Friday, April 29, 2011

Coming Back Down

April 1, Friday, continued
We stayed a while at the Mirador Los Torres, hoping that the mist would clear and we'd get a clear shot of all the towers, but that was not to be. Mountains seem to make their own weather. I once read a description of a "cloud looking for a mountain to cling to" and that might be accurate.

As we went down the trail we met a few groups coming up. The first was three young Dutchmen, asking "How much further?" Dear Son said, only 15 minutes, and I added, "If I could do it, you can!" Each small group of hikers asked the same question, "How much further?"
Well, that was just what we had wondered. On our way up D.S. had said a few times, "Just over the ridge," and finally, "I hate to say it again, but it's just over there."

Not very far down the trail we saw a beautiful red fox. I snapped a few photos of him running among the trees.

Later we stopped beside the trail to make some lunch: couscous with a little parmesan sprinkled over it. It's remarkable how good everything tastes outdoors, especially when you've worked up an appetite.

As we were eating the young Dutchies came down the trail and said, "Thanks for encouraging us!"

On the downhill trek both D.S. and I said, quite emphatically, that we didn't want to sleep another night in that cold, cold campground. We decided to pack up and go back to the comfort of the hotel Las Torres.

We reached the campground at 5 p.m. and in 15 minutes had taken down the tent and packed it and our sleeping bags and all our gear into our backpacks. We set off again, and enjoyed the lovely Ascensio Valley on
our way down.

This is the view of the broad valley we are heading for. I had a short video clip that I tried to upload, but no dice, so we'll settle for this still.

It took us a full two hours to descend from El Chileno campground to the hotel Torres. I could feel my middle toe on my right foot complaining about how much downhill we were doing that day, but at that point I was too tired to even answer it. (That toenail is still purple. I think I'll lose it.)

At 7:15 we checked back into the hotel, had a hot shower and went down to the lounge for some supper, not choosing the expensive (but nice) buffet meal. We both ordered a "Patagon Burger" which turned out to be one of those humungous burgers I showed earlier, but even better: this one had everything on it, including avocado. It was super good and thoroughly appreciated.

So our BIG DAY ended in comfort and pleasure. We figured we had hiked about 14 kilometers in all that day. It was a fantastic experience and neither of us will ever forget it. Thanks to D.S. for making it possible for me to have this wonderful experience! I couldn't have done it without him!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


April 1, Friday
I have a lot of pictures to post for this, the most important and exciting day of our trek so I plan to take us only through the noon hour in this post, and then finish telling the story of the day tomorrow.

We got up around 7 a.m., hiked up the hill to nature's biffy. I discovered that clean snow makes a good substitute for toilet paper, and is not as uncomfortable as you'd imagine.

We left about 7:30, skipping breakfast for now. More dire: skipping that first cup of

Soon the sun came up and was shining brilliantly on the hills above us.

An hour and half of uphill hiking brought us to the Torres Campground where we found a three sided shelter, just right for cooking some breakfast.

When I asked that the first boiling water be used to make coffee, D.S. chided me, "That's
really being addicted." But he did make the coffee first. Thanks!

The second batch of boiling water was used to make a warming pot of oatmeal, which we dug into with our little plastic spoons.
Tasted great! A quick clean up and we were on the trail again.

You can see from this picture that the weather was quite nice. We had a lot of sunshine on the way up, so much so that I've taken off my Goretext shell and tied the arms around my waist. Since we left our tent, sleeping bags and backpacks at the campground, I'm carrying only a small black bag with my camera and a water bottle.

The orange post beside the trail marks the trail for times when it's snow covered. There were areas like this one where the drop off was quite steep. If I had stepped off the trail I would have gone all the way down the hill.

For most of the way the trail wound through treed
areas, and that provided some protection from
the greatest amounts of snowfall. It's not too deep around the trail here.

The farther up the trail we went, the deeper the snow got. At one point a young couple passed us on their way down. They had turned around before reaching the top. From that point on D.S. was breaking trail through the snow cover.

Then we came to this area. Leaving the forest we came to a large, snow covered
boulder field. Because there was no protection from the weather, the snow here was waist deep. We couldn't see where the trail was as the orange posts were quite far apart, but we sensed the the end of the trail and the lookout for the Torres was just over the crest of that hill.

This was where the going got really hard. D.S. went ahead of me, gouging deep holes in the snow with every step. I followed as best I could. At one point I got stuck, with my left leg bent up behind from the knee, and the right leg down in a deep hole. D.S. later said that I kind of "wallowed" out of that.

At one point I told him just to go ahead with the camera, and I'd wait there for him. But he encouraged me to keep going. He got so excited when we neared the top that he went running ahead (well, as much as running in waist deep snow is possible) like a little kid who's going to the beach and has to run the last 100 yards. I so enjoyed his excitement!

He reached the top, and them came back and pulled me forward in his excitement. I struggled up the last few yards, and THERE WE WERE!!! at the end of the trail. The sign reads: Mirador Las Torres Fin de Sendero/End of Trail. A mirador is a lookout or viewpoint. The famous Torres (towers) the park is named for are behind us. Nearest us is the North Torre, in the mist behind the two is us is the Central Torre, and behind the sign, in even more mist is the South Torre.

We did it! Broke trail all the way to the top. A quiet young man had been following us, and reached the top a few minutes later. And soon a fellow in his mid-forties from Australia arrived. He was kind enough to take a picture with our camera of this high point (in all senses) for us.

It was noon when we got there, so we had a few bites to eat of some snack food. Although the scene behind us is very misty, the sky was clear in the other direction, and the sun was warm and bright. Altogether, a great day for our big adventure!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Up into Snow

March 31, Thursday
Talk about luxury! We slept until quarter to eight,then had a lovely buffet breakfast, a treat that was included in the price of the room. The sun was shining brightly and we anticipated a great day. So we packed up and set out on the trail up to El Chileno campground/refugio.

The trail was clear at the beginning, but soon the weather turned to snow. Some hikers returning down the trail told us that the refugio was closed. (These refugios are closed because the season is ending.)

The higher we hiked the more snow we encountered.

Here I am at the junction of the trail leading to El Chileno campground
or to the Torres campground futher up the mountain.

At the campground everything was covered with wet snow, and more was coming down steadily. There were two other tents in the campground from the night before. The young couple from one of them told us that they had awakened in the morning to find two feet of snow over everything. They packed up and went down the trail. Sometime in the afternoon the other set of campers also packed up and left.

We set up the tent under some tall trees and found that was a mistake as snow "bombs" were falling on us as we worked. A low tree would have given some protection against this. D.S. cooked up a quick rice dish for lunch and we decided to hike up the trail for some distance, just for something to do that afternoon. This is definitely not like summer camping, sitting lazily around a campfire, reading, drinking coffee, making s'mores.

We hiked up toward the Torres campground for about an hour and half, and then decided to come back down. This picture was taken on the way back down.

We were alone in the campground that afternoon and evening. It was becoming quite cold. We sat on a little sheltered porch of the closed refugio, enclosing ourselves somewhat with some sheets of pressed board lying there, and cooked a supper of
pasta, plumped up with two cans of fishy
things. One was a can of squid which D.S. chopped up very fine, so the squiggly parts weren't noticeable.

Once in a while we got up and tramped in place to warm up our very cold feet. By 8:30 it was becoming dark and we retired to the tent and put on some wonderful DRY socks! Most of the snow had melted by that time, but the wind had grown colder. We climbed, fully clothed except for our Goretext jackets into our sleeping bags and talked for a few hours before falling asleep.

What a cold night that was! I was completely buried in my sleeping bag which had a hooded top, but found I could sleep only facing into the tent. If I faced the door, the cold wind coming under the fly made sleep impossible. It was during this night that something, a spider or some insect, walked over my face along the hairline, biting as it went. I'm just glad I wasn't awake for that!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

A Wet Day on the Trail

March 30, Wednesday
Although it wasn't raining when we started out this morning, we did encounter several
showers. This was scheduled to be our longest hike, 11 km., so we were on our way by 8:45 a.m. after breakfast at the refugio.

The hike led along Lake Nordenskjold, and was not too strenuous in terms of up and down hills. There is always some of that up and down hiking, but like the hike to Cuernos, it was moderate today.

We stopped now and then for a bite to eat, especially enjoying that milk chocolate we had bought at the Cuernos refugio.

I had been hearing a noise I couldn't identify which revealed itself to us at one point: two strings of horses being led along the trail. They were going at quite a clip but we were able to step off the trail out of their way. This part of the park is part of a privately owned ranch. Plus, it is possible to hire horses to traverse these trails.

We had to cross several streams along the
way, and I mean without bridges. The Cuernos were visible again from our hiking path. By afternoon we were both walking in soaked, squishy shoes. Not the most comfortable experience!

In the afternoon we this passed through this desolate looking area, but just over the ridge we saw a very welcome sight: this rustic, but luxurious hotel complex. The grey building in the
forefront is still under construction and the red buildings beyond it are the hotel itself. This is the hotel Torres. We had intended to stay at either the refugio or the campground, which are beyond the hotel. But when I saw the hotel and thought about a comfy bed, a room impervious to rain and a hot shower, I told D.S., "I want to stay at the hotel! I don't care how much it costs!" He was agreeable to that and by 3 p.m. we were checked into the hotel and getting warmed up and cleaned up.

It was a splurge! The room was expensive, but worth it. The buffet dinner cost $45 USD each, and we realized later that the bottles of plain water we ordered for with our meals were $8 USD apiece! It was a good meal, and we sat near the fireplace.

During the night I heard rain pouring down heavily, and was grateful for a warm, dry bed.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

A Special Evening

March 29, Tuesday
We had a leisurely breakfast of hot oatmeal and real coffee, packed up our tent and all our gear and were on our way to Los Cuernos refugio by 10:45. It was a good hike, with some rain, some sun. The trail was quite muddy in places. Today's hike was much more moderate in terms of climbs than yesterday's and included lots of this sort of scenery.

It's almost hard to believe that these are the same Cuernos we saw yesterday gleaming golden in the sun.

We arrived at the refugio and campground about 2:30 and picked out a good spot for our tent, under the branches of a low-hanging tree, and got it set up.

Then we went into the refugio where a wood stove was creating an island of warmth and cheer. There were several long plank tables lined with simple stools for us to sit on. By this time the weather was cold, windy and
rainy, with some heavy showers. We spent the rest of the afternoon by the stove, along with many other backpackers.

The refugio also has dorm rooms and free showers. We gladly took advantage of the showers, cleaned up and changed our clothes.

We didn't cook for ourselves this night, but had dinner in the refugio. Just when the dinner was being served the electric lights went out, and only the gas mantle lanterns remained to give us a bit of light. First course was a delicious cream soup. Second course was a bowl of something, but it was too dark to see what it was. I took a spoon full and found excellent scalloped potatoes along with some vegetables. Later I found a delicious chunk of chicken. Dessert was poached dried fruit compote.

Because of the wet weather we hung around the refugio that evening. A convivial atmosphere was created by the low light level, music, crowding next to one another, hearing lots of languages. People from all over were sharing their experiences, accepting one another, recognizing people from having seen them on the trail. It was a great evening, and one of the special experiences in this special time.

It was raining when we went to the tent and rained much of the night. Everything was very wet in the morning but by then the rain had stopped.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Frances Valley

March 28, Monday
During the night I heard a crash of thunder and thought we were going to get a storm. In the morning D.S. told me that it had been ice falling from the glacier on Paine Grande. I had slept well until about 2 a.m. and then rather restlessly.

After a leisurely beginning and a breakfast of oatmeal and honey, we enjoyed a real cup of coffee, made in an ingenious push pot that included a generous sized cup and all packed neatly into one smallish container.

At 10:15 we got on the trail up the Frances
Valley. This was not as clear a trail as yesterday's and sometimes led over a boulder field. It's also continuously uphill, sometimes pretty steep.

About 1:15 we arrived at an open area from which we could see the surrounding mountain peaks. It was more than spectacular. We were blessed with sunshine there, though we had had light to moderate rain on the trail coming up. We took many

This particular picture was taken before we reached the top open area. It was a glimpse of the grandeur to come.

One of the amazing aspects of this mountain panorama was the fact that on our far left was the valley we had ascended, green and only getting ready for the fall season. Scanning from left to right took us first past
Paine Grande, a massive mountain with
glaciers and snowfields. Paine Grande was
totally wintry, even at the end of the summer season. It made us wonder what it would be like in the spring. It also was mist shrouded, reinforcing the image of winter.

When we looked directly in front of us, we saw the transition to a more moderate scene.

On this picture from left to right you see The Spear, and right next to it a little lower, The Dagger, and then the more massive Mask. They have snow on their lower reaches. Behind them in the further distance is the Fortress, and coming to the right are the Cuernos, The Horns. One of the Horns is more or less hidden behind the prominent one here. Yesterday's picture showed them as separate. At their foot was a treed area, still very green.

Both of Los Cuernos are massive yellow
"monuments" topped by black rock. D.S. could tell you more accurately what kind of rock they are. I just know that they were breathtaking in the brilliant sunshine that we enjoyed there. They shone in that light.

I was sitting looking at Paine Grande when D.S. called this Cuernos "the Prow" referring to the Prow of an ocean liner. I looked over my shoulder just as some light clouds scudded past the "Prow" and had the vertiginous sensation that IT not the clouds were moving, and that it was coming directly towards us.

Exhilarated by this fantastic climax of our hike up the Frances Valley, we turned around and started back down. The picture of the "prow" was taken on our way back down to the campground.
This is a view of the rushing Frances River.

Campground meals are quick and easy, this night a quick rice dish. I had a quick wash-up at an overflow pipe. Very cold, but it felt really good to clean up. Another quiet evening in the campground and to bed thankful for a wonderful day and a great hike.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

In Torres Del Paine, at last!

March 27, Sunday
This was a long, full day. We got up early, just after 6 a.m. and had the usual hostel breakfast: Nescafé, a round flat bun with marmalade and yogurt. The bus to Torres del Paine picked us up at 7:20, and then stopped at other hostels to pick up passengers. The ride to the park took about two hours.

There is an entry fee of $30 USD to visit the park, paid at the entrance. The bus then drove us on to the second stop where we waited for the catamaran, which for $22 each took us over Lake Peho to the Peho refugio and camp. This is our view of Los Cuernos from the catamaran.

We had a bit of lunch there, used the washrooms, and were ready to begin our hike. We had been warned in a good talk on what to expect in the park, given at the
Erratic Rock hostel in Puerto Natales that
some of the refugios in the park were already closed for the season, and that means no washrooms would be available at those locations. So just before I went to the "Ladies" D.S. said, "Steal toilet paper!" I wound a large wad into both pockets in my jacket, and the lump is noticeable on my right side. It was very good advice, and the t.p. came in handy for the next several days.

The hike to Italian Camp took us about 3 1/2
hours, quite a bit longer than listed on the
map. We didn't hurry, but took time to enjoy the scenery along the way.

An older couple, about my age, were hiking in the opposite direction. After they had passed, D.S. said to me, "You're not the only old geezer on the trail!" A middle-aged woman coming along behind them said to us, "How old do you think they are?" I said, "About my age, 70." And she replied, "He's 74, and she's just 70. This is her birthday present." It was their daughter.

The views along the trail were spectacular, and the weather was beautiful. It was windy, and not warm, but excellent for hiking and viewing.

The trail was worn into the soil about 6" deep in many places. There were some elevation changes but this was not a challenging hike. Nevertheless, by the time we reached this bridge, I was really ready to say that I'd had enough for the day.

This swaying bridge had a sign on either end,
"Only Two People on the Bridge at any time." It wasn't scary though, as it had protective "chicken wire" fencing along the sides.

Across the Frances River on this bridge lay the Italian Camp. There were no services here at all, and no electricity. Campfires were not permitted in the campgrounds when we were there. We found a place to pitch our tent, cooked up some pasta, added
some canned fish and a little cheese, and
that was supper, with some yogurt for dessert.

We had a visitor soon after supper, this good looking fox. He was evidently a regular visitor, checking for scraps or handouts, and seemed quite at home.

D.S. had two handy lamps that fastened onto our heads by a stretchy band. With that light we worked a crossword puzzle, and then turned off the lights and simply sat in the dark enjoying the peaceful evening. I'm greatly comforted by the knowledge that this park does not have bears. Later we climb into our sleeping bags thinking we'd had a very good day, our first in Torres Del Paine National Park.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Just a few Words

Missed posting yesterday because my dear Sis arrived by plane from Arizona. So I went to Calgary to pick her up, and that basically took all afternoon. The morning was spent trying to whip the house into decent shape for her inspection--she's a very good housekeeper, much neater than I am!

In the evening we had the first rehearsal for the Mendelssohn Psalm 42--a chorale work which will be performed this weekend.

When we got up this morning, we found the landscape transformed--back to the middle of winter again, at least 4" of snow. I asked Jim how much and he said, "Too Much!"

So with all these distractions going on, no blogging got done. Hope to continue telling you about our very lovely and exciting trip tomorrow. See you then!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales

March 25, Friday
Up around 7, shower, pack, eat breakfast and take a taxi to the airport. Took the time to visit a Café at the airport and have a REAL cup of coffee, after too many cups of instant Nescafé. Ordered a café cortado, not knowing what cortado means. Judging by the miniature glass cup of coffee, I think it means "short" because it was a short cup of coffee.

Had a good flight to Punta Arenas, arriving by 3 p.m. Got a taxi into the city to the address given for Erratic Rock 3, where we have a reservation. The whole building is shown in yesterday's post, and here is the door. Way up on the left is a buzzer, which we rang. After a while someone buzzed the door, and we tried to open it. They buzzed again, and we pulled harder. A third time, with no better luck. Someone came down the stairs and opened the door for us: opening it inward!

Up the stairs we came into a small apartment above the bakery. Living room, dining room used as an office. We explained who we were and were greeted enthusiastically by Pato, with whom I had had email contact when reserving the room(s), having asked for a single room for each of us. Pato is not 100% in English, and the room we were shown had one double bed. We asked about the other room, and found that this was it. There were three bedrooms: this double, a dorm room with about 5 beds in it, and the room for Pato, his wife and small daughter. Dear Son solved the problem by volunteering to sleep on the floor in his sleeping bag.

After dropping off our gear in this bedroom, we went out for a walk to reconnoiter the city. Just two blocks away is the house that belonged to Bruce Chatwin's uncle, a connection that drew Bruce to this area.

We found a bus station and arranged for transport to Puerto Natales on Saturday morning. Just around the corner was a nice looking hostel, and made a reservation for Monday night on our return trip. Then we explored the city, mainly the area around a large central square. Like Santiago, Punta Arenas is full of people walking and selling from the sidewalks. There are also so many stray dogs in these cities. The amazing thing is that the sidewalks are not covered in "doggy do."

For supper we stopped in a very small café called The Pines, appropriate because the interior, the counters and the stools are all made of pine. We each ordered a hamburg and burst into laughter when it came. The hamburg and bun covered the entire plate! That's about 9" to 10" across! DS had avocado on his and I had cheese on mine. They certainly satisfied our appetites!

There was a darling young girl there, probably about 7 years old, who couldn't resist flirting with us. She said shyly, as if to herself, "What is my name?" in English. Got herself a drink of juice, and gave a gusty sigh of contentment.

We bought a few supplies for camping, walked around the park and down to the waterfront. Back to the hostel as it was beginning to get dark.

March 26, Saturday
Had a brief breakfast at the hostel, with Pato keeping us company. He made REAL coffee as he had learned that visitors prefer that to the instant Nescafé. But, somehow or other, that automatic drip pot produced lukewarm coffee! Don't know how that's possible, but appreciated his efforts. He bade us a fond farewell. This whole experience here at this hostel started out seeming kind of weird, but we ended feeling very good about it.

Passed through much country like this on the way to Puerto Natales by bus. Reminds me very much of Alberta. Open country, with some cattle, but very little settlement. That's actually a large flock of flamingoes on the lake.

We arrived at Puerto Natales around noon and walked to Erratic Rock (the original) where Pato had reserved a room for us for tonight. Again there was some mix up and they had booked us into the dorm room. We
both prefer a private, to avoid noisy roommates. But Paul, the owner, (from Eugene, Oregon) looked out for us. There are oodles of hostels in Puerto Natales, and he found us a room at one just a block and half away.

Carla, the owner, soon found us as we headed over there, and we made arrangements with her for tonight and for the bus to the park tomorrow morning. We also reserved a room for our return trip.

This hostel was called "Austral Glacier" which we found out was a very appropriate name, as it was COLD!! D.S. said he would characterize it as "an icebox, besieged by dogs." There was a small gas heater in the living room, a small gas heater in the dining room, and that was it. The hot water was on demand. I had the first shower, but chickened out when it came to washing my hair. It was just too cold!

We had a room upstairs with three single beds, and they were absolutely the best beds and bedding we had on the entire trip.

At three that afternoon we went to Erratic Rock for their free talk about what you need for hiking in the park, what to expect, etc. Very informative.

Took a good walk all around the main shopping area and bought some more supplies for the camping part of our trip. Again, like Santiago and Punta Arenas, the sidewalks are filled with people out walking. Toward the end of the evening we were down by the waterfront and saw these lovely, black headed swans. I'd never heard of such a thing before.

Then did a good repack of our backpacks in preparation for actually going to the park tomorrow!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Santiago, part two

Thursday, March 24
After coming down from the Cerro San Cristobal we went back to the Plaza de Armes and visited the PreColumbian Art Museum. It's a small, well organized collection showing PreColumbian Art by district. These mysterious figures at the end of one gallery are carved, wooden, larger-than-life sized statues that were placed by graves. I believe they were supposed to be some protection for those buried, but don't recall their exact function.

Leaving the museum we were hungry and stopped in one of the many, many small restaurants. This one advertized a 1/4 chicken dinner, which proved excellent. The dinner came with a choice of French fries or salad, and we both had the salad, which was a heap of fresh tomato slices, accompanied by cold, sliced green beans and cold green peas. Just outside the window where we were sitting was a small park with a flourishing Hibiscus bush covered with flowers. A bus idled noisily by the curb, and we were relieved when it finally left.

One thing that struck me about Santiago was the large numbers of people walking around all the time. The sidewalks are crowded with people strolling along. Hardly anyone is striding briskly, as you would see in a North American city. You often see a pair of police officers in the crowds, looking very neat in their clean, pressed uniforms. The other notable thing is the number of people working at what must be very low wage, menial jobs. There are groups of people hand-watering the grass in parks, raking the bare ground, and even sweeping the sidewalks.

This city employee is using a unique "broom." The green cart shows that he is an official city worker.

Other people just make up their jobs. Many spread some wares on the sidewalk and sell from there. Some
are more inventive. We saw individuals stepping in front of traffic stopped at a red light to perform a sort of fake toreador act with red scarves. This couple had something unique: a high class gymnast/cheerleading act. They were very good. Did about a 20 second routine and then ran to the cars to see what they could collect. I do wonder what sort of take they get. It would be impossible to keep that high energy going for very long.

Again we stopped at a little shop to pick up some food for the evening. The two eggs proved NOT to be hardboiled as we thought. Fortunately they were in a plastic bag, and went directly in the trash, because by the time we had them to the hotel they were smushed! We had also bought a container of what we thought was yogurt, and had a hard time figuring out that it was probably sweetened, condensed milk. Fortunately the jelly donuts dusted with cocoanut and filled with some sweet custard were delicious!

I'd been on the lookout for an ice cream vender, as I am an avid fan of ice cream. And we found some, but I'm almost ashamed to admit where we bought it: at a McDonald's! We sat on the rim of the fountain near the hotel and enjoyed our indulgence.

This had been a beautiful day, with the temperature at +27º by 10:30 in the morning. In the evening people are out strolling, visiting, relaxing in the public places.

Back at the hotel we made arrangements for a wake up call and a taxi to the airport the next morning, then had a shower and a good night's sleep.

This picture goes with tomorrow's post, but I can't seem to get rid of it. Quite often, I'll lose a picture that I've put on the blog, but then again there are times like this when I can't make one go away. So this is the hostel in Punta Arenas, part of tomorrow's story. It's the yellow building with "erratic rock" painted just above the first floor. And we'll get there tomorrow.

Sunday, April 10, 2011


Having settled into our room, we took a rest. Dear Son #1 had a good nap and I read the novel by Picoult. At 5 p.m. we were revived and went downstairs to use the computers provided to guests. Quite frustrating, as they were OLD and EXTREMELY SLOW!!! But we did manage to confirm our hostel reservation in Punta Arenas for Friday and send a note to Jim that we had arrived safely.

We went for a walk starting in this very European area, the Paris/Londres (London) neighborhood around the hotel. The cobblestone streets and sidewalks certainly add to the European flavour here.

We stopped at a very small shop (three tables), run by a young woman and an older woman who was probably her mother, to have a bite to eat. We each ordered a sandwich, choosing from the list of fillings: jambon (ham) queso (cheese) and were puzzled by palta. What is palta? She held up an avocado. Yes, yes, that's good. Likewise, what kind of bread? When she held up the whole wheat, we said, Si, si. What a delicious sandwich that was! Was it the fresh ingredients, the lovely bread, or the good appetite? Before we left I used my first real Spanish phrase, from DS's phrase book, estabey buenissimo (phonetic spelling), or, That was just the best!

We walked along the Avenida Alameda, also named Avenue Bernard O'Higgins, toward the Cerro Santa Lucia, a very high, basaltic hill in the city. The entrance to this this lovely park is through this colonnaded area with pool and fountains. A uniformed guard asks you to sign into a guest book. There is no charge to visit this park.

The paths lead up the hill and there is something interesting around every turn. Statues, fountains, large freestanding brick entry ways, plazas, and especially people are around every winding of the path. Lots and lots and lots of people.

It was a beautiful evening, with the temperature around 32ºC, very warm, but with a nice, refreshing
breeze flowing up the hill. This is especially a park for lovers, and there are couples embracing everywhere. This cute couple found a unique way to overcome a
discrepancy in height.

We climbed to the very top and were rewarded with views of the city and the surrounding mountains. There was some haze, but perhaps not as bad as most days.

On the way back to the hotel we stopped at a small grocery store to buy a few things to eat that evening. The empanadas had no filling as expected but were very airy, deep fried pastries. After eating one, I felt I'd had my week's ration of oil.

March 24, Thursday

Breakfast is part of the deal here, and we were introduced to what turned out to be pretty standard fare: some cold cereal (not always included) a plain bun, a pat of butter, a bit of marmalade, a cup of Nescafé, and a small container of yogurt.
We made arrangements with the front desk for a room for our return trip, and the went out walking.

This is the Plaza de Armes, a very large open square park. Lots of place for people to walk, mingle, sit on a bench.

The Avenue Bernard O'Higgins is a very busy street with four lanes of hectic traffic in each direction. Pedestrian crossings are provided with lights, and are the only safe, sane way to cross that main thoroughfare. Many of the other streets are very narrow, parking on both sides or one side only, and almost without exception are one way traffic. These busy streets are compensated for by these wonderful open squares for pedestrians only and by the many parks sprinkled throughout the city.

We made our way to the Cerro San Cristobal, another abrupt hill within the city. We rode the funicular to the top and visited the shrine (?), a large statue with a nearby platform for religious services. The sign said, Silencio, but was ignored, most egregiously by the music coming from the loudspeakers. Not a place to inspire reverence.

We were a little disappointed by the Cerro San Cristobal, as there was not the same abundance of interesting sights as on the Cerro Santa Lucia. There was one "hiking" trail that led down the hill, and we went down that trail for a little way to this view of the city. Then we returned to the funicular and descended to the city again.

(To be continued)