January 16, 2019

I visited the mausoleum of Gabriella Mistral in the tiny mountain town of Monte Grande yesterday. It was a hot day even in the oasis in the valley bottom where the town is located. You are saved from the heat by the breeze that always seems to be blowing either up or down the deep valley. I spent half a day sitting in the town plaza, which is where you will feel the heartbeat of these villages. Old cowboys wander by dressed very gentlemanly and wearing their wide brimmed hats. There is a sweet, gallant pride in their demeanor, they probably worked these hills either mining or in agriculture since they were young boys and they are greeted with respect and joy by every local they pass. This is a small plaza and as always one side is fronted by an old, old church with a tall wooden steeple that seems like it could tumble over at any time and is a home to pigeons and a landmark from just about anywhere in the valley. I know this because I always walk as far as I can up and down these valleys as possible. There is also usually a cafe or two on another side of the plaza and the Main Street fronting it on another. There are artisans situated in the shade beneath plentiful, wide shade trees and benches in a circle around a babbling fountain and locals and visitors come and go, stopping to enjoy this special place.

I’m on my way south to Santiago, then a 9 hour bus ride to the northern edges of Patagonia. I’ll post pictures when I have WiFi access. You are all beautiful, thanks for following me on this journey.

January 15, 2019

Greetings fellow Earthlings. I’m in Vicuña, northern Chile, a smallish town set in the bottom of a valley in the foothills of the Andes about 40 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean. This area is famous for three things: Pisco grapes are grown here, everywhere that there is ground to till. They are made into a brandy that is unique and loved around the world. It’s a miracle that they grow because it barely rains here and, as you’ll see in the photos, even the brush on the steep mountain sides looks dead. Number two: the road into the Andes is known as the ‘Route of the Stars” because the very dark skies and almost always clear nights and a unique combination of humidity and low particle amount in the air provide the best viewing of our universe for astronomers, anywhere on earth. I joined a tour group (nine French friends) last night and rode to an observatory high in the Andes where we viewed the half moon, several nebulas, a dying star, a pending supernova that will fill the night sky with light brighter than the full moon for a few weeks when it explodes. This could happen at any time and astronomers are keeping a constant ‘eye’ on it. Also the megellanic clouds – galaxies that look literally like clouds in the sky, unbelievable, the southern cross, and Alpha Centauri, the closest star to earth (4 plus light years). All of these objects (except for the moon, of course) are only visible from the Southern Hemisphere. When the supernova explodes it will be seen from the entire galaxy, just in case you were planning an interstellar journey and were worried about missing it. The French group had a French astronomer – interpreter and I had an English speaking astronomer to myself and I asked a zillion questions. We were up there until after midnight and this changed my life, my universe is a hundred million light years bigger!Number three, Gabriella Mistral was born in the small town of Montegrande, just up the road from Vicuña. She was the first Latin poet to win the Nobel prize in literature and traveled the world as an ambassador for children’s education and women’s rights from 1914 to 1957. I’ve been a big fan of her poetry for years! She spent several years in Mexico working on children’s educational system and is super loved there by many. I’m headed to Monte Grande today, deep in a mountain valley. I was in a town called Pisco Elqui yesterday (photos), I’ll let the pictures do the talking, it was crazy beautiful. The people here are kind and hard working and family life is amazing, children are on summer break, the plaza in every town filled with their musical laughter. I’ve walked many miles and I get lonely but I accept this and the land and the people seem to absorb my loneliness and I walk on.

January 12, 2019

A few factoids to share with you: My backpacks name is Stanley, in honor of Fawn and Breena’s cat, who is buried next to his step brother Alfalfa on a forested hillside above Aptos, California and is now feeding a giant redwood tree, beneath which his remains were sadly put to rest. I digress. Stanley was famously huge, 23 pounds at one time, and when I mentioned my backpacks weight of 21 pounds to Fawn and Breena, individually, 4,000 or more miles apart, they both said exactly the same thing – “oh, that’s about how much Stanley weighed.” WTF does a cats weight have to do with my backpack, daughters? So that’s how it was named, the power of suggestion. If Lena or Emory are reading this I owe you each a dollar for the abbreviated swear word written above. What’s the cut off age for that deal, anyway? Factoids 2, 3 and 4: I’m 5 hours later than pacific time. Sunset is at 9pm, woo haaa! It was 83 degrees in the town of Vicuña today, whoop whoop. The nation of Chile is 2,600 miles long and averages 110 miles wide, bordered on the west by the Pacific Ocean and on the east by the crest of the Andes, so you go from 15,000 feet to sea level in 100 miles of width, Incredible. Distances between cities and towns in the north half are vast and bus rides long but I’m going to continue north to the Atacama desert, a total of 20 hours by bus, then back south all the way to Patagonia. So far, so good!

I’ll be in Vicuña for 2 more days, darkest skies on earth, observatory tour tomorrow night. I’ll keep you posted! Love to all.

January 11, 2019

It’s Friday, a good day for a long bus ride. I walked the streets of Valparaiso late into the night and needed the sleep that I got on the bus. Jet lag was kicking my rear for the first two nights but I got my mojo back yesterday and experienced ‘Valpo’s’ secret: dusk and nightfall on a warm summer night, the days heat radiating up from the cobblestones, siestas completed, cafes and galleries reopen, bottles of Carmenere open (probably one of the best Chilean wines anywhere) and moods heighten. There is a special magic in the air. So I walk the narrow streets and forget about time. Very romantic for couples. I try not to stare at their amorous behavior in the shadows. Cats on still-hot tin roofs, dogs follow anyone with a scrap of food, sliver of silver moon in the violet sky, music drifts, laughter lifts. Who wouldn’t want to walk through this scene deep into the night? But all things come to an end, my friend, both good and bad, and the scales of time finally begin to balance in favor of sleep and I find my way back to La Nona’s and and drift into dreamland.

Up early to catch the number 612 bus to the main bus station. It’s about a 20 minute ride, 380 pesos worth (about 40 cents), that winds through old neighborhoods, up and down the cobbled streets picking up people on their way to work. An old man sits down next to me and pulls out a wrinkled old paperback, I think I saw ‘Dostoyevsky’ in the title. Would have loved to talk to him. The bus station is the usual packed merry go round and I climb to the top floor of my bus and flop into my seat and doze, waking occasionally to gorgeous seacoast and dry rolling hills passing by. I arrive in La Serena at 5 pm. It’s pretty blasé after Valpo but we will see what tomorrow brings.

January 9 and 10, 2019

Rene and his wife are the owners of La Nona, the B&B that I’m staying at. They own a two storey house on the hill that forms a bowl around Valparaiso bay. They have twin daughters, 4 years old, adorable beyond words. Their laughter is always heard somewhere in the house. Breakfast is a treat, fruit, homemade yoghurt, homemade bread, great coffee. Rene speaks fluent English and gives me valuable info on travel in all directions from here, some of which I would otherwise have had to learn the hard way. The house is old and quaint and comfy. The street that it’s on is cobblestone and slopes steeply downhill to the main part of the city, which is level where it nears the docks. Walk uphill a few blocks and you are where land squatters have built homes, completely legal. The upper part of the city was constructed this way and this zone is about 2-3 miles wide. The city is old and I’m surprised by looking at it that it hasn’t fallen down the hill into the ocean. Buildings are propped up in places, it seems to be equal parts falling apart, being patched back together and new buildings under construction. There are stairways and warrens and pathways and shortcuts everywhere on the hillsides. Dogs seem to be their own owners and I haven’t seen a skinny one yet. I play my harmonica and make up songs as I walk the quieter streets and alleys, one goes like this:

Like a dog lying in the street,

I ain’t got no one, no one to meet,

Won’t someone please take me home,

Or at least throw me a bone.

That’s not how I feel, I’m fine, but I can imagine a dog howling those blues.

I toured Pablo Neruda’s house yesterday, famous Chilean poet if you don’t know. Incredible and inspiring. I sat alone in the garden below the house in the shade during the heat of the afternoon and listened to two cats wail and howl below me somewhere, kind of sounded like a cat opera.

I sat on the dock of the bay and watched the tide roll away in the evening, fishermen headed out to somewhere in stout sea worthy fishing boats, bantering back and forth between boats, mostly older, weather worn guys, in tee shirts in spite of the evening that was beginning to cool down, as it does along most of the Pacific Ocean that time of day. There are cargo ships coming and going and I wonder what it must be like to be shipping out for months at a time, leaving your loved ones behind, then it occurs to me: well hells bells, that’s what I’m doing. I’m human, I miss you guys.

Valparaiso is famous for its murals and mural artists. You have to see it to believe it so I’ve attached some photos. Graffiti is encouraged and is everywhere, this is taggers heaven. I leave for La Serena in the morning, about a 6 hour bus ride up the coast. I’ll miss this seaport town.

January 8, 2018

“A journey is like a marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.” -John Steinbeck

I fly through the night to Santiago, clear customs and climb on a bus to Pajarito station in the center of the city, then transfer to a bus to Valparaiso, two hours away. There is no English spoken at the airport or bus station and by some miracle I’m in Valparaiso by 1 pm. It is a city of 300,000 that slopes from the mountains to the Pacific Ocean, very old and colorful, with narrow cobblestone streets. I sit downtown in the afternoon sun for an hour and people watch, then take a taxi to my hostel. It is in a house on one of the cobblestone streets about halfway up the hill towards the mountains. I haven’t really slept for 24 hours but the pull to walk the streets is irresistible so I head out and explore as much as I can before returning to a comfy bed and fall into a 12 hour dream filled sleep.

Day 1 (January 6, 2019)

San Francisco. A hard, slanting rain blows in off of the Pacific Ocean, making the Monterey Pines across the street in Golden Gate Park wave their branches as if trying to keep their balance. My backpack is loaded and ready to go. I’ve had a sweet two weeks here and in Santa Cruz visiting much loved friends and family, and texting my beautiful family up in Sandpoint. Funny, saying Sandpoint is up makes it sound like heaven. Well, I guess it is. I couldn’t ask for a better family than the wild bunch up there. I Love you all. I jump on board a plane to Santiago, Chile tomorrow morning, then onto a bus to Valparaiso, a coastal city with a lot of history West of Santiago about an hour and a half. You will be hearing more about that soon. Here are some of the dangers that friends have warned me to look out for: llamas, dogs, gypsies, thieves, earthquakes, volcanoes, rain, bad food, bad company, bad vibes, poisonous snakes (there are none, I’ve heard), spiders, mosquitoes, ticks, bad liquor, fires and a few other things not to be mentioned here. Like the rain swirling around outside my window, it’s all a part of life, so lets get this carnival on the road!