We recently said goodbye to our first client. Christopher hails from the sweltering bayous of Alabama, proudly wielding the moniker ‘Bama’, but he will forever go down in the halls of Knowmad Adventures as ‘el cliente’. His journey was an unforgettable one for him and monumental for us. After trying his hardest to miss a bus or plane, he’s already planning the return.
It’s not dumb luck or simple coincidence that we live in this precise point of Chile, with her supermodel measurements. Glacial lakes are warmed by towering, crotchety volcanoes and feed raging rivers—offering a plethora of activities for the outdoor enthusiast. An almost overwhelming array of options really. And after what seems like months of getting “settled” we’re faced with the not-so-little task of choosing the best of the best, and then linking them together. We set up meeting after meeting, we scour the internet, leaf through the guidebooks. The brochures pile up along with our nerves.
Chile, South America!
Reluctantly rolling out of bed, chilled feet are delighted to find slippers in an increasingly familiar spot. Wood gently creaks under foot and there is a steady patter of rain on tin. Crossing the small living room out to the porch, I’m joined by Boni and her I’ve-had-a-long-life tits. We fetch some wood together. The fire roars in the wood-burning stove, strong coffee brews on the old but firm German stove.
Never in my life have I been so preoccupied by the various rattles, clicks and pings that a car makes while in transit, but having dumped a significant chunk of our operating capital into our Hyundai Galloper, we’re on pistons and needles every inch of the journey. She doesn’t fail us and it seems will be worth every peso. The landscape slowly transforms from a warm, dry Mediterranean climate akin to Napa Valley, into sweeping lush hills. We joke, but not without a hint of believing that we’re headed into the Promised Land.
The perils of moving to foreign countries for extended periods of time are many. What in more geographically and culturally familiar locales would be straight-forward, simple, and free of pain, suddenly become as probable and enjoyable as juggling eggs while running on a beach ball down a New York city street during rush hour. Neither this fact or experience is new to me, but setting up a business elevates the stakes even further.
Sitting next to Geoff, one of my longest and best friends, we bound along up and out of Santiago, into the exhilarating switchbacks that ascend so rapidly they might as well be an elevator. Santiago sits near sea level and snow-capped Andean peaks loom as high as 18,000 feet not far from the capital.
Geoff and his wife Jess are on their honeymoon and have backpacked for the past month in Peru and Bolivia before coming to Chile. Their timing is less than desirable, our feet still burning from hitting the ground and having more unfinished business than a wartime president, but we’re happy to see them and suck in some adventure.
Cajon Del Maipo, or the Maipo Canyon lies just east of the city towards the Argentine border. It’s pretty and convenient for getting out of the Santiago bustle. After a nice evening barbeque in a cozy cabin we’re ready for some adventure and opt for a horseback ride. Rather than pay the entrance fee for a on-the-map nature reserve and an overpriced ride I get a contact from the cabin owner for a campesino, a true caballero that does horseback rides in the next town. We call Juan Pablo and he’ll be ready with the horses in an hour.
A bit lucky, in a matter of minutes a bus passes on the little-used mountain road and brings us to San Gabriel, which turns out to be one hundred percent off the map and looks to have no facilities.
Juan Pablo meets us at the police check point – think old west border town – and leads us to his humble but picturesque cabin at the foot of the mountains. He and his wife Carol are heading for Santiago to buy supplies so we’ll go with his good friend Luis. We make small talk about Chile, cowboys and what we’re doing at Knowmad. He realizes, as I had with a bit of trepidation upon arriving, that we’re going to ride until near nightfall if we climb to the mesa and will have no way out of San Gabriel, buses running only during the day.
“Donde van a alojar para la noche?” he asks.
I tell him I really have no idea where we’ll spend the night, this is an exploratory adventure and we’re prepared to roll with the punches. He doesn’t hesitate and offers us his cabin for the night with no mention of money. I immediately accept and am relieved to not have to tell the group we’re between a rock and a cold place and that’s how we’re going to pass the night.
Mounting up with Luis we climb thousands of feet to a mesa overlooking the valley. The air is crisp, the sky clear, the horizon vast. Returning just before dusk, Luis’s eight-year-old son unpacks the horses.
“Mi hijo te acompana al mercado,” says Luis.
“No need,” I reply. It’s a small town and I’m sure we’ll find the market.
“Es major que te acompane,” he replies without being pushy, but leaving no room for disagreement.
So we’re led through the pueblo, which is really just a collection of small dwellings and a liquor store that doubles as the town watering hole, a pinto and a buckskin reined outside. We grab some wine and beer before being led on by our young companion.
He leads us through a gate and I notice a small, hand-painted sign lying on the ground shyly announcing that this house is the town market. I smile understanding Luis’s persistence – we never would have found this.
Over candle light we sip wine from the valley just south of us and devour grilled pork ribs, good friends recounting past adventures and reveling in how the day has played out. I recall my frustration at the automotriz and throughout the week, reminding myself that as in any great adventure, there will be broken toilets and radiators, but there will also be moments like this.
After changing from the red to the green line we emerge from the subterranean cavern of one of the subway’s final stops in Santiago’s outskirts. No longer are there trendy coffee shops with well-dressed businessman chatting over smart dishes. The road is sparse on cars, heavy on loiterers wearing tattered clothes and stern stares. Unoccupied warehouses loom. The sharp contrast reflecting the wide gap between Chile’s emerging middle class and the still large impoverished sector is immediate.
Tara and I have trapsed across the city and checked out myriad used cars, still waiting to find the one, this the first time I wish I’d made the trip without my blond, Scandanavian featured wife.
After some searching we find the address of the automotriz and are let in the gate by the guard. The seven passenger behemouth we’ve come to check out is pretty easy to find amongst the smattering of compact cars common to South American cities. I peer into the Hyundai noticing the interior is in good shape and turn to find a saleslady.
“How is the engine?”
“Has it been crashed?”
“Never, it’s a great automobile that’s very well taken care of.”
“And what about the oil on the chasis and the ground below?”
“That’s just some mud. The car has no problems.”
She hurries off for the keys at my request. It starts sluggishly and sugary tasting liquid streams from the tail pipe. At least it’s in our price range and has low kilometers I remind myself feeling frustrated for making the trip already.
“Why is there so much water coming from the tail pipe?”
“Eso es normal,” she asserts. The engine is just cold. She hails over the mechanic, who also happens to be her husband, and as an objective party he reaffirms her diagnosis.
Under the hood I notice there’s no radiator fluid. I point it out and ask for her to get some water so we can see that there are no leaks when it has fluid.
“No tenemos agua por aca,” she says.
“You don’t have water here? What about in the toilet?”
The toilet is broken, but I shouldn’t worry, the engine is impeccable assert both her sons from behind there father.
Tara’s eyes tell me to stay calm.
“Would you like to test drive it?” the saleslady asks.
“We must stay in the lot though, it’s too late in the day to go on the highway,” she reasons.
“How about you just give me your card and I’ll call you.”
We’re fifteen pounds over weight. Tara’s distraught and adamant that she’s got nothing left that isn’t absolutely necessary.
“What about all the paper samples and the silver boxes full of your design stuff?” I grumble before quickly retreating into my own bag after getting a more than energetic rant about needing everything to continue her graphic and web design business. My leg to stand on is gimpy in light of her previous sleepless nights getting our marketing collateral and web page together, not to mention we’re going to need every penny her freelance projects will provide while we’re in Chile.
“Sitting on a beach with a tropical cocktail is all well and good, but a lot of us get bored with that after about ten minutes. We’d rather do something that makes us feel alive. Testing our limits is (sometimes scary) fun, and as travel has come to be less about architecture and more about experiences, a great trip is one that sparks a personal transformation.
Everyone knows the Galapagos are a phenomenal destination for wildlife. You can walk alongside giant Galapagos tortoises lumbering around in the highlands, blue-footed boobies doing their mating dance, marine & land iguanas soaking in the sun, and more. Then, jump into the water to snorkel or swim with an array of colorful fish, sea turtles, sea lions, penguins, rays and even (friendly) sharks. It truly is a destination unlike anywhere else in the world. The wildlife is abundant and has little to no fear of humans. However, what often gets overlooked is that the Galapagos can also be a wonderful trip for culture, history and hiking.
South America is an immense and diverse continent with a myriad of options for every interest. Because of this, diving in to the initial planning stages of a trip to South America and deciding where to go can be incredibly daunting – with so many places to see and things to do, it’s easy to find yourself asking the question, “What is the best place to visit in South America?”