentina

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Ice Cream from Persicco, Buenos Aires

The last item on the food list was a delicious Argentine-style pizza. I ended up being super impressed by the impressive flavor combinations, including a pizza featuring the spicy jalapeño.

Friends in Buenos Aires, Argentina
Enjoying Pizza with Cynthia and Alejandro in Buenos Aires

This dinner gave me a chance to get to know Cynthia’s husband Alejandro better and enjoy one more good meal before heading back to Chile.

Revisiting My Favorite Places in Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires, Argentina: El Ataneo
El Ataneo, Buenos Aires

High on the agenda for my short trip was revisiting familiar places and wandering the streets of my old neighborhoods. Cynthia took up the challenge and accompanied me down Avenida Santa Fe over to the heart of Recoleta. I wanted to stop in at El Ataneo, the theatre-turned-bookstore that represents the well-read, literary culture of this intellectual city. I love browsing there and taking in the attractive architecture.

Buenos Aires, Argentina: Bosques de Palermo
Enjoying the Sun in the Bosques de Palermo, Buenos Aires

While it was rainy for most of my trip, the sun came out on Sunday afternoon and I took advantage of the pleasant weather to wander through my old neighboorhood in Recoleta, as you see above, down to Plaza Italia and the extensive green parks of the Bosques de Recoleta.

Buenos Aires, Argentina: Bosques de Palermo
Sunday Traffic in the Bosques de Palermo, Buenos Aires

Cynthia and Alejandro joined me for a sunset stroll around the lake at the Rosedal, prolonging the relaxation of the afternoon’s slow pace.

Buenos Aires, Argentina: Bosques de Palermo
Sunset at Parque Rosedal, Bosques de Palermo, Buenos Aires

We also headed to the Planetario, which I actually think I had never visited, and I got to see the colorful light show on the dome of this structure.

Buenos Aires, Argentina: Bosques de Palermo
Planetario, Buenos Aires

On my last day in Argentina, I headed to Palermo Viejo to take in the murals and graffiti that pop up all along these residential blocks and to do a little browsing and shopping.

Views from Buenos Aires, Argentina
Colorful Mural in Palermo Viejo, Buenos Aires

While I didn’t come across quite as much street art as on previous trips, perhaps because of the route I took, I did appreciate some of the messages in the graffiti, like that in the photo below, which reads “Here no one gives up,” which symbolizes the Argentine spirit of continuing forward.

Views from Buenos Aires, Argentina: Palermo Viejo
Graffiti in Palermo Viejo, Buenos Aires

After sufficiently wandering the streets and shops of Palermo, I headed back to a bright cafe I’d passed earlier in the day to enjoy another of my favorite Argentine traditions, that of sitting in a café, enjoying a sweet treat with tea, and reading a book.

Buenos Aires, Argentina: Ninina Bakery
Attractive Interior of Ninina Bakery, Palermo Viejo, Buenos Aires

I ended up being super pleased with my decision as Ninina Bakery emphasizes simple, clean ingredients. They even put a bowl of unrefined sugar on your table to sweeten your drink. I opted for a pot of chai tea and some ginger pear scones.

Buenos Aires, Argentina: Ninina Bakery
Tea and Scones at Ninina Bakery, Palermo Viejo, Buenos Aires

I really enjoyed my wanderings through my old neighborhoods, Palermo and Recoleta, and checking out new and old businesses. The city still has it.

Celebrating a Wedding Argentine-Style

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The Happy Couple!

Of course, I have to mention the whole reason I made this trip: to celebrate the wedding of the lovely couple, Alejandra and Diego, two dear friends. This was actually my first ever non-American style wedding so it was interesting to compare the different customs in the ceremony and reception.

Buenos Aires, Argentina: La Boda!
Time for the Wedding Reception!

Buenos Aires, Argentina: La Boda!
Posing with Friends at the Wedding

The main difference is that the wedding takes place at night, so the reception starts later and goes until nearly dawn! In order to keep the festive spirit going, there is a moment of “carnaval” where everyone puts on masks, glow bracelets, and necklaces, plays with colorful sabers,and gets covered in confetti!

Buenos Aires, Argentina: La Boda!
Time to Dance! Hoy se baila!

There is also a sweets table late into the party to give people more energy to keep going, and at the end of the night, it is time for some restorative pizza after so much dancing!

Buenos Aires, Argentina: Santos Lugares
Mural at Santos Lugares, Buenos Aires

Because the wedding was in the greater province of Buenos Aires, not in the capital itself, I stayed with a friend of Diego’s, who took me to see the Santuario de Lourdes at Santos Lugares, a site of pilgrimage for many a believer. I appreciated the colorful murals outside the sacred grounds and the fancy cathedral.

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Santuario de Lourdes, Santos Lugares, Buenos Aires

After my trip to Buenos Aires, I realized that the city still pulses with the vital energy that it has always had, and through and through the city is a cultured one. Porteños are always reading, going to the movies, arguing about politics, and checking out art exhibits. My friends claimed that Buenos Aires is more dangerous than it used to be, but thankfully, I have no proof of that and felt just as comfortable as I used to!

All things considered, I still love Buenos Aires and could even see myself living there again someday if the opportunity presents itself. Now that I live nearby, I hope to visit more frequently and take in the inspiration of the city and its residents.

Santiago, Chile: Embracing New Beginnings in the Chilean Capital

When I finally landed in Santiago seven months ago after an arduous, two-day, budget-oriented journey from Lima, Peru, I was surprised at how easy everything was here in Chile. After a bit of “returner’s shock” in my beloved Peruvian capital, I found that things flowed smoothly from my arrival to Chile’s capital. I stepped out of the airport with my three heavy backpacks and onto a bus that deposited me at a metro station on the line that runs through the heart of Santiago.

Barrio Lastarria, Santiago, Chile
Colorful Church in Barrio Lastarria

My manager had set me up at her friend’s bright, spacious apartment in trendy Barrio Lastarria, where public transportation was just a few blocks away. I was suddenly connected to anywhere I needed to go, easily determined by a glance at Google Maps, rather than puzzling out Lima’s confusing-but-amazing bus system. And it was the middle of summer, so walking through the many green parks was equally as appealing. Even though Santiago is actually a giant, sprawling city, it feels small for visitors like me who stay in the fairly compact downtown area.

Views from Providencia, Santiago, Chile
Public Park in Providencia, Santiago, Chile

During my week in Santiago back in January, I embraced my new life as best I could. By day, I experienced what it was like to be a digital nomad, working from home to make decisions on teacher training and cross-cultural sessions for the volunteers’ upcoming orientation, and teaching my last few online classes before moving to the Valle de Elqui.

Views from Santiago, Chile
Andean-Inspired Murals Outside Metro Bellas Artes, Santiago, Chile

In the afternoons and evenings, I caught up with my Chilean friends from my time in Boston and wandered around the city, embracing Santiago with a new perspective, that of someone who would be living in Chile rather than passing through.

Posing with Ale in Vitacura, Santiago, Chile
Catching Up with Friends and Enjoying Every Minute, Santiago, Chile

Finally, it was time to move on to my new life in the Valle de Elqui. Like many Santiagans, I spent a leisurely Sunday afternoon in Parque Forestal, enjoying my time in the shade to read and write in my journal about all the emotions racing through me as I adjusted to my new life.

Parque Forestal, Santiago, Chile
Grass in Parque Forestal, Santiago, Chile

From there, I headed on to the Valle de Elqui to get acquainted with my new life. It was surprisingly challenging to leave Santiago, so I was happy to head back in early February to pick up the volunteers!

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Learning about the Mapuche, Museo Precolombino, Santiago, Chile

My next trip to Santiago took place in May, when I returned for the long weekend for the Dia del Trabajador and to pick up a new volunteer. The chillier temperatures encouraged me to check out some museums I had yet to visit, such as the recently remodeled Museo de Arte Precolombino, the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, and the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo. I enjoyed the chance to take in the inspiration of the city.

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Appreciating the Lovely Ladies Holding up the Museo de Bellas Artes, Santiago, Chile

Of course, another advantage to the city lifestyle is being able to eat well on each of my visits, and spend some time lounging in a cafe with my book or my journal and a pot of tea.

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Delicious Lunch at an Argentine Restaurant in Santiago, Chile

Even though I haven’t actually lived in Santiago, I feel like I’ve managed to get a good sense of life in the city on my sporadic visits, and as I finish up my year in the Valle de Elqui, I’m considering moving there. My winter visit last month to show Sara the sites was quite pleasant despite the cold and the rain, and I learned even more about hidden corners that give the city its personality, as you’ll see in a future post.

Santiago is an inviting capital city and a place that seems both easy to get to know but full of hidden surprises, and I am glad that my life here has included time there!

Recommendations for Santiago, Chile:
• If you are looking for a family-owned, welcoming hostel with super comfortable beds, look no further than Makus Hostel. Arturo and his wife have created a great atmosphere for the traveler and provide a solid breakfast and nice hot showers. The hostel is also located within walking distance of the downtown area as well as Providencia, so it is a good base for further explorations.
• The Museo de Arte Precolombino has an extensive collection of art from all over Latin America and it is well worth a wander. On the first Sunday of every month, the museum is free; otherwise entry costs $3500CLP. The Cafe del Museo offers delicious lunch options at affordable prices, as you can see here!
• The Museo de Bellas Artes is currently undergoing remodelation but always has interesting thematic exhibits. As with other national museums, entry is free as of July 2015.
• Next door, the Museo de Arte Contemporaro is also undergoing remodeling but is worth a look.
• Parque Forestal’s green spaces and wide paths are excellent for a stroll or bike ride. On Sundays, the CicloRecreoVia closes down major roads running along the Parque Forestal for bikers and pedestrians, which is a great experience to get out in the city without worrying about traffic.

La Serena, Chile: Trying to Appreciate the Oceanside City with a Colonial Past

Una foto publicada por Kim Dodge (@blueskylimit) el

Excited to Be at the Beach in La Serena, Chile

If there’s anything I’ve learned from my time living in the Valle de Elqui, it’s that I have most definitely become a city girl. While living in an idyllic mountain location can be restorative, I find myself inspired by each visit to Santiago, where even just wandering the streets sparks creative ideas.

Views from La Serena, ChileViews from the City Center of La Serena, Chile

When I signed up for a year here, I thought I would love visiting La Serena, a city touted as an ideal expat base due to its mild climate, proximity to the beach, and wide variety of services, such as a sizeable mall and two superstores. It is also only 5 or 6 hours from Santiago, which is convenient for any necessary visit to the capital.

Views from La Serena, Chile
Views from the City Center of La Serena, Chile

It’s funny how small decisions can have a greater impact later on in life. When I took the 32 hour bus ride from Santiago to Arica back in 2013, I considered stopping in La Serena to break the very long trip, lured by my guidebook’s enthusiastic description of its charms. But six hours just wasn’t enough of a dent into the day-plus journey, so I opted to power through and go straight to Arica. From my limited vantage point on the Panamerican highway, La Serena seemed like a pretty cool city. Imagine if I had spent a day or two exploring La Serena? I may not be where I am today.

Views from La Serena, Chile
Views of La Serena, Chile

Why is that? Try as I might, I cannot connect to this Chilean city. When I read this recent post from This Battered Suitcase naming La Serena as one of the cities she just didn’t like, I wanted to stand up and shout, “Me neither!”

Views from La Serena, Chile
Checking Out the Ocean from La Serena, Chile

There are few cities I don’t like (Huanuco, Peru is at the top of the list), but unfortunately, La Serena is one of them. Even still, I have tried to get to know La Serena as more than a transit hub, the place I have to go every so often to process my visa paperwork, and home to high speed internet and massive supermarkets. In May, I spent a Chilean holiday weekend staying in the city, walking and biking along the beach, and even trying to take in some nightlife. I ended up shattering my cell phone screen, getting the seat stolen off my rented bike, and offending a local with my controversial opinions about living in Chile. Needless to say, La Serena and I have a challenging relationship.

Una foto publicada por Kim Dodge (@blueskylimit) el

Churrasca in the Plaza de Armas, La Serena, Chile

That said, La Serena does have some redeeming factors. When the sun is shining brightly (more rare than you would expect due to the proximity of the mountains), the colonial buildings provide an attractive landscape for relaxed wanderings around the city center. The Plaza de Armas often hosts fairs where you can get regional food like churrascas or fresh juice, along with artisan crafts. There are hidden corners like the Patio Colonial filled with neat stores selling looseleaf tea, roasted nuts, essential oils, etc.

Ayawasi, La Serena, Chile
Vegetarian Lunch at Ayawasi, La Serena, Chile

There are at least two vegetarian restaurants where you can get a healthy meal, Pachamama Comida Sana and Ayawasi (see my recommendations, below). There are a number of cafes with outdoor seating catering to the locals along with a cute Western-style cafe, the Lighthouse Cafe. There are also a couple of interesting museums which give you an insight into local culture, which are a good place to head on a cloudy or chilly day.

Views from La Serena, Chile
El Faro, La Serena, Chile

Since La Serena’s city center is about a 20 minute walk from the beach, a visit to the Avenida del Mar can give you a sense that you are in another city and can be quite relaxing as it is located a good distance away from the heavy traffic of the Panamerican highway. On a sunny day, this is a pleasant stroll with a handful of small restaurants catering to tourists. The major destination is El Faro, or the lighthouse, located at the end of Francisco de Aguirre.

La Serena, Chile
Walking Along the Beach in La Serena, Chile

In the city center, La Recova is a popular destination for tourists. At ground level, it is lined with stalls offering mass-produced artisan wares akin to what you can find in nearby Peru and Bolivia at a fraction of the price. If you look closer, they also sell La Serena’s regional speciality, papaya. You can find preserved papaya, candied papaya, papaya with nuts, you name it. Chile’s papaya variety is different from any I have had before, so even if you’re not usually a fan of the fruit (like me), it’s worth a taste or two.

Views from La Serena, Chile

On the top floor of La Recova’s market, there are a number of restaurants dedicated to serving a wide variety of seafood. If, like me, that’s not your thing, La Recova also hosts fast food stands with empanadas and other quick meals. For budget travelers, nearby Calle Vicuña, has a number of low budget hostels, which cannot be particularly recommended but which are a decent option for a night.

Views from Coquimbo, Chile
Views from Avenida del Mar, between La Serena and Coquimbo, Chile

You also have the option of biking from La Serena to Coquimbo, as much of the route is on protected bike paths or sidewalks. We rented our bikes from a small family business near La Recova, but if you just want a short ride, there are bikes for rent by the hour along the bike path.

Views from Coquimbo, Chile
Bike Path Between La Serena and Coquimbo, Chile

Nearby Coquimbo has a busy, bustling fish market atmosphere which is a nice break from the cool, distant demeanor of many residents of La Serena. Due to the aforementioned bike seat robberies, I did not get to spend much time exploring Coquimbo, but I did enjoy watching the pelicans and seabirds.

Views from Coquimbo, Chile
Pelicans at the Port of Coquimbo, Chile

In Coquimbo, the big tourist destination is the Cruz del Tercer Milenio, a huge cement church complex located at one of the highest points in the city.

Views from Coquimbo, Chile

From the top, you can look out at the brightly painted houses coating the hillside of Coquimbo, which are remiscient of the views you get in Valparaíso.

Views from Coquimbo, Chile

Jardín Japonés, La Serena: Parque Jardín del Corazón
Parque Japonés, La Serena, Chile

Finally, La Serena has a lovely Japanese garden, Parque Jardín del Corazón, located close to the bus terminal and malls, which is a welcome escape from the hectic activity along the Panamerican highway (even if you can still hear the traffic during your stroll around the carefully curated landscape).

Jardín Japonés, La Serena: Parque Jardín del Corazón
Parque Japonés, La Serena, Chile

I know it is hard to believe that someone who loves the sprawling urban chaos of Lima could feel so ambivalent about the compact, organized, similarly colonial city of La Serena, but así es. As I’ve said before, this has indirectly benefited me because I spend less time and money heading to La Serena than I originally expected to, so I have learned to take advantage of my current home in a way I might not have otherwise.

Recommendations for La Serena, Chile:

• If you are spending a few nights in La Serena, I highly recommend Hostal El Arbol, located in a quiet neighborhood next to the Japanese garden. It is within walking distance of the bus terminal, close to the beach, and also near the city center.
• If El Arbol is booked up or a little too pricey, you can try the street of hostels located near La Recova.
• For vegetarians, La Serena has at least two vegetarian restaurants. Pachamama Comida Sana, located at Cordovez 490 in the commercial center, offers fixed price lunches at $2500, as well as juice and other cafe treats. The meals are on the smaller side but healthy. Ayawasi, located at Pedro Pablo Muñoz 566, near the Plaza de Armas and Japanese garden, has more plentiful meals for $3500.
• The Museo Arqueológico in La Serena is worth a visit to get a sense of the pre-Colombian cultures in the area, particularly the Diaguitas, who inhabited the Valle de Elqui. There you can also find a much-abused moai from Easter Island and other Rapa Nui artifacts. Admission is free as of writing.
• La Serena has plentiful shopping options with stores lining its two main streets, Prat and Cordovez. There are two malls located nearby on the Panamerican highway, as well as two superstores, Jumbo and Líder. For more niche shopping, try the Patio Colonial, which has a number of intriguing stores selling loose leaf tea, nuts and grains in bulk, aromatherapy, and other interesting wares.
• La Serena has a strong cafe culture, and you can’t wander around the city center without tripping over an outdoor cafe. For foreigners looking for a western-style coffee or bagel, head to Lighthouse Cafe at Matta 570.
• La Serena’s bus terminal is centrally located on the Panamerican highway, making it a great transit hub for just about any destination north to Arica or south to Santiago. From here, you can also catch buses to nearby Ovalle or Tongoy, a popular beach resort.
• To reach the Valle de Elqui, you can take a Via Elqui bus from the bus terminal, but their schedule is variable and irregular. For more regular bus service, catch a Sol de Elqui bus. The route begins at the bus stop across the street from Lider, near the Japanese garden, and continues along Avenida Brasil until the Unimarc parking lot next to La Recova, where it waits to pick up more passengers. It then continues its route and stops outside the other major market in La Serena.
• To reach Coquimbo, you can take local buses along the Panamerican highway. Some buses from the Valle de Elqui end in Coquimbo. If you have time and energy, you can rent a bike and follow the bike path from El Faro in La Serena to the market in Coquimbo, but be aware that there is nowhere particularly safe to lock up your bike in Coquimbo.

20 Little Things I Love About Chile

Una foto publicada por Kim Dodge (@blueskylimit) el

Gorgeous Clouds and Hills of the Valle de Elqui, Chile

What comes to mind when you think of Chile? For many, Chile evokes the images of snow-capped peaks, lush vegetation, infinite hiking paths, and perhaps even blue-toned glaciers spreading across the Andes. Patagonia is one of Chile’s biggest draws, and visiting Torres del Paine is a bucket list dream of many (including me!).

Views from Arica, Chile
Views from Arica, Chile

Perhaps you think of the lakes region, particularly the picturesque island community of Chiloé with its distinctive architecture. Maybe you’re intrigued by the haunting desert landscapes of San Pedro de Atacama, or the up-and-coming surf havens of Arica and Iquique. You may have heard some buzz about the colonial architecture attracting expats to the seaside city of La Serena, or the massive capital city of Santiago and all its history interests you.

Concha y Toro Winery, Santiago, Chile

Wine Tasting at Concha y Toro, Santiago, Chile

If you enjoy wine, you’ve likely learned to appreciate Chilean cabernet sauvignon, or the rediscovered carmenere, from the many fertile valleys around the country. Chile hosts many world class wineries, competing with the delicious options from nearby Mendoza, Argentina.

And of course, star lovers head to my current home of the Elqui Valley (Valle de Elqui), recently covered in the New York Times. Fans of artisanal liquors are also more than happy to sample the variety of piscos in this area (though I still prefer Peruvian pisco – sorry!).

Sunset from Ahu Tahai
Views from Isla de Pascua, Chile

Clearly, there are a lot of things to love about Chile. I haven’t even mentioned my favorite destination, Rapa Nui (more commonly known as Easter Island or Isla de Pascua).

Even with all of these amazing landscapes, I have struggled to connect to Chile like I did to Peru. I’ve mentioned that it’s taken me some time to readjust my expectations and find my routine in my new reality. Many Chileans have suggested that the north takes more getting used to than the south, just because the people here tend to be more suspicious of outsiders. I remember my guide in San Pedro de Atacama mentioning that he had the same problem when he moved there, and he’s Chilean!

While I may still find myself on the outside of Chilean culture, there are a number of aspects of life in Chile that I’ve come to embrace.

1. Marrequeta

Chileans are famous for their bread consumption. They rank second or third in the world for the amount eaten annually, depending on your source. While there are various types of bread popular in Chile (see this handy guide here!), I prefer marrequeta, the fluffy, crusty bread. While not all marrequeta is equally delicious, you will never forget a recently baked marrequeta that melts in your mouth. Many gringos complain about eating so much bread, but I keep my daily consumption to one marrequeta and haven’t gained weight yet.

Queso Crema, La Serena, Chile

2. Queso crema

Queso crema is Chileans answer to cream cheese, and I like it so much better! It usually comes in a tube and you cut off the top, revealing just enough space for your knife. It is spreadable and has just the right amount of tang. Marrqueta with queso crema is my new favorite breakfast.

3. Loose leaf tea with a sliver of cinnamon stick (té con canela)

Chileans also rank highly for their consumption of tea, due to the fact that they drink it twice day. While loose leaf tea was hard to come by in Peru, you can easily find it in any supermarket in Chile, bags and bags of affordable ceylon tea! Here, I learned that Chileans have the custom of slipping in a sliver of cinnamon stick into their mug while the tea brews, giving it a nice flavor.

4. Té or once tradition

As mentioned above, most Chileans eat bread and drink tea twice a day, part of a meal called té, or more commonly, once. Instead of having dinner, Chileans opt for a big almuerzo and have a small meal in the evening. Even though our host families provide us with dinner, I am also happy with the té tradition, and enjoy the fact that it is always served with an elaborate presentation and a variety of options to top the bread. Sometimes people eat once comida, which can mean a delicious slow cooked onion mix with eggs, or some other light meal.

Paladar Arte-Sano, Vicuna, Chile
The Best Empanadas I’ve Had from Paladar Artesano, Vicuña, Chile

5. Empanadas

While my recent trip to Buenos Aires reminded me that Argentines are the masters of empanadas, Chilean empanadas are still delicious. Chilean empanadas tend to be oversized and turn into a filling meal. I particularly like the empanadas I can find in Vicuna at a small restaurant called Paladar Arte-sano, where there are a number of vegetarian options.

Valle de Elqui, Chile: Making Orange Juice
6. Fresh squeezed orange juice

I remember traveling in Bolivia in 2007 and discovering that I could buy inexpensive, freshly squeezed orange juice from a vendor in the plaza. Imagine my joy wandering the streets of Providencia and stumbling across the same thing! Lucky for me, I live in a house next to an expansive orchard which is currently overflowing with oranges. I also have a simple but effective machine that quickly and efficiently squeezes the oranges. This means I can have orange juice whenever I want this season.

7. Homemade dulces

Chileans certainly have a sweet tooth, but it tends towards fruit marmalades and dulces, or sweet bricks of concentrated fruit preserves. I personally prefer my fruit fresh (see above!), but I can’t complain about the occasional slice of dulce de manzana or spoonful of apricot marmalade with chunks of preserved fruit.

8. Kiwis

I am not sure exactly where kiwis grow in Chile, but I do know that they are more common and much more affordable here than anywhere else I’ve lived. Kiwis are one of my favorite fruits (okay, I like all fruit), so I’ll happily eat as many as I can while living here.

9. McKay cookies

Even though I don’t usually eat packaged cookies in my normal life in the US, I do like being able to buy tubes of cookies for a quick snack at school. I am a fan of McKay brand cookies, which are not too sweet and have lots of good flavors. I am especially a fan of the coco, tiza, and triton cookies.

Delicious Homemade Dinner, La Serena, Chile
Enjoying the Chilean Tradition of Salad

10. Salads

Chileans may have a meat, dairy, and bread heavy diet, but they also love their salads! In the lunch room at school, the other teachers are always eating a variety of salads as part of their almuerzo, and at any formal gathering with family or friends, you are likely to have at least two salads. Salads are usually one or two ingredients, such as tomato and cucumber, broccoli and carrot, or some combination thereof. I am a big fan.

Palta in the Valle de Elqui, ChilePicking Palta in the Valle de Elqui, Chile

11. Picking my own fruit

One of the things I most enjoy about my living situation is the access to the orchard. When I arrived in summer, peaches and plums were plentiful, and then figs and grapes came in. Now it is the season of limes, oranges, avocado (mi querida palta), and guavas. I even found a pecan tree and tried out some quince (membrillo). From my city girl perspective, having your own orchard is a dream come true so I am going to enjoy it while it lasts. Now that I’ve talked about all the food customs and options I love about Chile, it’s time to mention a couple of aspects of Chilean culture that are equally appealing.

12. WhatsApp

While WhatsApp is not a Chilean phenomenon, it is the primary form of communication among everyone here. Work, play, you name it – people are going to chat with you on WhatsApp rather than calling, texting, or emailing. Instead of asking your phone number, people ask if you have WhatsApp. I have fully adjusted to the range of emoticons now available me, after being someone who rarely chatted online in the last 10 years.

13. Karaoke

I am not sure if this is specific to the region I live in, but Chileans here sure love their karaoke. I have always been a fan and it is a cheap and easy form of entertainment on the weekends. Sometimes when we are bored on weeknights we rehearse our songs for weekend gatherings.

14. Natural wool

One thing I was delighted to find here is 100% natural Chilean wool. Despite the fact that Peru produces tons of high quality sheep and alpaca wool, it was always hard to find affordable, non-acrylic wool. Chileans also tend to knit in acrylic, but I’ve been able to find plenty of gorgeous natural wool in yarn shops in Vicuna, La Serena, and Santiago. This keeps me inspired to knit my own 100% Chilean souvenirs, as you see here and here!

15. Ponchos

Speaking of wool, Chilean women love their ponchos. I was shocked by the variety available for purchase in the department stores in fall, and I am always impressed with the ways stylish Chileans wear them. They are useful here because it’s usually cold in the morning and ponchos keep the chill off your shoulder while leaving your arms free. I acquired one myself and wouldn’t be surprised if I buy another before the winter is over.

16. Receipts and posted prices

Chile is a much more official country than others in South America, which means that prices are almost always posted and usually fixed. I particularly like the fact that it is easy to get receipts, which helps me with my nonprofit expenses. I have never been a huge fan of negotiating and like that I don’t always have to be on guard for people raising prices on me because I’m a foreigner.

Una foto publicada por Kim Dodge (@blueskylimit) el

17. Reading by the river

I figured out over the last few years that I am a person who needs to be near the water, and I am excited that I live within walking distance of the major river here in the Valle. Almost on a daily basis I walk down to the river and sit in the sun reading. It may not be the same as my walks along the Malecon in Lima, but it does the job and keeps me sane.

18. “Aqui estamos”

I am not sure if this is a Valle or northern thing, but often when you ask someone, especially someone my parents’ age or older, how they are, they say, “Aqui estamos,” or “here we are.” While it can seem a little resigned to living out days after endless days, I find it charming. It is usually said with a smile rather than sarcasm, but it makes me laugh every time I hear it.

19. Tía (or Tío)

Another funny thing about Chilean Spanish is that kids are taught to call adults “Tia” (aunt) or “Tio” (uncle). At first it makes you feel old, but you get used to it quickly and it becomes adorable.

20. Gas Heaters

Okay, this is a weird one to end the list, but because it is still cold right now, this one is on my mind. Most Chilean homes don’t have a heating system, even though the temperatures in night and day can be drastically different. Here is the Valle, that means that you may be hot in the day and very cold at night or in the early morning. Enter the gas heater, the most common way to heat your room. I like the gas heaters because they are easy to control – gas trucks circle around town several times per day, and gas is relatively affordable. I can decide how much to run my heater rather than having to worry about how much electricity I am using. As a person who is usually cold, I am really enjoying sitting next to my gas heater as much as I want.

As you can see, Chile has a lot of little things that I have learned to embrace during the past six, almost seven months here. With only four months left, I need to take advantage of these things as much as possible, because who knows where I’ll end up next!