Summer! I might not be exaggerating if I wrote that we were actually counting the days until summer this year. Maybe not officially, or admittedly, but I would venture to guess that those of us in this family that can count and know what a calendar is had a mental tally taking place. When we moved here in late February last year, we left a frigidly cold winter behind us in Wisconsin and arrived just in time for Maddie to start school, and fall to begin. Don’t get me wrong, the weather was absolutely lovely when we arrived! Mid-70’s, sun, total shorts weather, especially for some Wisconsinites. But with all the chaos that ensued following a move, it felt like we blinked and the fall/winter rainy season started. And so, as everyone back home was enjoying Memorial Day getaways and summer weekends on the lakes, we were huddling inside under piles of blankets looking with forlorn eyes out our rain splattered windows…
I kid, but only a little. There is a common misconception, which we ourselves shared in prior to our decision to move here, that because Chile is in South America, it must be warm and tropical. Tropical? Yes! The area we live is flooded with the most beautiful “jungle” trees, (as Greyson likes to call the Palms), intensely colorful flowers, and in general the most brilliantly colorful and lush greenery I have ever seen. However, that intense greenery comes with a price…a price called 6 months of rain. Although nothing is worse than our frigid temps back home, in the Patagonia region of Chile (where we are), during the winter it rains 6 days a week, 23 hours a day. I’m not talking thunderstorms or rain showers…I am talking MONSOON LIKE RAIN, non-stop, with temps roughly in the 40’s. Additionally, furnaces are unheard of. All houses are typically heated through a wood-burning fireplace, electrical wall heaters (what we have), or the far more expensive but also more rare, gas heat. None of the above heat the house as well as a furnace, thus necessitating the use of layers and lots of blankets. Moreover, none of the above dry the house like a furnace, thus allowing for a literal “damp chill to the bones” throughout the entire winter. As a result, when Spring/Primavera hits in September/October, Chileans, just like Minnesotans and Wisconsinites, ditch the winter garb and sport the summer catalogue as quickly as you can say “Let’s BBQ”! Of course, our excitement about Summer this year was clouded a tad bit with one more itty-bitty obstacle. Just a little thing called work. Tom was transferred to Chile to help with a plant start-up, which has involved the planning and follow-through of installing new equipment, training the employees, and basically getting the plant successfully up and running. The unfortunate part: This “start-up” kicked off at the very beginning of summer. “Great for us!” said all the employees from the United States who were traveling here throughout the entire summer. “Yay, greaaaat for us,” trailed off the voices of all the employees that live here. For a plant start-up means (at least for Tom), 7 day work weeks, 14 hour days on site, not to mention the “after-hours” phone calls and dinners. However, although we have missed Papa a WHOLE LOT this summer, we were able to sneak in some fun with him here and there, maximize our time locally, and overall make the absolute most of our precious time. And there actually turned out to be a very silver lining to “esta problema”. Who said we had to travel to find fun? Besides, we have traveled! 7,000 miles to get HERE! And so, instead we did a whole lot of exploring of the Valdivia region, and little did we know just how much this area had to offer! More than enough to keep us thoroughly entertained for the summer! Someone once said that Valdivia in summer was an entirely different place. How true that was. It’s as if the rain turned off, the clouds disappeared, and the suns rays suddenly shone down, illuminating a scintillating, green Emerald City, vibrant under the deep blue skies. Similar to a Seattle, but carrying with it a Latin American flavor. The sparkling ocean, lakes and rivers are suddenly home to sail boats, cruise boats, kayakers, paddle-boats, canoes, row teams, sea lions and paddle boards. The beaches shift overnight from quiet to congested, home to colorful umbrellas shading their owners from the burning sun, and Mote con Huesillo stands. Tour buses shuttle all over, 24 hours a day, flooding the riverbanks and popular German cerveceria (Kuntsmann) down the road from our house. And despite heavy traffic, street buskers, or performers, engage in all sorts of performances (music, juggling, acrobatics, etc) to entertain at the red lights. And we weren’t even able to get to it all! And so, following the departure of our dear family that came for Christmas, the fun continued in a number of ways: The Beach: Niebla/Los Molinos We are SO blessed to have the ocean practically at our doorstep here in Chile. Hang a left out of our neighborhood, drive for about 10 minutes along a wide river set between two towering green hills, and you arrive at the small, ocean-side fishing village of Niebla. Continue to push the car up, up and up along the narrow dirt path and you will find yourself gazing in wonder and surprise at the sudden postcard scene below you… beaches nestled among the cliffs that sharply drop into the vast, blue ocean. Shortly thereafter you come across another fishing village, Los Molinos, which contains the beach that we like to frequent. In our time at Los Molinos, Greyson has become obsessed with and mastered the art of snorkeling. (I mean, not only does he snorkel as much as possible, but he sleeps with the snorkel and mask under his pillow every night), Maddie has, of course, made numerous friends and learned to “ride the waves,” and Ellie has worked on her sand-castle building skills. . One other thing that I haven’t made mention of is that the sun is so strong here. Chile has a very thin, if any, ozone layer. Which means sunscreen all year-long and a very hot sun, even when it’s supposedly only 70 degrees. So although the ocean’s water is COLD, (this is, after all, the far Southern Pacific Ocean), after a while you grow accustomed to the temperature, and on those particularly hot days, it’s refreshing. There are also 2 drinks that suddenly appear and become quite popular in Chile during the Summer, and are frequently seen near and on the beaches. Mote con Huesillo, a favorite refreshing summer drink in our family, and Chicha, a fun adult beverage. Mote contains a sweet, clear nectar made with dried peaches (Huesillo), sugar, water and cinnamon. This juice is mixed with freshly cooked husked wheat (mote), which lies on the bottom of the cup. The peach also remains in the cup for eating. It is specific to Chile, having originated from the Mapuche Tribe. I have also just learned how to make it, so will be taking this recipe home with me! Chicha is essentially a cidery tasting moonshine, often flavored with apple. They are both excellent and must-tries if you ever visit Chile. Also popular in Niebla during the summer is the Costumbrista, a large outdoor mall/party. Upon entering, your senses are flooded with the smells of meat grilling over fires, empanadas, and sopapeilla, the sounds of uptempo Latin music, and of course Chicha stands, artisanal shops with knickknacks and gifts, and finally and quite frankly the place that was our principal reason for going: the hair-beading place, where all the little girls that live in this area get a string of beads or small shells woven into their hair. I am not sure that Maddie had a friend this summer that didn’t have one, and so of course she had to join the club. Ellie even participated, managing to maintain hers in her fine hair for nearly 24 hours! And Greyson, for his exceptional talents navigating the ocean, earned the Shark Tooth Medal (or necklace). Butterfly Hunting Whether it was at the Botanical Garden (one of our favorites), or in the neighborhood, the kids tirelessly (especially Greyson), chased butterflies this year. We went through 3 nets, and once those were all sold out, numerous plastic Tupperware containers, to get the job done. Lago Ranco We had been wanting to venture to Lago Ranco for a while because we had heard of its incredible beauty, and the kids had heard of the floating obstacle course there. The first weekend Tom had available, we made a day trip there with Hans, Karen and Bruno. It is only about an hour and a half drive from here, and was gorgeous…a large lake nestled next to the Andes Mountains. We visited an artisanal fair composed of all things Chilean—various objects made of llama wool, murales de telar, various pieces carved out of wood, jewelry, meats, cheeses, and of course wines. Admittedly we were thankful for the kids’ presence, because no doubt our bank account would have taken a hit that day if I had the time! We also walked along the boardwalk, relaxed at the beach, and enjoyed a delicious lunch, composed of my first Chacarero sandwich. *(Another must try….a warm beef sandwich with the inclusion of Green Beans–elected in the top 13 sandwiches to try in the world in 2013 by Time Magazine…AMAZING). Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get a great glimpse of the view or do the obstacle course as it was foggy, rainy and pretty cold, but we plan to return very soon! And we still very much enjoyed ourselves! Parks in Valdivia Whether it was the Botanical Garden, (a lush forest with countless beautiful trails), Parque Saval, (a large spacious park area containing playgrounds, trails, ponds, camp sites and a zip line!), Parque Oncol, or one of the many other natural areas, we always had options for exploration. Festivals at Parque Saval As a result of the near weekly festivals and fairs at Parque Saval, the kids were rarely bored, engaging in horseback riding, bounce houses of all sorts, carnival rides, and more. The River-walk and Feria Fluvial The Feria Fluvial is the popular fish-market along the river in Valdivia, composed of various types of fish, seafood, fruits, vegetables, spices, Chicha, knicknacks, etc. It is also home to the Sea Lion colony that we love so dearly. Once summer begins, the river-walk that intersects with Fluvial is suddenly flooded with bicycles and boats to rent, meaning we of course rarely lost an opportunity when down there to take advantage. Maddie’s Summer Activities I don’t think Maddie would have any problem with staying in the neighborhood all summer long and playing with her friends from sunrise to well after sunset, it’s her thing. But, it was also necessary to get her involved in some activities for the summer, meet more people, learn a few things…have some semi-organized fun. And so, Maddie attended a 2 week summer camp at the local Phoenix Club, swimming, playing, burning energy, and displaying a dance performance for the parents the last day. Although, I think one of her favorite aspects was the bus that transported her to and from…what is it about kids and buses?!
She also enrolled in some swim classes, as well as a number of “telares de art”–or individual art classes that are offered through the city and take place at the local “Happy House”, which is an event location for birthday parties. My Summer Art Classes
In our short time here, I have developed an obsession with the llama wool dolls (munecas) and murales de telar that are sooo typical Chileno art, and some of the most common items found in artisanal shops here. Karen knew of my appreciation for this, and found a lovely woman who was willing to meet with us as a small group and instruct us how to make them for ourselves. For me, one class was entirely dedicated to munecas, and the two following classes were entirely dedicated to murales de telar. Not only is the craft itself incredibly calming, but I am also so excited to now know how to make Chilean art pieces all by myself. And so, now everyone knows what they are getting for gifts…birthdays, Christmas, just because—watch out! The Rodeo Taking place during the last week of the summer, or Valdivia Week, the rodeo, considered a national sport in Chile, is a must-see. In fact, I understand it to be so popular that more people attend rodeo matches every year than Futbol games. It is entirely different than North American rodeos. It takes place in a crescent-shaped stadium called a Medialuna (half-moon). Essentially, the competition involves a team of Huasos (cowboys) and their horses, called a Collera, running laps around a stadium trying to stop a calf by pinning it against a cushioned part of the wall. Points are earned based on if the calf is properly driven into the corral. Although we admittedly felt bad for the poor calves, they seemed to manage okay and we were all thoroughly entertained. Tom was also able to be fitted for and purchase a traditional Huaso hat, the apparent go to head-piece for Huasos and spectators alike. Semana Valdiviana During the last full week of summer Valdivia celebrates its anniversary with an entire week of FUN. La Semana Valdiviana brings with it a large fair at Parque Saval, the rodeo, parades, boat races, the crowning of the Queen of Region de los Rios (the River Region), and roughly half a million extra tourists. Chaos! The final night, Saturday, or Noche Valdiviana, showcases a brightly lit boat parade at roughly 10:30 at night, and at midnight a grand display of fireworks. The fireworks were AMAZING….timed to music and spotlights dancing throughout the air. It made for a perfect anniversary night out for Tom and I after a lovely dinner at a Peruvian restaurant downtown. Unfortunately, because of the late time and the size of the crowd flooding the streets that night, we did not bring the kids. Although my heart was sad, (watching fireworks without the kids feels entirely WRONG), I felt a little better when I noticed that the few kids that were actually there were sleeping, and also just how much a party in the streets it was. Although, for next year I’d LOVE to make a goal to find a good location for the kiddos to get to see this spectacular nighttime show! Bierfest Tom and I checked out the Annual Kuntsmann sponsored Bierfest. A wild semi-outdoor/indoor party composed of German food, bier, dancing, music, and games! It would be impossible to not have fun…we are so glad we were able to experience it firsthand…our little trip to Germany, in Chile. Greyson is Potty Trained-need I say more? Okay, maybe a little more. Who knew, that after months of trying to bribe him with 6 different sticker charts, marshmallows on up to bowls of ice cream, all I had to do was let him go outside, standing up. Now of course, the problem is, getting him to go to a real bathroom. Still working on it!
Random Fun with Friends Summer means no school, which in turn means the kids have been playing outside from sun up to sun down. We feel eternally grateful that we have the types of kids that don’t need to be forced to go play….the LIVE for it. Now, the struggle is getting them to come inside…praying that never changes! A few of the more common adventures have included Mora (raspberry) picking, bike rides around the neighborhood, along the river, or at the Botanical Garden, looking for crabs at the riverbank near our house, and hitting up a pool in a Quincho/Cabana located near Hans and Karen’s house. Without a doubt, we had a wonderful summer! It was like the lights became brighter in a dimly lit room and we were able to find hidden treasures we hadn’t noticed before. And I feel so blessed to be able to share in these days with the kids, often finding myself sending Tom quick notes of THANKS for working so hard to allow us to be able to have these days at the beach, or peaceful walks through the botanical garden. They are memories that I will treasure in my heart for eternity. And in turn, he has done incredibly well with his start-up…tirelessly devoted to its success. He is an inspiration, and I grow in admiration and pride every day. I also know he has missed us this summer, and brilliantly used what little free time he had on loving and being with his family. So on that note: THANK YOU DEAREST DADDY! We SO APPRECIATE everything you are doing, and we love you TO PIECES! And most importantly, we CAN’T WAIT to be able to steal you for more time next summer!! And so concludes el verano de 2015 ❤ xoxo Laura