The following is our first GUEST BLOG, written by Shane (Shanna’s brother) and Leyna (his girlfriend), who met us in Santiago, Chile for four days
Pablo Neruda, the unofficial poet of Chile, was reputed to only write with a green pen, as green was the color of Esperanza (which means “hope” in Spanish).  Once, presumably talking about one of his many wives or mistresses, he wrote, “I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where. I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride; so I love you because I know no other way.”  He could have just as easily been talking about Chile.  Chile is familiar and yet strange, frantic but peaceful.  It is a country where 70% of its inhabitants declare themselves Catholic, and yet entwined lovers can be seen on any available flat surface.  Remnants of Pinochet’s rule can be seen in the utilitarian architecture, devoid of any aesthetic value, but their vibrantly painted exteriors speak of renewed hope and a lust for life.
Our first dinner was in the Bellavista district, at Azul Profundo, home to excellent seafood, colorful buildings, sidewalk cafes, Pablo Neruda, and the only mountaintop zoo we’d ever seen.  During our first full day with Shanna and Derek, we rented a car to make the drive from Santiago to Valparaiso, a Pacific port city sometimes compared to San Francisco.  A wrong but fortunate turn took us through gorgeous winding mountain roads, and we arrived on the coast after a four-hour journey.  After exploring Valparaiso’s hills and extravagantly painted back alleys on foot, we ate lunch at a wonderful restaurant overlooking the ocean.  We soon noticed that our plates were being continuously speckled with pieces of ash.  Though people at the surrounding tables were smoking cigarettes, this ash was mysteriously thick.
After dinner, we made our way down to the coast of the neighboring town, Viña del Mar.   It was there that we noticed a huge plume of black smoke being belched from the mountains behind Valparaiso.  We had read that Chile had over 2000 volcanoes.  We had apparently found one!  The ashy cloud coated the sky and the setting sun, providing a beautiful walk on the beach and several excellent photos.  In fact, two Chilean “Golden Girls” temporarily commandeered Derek’s camera in order to take our picture in front of the ashy sun, screaming and laughing in Spanish, while Derek anxiously analyzed any potential exits they might suddenly take advantage of with his camera.

As darkness fell, we began our journey home.  Within 10 minutes we encountered a crash and had to detour.  In the US, detours generally take you along flat country roads.  On the Chilean coast, detours apparently take you through treacherously narrow and hilly urban roads that only consist of hairpin, 175˚ turns.  Thanks to the kindness of a Chilean cab driver, who allowed us to follow him through some alleys and down some hills, we made our way back to the highway and home to Santiago.
That night, while Shanna and Derek retired to their hotel, we decided to sample the Santiago night life.  Leyna discovered the citrus-veiled evils of Chile’s specialty drink, the pisco sour (“Vicious and delicious!”), and Shane found out that there is a reason Chile is known for its wine-production, rather than its beer exports (“Awful.”).  We awoke to find that, not only did our heads hurt, some cash had “disappeared” from our hotel room.  Though our money was stolen, our passports were thankfully left untouched. After spending a day at the Concha y Toro winery, located on a beautiful expanse of land in the countryside, we soon forgot about the unfortunate occurrence.
After our short stay, it was time to return home.  Upon arriving at the airport, we were informed that our nine-hour layover at the São Paulo was prohibited by the Brazilian government, which institutes an eight-hour limit on layovers for travelers without visas.  This was shocking, as our 13-hour stay on the way down was not a problem and this information is nowhere to be found on the internet.  The airline wouldn’t budge and calls to our online travel broker proved to be frivolous.

When all hope began to fade, Shanna and Derek arrived at the airport to catch an unrelated flight.  Upon hearing about our situation, they morphed into an efficient and relentless double-pronged lawyer machine.  Their ease of navigating such a stressful situation made our feeble attempts at handling the predicament look laughable.  It was like a major league ball player pinch hitting for the ninth batter on a 2nd grade tee-ball team.  Although we never made it onto our original flight, Derek’s Jedi-mind tricks allowed us to purchase two relatively inexpensive tickets back to the US, and we managed to make it home without any additional delays.
Like Neruda, we aren’t sure what is was that made us fall in love, but we did.  We fell in love with Chile during our short stay there.  It is not the most glamorous place we have traveled.  Not the cleanest.  Not the sexiest, nor the most worry-free.  But there is something about it that immediately feels like home.  It manages to excite in the most unassuming way.  The people are genuine, the food is fantastic, and the landscape can be surreal at times.  Chile makes no apologies, as our interactions with hotel staff and airlines can attest, but it is that same honesty that makes the journey worthwhile.

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