4,490 Miles: Hawaii, Part III

Friday, July 12–our second day with the rental car–found us still up and at ’em before sunrise.

Once the sun finally joined us, we headed out for a quick breakfast before a hike. Leonard’s malasadas are pretty much a legend in Honolulu (at least according to Google and any cab driver we encountered) despite the fact that they are actually a Portuguese, not a Hawaiian pastry. These hole-less fried doughnut-type thingies were pretty good, according to the boys. Get the plain sugar or the cinnamon-sugar regular malasadas and don’t mess with the malasada puffs, which are way over-stuffed with gooey, super sweet cream filling. Theo made an unfortunate order of a dobash malasada puff that was pretty much inedible until he squeezed out all the chocolate pudding filling.

And he squeezed that filling out of the window of the rental car–right onto the door of the rental car…without us realizing it had dripped on the door and had begun its slow slide downwards. [Foreshadowing.]

We were headed a tiny bit outside of Honolulu to Manoa Falls, but first, since we were only about two miles from the butt of a very funny high school joke, I forced my family to take a side-trip…

…by Chaminade University. Give it up for the mighty Silverswords!

(If you graduated from Vidalia High School back in 1989, you might be in on this joke, especially if you were stuck in homeroom with us cool kids whose last names started with A-Ca. Otherwise, I apologize for taking up a few paragraphs on this.)

Obviously, way back when we were applying to college, there was no such thing as the internet. And because it was over 4,600 miles away from Vidalia, no one–including VHS’s somewhat intimidating, opinionated, and homegrown college guidance counselor–had ever heard of this little university with an undergraduate enrollment of around 1,500 students (at that time)…no one, that is, except my dear friend Brian. (How he dug up info on it to begin with is beyond me.)

So while we endured presentation after presentation from our sweet-but-less-than-savvy guidance counselor on “choosing the right fit for you” and what she called “the benefits of staying close to home,” Brian would mumble under his breath something along the lines of, “nah, man. That’s not what they tell you at Chaminade.” It also did not help that our class had someone being recruited all over the southeast to play football; he’d come to school each morning talking about yet another college or university that had contacted him, to which Brian would reply, “yeah, well, the Coach from Chaminade had me on the phone half the night, too.” Or, “I’m really thinking Chaminade’s the place for me. It’s the right fit.” It was all stunningly ironic and incredibly dry humored, and Brian’s long distance love for Chaminade spread amongst my best friends. Midway through our Senior year, we were all Chaminade fans for life, sight unseen.

Trust me: it was really funny. (To the best of my knowledge, no one from my class (much less the guidance counselor, who grew beyond peeved at hearing random shouts of “Go Chaminade!” at all her mandatory guiding lectures) so much as ordered a brochure from this little gem of a school, much less applied to it.)

It took all of about 4 minutes to drive the loop through the Chaminade campus. If we could’ve found the bookstore, I’d have wiped them out of t-shirts.

Anyway, I knew if I’d gotten that close to hallowed ground, I had to follow it through to the end–hence the photo above, which won the Facebook for the day (well, at least the Facebook of my friend Brian for the day).

And with that, we’re on to Manoa Falls…

After climbing Diamondhead Crater, Jack mentioned that he really enjoyed hiking, so we began searching out other [manageable] hikes. Manoa Falls is the second most frequently hiked trail in Oahu and clocks in at just under two miles round trip, but don’t let that short distance fool you; there were some tricky, slippery parts on this muddy, rocky trail leading up to a 150 foot waterfall.

deep in the jungle…

We were quite sticky, hot, and sweaty when we climbed up the last few steps to this:

Please note that large sign on the left: DANGER. STOP! Please also recall yesterday’s ridiculous cliff jumping episode. Clearly, “stop” and “no” are not well understood by some members of my family. (How did I fail so badly at this one aspect of parenting?) (<–P.S. That link is worth clicking, just saying–skip the ads.)

Thankfully, the two daredevils made it back from their dip in the freezing cold pool in one piece and without contracting leptospirosis. (<—proof that I’m not just a Nervous Nelly for funsies; I fear things for valid reasons.)

We wrapped up our hike and headed from one danger to another: the Halona Blowhole.

not the blowhole, obviously 🙂
(the drive there was unbelievably gorgeous)

The blowhole was formed by lava from many volcanic eruptions thousands of years ago. The lava flowed down into the sea and quickly cooled into tubes through which water shoots out, like a geyser. It doesn’t sound too impressive on paper, but trust me: it is. Watching the Halona Blowhole erupt kept our attention for close to an hour.

site of the rolling-around-in-the-ocean-make-out-scene in From Here to Eternity
(also the site of mermaid scene in Pirates of the Caribbean 4)

Did the daredevils want to climb down to the beach pictured above? Of course they did. However, this time, Russ and I were in agreement that such an adventure was a hard no. Just a few days before we were there, two people were washed out to sea from Halona and drowned. (And few days after we were there, two more folks were hit by a huge wave and sucked out into the ocean; they were luckier and managed to be rescued.) The Halona area is not one to be messed with.

We pulled ourselves away from the mesmerizing blowhole and drove back towards Waikiki a tiny bit to the Koko Marina to grab lunch. There were tons of options, and we wound up having a perfectly lovely meal at the Kona Brewing Co. overlooking the marina.

From there, we headed to Hanauma Bay to spend the afternoon on the beach.

Hanauma Bay is a state park and beach nestled inside the caldera of an old, old volcano–a location that’s a magnet for cool sea creatures to call home. You pay (a minimal amount) to enter/park, and they make you watch a short video about the conservation of sea life before you can take the 5 minute hike down to the beach.

up at the park HQ, waiting for our allotted video viewing time
lots of warnings on the lifeguard stand means this is our kind of place

We had snorkels for 4, so that meant we rotated through them with the odd-man-out in charge of guarding our stuff on the beach.

Snorkeling here was terrific; there were many, many more things to see than at Shark’s Cove (though don’t let that turn you off from visiting Shark’s Cove; it’s still absolutely worth it).

Theo and Russ snorkeling in Hanauma Bay, taken by Tucker and his GoPro
just one of the myriad critters we saw…

If you can handle a little bit of shaky filming, here’s a pretty cool video from Tucker.

Once our fingers and toes were all puckered from being in the ocean so long, we packed up and headed back to the hotel to shower and then out to dinner on our next to the last night in Honolulu. We took the path of least resistance and walked over to the Tiki Bar & Restaurant above the Aston Waikiki Resort right next door. The live music and sunset views were pretty doggone solid, and everyone left happy.

The purple taro rolls were an added bonus (this one was accidentally dropped on the floor which is why it’s rudely lounging on the table rather than a proper plate…).

Part One of our Big Trip was coming to an end mighty quickly. We had just one last full day in Oahu…

4,490 Miles: Hawaii, Part II (Road Trip: North Shore)

you can’t help but be happy when you look at these license plates…

…and here we go with the rental car!

When we began planning The Big Trip, our surfer boy, Tucker, had only one request: we must visit the North Shore.

(Actually, that’s not true…he had many requests, including cliff diving, amongst other ridiculous ones. But taking a day trip out of Honolulu was an easy item to address, especially since the island of Oahu is only 44 miles long.)

We were up and at ’em before daybreak once again on our third day in Hawaii, but we couldn’t pick up the car until 7 a.m. (most everyone knows I am not a morning person, so even typing that sentence cracks me up.). We borrowed towels from the hotel, loaded up, and headed north. First stop: Sunset Beach.

The North Shore of Oahu is famous for big waves and big beaches–pretty much everything a surfer desires…but the most spectacular display of these waves occurs predominantly in the winter months. Turn around to the summer months (we’re still in the Northern Hemisphere here), and these crazy spots of monster waves featured on YouTube are a bit in hibernation…just a bit. They’re still crazy enough to impress the socks off a gaggle of teenagers. I can vouch for that.

Sunset Beach, a little less than an hour from Honolulu, is pretty much a straight shot north up the middle of the island through fields of sugar cane and pineapple plants. The sand on Sunset Beach is ridiculously deep and quicksandish and–to be honest–tough to walk in, but the beach was stunning and almost eerily empty (perhaps because we arrived at the wee old hour of just quarter past 8 in the morning). We managed to keep the boys out of the water here and only stayed on Sunset, squashing up its ankle deep squishy sand for about 30 minutes.

Next stop: Ehukai Beach Park, home of the Banzai Pipeline where waves can roll in at 20 feet high. Fortunately (for me, not for our surfing kiddo), these ginormous waves only show up during the winter months on the North Shore. Still, the waves were pretty crazy, and the boys couldn’t stand not getting in the water.

loved this tree leading in to the beach park

The photos don’t do it justice; waves taller than the boys would come crashing down on a shore break–meaning the wave just sort of shows up out of the blue and then rolls over right on the shore. The boys were never in water above their waists, yet they would be completely submerged when the waves would come. It was fascinating to watch (and a bit nerve wracking).

After an hour or so of being slammed into the shore, we needed a little break. We headed into the town of Haleiwa.

Russ and Tucker are surf-shop junkies and the North Shore Surf Shop did not disappoint. Right across the street was a beautiful little restaurant, Haleiwa Beach House, so we popped in for a drink and a snack. Of course, nothing in Hawaii is cheap, so while the full menu there looked great (I particularly loved the garlic edamame), we opted to mosey on in to Haleiwa proper to search for something a little less extravagant for lunch.

waiting for our slices of pizza at Spaghettini in Haleiwa
(and Theo had an unfortunate sunblock application incident)

After lunch, we headed back out of Haleiwa Town towards Shark’s Cove for some snorkeling. I’m not the world’s best snorkeler–something about seeing all those living, moving critters underneath me gives me the willies–but Shark’s Cove was quite fun. We were grateful to have brought water shoes, though. There were tons of sharp rocks, and it’s a slippery walk to get out into the cove.

it gets deeper the farther back you go–it also gets much colder

Snorkeling Shark’s Cove is fantastic–if you have the gear. We all enjoyed it a ton and saw tons of sea-stuff (very colorful fish, flow-y sucker-creatures, what-have-you…remember, underwater viewing ain’t exactly my jam).

Last adventure-y spot for the day: Waimea Bay. I offered to drive from Shark’s Cove to Waimea, which was a critical error in mom-ness. See, for the past two months, Tucker had been jockeying to “cliff dive” while in Hawaii. He showed us multiple crazy, ridiculously dangerous videos of individuals making ridiculously bad life choices by jumping off various ridiculously stupid cliffs/rocks/jetties/what-have-you. We spent many a night ’round our dinner table with me going from merely voicing stern objection to this idea to me absolutely losing my mind over the idea of this idea.

But back to the adventure at hand: it’s notoriously difficult to park at Waimea Bay and its Beach Park. I dropped the boys and the other parent man-child/co-conspirator off, with the intention to meet them *right over there* on the beach as soon as I could park.

Well, they weren’t lying about the tricky parking situation. It was Buzzardville up in there; cars stalking folks walking out towards the lot/road, and it took forever…about 20 minutes, to be exact.

Upon finally winning my round of The Hunger Games in the parking lot, I grabbed the towels and made my way to our designated meeting area where I realized the folks I were to meet were not there.

Hmmm.

Then I looked around and saw the freaking stupid “cliff” from which Tucker had been wanting to “cliff dive” for the past two months. Guess where I found the rest of my family?

are you kidding me?
that one mid-air is Tucker
his response? “it’s only about 10m; I’ve jumped off that at diving…”

At the Waimea Jump Rock.

To say I was not a happy camper after this foolishness is quite the understatement.

Luckily–as is the case with most places in Oahu–the rest of the beach was gorgeous and semi-non-life-threatening.

Finally, we packed up and left the mayhem of Waimea’s magnetic (for some members of our family) Jump Rock and took a slight detour back through Haleiwa Town to visit Matsumoto’s Shave Ice for, well, one of their world famous shave ices. (We’re still not sure why it’s called “shave ice” rather than “shaveD ice” but the line was long and the boys say it was 110% worth it.)

We rolled on back to Honolulu late that afternoon with no plans for dinner. We all desperately needed a shower, so we handled that scenario with a little bit of UB40 playing in the background and then found ourselves with 3 exhausted boys, ready for bed. So Russ and I decided to pop down to a restaurant underneath our hotel; at the last minute, Jack pulled himself out of bed to join us.

Arancino was surprisingly hopping and surprisingly tasty. We 3 sat at a small table in the bar and had a lovely conversation and some excellent pasta to fill our bellies. Jack and I stumbled back upstairs while Russ went in search of the perfect swimsuit a little farther down the road (at least that’s what he said he was doing *just kidding* he came back with a new suit for himself and for Theo).

We had one more full day scheduled with the car and had our sights set on a solid hike followed-up with seeing several exciting parts of the windward side of Oahu on Friday. We had our fingers crossed that we’d all sleep past…oh…5 a.m. on Friday morning, but it wasn’t going to be in our cards (just yet)…

4,490 Miles: Honolulu (Or, The First Stop on The Big Trip)

The first leg of The Big Trip has finally arrived!

We bolted out of Hotlanta and headed to Honolulu to kick off what’s sure to be the most epic travel adventure we’ve ever had (and quite possibly ever will have).

Can we do this thing with carry-ons only? Consider the gauntlet thrown…

Our mega-adventure kicked off with a massive, unexpected bonus: two of our five flight tickets were upgraded…not just to Premium Select Class, not just to First Class, but all the way up to the *One* Class.

The plan (because there has to be a plan, you know) was to rotate the five of us through these two seats in two-hour shifts so that everyone enjoyed a good four hours of lie-flat, non-claustrophobic luxury. Our dear friends at the airline that starts with the fourth letter of the Greek alphabet weren’t really on board for this idea (shocker) and after a little back-and-forth, they finally told Russ to just be discrete about it.

[“Discrete” is hardly an adjective used to describe a few members of our family.]

Russ made a chart–a chart, I say–and I waited patiently for the fourth hour of the flight when my first round of luxury was to occur. The time crawled by…especially when Theo drifted back after his first two-hour rotation to send Tuck up front and showed Jack and me photos of him with a down comforter wrapped around his reclined body…along with a photo of the dining menu. A few minutes later, Russ came back to switch with Jack.

The careful reader will here note that we foolishly sent Tucker and Jack–alone–up to the lap of luxury.

The four-hour mark hit, and I hopped up and wanted to sprint to the front to dispossess the seat from Tucker, but I controlled myself because I’m discrete and all.

I cannot lie. I’ve now been behind the curtain. One Class is indeed the bomb.com. I spent the first 20 minutes of my shift looking like the rookie that I was and grinning madly as I stretched out completely flat (one benefit of being 5’3″) while gripping the down comforter with one hand and the wine list with the other.

A few minutes later, Russ drifted back up to claim his seat and oust Jack…

…who protested a bit too loudly, apparently.

After two of the fastest hours of my life, Russ shuffled back to start the rotation for the fourth time (it was Jack and Tucker’s turn again)…at which point our favorite airline shut that stuff down and requested that the two actual ticketed seat holders return to their seats (I mean, really. The nerve.)

(Kidding.)

So Russ and Theo finished the last two hours of the flight up in the Burj Khalifa while the rest of us were stuck back at the Tall Pines Motel. To one of our children, this was a brutal demonstration of inequality, particularly since he’d only gotten one trip up to the front while the youngest member of our family spent well over five hours there.

The struggle was real, folks.

Nonetheless, a little after 3 in the afternoon Honolulu time, we were in our hotel rooms and ready to go.

Our first view of the Waikiki coastline from our hotel room…

Four of us were quite excited to be back on solid ground and within walking distance of the ocean; one of us needed a little time to recoup from the travesty of missing out on a second shift in the upgraded seat.

above child did *not* spend over half the flight in a supine position…
…youngest child who did spend over half the flight being treated as a celebrity…
(and subsequently celebrated by dressing as a 75 year old male tourist)
locals were constantly jumping off the ledges and even the *roof* of that thatched hut…
(cue the “cliff diving” requests from Tucker…)

When one goes to Honolulu, one should obviously take the time to experience Pearl Harbor, but when Russ suggested we sign up for the tour that was leaving our hotel the very next morning at 6 a.m., I originally balked.

Fortunately, Russ made the correct decision. Our entire family was wide awake and raring to go by 4 a.m.

And Pearl Harbor by morning’s light is spectacularly moving.

Even though the actual U.S.S. Arizona Memorial is currently closed for renovations, this was still an incredibly educational and moving experience for us.
Learning about the Pacific Theater truly helped us understand the history of what took place during WWII on the other side of the world.

The tour is pretty much self-guided with the exception of the ferry ride out past the Arizona and the U.S.S. Missouri. We also toured the U.S.S. Bowfin, a submarine launched on December 7, 1942, exactly one year after the Pearl Harbor bombings. The submarine is only 311 feet long, yet housed between 70-80 sailors for months at a time. Going through this puppy in July really hit home just how hard it must’ve been to be a submariner. There’s no way I could have done it.

mess hall
sleeping quarters

While waiting on our extremely verbose bus driver to return, we realized we were starving. As you might imagine, there’s not exactly a lot of dining options at a national memorial, so we wound up cobbling together a lunch of hot dogs and bad nachos…at 8:45 a.m. (The jet lag was for real, just like the indigestion.)

a most excellent use of irrelevant quotation marks on a sign outside the snack shack

After recovering from the very hot and bumpy bus ride back to the hotel, we spent a little time on the beach and by the pool before heading out to hike Diamond Head Crater.

The crater was created by–duh–a volcanic explosion around 300,000 years ago. It’s not too strenuous a hike, but our Uber driver was a little shocked that we were heading there so late in the afternoon since they let the last folks onto the trail at 4:30 and the gates shut tight at 6. We were on the trail at 4:25.

The view from the top of Diamond Head is beautiful!

Back at the bottom–well before 6 p.m., thank you very much–the boys had their first Hawaiian shave ice, which Theo said was even better than the snow cones at NYO. (There’s actually no comparison.)

Post-hike, we wandered around Waikiki and looked for something for dinner. We should’ve been able to find vittles that would appeal to all tastes at the International Market Place–a ginormous outdoor-ish shopping complex, but the late afternoon shave ice had abated some appetites, and all of us were exhausted. Jack, Theo, and I cut bait and headed back to the hotel to go to bed; Russ and Tucker dropped in to the Hawaiian equivalent of Willy’s, Oahu Mexican Grill, which Jack and I had actually discovered earlier in the day after the 8:45 a.m. “lunch” had worn off. Being a Willy’s connoisseur, Jack gave it two thumbs up.

Two days gone already. Time to venture outside of Honolulu and Waikiki!

1,224 Miles: Bonjour, Montreal

Thirty years ago in Vidalia, Georgia, while I was celebrating my graduation from high school and the arrival of the first week of summer, way over in China, the nightmarish Tiananmen Square Massacre was taking place.

Thirty years ago in Charlottesville, Virginia, Russ’s family was actually re-routing their vacation plans, wisely deciding to go to Canada instead of China, which was their original destination. Even though one those countries is a little less exotic than the other, they both do start with a “C,” so the replacement made sense, I guess.

Visiting Canada with his family is a memory Russ always talks about; they had a fantastic time and fell in love with quaintness of Quebec. Since then, Russ has frequently mentioned taking us to French Canada.

He had a surplus of frequent flyer points, so we finally bit the bullet and planned a trip up to Montreal and Quebec for the week after Memorial Day. (Once the tickets were booked, I remembered why I’d dragged my feet so long on agreeing to visit Canada: Delta only flies their little regional jets there. Eek. Not a fan–talking to you, winglets.)

Thankfully, the ride up there was fairly smooth–and short: Atlanta to Montreal only requires about 2.5 hours in the air. We landed and made it through Customs in no-time flat; traveling just with carry-ons is our new way to go and though it involves some strategic packing, not having to wait at baggage claim is a game-changer.

We were headed to a VRBO in a little neighborhood 5 minutes north of downtown Montreal. On the VRBO website, the borough of Outremont had been listed as a conservative, family-friendly, quiet neighborhood, and the apartment, in an older building, appeared large and well-kept. We were told there was an 11 p.m. quiet curfew which I thought was a little interesting but manageable.

Once we arrived, I realized I’d booked us a place smack dab in the Hasidic Jewish center of Montreal. To say we stuck out as tourists is a bit of an understatement.

We dropped our bags and walked around the corner to grab dinner at La Piazzetta, which was clean, fast, and tasty. After dinner, we strolled around the neighborhood and looked for a grocery store in order to grab some breakfast items.

It felt like a night in late October in Atlanta; we were thrilled to have escaped the 95+ degree temperatures.

We found a market and headed in.

oops…forgot we were in a Kosher market…

We woke up Thursday morning and headed out on foot towards Mile End. I’d read there were lots of cute boutiques and shops in this Bohemian area of Montreal. We must have been several streets off because we couldn’t really find a single one of them–with the exception of the UbiSoft office building.

I didn’t know what the thrill of the UbiSoft building was, either–until Jack and Tucker explained they are the ones who create all those video games you said you’d never allow your kids to play

Next up was a local food tour. We’ve done these in Rome and Chicago, and somehow they’ve always been big hits, even with our crew of picky eaters. We opted for the Mile End Montreal Food Tour and our guide, Andreanne, was adorable. After a taste of organic falafel at the popular vegan cafe The Green Panther, we began our guided walk around Mile End (which was much more informative than the unguided one we’d endured that morning).

a maple-pecan fancy handmade chocolate at Chocolats Genevieve Grandbois
a famous Montreal bagel at St. Viateur Bagel

We also had gnocchi from Drogheria Fine, a charcuterie at Boucherie Lawrence, and topped it off with an ice cream/sorbet mix at KemCoba.

After that gorge-fest, we headed back to the apartment for a much needed rest. I’d not thought it out very well when booking the food tour because we also had big dinner reservations that night at Les Enfants Terribles on the top of the Ville Marie–a 47 story building in downtown Montreal.

While the food was mediocre (and rather expensive), the views were incredible.

We were hurting for some exercise at this point, so we walked around downtown Montreal for a bit and stumbled across the Olympic Experience. I am a huge Olympics nerd, so this find made my day. The museum is chock-full of interactive exhibits, and I couldn’t wait for us to visit it later in the week.

the Tai Chi Single Whip…Ok, then

The temperature dropped and the winds picked up, so we opted to call it a night. Ubers are few and far between in Canada, a fact we were just beginning to learn. Rather than wait in the drizzle, we tackled the Metro.

Forty-five minutes or so later, we were walking (quietly) back to our apartment.

We hopped up on Friday, ate breakfast at the apartment, and then went back downtown.

We strolled through the Bonsecours Market, but the boys were much more interested with the happenings on the other side of the building.

It’s no secret we are escape room maniacs, and when the boys saw this place, the begging began…

I’d read mixed reviews about SOS Labyrinthe, but we all were entertained. It’s definitely not your typical escape room; instead, you have to find 4 different boxes and get a card stamped at each one–all while maneuvering a crazy maze. There are lots of switchbacks and dead-ends and turn-arounds and not very much intelligence is actually needed, but we made it out in less than an hour.

We spent the next few hours roaming around the Old Port of Montreal.

We stumbled across this magnificent ropes course…and the boys were set for 2 hours. Russ and I roamed a little on our own (always within view of the ropes course situation), and then headed up the street a bit for a snack once they were finished.

The boys were tired, so we Uber-ed it back to the apartment to rest and pack up for our early train the next morning. We planned on walking around the neighborhood again to find a dinner spot but had a hard time agreeing–a fate that typically happens to us when we get overtired and over hungry–which means we found ourselves back at the same restaurant we’d already visited, La Piazzetta.

We did manage to track down an adorable ice cream shop before we called it a night.

Our time in the Outremont borough was coming to an end. Next stop: Quebec!

4,725 Miles: Peru, Part I (or, Spring Break, Part VI: Tales From The Only People on the Planet Who’ve Been to Peru and Didn’t Do Macchu Pichu)

We were up with the roosters on Thursday morning and semi-frantically ran around the apartment, shoving things in backpacks and suitcases, hauling empty wine bottles out to the recycling, and triple-checking under the beds for overlooked pieces of clothing or stuffed animals. Our driver, Kenny, arrived a little after 7 to take us to the airport for our 11:00 flight to Lima.

(For the record, you don’t need to leave for the airport in Santiago 4 hours before your flight, even if you’re super-worried about rush hour traffic and even if you’ve read that you’re supposed to be checked-in 3 hours ahead of your international flight.)

The airport was a ghost town. In fact, the security lines hadn’t even opened. Roaming the terminal was an eerie experience. Also, killing that much time gets rather tedious after awhile.

Flying in Latin America is such an odd thing. Full stop. (And that is also a massive understatement.)

First of all, there’s the boarding. There are signs for the various rows of the airplane, and people began to line up well before our plane had even arrived. Luckily, I realized what was happening and dragged our luggage and backpacks over to the line for Rows 12-25 while the rest of the family fought over the charger.

Unlike Delta flights in the U.S., LATAM loads the plane from the back to the front, an attempt I suppose to throw the poor Row 36’ers a bone or something. But it also negates the benefit of having a seat closer to the front because the back-of-the-plane-folks manage to take up all the overhead bin space. Adding to this ridiculousness is the fact that Latin Americans love to stash their bags at the front of the plane, even if their seat is in the absolute last row.

The straw that broke the camel’s back, however, was the truly infuriating Measuring Box wielded by a flight attendant who targets the line of folks underneath the Rows 12-24 sign. Once I saw her eyeball me and start heading our way, I knew we were doomed. She plopped the Measuring Box on top of my suitcase, declared my bag too big (even though I’d flown down on a LATAM flight with absolutely no problem), and demanded I check it as I boarded the plane. What followed was a whole lot of rapid fire no-no-no-no’s and Spanglish by me while my children just stared at the ground. I took the measuring thing from her and easily slid my suitcase into it, proving it wasn’t too large. This did nothing to persuade her otherwise. My crazy-woman yelling didn’t help either. So I did what every lunatic flyer does: I tried to sneak it on anyway.

I’d almost gotten away with it, too, but the Measuring Box gal called me out and another flight attendant came DOWN THE AISLE of the plane to confiscate my bag. Cue more frantic Spanglish and ineffective arguing. Cue a stand-off between me and the flight attendant while a woman carrying FOUR BAGS (suitcase, duffel bag, backpack, giant shopping bag) pushed around me and began shoving her entire collection of earthly possessions in the overhead bin of a row that was about 10 ahead of her assigned seat. I pointed out that she was taking up twice as much space as my one bag would have which, let me state once again, had flown down in the overhead bin on this same plane with no problem whatsover.

You can guess how this story ends.

The flight attendantS (I’d drummed up enough fury now to have a gaggle of LATAM employees surrounding me) took my bag and checked it (which probably involved drop kicking it after pilfering through it). At least I’d not gone down without a fight (and a mighty valiant one, I dare say). I stomped down a few more rows to my seat, fuming.

As for the flight itself, all we needed were a few live animals for it to have qualified as the poster child for Latin American public transportation. There were MULTIPLE people who thought they were called to provide entertainment for all, so they didn’t use headphones. The kid young adult behind me not only kicked my seat the entire 4 hour flight but also blared filthy rap music so loudly that I could hear it over my own music played through my noise-cancelling headphones. There was one working bathroom on the plane, and Jack, Theo, and I waited in line with about 15 other people; we all nearly had heart attacks when we heard ear-piercing sirens and gunfire–from someone’s crime thriller movie being broadcast from a laptop for all to hear.

We finally landed in Lima, made it through Customs, retrieved my suitcase from baggage claim (still mad about that), and started the long slog in an Uber to our hotel.

I’ll give you one guess as to who was jockeying to paraglide…
(it didn’t happen, by the way…)

After a week with non-existent air conditioning and tiny showers, the JW Marriott in Miraflores felt like the most luxurious place on the planet.

We dropped our bags and headed up to the rooftop swimming pool.


After an hour or so, we called it a day, went back to the room, showered up, and headed out for the night. Our goal: dinner at Madam Tusan followed by a trip to the Magical Water Circuit to see the oft-written about lighted water fountains.

There are so many stories here; I’m not sure where to start…

First of all, Theo LOVES Asian food. Second of all, Lima is (amazingly) home to many of the world’s absolute best restaurants. Seeing as our family is chock full of picky eaters, revered places like Central weren’t an option. Madam Tusan‘s, however, sounded right up our alley.

It was suggested to make reservations well in advance. So I did. And wrote the info down and relayed it to all party members. I talked up this fancy, super-awesome Chinese place at which we were darn lucky to have landed a reservation.

Then we saw it at–oh, the travesty!–the Costanera Center.

Seems I was duped; Madam Tusan’s is basically South America’s P.F. Chang–a place that’s a dime a dozen around here. Theo begged to eat at Madam’s every single time we passed it in Santiago, but I put my foot down.

To say this dinner was highly anticipated is a gross understatement.

We arrived to an empty house–except for the waitstaff who were still being briefed on that night’s specials. We were shown to a very large circular booth and waited a while before being asked what we’d like to drink. As some of us were about to gnaw our arms off from hunger, we went ahead and expanded our horizons ordered some old reliables: edamame and lettuce wraps–along with our drinks. We were struggling with the rest of the menu, which was a mash-up between Chinese and Spanish, and some of us were getting frustrated. Remember we’d been up since the crack of dawn and had flown 4 hours on the party plane up from Santiago.

During the menu mayhem, Tucker managed to sneak in an order for a fancy (giant) frozen concoction that included lychee and which came in a glass that was about a foot tall.

[Foreshadowing alert.]

Our drinks and appetizers were served, and the 2 children who’d attempted to order a Shirley Temple (but then were forced to settle for a Sprite because “Shirley Temple” was totally lost in translation) gave Tucker and his fancy fruity frozen wonder the serious stink eye.

We argued over the menu a little more before settling on a family sized order of Bruce Lee chicken–a dish that comes with a warning that it’s “only for the brave”.

We aren’t quite sure when Theo took his shoes off. Nor are we quite sure what exactly transpired that caused Tucker’s gigantic glass to get knocked over. Add these together and you get what Russ said will forever go down as the craziest family dinner on record.

Tuck’s glass–which was still 3/4 of the way full of sticky, syrupy, icy lychee-ness–shattered. The beverage part splashed everywhere and glass shards flew off the table, under the table, over the table…pick your preposition. Theo–who wasn’t wearing shoes, remember–flew up onto the ledge behind our giant circular booth which was also surrounded by mirrors. Lychee slushie splashed into our food and all over our laps. The entire waitstaff–who had nothing better to do because Madam Tusan’s still hadn’t hit its stride for the night yet–came running. Then they just stood there looking at us. Like the crazy train that we were.

a few moments after being relocated to a different giant, circular, mirrored booth…

Our end goal for the evening had been to head out to the infamous Magic Water Circuit in time for the 8:15 show, but following our long day of travel topped by this escapade at Madam Tusan’s, we decided to call it a night and retreat to the hotel where we cued up a comedian on cable and savored the air conditioning instead.

We were down to just two days left in our Spring Break…

4,725 Miles: Chile, Part V (Last Day in Santiago)

We had hoped to spend our last day in Santiago seeing the historical district, starting off at the Palacio de La Moneda–basically the White House of Chile. I had even gone online several months before our trip to register for a tour–though the form seemed a little complicated, asking for the numbers of the travelers. At first I thought this was asking me to basically list myself and my 4 companions and designate everyone as Traveler 1, Traveler 2, and so on. Later, I read that I was supposed to provide our passport numbers instead, but that made me a little anxious–handing out passport information to a website I wasn’t even sure was 100% legit–so I just figured we’d sort it out once we got there.

I also found this very confusing description of the supposedly fantastic changing of the guard ceremony: “they have a changing of the guard ceremony every other day at 10 a.m. during the week.” Huh? It wasn’t until that very morning that I found information saying this guard changing takes place on odd days in March. I told Russ, and he said we should go for it, even though it was already nearly 9:30 in the morning. What followed was an insane up-and-at-’em where we threw on clothes, grabbed our stuff, called an Uber, and raced across Santiago to get to La Moneda before 10 a.m.

We ditched the Uber a few blocks away and huffed the last bit on foot, hoping to slide in no later than 5 minutes into the ceremony.

But the ceremony wasn’t there. Or it else it had ended mighty quickly. Or it could’ve been on the other side of the building! We sprinted all the way around this city-block sized palace only to find…nothing. We finally came upon a guard, and I asked him where the changing of the guard takes place. He said, “A aqui!” (Here!)

Then he added, “mañana.” (Tomorrow.)

It was Wednesday, March 6…definitely an even day.

The natives grew restless. “But, hey,” I said, “we’re just here early for our tour of the palace. Let’s walk around the corner and get a snack or a hot chocolate or something.”

To find this little courtyard cafe, we walked past a row of bikes for rent. Two of the boys lost their minds, begging to rent a bike. We shut that idea down fast, which brought some tears to one tired little traveler. Luckily, a pastry and some hot chocolate calmed everyone down.

Then it was back to La Moneda for our special tour. We showed our proof of registration and made our way to the short line; as the tour was only available for a maximum of 25 people, we comprised 1/5 of the whole thing. Several armed guards came out and asked to see everyone’s registration and passports (which we, of course, had brought along with us). The guard was keeping one passport from a member of each group which again made me a little nervous…

He got to us, and we handed over all 5 passports and waited to receive our entry badges.

But instead of giving us the badges, he took our passports and walked off to confer with another guard. Then they both came back and said that our registration wasn’t right, so we couldn’t go in. Seems you really did need to input your passport number on the website. I begged and pleaded and even enlisted the help of the fully fluent woman in line ahead of me…but no dice. We were turned away.

If you thought the natives were restless after the changing of the guard debacle, then you should have seen the hostility at this turn of events. There were more than a few tense minutes where no one was speaking–except to futilely revisit the “we want to rent a bike” plea.

Eventually, Russ asked what was next on the agenda. Seeing as I was 0 and 2 for the day thus far, I don’t think many folks had a lot of confidence in my plans, but I pulled out the map and said we were heading up the road to the Metropolitan Cathedral.

We headed out across the Plaza de la Constitucion and came upon some protestors who were being interviewed on tv–for what? Lord only knows…but that didn’t stop Russ and Tucker from photo bombing them…

En route to the Cathedral, we happened upon the Paseo Bandera, a super cool urban art exhibit I’d seen featured in a random magazine but–to be honest–had forgotten about. Walking down this colorful street definitely helped raise morale.

For a pretty cool video showing the entirety of the Paseo, click here.

Keeping with the day’s theme, we arrived at the Cathedral well after an Ash Wednesday service had already begun (in one of the side chapels). We were still able to scrunch in the very back and receive the blessing at the final dismissal.

The Cathedral is located on the Plaza de Armas, the main square of Santiago. It was hot and crowded and jam packed with smokers and tourists. Morale was again fading fast. We decided to use up the last Metro trip on our Bip! card and headed out to Parque Quinta Normal and the Museum of Memory and Human Rights which is an absolute must-see though we realized afterwards that it’s something one should see at the start of a Santiago vacation, not the end.

Just…wow. This place was fascinating. We lingered around way longer than we thought we would which meant we’d missed the critically important window for lunching.

Remember back in an earlier post wherein my carefully plotted itinerary was upended by an audible to visit the Mirador first instead of the museums around Quinta Normal? I’d planned for us to head out here to the far western edge of Santiago first thing in the morning and then to work our way back into town because my painstaking research had shown there was a dearth of eating establishments out here.

Well, I was right. There is indeed a restaurant shortage out here (well, to be honest, it’s probably more correctly termed a “shortage of restaurants suitable to the tastes and hygiene requirements of 5 different individuals” problem). Russ whipped out his phone, googled restaurants, and we spent the next half hour walking down Matucana towards the middle of nowhere. We finally stopped at a hardware shop to regroup and scour the backpack for snacks and the majority elected to throw in the towel. Back to Costanera. No Museum of Natural History. No real walk through Parque Quinta Normal. No Planetarium.

Instead, we toured the fifth floor of the Costanera once again.

After lunch, we walked down the road a ways to the U.S. Embassy which was pretty much as non-event as we were not in need of the U.S. Embassy, thank goodness. Then back to the sweltering apartment to pack up, shower, and figure out dinner plans.

We took a family vote and decided to head back down to Bellavista for a last stroll and meal.

we are escape room addicts (well, 4/5 of us are), but we had to skip this one…

We hit up Vendetta once again, but opted to sit outside and tried our best to ignore the smokers. We called it an early night due to our flight the next morning–which required us to be at the airport by 8 a.m.

Chile was amazing, adventurous, and definitely one of the most unique places we’ve ever been. If we had it to do over again, we’d probably ditch the craziness of driving up to the Embalse el Yeso and instead would spend one more day in Santiago. We would also probably roll the Customs/border crossing dice, get the international documents for the rental car, and drive through the Paso International Los Libertadores into Argentina.

Due to its massive sprawl, Santiago is a tough city to cover–especially in just 3 whole days–and I feel like it has enough really cool nooks and crannies deserving of exploration. And while our entire spring break didn’t come to an end on Thursday morning, our Chilean section of it was going to. We were off to Lima for a few days before catching the red-eye of all red-eyes back to Atlanta on Sunday morning.

Chile, you’re the bomb; am I right?

4,725 Miles: Chile, Part IV (Into the Andes!)

Tuesday arrived and so did–thankfully–our last day with the car. Not only was Russ growing weary of being our chauffeur, the boys were also growing weary of sitting three across in the backseat.

Our last day trip out of Santiago was a short one, distance wise–only 102 miles or so–but we were going to another once-in-a-lifetime place and on a once-in-a-lifetime road, so I was quite excited.

Located at 9,450 feet above sea level, Portillo is one of the go-to destinations for snow skiing during the North American summer, especially for Olympic-caliber skiers. As we were there near the end of the South American summer (and, um, are not Olympic-caliber skiers), we weren’t able to ski, but that didn’t stop me from really wanting to see this place.


The first hour or so of the drive is a piece of cake. We barreled down the highway out of Santiago and parallel to the Andes mountains.

Every once in awhile, we’d come upon areas that were bright green and lush–a huge change from the rest of the scenery. On the other side of the highway from this green area (above) were the most pitiful looking brown squatty bushes somehow growing on brown dusty land.

Once through the bizarre truck-stop of a town called San Miguel, you’ll hang what feels like a complete U-turn onto the infamous Chilean Ruta 60 and begin the journey up the mountain.

The landscape began to change dramatically.

The road signs began to change dramatically, too. For the record, Chile doesn’t play around with their road signs. We saw Volcano Evacuation Routes, Earthquake Evacuation Routes, Horse-and-Buggy Crossing signs, and this gem…

…the old Watch Out or Your Car is Going to Go Careening Over the Edge of the Mountainside sign. (I just wish I’d gotten a better shot of it…)

The most famous part of Ruta 60 is the 29-curve switchback that leads the final few miles up to Portillo. Our good friends over at the Dangerous Roads blog (mentioned a few posts ago) have also listed this highway on their collection of potentially disastrous roads for you to even consider visiting, and even said this portion of the trip “demands 100% concentration.” Love the doom-and-gloom, btw. The authors of that blog must be a real joy to hang out with.

Russ did use 100% concentration, and we all found this part of our journey absolutely fascinating. The photos we took do not do it justice…

…nor do my photos do the Andes Mountains justice. The scale of these guys is ineffable.

We pulled up to the resort, and the Vacation and The Shining jokes began.

“Sorry, folks; park’s closed. Moose out front shoulda told ya.”

The resort wasn’t closed (thank goodness; I would have endured family mutiny if that had been the case), but it wasn’t exactly hopping, either.

Petra the St. Bernard is the official greeter at Portillo, but she was taking it easy today.

We moseyed into the dining room–which was completely empty–and sauntered over to the windows to take a peek.

The view was spectacular.

We turned around and were spooked greeted by a waiter who’d snuck up on us like a Prius. He ushered us over to a table, and we sat down for lunch.


It’s hard to see, but if you look through the wine glass on the left, you’ll see a small white ramekin with a tiny spoon. Inside that was some of the most delicious deliciousness I’ve ever had (my mouth is watering just thinking about it): a garlic-tomato-olive-oil mixture that I would have bought gallon jugs of if they’d only sold it.

Bonus: no vampires (or family members) messed with me for days afterwards.

After lunch, we walked around the resort a bit. It was crisp, clear, windy, and amazing. And, again, these photos don’t do the scale of the mountains justice at all…

straight down the mountain, folks
seeing it without snow is sort of like seeing how the sausage is made…
in front of Laguna del Inca–which is supposedly haunted

Looking around at all the incredibly steep slopes–that lead straight to that lake–we really couldn’t imagine skiing here.

Interesting tidbit: we were just 3 miles from the Argentinian border. Crossing the border is apparently a mega-hassle, so I reluctantly cast this pipe dream to the side when planning our trip. At one point, I’m certain I mentioned this to Russ and the boys, and they agreed that it was a little crazy to possibly endure mayhem just to say we’d been to Argentina.

Apparently, the family forgot that I told them it could take hours to get through Argentinian customs only for us to get a passport stamp and turn right back around. Before we turned out of Portillo, there was a whole lot of chatter about just going for it and making a run for the border. As we had not gotten a permit to cross the border from the rental car office (and as an Argentinian gulag wasn’t on our vacation destinations), any further discussion of such an attempt was a moot point. Then we watched an 18-wheeler pick up two backpackers and continue its slow journey towards the Tunel Cristo Redentor , and our talk shifted from how bad a life choice it is to make a sketchy border crossing to how bad a life choice it is period to hitch-hike, much less to hitch-hike on an 18-wheeler across a border. Egads.

So when we passed the Welcome to Chile sign, we did a little happy dance even though we’d actually not left the country.

The drive back down Ruta 60’s 29 curves was just as thrilling as the drive up.

good gracious, you all are so thankful you’re not on that bus!

Once back through San Miguel, the rest of the drive back to Santiago was perfectly uneventful. Russ dropped us off at the apartment and braved rush hour traffic to return the car (not sure anyone has ever been happier to ditch a vehicle than he was) while we showered and caught up on our screen time.

Dinner that night was back at Patio Bellavista; Theo finished up with a dessert crepe while the rest of us did some souvenir shopping.

Road tripping in Chile was tiring, to say the least, but we’re glad we did it (at least some of us are…our driver might dissent). Our trip up to the Andes was refreshing and unique and surprisingly non-motion-sickness inducing. I’m going to branch out and say driving around (and navigating) the outskirts of Santiago was manageable as long as there were actual roads (looking at you, Embalse del Yeso). That doesn’t mean we weren’t ready to be done with the responsibility of wheels, though.

We had just one full day left in Santiago…


4,725 Miles: Chile, Part III (The Most Colorful Place in the Country!)

We were up and at ’em rather early on Monday; road trip #2 had us headed westwards towards the ocean. Everyone was rested and excited to go to a beach, though please let the record state that I’d provided ample forewarning that the beaches at Valparaiso and Vina del Mar were not going to be like the beaches our little people absolutely adore.

The Chileans–being exceptional miners and all–wholeheartedly believe going through a mountain is easier than going around it (or over it). The drive to Valparaiso is a short, pretty one that ambles across the Casablanca wine country (which we sadly saw only from the highway) and through several, lengthy mountain tunnels. Roughly 90 minutes after we left our apartment, we pulled into the parking garage where we were to meet our tour guide, Michael the German Pirate.

(Thank goodness Russ insisted on a tour guide; we’d have never, ever figured out Valpo otherwise.)

Before I go any further, I want to shout from the rooftops that Michael was an excellent choice for a guide. He replied to my initial email in a matter of minutes, spoke fluent English, and was more than happy to accommodate some surly teenagers.

Valparaiso was once a very weathy shipping town and layover point for folks making the insanely long and hard journey from Europe around Cape Horn. Then a little thing came along called an earthquake (in 1906) and another little thing came along called the Panama Canal (in 1914), and poor Valpo lost its footing as a South American metropolis.

In keeping with Chilean geography in general, Valparaiso is incredibly unique. Tall, tall cliffs drop straight down to the sea. To help with getting up and down these gigantic hills, the city built a system of funiculars–many of which are still in use 100 years later. Its buildings and alleyways are covered with murals painted by some pretty talented folks. All of these factors have helped Valparaiso be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, something the city takes very seriously; roughly only 1,000 sites on the entire planet have earned UNESCO World Heritage status.

but before we got to the heart of our tour, we encountered this cat…
he’s the live mascot (Dr. Simi) of a main chain of pharmacies, and he was awesome
(though I doubt he’s UNESCO approved…)

After giving us a quick peek of the city from the top of the parking garage, Michael then took us across town on the antiquated trolleybus–actually a Chilean national monument–where we got our first taste of Valpo’s infamous street art.

The work above, Solsticio de Invierno, was created by UnKolorDistinto, a couple who is regularly commissioned to design and paint various public art murals.

Street art is the name of the game in Valparaiso, and almost all of it is pretty spectacular, particularly when given the grand scale of it.

yes, one of Dr. Simi’s balloons is still lingering with us…

Michael took us by one of Valpo’s most popular places for chorrillana (Casino Social J. Cruz –one of the greatest named places ever) , which is a carboholic’s dream of a dish composed of french fries covered with some type of meat, onions, cheese, and a fried egg. Michael is not a fan, and I can’t say I blame him after seeing a few plates piled sky-high go passing by. While we didn’t eat there, it was still a great stop on the tour because the place doubles as a knick-knack hoarder’s wildest dream. (Side note: J. Cruz completely reminded Russ and me of another bizarre place: Takatakata–hands down, the dive-iest dive bar on the planet–which we managed to visit and live to tell about. It’s located in Buzios, Brazil. Tell Kaiser you heard about his place from me. And watch out for the machete.)

just look at all the stuff…photos, trinkets, live animals (there was a cat slinking around on that shelf
behind Michael on the turquoise wall)

Time for a funicular. We rode the Reina Victoria up to the top of Cerro Concepcion and started our search for a lunch place without felines prowling around inside of it.

our first (and only–not a fan of egg whites) Pisco Sour

On the way to lunch, Michael told us about an unbelievable mountain bike race–the Cerro Abajo–that takes place annually in Valparaiso. Racers plummet from the highest point in Valpo all the way down to the sea, lacing through narrow pathways and staircases and concluding by going through a building and jumping over an entire street. Of course the boys were immediately asking for the wi-fi password at lunch in order to track down a video of it. It’s utter insanity; consider yourselves forewarned!

After lunch, it was time for even more street art!

Finally on to Cerro Alegre! This one above, created by Art+Believe, is synonymous with Valpo; here’s a cool montage of its creation.

this shot gives you a good idea of just how steep the roads in Valpo are…

Next up, the equally as well-recognized Piano Stairs.

the Piano Stairs with uncooperative children…
Commissioning street art is big, big deal.
here the boys stand with Michael in front of The German Pirate’s mural

Sensing one of his day’s clients had likely had enough street art and was a much more business-minded individual, Michael managed to sneak us in to the Bolsa de Valores–the (sadly, now shuttered) first (and busiest) stock exchange in Latin America. The trading floor was eerie in its silence…and beautiful in its architecture.

We were all definitely hitting the wall at this point, so we asked Michael if he wouldn’t mind getting us on to the thing Tucker had been asking about since we’d gotten up that morning: the beach.

He suggested we all load up in our rental car (Russ driving, Michael in the passenger seat, and the three boys and me all crammed in the back–not the safest way to travel) and head down the road the six miles or so to Vina del Mar.


Tucker’s reaction upon FINALLY arriving at the ocean…

Of course, the ocean was freezing, but that didn’t stop Tucker from going all the way under–a decision that made for a long car ride back to Santiago for him.

We rolled back in to Santiago tired, dusty, and hungry and not willing to venture out for a proper dinner…again. After a battle royale over where to eat, we basically all pouted through the meal and then hit up the Jumbo grocery store for some provisions before heading home and to bed. We had just one last road trip ahead of us.

oh, Costanera, how convenient you were…
the aptly named Jumbo grocery–that also sold washing machines, lawn furniture, and just about anything else
you think you might possibly need…


4,725 Miles: Chile, Part II (Road Trip!)

When planning our Spring Break trip, I pummeled a sweet friend who’d actually lived in Santiago with question after question, one of which was whether or not to rent a car–specifically for a few day trips, not as our main source of transportation around the city. We felt like we were pretty savvy international drivers; we’d driven around the Arenal volcano in Costa Rica and had cruised around Normandy with zero problems.

My friend basically told us we were certifiably crazy to even consider renting a set of wheels. Lanes change direction based on the time of the day and the severity of the traffic. There are toll roads scattered all over the place, and each of them requires a different (and totally random) amount. The buses in Santiago have a mind of their own. The bicycle is the preferred mode of transit, and bikers will bob and weave their way through traffic; the last thing you want to do is hit one.

We took her kind advice, thought about it, and then threw all caution to the wind and decided to rent a car anyway.

(I did have enough common sense to plan our first day trip out of Santiago for a Sunday in hopes of avoiding the insanity of Santiago rush hour traffic and the infamous lane-direction-switching situation.)

The Embalse el Yeso was a destination that kept popping up on any search I did for day trips out of Santiago, and every suggestion to visit it also included a photo of the unbelievably clear blue water. (El Yeso is actually a reservoir that supplies nearly all of the water for Santiago. I made the mistake of telling my sons this fact, and they all began calling it the “fake lake” as in, “why would we ever want to go to a fake lake?”)

Sunday morning arrived, and Russ set off for the Hertz rental car office while I stayed back at the apartment packing up for our adventure. He made it back in one piece about an hour later, and we loaded up and headed off.

Thank the good Lord above for GoogleMaps, international roaming on cell phones, GPS, and a semi-fluent co-pilot who also had a printed map with her.

First stop: San Jose del Maipo.

The Cajon del Maipo is a canyon in the Andes mountains a bit southeast of Santiago. San Jose is the largest town in the region. We planned on stopping here for lunch and some fresh air before tackling the crazy road leading to the embalse.

the outdoor marketplace was alive and kicking when we arrived
a possible international branch of Vidalia Pharmacy (the red, squatty building)

San Jose is a tiny place with a population of about 13,000…a solid quarter of which must be stray dogs. Seriously, there were dogs everywhere. Everywhere.

It was a dog party, a big dog party.

After scouring the village square for a decent place to eat, we settled on this place. The interior had a cute little courtyard area where we sat and also had some Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong playing in the background, so it started out strong. Our order was lost in translation, however, which led to some creative lunching that consisted predominantly of bread and french fries.

Then it was back in the car for the drive up what one website described as one of the world’s most dangerous roads. (For the record, I found the write-up a bit doom-and-gloom, but it still served its purpose in making me a little anxious about this part of the journey.)

Just a few minutes outside of San Jose is the Tunel del Tinoco, a purportedly haunted (and abandoned) train tunnel. We didn’t stop because we didn’t really see any place to stop. (It’s the other side of the tunnel that’s the touristy stopping point; we did see that on the way back…)

Once we passed the Tinoco, the drive definitely began to amp up. We were threading our way through the Andes on a paved road with guard rails on one side and steep mountain on the other. Then we took a left turn, and the next 12 miles were unreal.

To say it was slow-going is an understatement. And to say the landslide jokes got old is also an understatement. At one point, we sat in our unmoving car for a solid 10 minutes, trapped on the one-and-a-half lane dirt road that clings to the side of a mountain while we waited for a bus on its way back down to strategically wiggle around the line of cars. Below is a panoramic shot of the situation. People gave up left and right and would put their cars in park and get out and start walking. It was maddening. And a bit terrifying.

methinks I could use this sign in my house…
no fires…
do not make unnecessary noise…
*all very valid warnings for a house filled with boys*

The fake lake did live up to its photos, though. It’s hard to explain how bizarre this place is–turquoise clear water and gigantic rocky peaks all around.

The daredevil in the family wanted to hike down to the water’s edge. Jack decided to tag along.

It didn’t look that far to begin with, but once they began the treacherous climb down, they realized they’d been deceived.

that precipice on the right was their end goal…we called them back well before they made it
our dejected little mountain climbers…

Other than stand and stare at the water or marvel at the highly advanced 10-point turnarounds being conducted in dented sedans on the shifty dirt road next to us, there wasn’t too terribly much to do at the old fake lake. Plus, we were nervous about how we were going to make the 10-point turnaround ourselves and get back down to the main road. So we loaded back up and called it a day.

The initial plan was to leave the embalse and head down the road a bit to Cascada de las Animas for zip-lining, but once we arrived, they told us we’d have to wait nearly an hour to zip-line and because the boys were under 18, they could only do the two lines that cross the river, not the entire canopy course (which was fine by me as zip-lining sort of freaks me out). Because it was starting to get late, we made an executive decision to skip this.

We did make one pit stop at La Casa de Chocolate for ice cream. The marketing for this place is pretty spectacular (see the video in the link), but it was your basic run-of-the-mill ice cream parlor albeit an ice cream parlor smack dab in the middle of nowhere. And with myriad stray dogs.


We made our way back to Santiago, along with about a million other folks coming home from their last hurrah of the summer. (School was set to begin the next day.)

The drive home was just as curvy and bendy and twisty and bumpy as the drive there, and poor Tucker fell victim to a bout of violent carsickness.

You can’t imagine how happy we all were to see this sight once again:

…which meant, of course, another dinner underneath it (to be fair, the thought of moving anywhere on wheels in order to eat dinner did make everyone turn a little green…)


we weren’t the only ones taking advantage of the plethora of dining options…

In the end, our road trip out to Cajon del Maipo involved well over five hours in the car. While parts of the drive were indeed spectacular, if pushed, I don’t think we’d make the haul again, at least not without a driver well-versed in the crazy road up to the fake lake and who also had suggestions for what else to do in the area. (I’d eyeballed a stop at a winery in a little town called Pirque, but realized that was absolutely not going to happen once we were outside of Santiago and starting the climb upwards.) Pretty sure the Embalse el Yeso is a one-and-done/check-it-off sort of destination.

Live and learn, right?