Sunday, January 24, 2010

South America Trip - Santiago, Chile

After a wonderful and relaxing week in the Florida Keys, Erin and I said a very sad goodbye to Evelyn in the Miami airport and then flew to Santiago, Chile. Carissa has been living in Santiago for 6 months and the two of us decided to make a trip to South America and visit her. We also wanted to experience a true "backpacking" trip, where we stayed in hostels and planned our itinerary as we went as opposed to the hotels and guided tours we are accustomed too.

After an overnight flight we rested for a couple hours in our first hostel and then set out for sightseeing. Our time in Santiago was a breeze because we had Carissa as our resident, Spanish-speaking guide. We didn't have to do any planning ourselves and knew we were going to see the best sights in the city.

Our first stop was Cerro Santa Lucia, an old fort on a hill with a terrific view of the city.

At the end of the hike we had a picnic with a group of Carissa's friends which was really fun. The group was a very broad mix of Chileans and international residents. Everyone spoke English but we were the only ones that didn't speak Spanish. Thankfully, they kept most of the conversation in English for us.
Next we hiked to Cerro San Cristobal, a Mary statue on top of a really tall hill a little further outside of town. The hike was much harder, but the view was excellent.

Santiago is a huge and very modern city. Besides the whole Spanish language thing and 90 degree weather in January, it felt like a Chicago or New York. We did a lot of walking around seeing Carissa's normal spots and a few other landmarks like this old train station.
Some of the city parks had exercise equipment built into the playground equipment. Here is the playground version Tony Little's "Gazelle Freestyle." I'm guessing they didn't pay him any royalties on the knockoff.
A group of us went to La Piojera bar one night. It was a very traditional bar, supposedly over 100 years old. Their specialty was a drink called The Terremoto -> The Earthquake.
We were visiting right before the Presidential Election. The two candidates are Pinera and Frei. Posters and billboards were plastered EVERYWHERE.
Downtown we visited the main government building, complete with a British style guard.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Florida Keys - Part 2

In the middle of the week we drove 2 hours to the famous city of Key West. After a couple of hours on the beach we went into the main area and took a city tour on the train. Basically, Key West got filthy rich back in the 1800s by salvaging (looting) ships that ran aground in the shallow water of the keys. During one year of the 1850s the average citizen of Key West made the equivalent of $7 million!
We had a terrific sunset in Key West amongst a throng of street performers.
One day we drove an hour west to Baia Honda State Park. It was an amazingly beautiful park and the weather was perfect.
Our rental house was in the mangroves, so we took Kayaks through the channels to explore. Erin and I found the local crocodile (8+ feet), which scared the life out of us when it violently dove into the water as we got too close.

For the majority of the week, we just hung around and enjoyed each other's company. The Elenbaas gang is a close group, and the spirited debates that always arise are enough entertainment in themselves. We don't even need new topics to debate, we always seem to come back to the same arguments:
  • Why females have to take a "test" before being allowed to make football and basketball picks in the Elenbaas college football and basketball prognosticator challenge.
  • Why engineering degrees are superior to...all others
  • Why Carissa had the hardest childhood
  • Why Derek is the most spoiled
  • Why it wasn't Ben's fault, and how to get him to try harder in school
  • Whether Steve spoils Molly
As always, Molly and Evie are best friends.
Girls must shop, especially on vacation.
Up-and-down-the-river and Rummikub are Elenbaas staples.
Most evenings Evelyn would get so "hotttt" trying to entertain everyone that she insisted on stripping down to her diaper. Once undressed, she seemed so much happier. The house was a comfortable 70 degrees, but that was way to "hotttt" for Evie.
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Sunday, January 17, 2010

Florida Keys - Part 1

Grandpa and Grandma Elenbaas treated the family to a wonderful week in the Florida Keys. All 27 of us made the trip the week between Christmas and New Year's and stayed at house near Islamorada.

The first thing we did was go to feed the Tarpon at "Robbie's" which is where a certain Johnny Knoxville movie did a rather disturbing stunt. The Tarpon were imposing - some of them 6 feet long!
The house we stayed at was really good our family. The pool was perfect and Evie spent many hours running through the shallows.

Of course, Evie buddied up with Molly instantly and followed her around all week. Evie was also a goof ball most of the time just soaking up the attention.

One morning a group of us went snorkeling a few miles out near a light house. The reef was amazing and we saw an 8-10 foot nurse shark among many other sweet sea creatures. After seeing the fish Carissa and I climbed the light house to take the 10 foot plunge. I did my trademark back flip of course.

After the light house we went to an Island where Native Americans lived for centuries. When the Europeans came and started taking over the Keys the Island became known for a famous revolt and the massacre of a bunch of the Europeans.

Marv treated us to a sunset, outdoor dinner on the beach one night. Despite a strong wind, we had a great meal and view.

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Friday, January 08, 2010

Crossing the Border

We had a unique and somewhat unsettling experience crossing into Peru yesterday. After 4 days of having a spanish speaking guide in Chile (Carissa) we left on our own for Peru. We flew to the northern border of Chile and planned to take a bus to our next destination about 200 miles into Peru.

So we got off the plane and realized we were in a tiny airport and no one spoke English. Also, we didn´t know whether we were supposed to take a bus from that Chilean city or whether we were supposed to take a taxi into Peru and get a bus there. After much confusion, we decided to take a taxi into Peru...but as we reached the border, the taxi driver started saying ¨Problema¨

Turns out that for some reason cars weren´t allowed to cross the border. So he helped us fill out some customs forms and pointed in the direction we needed to walk. We really weren´t very sure we were doing the right thing but found the place we needed to go to exit Chile and then had a unique 1/2 mile walk through the desert to the Peru customs building. Finally, we passed through Peru customs and found a taxi on the other side to take us to the closest city in Peru (the border crossing is in the middle of a gigantic sand desert) where we found a bus to Arequipa.

Quite a day. Thanks to Erin´s spanish classes 12 years ago we did OK, but not without quite a bit of confusion.