Carpenters in South America

Last week was a special one: Mom and Dad flew all the way down to Chile, just to see me! It was strange seeing them in such a different setting; I had never really imagined meeting them at an airport in South America and showing them around what has become a new home so far away. Also, after three months isolated from direct interaction with everything I had known (except English), it was a crazy feeling to have part of it down here with me. Now I wonder what it’ll feel like to go home and drop myself back into that world that I left so far away. Needless to say, I was very excited to see my parents. 

They had a stupendous ten hour red-eye flight crammed into airplane seats that we’ve all grown to love for their unmatched comfort. They were therefore entirely ready for a full day of activity and exploration, but I figured it was best to take it easy for the first day. Finding them in the arrivals section being harassed by a “pirate” cab driver and an airport employee attempting to shoo him away, we were off to a smooth start. After fifteen minutes of searching for their reserved driver, and the cabbie trailing us like an annoying version of the Chilean quiltros(stray, but cute, dogs) we finally found the proper travel desk and convinced the pirate that he best look for some other confused gringos. Our driver eventually showed up and we hit the road for Valparaiso.
Mom and Dad, as many would imagine, have a very different travel style than I do, so rather than a hostel, they booked a hotel, where you don’t share rooms with other travelers. What a concept… We checked in to Hotel Gervasoni, a cool boutique hotel with a great view over the port and bay, around noon, and took advantage of the free welcome pisco sours, and then ordered lunches that ended up being far larger than any of us expected. Another advantage of traveling Lynne and Richard style: food quality is significantly better than $1,000 peso empanadas. This time I actually got to taste the glories of Chile’s seafood.
After lunch, we decided to walk around some of the city. To give an idea for the challenge that walking here implies: the city is divided by its hills, rather than by neighborhoods, and anywhere you go requires the use o f stairs or an ascensor(gondola). Jet lag tends to make this difficult, so after an hour we returned to the hotel to let the parents rest.
At least the stairs are painted well
That’s looking very up
Following naptime, we found a restaurant at the bottom of our cerro (hill) where I could introduce Mom and Dad to a Chilean favorite: bife a lo pobre (poor man’s beef), which is steak on a mound of French fries, covered in fried onions and fried eggs. A dietician’s dream. While the food was mediocre, the atmosphere made up for it with the comical bands that belted out Spanish classics. The singing was generally terrible, but in such a way that it made the restaurant fun and picturesque. It was a shame we finished up just as the restaurant began to fill and the party really got started (Chileans begin to eat dinner around 9pm, and we got there at 7:30).
An early bedtime and relaxed wakeup later, we enjoyed the hotel’s breakfast and then set out for the day. Walking again, I took my parents through the picturesque parts of the city where they could see the city’s extensive artistic abilities painted all over almost any available wall. We wandered to the port and then took an ascensorto the top of one of the cerros, for tourism’s sake. After a few hours’ wandering, a delicious lunch and some sunset watching, we discovered a restaurant near the hotel that would prove to be the best meal I’ve had in Chile, and probably will ever have. Sitting on a terrace overlooking the port, we enjoyed a warm pumpkin soup (remember, it’s autumn here) and then Mom and I each had a plate of spinach ravioli stuffed with crab and almonds. The word exquisite was invented for this meal.
The next morning was an earlier one, getting up at 6:30 (I’m more used to getting home at that time). We watched the sun rise over the bay and then climbed into our van en route to Santa Cruz in the Colchagua Valley, which many refer to as Chile’s best red wine region. After checking into our new hotel, we went to the valley’s artisan museum which covers the country’s artistic evolution through its indigenous groups. The walkthrough took no more than half an hour and we quickly made our way to the highlight of the day: the Santa Cruz vineyard where I had my first-ever wine tour. I quickly became an expert in all things wine (despite the sarcasm, it was very helpful in teaching me how to taste). That night, Dad and I went to the local casino for another first for me, and after temporarily frustrating the pit bosses with my lack of blackjack knowledge, I managed to break even, which I definitely consider a successful night.
Sunrise over the bay
Santa Cruz Vineyard from above
Day four: Monday. Foregoing an entire three days of wine tours (excellent idea), Mom scheduled a horseback ride through the valley and a vineyard. It was a three hours very well-spent, with Mom riding Tormento(Storm), myself on Caramelo (Caramel) and Dad on the wildest of them all: Princesa(Princess).
Our ride went very pleasantly, with Dad and Princesa leading the pack from behind, and we returned to the hotel for a relaxed afternoon in the Santa Cruz museum (the largest private museum in Chile) that has one of the most random collections I’ve ever seen, from fossils to horse-drawn carriages to artifacts from the Copiapo mine rescue from 2010. This guy’s collection might even beat out Pablo Neruda’s in both categories of vastness and randomness.
On day five, it was finally time to return to Santiago and show them the town where a third of Chile lives. But not before some wine tasting! The first winery provided a glass of wine as we entered at 10:30 in the morning, followed by two more to taste. We tasted three more at the next vineyard and then had more with lunch. Seven cups of wine will catch up to you. The main excitement of the day, however, was upon our return to Santiago, Mom and Dad got to meet my host family for dinner at the apartment. It was great seeing everybody get to know each other, and Mom and Maggie getting along so well despite the language barrier.
We treated the host family to dinner on my parents’ final night, and I realized how lucky I am with my families, both real and Chilean. I couldn’t be happier with either one, and now that they’ve bridged the gap, it’s even easier to consider both as one family. My parents made me miss the rest of my family from home, but also renewed my appreciation to be able to find the same type of support, care and fun somewhere else in the world.
Non-Carpenters from left: Maggie, Jose Miguel, Cote

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