Monday February 14, 2005
I awoke about 7:30, dressed and went out to explore - so much activity on the streets already! People walking, driving, in buses, hurrying to work. Shopkeepers sweeping the sidewalks, opening shops, getting the city ready.
An attempt - 2 or 3 actually - at getting an ATM machine to spit out money failed - too many on screen instructions not understood.
I arrived back at the hotel about 8:30 or 9 - had breakfast of eggs, ham, toast, and coffee - Nescafe - in the hotel lobby with Skip and eventually Lana and Ignacio joined us. We tended to some errands - Lana got the ATM to give up its 100,000 pesos (about $200), we met Ignacio's pastor at a bank (he's a security guard for a day job), and we prepared to leave the hotel - departing for our grand road trip to La Serena. It took about an hour to depart - much discussion with the clerk regarding our return, getting bags down, getting the car out of storage, and trying to find some Purell for Skip! Unsuccessfully!
But finally off we went, stopping only once on the way out of town at the Chile Express for Ignacio's visa issue re: the USA.
We headed for, and found, the Pan American Highway, making our way past much road construction. Heading north, we drove and talked, drove and talked - stopping once for a short break - out in the middle of absolutely nowhere, at a little rundown shack of a store for a Coke. Used the bathroom with an open air view behind, met a very friendly man who wanted to talk about Tucson and rocks - beautiful blue stones that contain copper. He wanted to give us a gift, so he took off in his truck - across the highway and up the hill in a cloud of dust - to return after 10 or 15 minutes with three small samples - presenting them to us with joy.
While he was gone Lana and Ignacio chatted with the owner of the store, a 60-ish cowboy, weathered and pleasant, with twinkling eyes and a delightful manner. Ignacio seemed especially intrigued - and perhaps envious? - in meeting this true life cowboy - a huaso through and through!
Then off again - north to La Serena - a slight hiccup when we noticed our gas getting low, we stopped, only to find the station out of gas! We had to either go 40 km backward, or try to get 100 km ahead for gas. We chose back - and retraced our steps through the dry mountain region along the coast, past the collapsed bridge that slowed traffic to one lane, found the gas - yeah! - and back on the road, past the collapsed bridge again, heading north.
More driving until about 4 pm or so, when our tummies told us to stop - so stop we did. A bright clean modern resort type restaurant overlooking the ocean appeared and off we went - finding a little piece of heaven before us. We sat on a veranda, shaded from the sun by a light muslin sunscreen, and we supped on shrimp, oysters, clams, vegetables, bread, beer (Skip), coffee (Espresso!) - what a feast - a two hour sojourn overlooking the blue blue Pacific with a gentle breeze and a bright clear sky. But leave we must - if we were to arrive in La Serena by nightfall.
Back in the car, back on the road, now driving with the sun setting to our left as we continued north. Desolate land, this part, unnamed small enclaves of ramshackle houses without any sight of commerce anywhere for miles and miles. As we neared La Serena/Coquimbo we began a climb up a long grade for many miles as we prepared to drop over a small coastal range. By now the sun had set and we were driving in darkness - and as we crested the hill, suddenly and amazingly the city lights of Coquimbo and La Serena appeared! Each of us said the same thing at the same time - "Oh, wow!" - with a gasp as we saw this huge metro area spread out before us.
Now the focus shifted to finding a hotel, a bed of any sort, preferably with a restaurant close by. We made our way to the Avenida del Mar and stopped at a hotel - the Kent - and inquired about two rooms. The lady shook her head - no - but then proffered an apartment - 2 bedrooms, small bath, small kitchen, living room - all with an ocean view - and a bar and restaurant downstairs! So, voila! We were set! We secured our parking, off loaded our bags, and settled in - opting for room service with three types of fish, bread, potatoes - Ignacio loves papas! - wine, water - in our second floor, ocean front apartment, the surf as our background music - as we talked on and on, on and on, to bed at 1:30.
Day 2 - que bueno! our little group is developing a wonderful spirit of bonding and connection, easily including Skip (tiny amount of Spanish), Ignacio (tiny amount of English), with Steve (more Spanish) and Lana (the translator). Ignacio has declared Skip to be "un ondo" - a good guy, and we all feel the love - good vibes - mojo - it's happening!