FlyerTalk Forums - My son’s fifth grade year: 97,737 miles, 40 flights, 6 continents and 16 countries (2024)

May 2011: Chile

How did Chile end up on our round the world tour of twelve countries? The bottom line is their fruits, vegetables and seafood. During the long, cold winter of that frozen wasteland known as California, much of our produce comes from South America especially Chile. Their exports are good quality when we buy them in our local Safeway supermarket so what will it be like to eat them before they travel 5000 miles on an airplane?!?!

I actually came here four years ago when I was on my four-country concert tour of South America. A few of us came three days early so we had almost a week in Santiago. Our concert went great here and set a great tone for the rest of the tour. We performed to a packed house at the Teatro Oriente. During our week in Santiago, we had a great time exploring restaurants. I do not remember a bad meal. We ate so much seafood all over town.

My first thought though was to spend the whole month on Easter Island. I love Polynesia and this was an opportunity to spend an entire month there. In mentioning this idea to other friends, I was instantly met with apprehension. My friend Steve said that we would have trouble spending a week there let alone a month. That did not discourage me. Our goal was to live like a local. Obviously locals live on Easter Island. I wanted to find out about their lives!

The roadblock arrived when I tried to find a place for us to rent for the month. There was NOTHING listed anywhere. I looked and looked. All I could find was motels for over $100/day. I sure did not want to live in a motel for month. Finally I resigned myself that we would visit Easter Island for a couple of day but then spend the rest of the month out on the coast of Chile somewhere.

This country was the first where we really had not booked much prior to arrival. I was getting a bit tired of planning and thought we would just see what happens. We planned on doing Easter Island first thing. About a week before our arrival we finally booked into the Lonely Planet TOP PICK for moderate hotels in Rapa Nui. Beyond that we were open to an adventure.

We left Buenos Aires on the famous local South American carrier Air Canada. Price wins. They got my business. Here is the trip report of our journey over The Andes:
FLIGHT#34 Air Canada#412 Buenos Aires - Santiago 767 Biz with Pics

We and Miley Cyrus arrived in Chile in the evening. (Read the previous report to find out why we were traveling with Miley.) Because our flight to Easter Island was early the next morning, I just booked us into the Holiday Inn at the airport. We would have time to explore Santiago on our way back through later. The hotel was perfectly fine. It’s a Holiday Inn. Nothing special. Nothing bad.

The next morning we took our first of six LAN flights out to Rapa Nui. It was not a great experience. You can read about the whole thing here:
FLIGHT#35: LAN#814 Santiago-Easter Island 767 Biz with Pics

Rapa Nui (Easter Island), Chile
Our plane touched down on this tiny dot of an island in the middle of nowhere and I instantly knew that it was a magical place. As we walked down the airstairs, the warm, humid air greeted us. It reminded me of landing on some of the smaller islands in Hawaii. After five hours in the stale, dry airplane, the air felt fresh and alive.

Every day a small combo of musicians greets the Santiago flight. It is such a wonderful welcome to the island. You instantly know that you have left the continent and are someplace different. In Hawaii you instantly notice “island time”. Things move slower there. Rapa Nui is very similar.

The Dutch who “discovered” the island on behalf of all the white people of the world arrived on Easter. That is why they call it Easter Island. We were expecting lots of bunny rabbits, decorated eggs, Peeps, a nice cooked ham… We did not see any of this. It was about as Easter-like as Ramadan.

Claudio from the Vaianni Hotel was there to pick us up along with several others. He drove us just a few minutes to the hotel, which is located in the center of town. My favorite part of the hotel was that everyone hung out around a large round table in the middle of the courtyard. It was a great place to meet other travelers and hear about their experiences. This does not happen at the bar at the Four Seasons. We met people from Hong Kong, Holland, Germany, USA, Chile, Canada and so many other places. We got lots of good ideas of how to spend our time on the island.

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Eating lunch at a fish shack

Claudio had recommended a little café down on the water so we headed there for lunch. It was this little hut that served a variety of sandwiches all freshly made. I had a tuna steak sandwich served with lots of mayo, guacamole and tomatoes. This combination of condiments is popular throughout Chile. We were famished and the food tasted great. From there we found a fishing port where a huge 8 ft swordfish had just been caught.

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All in a day’s catch

By the end of the day we had decided to rent a car and drive ourselves around the island instead of joining the $60 a person guided tour. I much prefer to have the flexibility of our own vehicle. For the $180 guided tour cost for the three of us, we can have a much cheaper tour on our own. Also a Brazilian guy staying at our place joined us and cut our costs even more.

We walked up and down the main drag looking for a place for dinner. We learned quickly that everything was expensive on Easter Island. The issue is there is no local industry. Even the eggs are flown in from the mainland. The local Rapa Nuis are content with their lives and do not demonstrate much entrepreneurial spirit. One of the local Chileans from the mainland explained to us that even all the fishermen are from the continent. This just did not make sense to me. Chickens are the easiest thing to raise in the world. First come chickens and then come eggs. If I was a Peace Corps volunteer there, I would find SOME local who was interested in making a little money. It would not be hard to undercut the price of imported eggs from the mainland. I was beginning to think maybe we should have tried harder to spend a month here.

We ended up at a tourist fish place with excellent food. My family has always loved ceviche. Terry ordered a “trio of ceviche” that was incredible. All of us loved our food but the bill was expensive for our budget.

It rained cats and dogs for most of the night. The tin sheets on the roof amplified the sound of the pounding rain. At 8:30 am the rain had stopped and it was beginning to get light. We must be on the edge of the time zone. The sky was full of dark clouds but we decided to continue with our tour anyway.

Our rental car was $80 for the day. They did not offer any insurance instead the car was given to us with a “you break it, you buy it” plan. My credit card does usually cover me for rentals but this one was questionable.

In spite of the weather, all of us were really excited to explore the wonders of the island. The four of us decided to visit the museum first to get a better understanding of the Rapa Nui and their history. After getting really lost we finally arrived and toured the modest facility. We were surprised at the many similarities between the Rapa Nui and the Maori of New Zealand. Obviously they are cousins, descendants of the same people. They share much of the same art and symbols. They had a sample moai, the large carved bust, in the museum but I was anxious to see them in the flesh.

You can easily drive to the other side of the island on a paved roads in about thirty minutes. This is not a big place. We had a good map that showed all the moai positioned around the island. The ancient Rapa Nui carved all the moai at a central volcano and then somehow moved them all around the island. No one really knows how they moved these incredibly heavy statues. These are not light rocks. They positioned them along the coast with their faces toward the center of the island. It is believed that they pay tribute to their ancestors. That’s one hell of a tribute.

After we left the museum, we encountered our first moai a few minutes later. It was beautiful. We took lots of pictures not realizing that we would be seeing many, many more that day.

Lots of the moai that we first saw had fallen over. Large waves or tsunamis can easily topple them over. Over half around the island are lying down. My first reaction was that we should raise money and re-erect them. After talking to several locals, I now understand that they believe that they have fallen for a reason and they should be left on the ground. I tried to compare it in my mind to the Statue of Liberty. If she fell down, it would be hard for me to accept that is the way she should be. I guess the moai have a different meaning than Lady Liberty.

The weather throughout the day went from cloudy to misting to raining. Repeat. It really did not matter. We were all so happy to see these incredible monuments. Our Gore-Tex jackets were soaked through along with our shorts and shoes. It did not matter. We were having fun.

We finally arrived at Rano Raraku which is the quarry where all the moai were carved. This dormant volcano provided the rock for the carvers to work with. The side of the volcano was littered with heads in various stages of completion. It was a moai factory. Corbin and I discussed different theories on how they delivered the finished heads around the island. All of the methods involved lots of manpower.

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The Haleys make it to Easter Island

The ranger at the entrance to this area and told us that it was too muddy for us to hike up into the crater. We saw several people on the path which encouraged us to give it a try. Sure it was muddy, lots of slipping and sliding but no one fell down! The crater was large and had wild horses in it. We ran across the Dutch couple from our hotel that had chosen to take the guided tour. They had thirty people on their tour and they traveled around in an old school bus. I think our decision to rent a car and go on our own was wise.

Luckily a food truck was parked in the lot nearby and provided us with beef and chicken fried empanadas. Most of the island is uninhabited so we were happy to find something to eat. Our snacks were long gone by this point.

Nearby the quarry is one of the most famous collections of moai, Tongariki. Fifteen moai are lined up in a dramatic setting on the coast. The Japanese government paid to have them all re-erected amid great controversy. Many people thought they ought to remain on the ground. I will say they are more impressive standing up. They only put the red stone hat on one of them and left the rest scattered around the nearby field. I was awestruck by this presentation of moai. In the same field we saw our first petroglyphs of the day. The Rapa Nui carved many recognizable items into the low lying rocks including fish, turtles, humans and trees.

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The moai of Tongariki and my boy

On the north shore of the island Corbin found some tide pools that he enjoyed exploring. We stopped twice and found more petroglyphs and more moai. The entire island is a living museum.

The only place to find a large sandy beach on Rapa Nui is at Anakena. Just as we arrived there, the sun came out inviting us to swim in the ocean. We all stripped down to our underwear and hopped in for a dip. It was a perfect way to end our tour. I also enjoyed seeing the six moai positioned at the end of the beach.

We made it back to the hotel by 5:00 pm and rested for a bit. Then I got the idea that we should watch the sunset just north of town at Tahai. We grabbed another American woman at the hotel and spent an hour watching the incredible sky of the sunset. It will remain one of my favorite sunsets for the rest of my life.

Here’s a video of the moment:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DN1d4OyJTwQ

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Watching the sunset through the moai

The next morning we did not have to return the rental car until 10:00 am so I proposed that we drive back up to Tongariki to catch the sunrise. There was a good chance that the clouds would block the sun but we all were excited to give it the college try. Even Corbin said we had to do it!

Alas it was a cloudy morning but we all enjoyed getting a final look at Tongariki. Those fifteen lined up heads are truly spectacular, well worth the morning trip.

After breakfast we decided to rent some bikes and go up to Ranu Kao, the largest volcano on the island. We made a wrong turn somewhere and our biking path became a hiking path. We ditched the bikes and continued on foot to the top of the volcano’s rim. It was a long, steep hike on this path but we made it. On the top we found the ancient village of Orongo. Corbin loved their houses made out of volcanic rocks and dirt.

By the time we were walking back down, we were exhausted and really hungry. Our snacks and water were gone and we were looking forward to a nice lunch. When we got back to our bikes, I noticed that Corbin’s front tire was flat. I ended up pushing his while he tried to ride my bike. It is not exactly what I needed at the end of a long hike.

We finally arrived to a nearby fish restaurant Taki Viti that had been recommended in my guidebook. Corbin and I both had ceviche and Terry had some sea bass. The food was absolutely delicious and the two beers did not hurt either!

That evening we met up for dinner with a local Chilean that I met through CouchSurfing. He works at the airport as a meteorologist. From Santiago originally he has enjoyed living out on Rapa Nui for four years. At this point he was about done with island life and was looking forward to returning to Santiago. I really enjoyed talking to him about his experiences on the island. He was the one who helped me understand why the locals have not created any industry there. It is just not who they are.

Corbin’s shoe situation has been slowly deteriorating. All of his footwear disintegrated at the same moment leaving him barefoot. On our last morning, we finally did some shopping and bought him a new pair of flip-flops for $20. Not a bargain but he needed something.

Santiago, Chile

Our journey back to Santiago is fully chronicled in a trip report:

We arrived back in Santiago on a Friday evening still unsure where we were going to spend the rest of the month. Luckily we had arranged through CouchSurfing to meet up with two local Chileans. Hopefully they would help us figure out the rest of the month.

We stayed at the Ameristar Apart-Hotel in the Bellas Artes area of Santiago. Our place was perfect because it had two separate bedrooms and a nice common kitchen and living area. It was much more room and privacy than a typical hotel room.

We finally heard from one of the schools that Terry visited when he flew up to California. The principal wanted to chat with Terry again. He also wanted to have a phone interview with me! We set up these phone interviews for Saturday just before noon our time.

Terry spoke first to the principal. He had already interviewed with him in person so Terry assumed this would be a follow up interview. About five minutes into their talk, the principal offered him a job! Yeah!!! What a relief! At least we would have one salary coming in.

I was up next. I had never met anyone from the school and immediately the principal shared that he was not very comfortable doing a phone interview. We managed to have a great talk for about an hour. I have worked in a similar sized school with a comparable population. They are adding high school classes for the first time this year so I recognized this as a great opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a school. During the interview I shared several ideas that he responded “WOW. That’s a great idea that I have never thought of.” Bingo!

I would say that interview was the best interview that I have ever given in my life. We clicked. I was very happy at the end when he said that he could hear my passion for education. I am definitely passionate about learning.

One of his final questions involved working with Terry. Since it is a very small school, did I foresee any difficulties working closely with him? I mentioned that we had worked together at the same school for two years in Munich. More importantly we had worked together almost 24 hours a day this year as we home schooled our son. If we can make it though this year, we can do anything together.

At the end of the interview, the principal said he needed to chat with a few people and would get back to me in a few days. What I did not mention was that I was willing to fly up to California at any moment if they felt they needed to see me in person.

That afternoon we met up with Johan at his place who turned out to be half-American and half-Venezuelan. He had lived in Chile for several years and had lots of good information. He suggested that we go to Valparaiso because it was a city full of culture and charm. He also said the food was excellent there. I’m sold! We all started to get hungry so he took us to a Chilean pardilla where we ate so many different grilled meats, a delicious corn dish and salad. We had a great time together and once again CouchSurfing had connected us with a good guy.

I woke up on Sunday and convinced my family we should do the walking tour outlined in the Lonely Planet guide. Luckily the whole tour was in our immediate area so we did not have far to walk to the start.

Being Sunday I would have expected things to be quiet. Instead everyone was out with their families shopping in the markets and enjoying themselves. We drank some amazing fresh-squeezed orange juice and nibbled on sweet, ripe strawberries. Chile is another country where it is fun to eat on the street.

The walking tour begins at an old train station to the left of the Mercado Central. The station is now used for trade shows and conferences but today was entirely empty. Corbin enjoyed running around the cavernous space.

The Mercado Central is the local fish market representing the best of the Chilean seafood industry. We ate the Denisse Restaurant and enjoyed bouillabaisse, a seafood casserole and fried fish. Everything was wonderful except they brought a small drink that our waitress told us was “on the house”. We all tasted and were very surprised when it tasted like a mix of clam juice and rocks. The floating cilantro garnish was a nice touch but did not help the flavor at all. I finished my glass to be culturally sensitive but Terry and Corbin abandoned their drinks after the first sip. Terry thought it was a local joke they play on the tourists.

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Our complimentary drink

Next we walked over to the birthplace of Santiago, Las Plaza de Armas. It is a beautiful square with the cathedral and other old buildings around it. We decided that we would pause and read for a while on a park bench. It was a nice, peaceful setting. The tour continued and took us through all the government buildings and finally finished atop the hill in the Santa Lucia park right next to our hotel. We climbed all the way to the top but were greeted with a smoggy view over Santiago. We could barely make out The Andes to the east. We all enjoyed the tour especially the lunch at Denisse’s.

That evening I met up with another CouchSurfer, Rodrigo. He is an artist and his place was a gallery of his paintings. He had another friend over and we talked for hours. His recommendation was that we stay in Viña de Mar about 4 km up the coast from Valparaiso. He said it was much nicer there, more like Miami. Valparaiso was dirtier and had more crime. Hmm. We wanted a truly local experience so maybe Johan’s recommendation of the grittier Valpo was more what we were looking for.

On Monday morning, we took a cab to the Pajaritos bus station where we purchased $8 tickets for the hour and a half journey out to Valparaiso. The buses were modern and very comfortable. I loved that the price was so low! They leave every twenty minutes or so making the connections between the two cities very convenient.

Along the way we passed though one of the wine regions around Casablanca. The area is known for its white wines. The reds come from vineyards about 200 km south of Santiago. Over the weekend we had already begun enjoying Chilean wines and knew that a month in Chile would involve a full exploration of their varieties.

Valparaiso, Chile
As we drove into the city, we could see lots of colorful houses. Valparaiso is the sister city to San Francisco, California and we could see lots of similarities. The first is all the houses are built on impossibly steep hills. In the late nineteenth century, twenty-one “elevators” were built to help get the citizens up the hills. They reminded me of the Peak Tram in Hong Kong. They do not go perfectly vertically up. Instead the trolley hugs the mountain climbing at a very steep pitch.

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The hills of Valparaiso

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Typical houses in Valparaiso

Since we had not booked an apartment, I got us a room in a bed and breakfast for the night while we looked around at apartments. We took a cab from the bus station the Yellow House B&B located at the far end of the harbor. The Amazing Race television show filmed the contestants crossing a valley on high wires just a few blocks away. Corbin recognized the location instantly.

I made a couple of phone calls to people with places to rent. I was happy that I could schedule a viewing for that afternoon. Meanwhile we walked back down to the “Puerto” area and ate lunch at a wonderful seafood restaurant, Viviana. For me the highlight of the meal was the scallop and cheese fried empanada. I had never tasted anything like it.

We taxied it up to an apartment and met up with the landlady. She had lived in California for sixteen years and spoke excellent English. We were amazed many times throughout our month in Chile that many people spoke great English.

The apartment had wonderful views of the city of Valparaiso and the harbor. The three bedrooms were all tiny and it could have been better maintained but it was fine for us. Located high on a hill, we would get lots of exercise coming back and forth. We decided to take the apartment for at least one week and then decide if we would spend the rest of the month.

Next we walked down the hill a ways where we finally found the elevator that dropped us in the main square of Sotomayor. Because we had a big lunch, we decided to just pick up some snacks for dinner and stay in for the night. Transfer days are tiring so watching a movie in our flat felt good to all of us.

I have also noticed lately that Corbin is reading all the time. He flies through books on his iPad. As part of his school, Terry tests his comprehension and it is remarkably good. He has also begun reading at bedtime until he is sleepy. Terry and I are both very pleased with this.

We moved into our flat the next morning. The landlady explained how to use the microbuses and the “colectivo” shared taxis to come up the hill to our apartment. It felt good to finally unpack after traveling out to Easter Island and spending the weekend in Santiago.

The first thing I do whenever we get to a new place is to rearrange the furniture. I like a cozy feeling in the living room and often the furniture is placed by someone who has never sat there for more than ten minutes. By the end I was much happier and Terry just stood by rolling his eyes.

We had afternoon school that day because we could not afford to miss a day. We have been fairly strict about sticking to the original school schedule of 177 days of this year. Obviously things come up but then we arrange to make up the hours on a different day. I have been really impressed that Corbin has made such progress this year. It will be interesting to see how he stands up compared to the other sixth graders in Berkeley next year. He is doing seventh grade math and seems to have developed great problem solving skills which will serve him well in the future.

Moving in also means doing a big shopping trip to the local grocery store. Some things never change regardless of the country: olive oil, vinegar, rice, basic herbs, bread, peanut butter, fruits, veggies, the Haley staples. As part of our “one bag, one person” reduction after New Zealand, we just do not have the room to carry staples from one country to the next.

We took a different elevator down the hill more toward the Bellavista area where the huge Express Lider is located. Our flat was located in quiet residential neighborhood which was a big contrast to the hustle and bustle of the commercial center of Valpo. The Lider supermarket was the largest of any that we had seen in South America so far. They carried a huge variety of products. I was mostly interested in the produce and seafood which was definitely better that what we find in any supermarket in the US. Still I was looking forward to shopping at the open air markets with the freshest possible produce. Terry started to get concerned when our shopping cart was heaving. We needed to carry all the groceries that we bought. In the end we left the store fully loaded and hopped into a colectivo taxi that dropped us off in front of our apartment at the top of the hill.

All over Chile one form of transport that is available is the colectivo taxi. The idea is that they start at a central point. As soon as four people have entered, the taxi takes off on a pre-determined route dropping off people and picking up as space permitted. The price was $0.75 per person per trip. Not bad at all! It’s one heck of a walk up the hill so we gladly paid $2.25 for us and our groceries to get back home.

The sunsets from our apartment were spectacular. We had a sweeping view of much of the Valpo city and part of the harbor. Every evening the sun would set on the horizon to the west bring to life the multicolored houses. It was a great way to end the day watching the sunset and drinking a glass of Chilean red wine.

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The sunset from our flat in Valparaiso, Chile

That evening I cooked steak, salad and these little frozen potato balls that I noticed in the freezer case. They turned out to be wonderful and we enjoyed them several more times during our month. The gas stove and oven were old and I always managed to singe off some body hair every time I tried to light the oven. Then later I managed to start a small fire while cooking the steaks. It takes a while to get to used to a new kitchen and I wasn’t starting off too well. The meal was delicious and I knew that we would be eating well in Chile.

I was still in bed the next morning when I picked up my iPhone and checked my email messages. The first was one from the principal of the school I interviewed with. It began “Thank you for your interest in our school…” Ugh. This sounded like a “sorry-but-no” letter. As I read into the second paragraph, he offered me a job! YAHOOOOOOO! Terry and I both got jobs! HOLY ..... I could not believe it. I really expected to be hitting the pavement in July once we were back in California. It seems a bit crazy to be teaching at the same school as Terry but we are definitely flexible. We taught together in Munich and did well together during our year of homeschooling while traveling. We were going to shine at this new school.

That morning we planned on visiting the fishing port. We took the coastal metro down a few stops and got dropped off directly at the port. We ran into groups of young school kids who were also seeing the boats and fish. One interesting fact about the port is that all the boats get lowered into the water each morning by cranes and then get raised when they are finished. The coastline here does not allow for them to be docked. We were impressed to see the boats full of fish being pulled out of the ocean. I loved to see all the varieties of fish including one that is named after Corbin, Corvina. Several people had mentioned that Corbin had his own fish in Chile and we finally found it. I did not buy any fish because I knew that we would not be home for many hours but we enjoyed looking.

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At the fish port of Valparaiso

From there we continued on the metro to the center of the nearby town of Viña del Mar. Rodrigo had compared it to Miami and thought we should live there. We started in the crowed center. As we walked toward the coast, we started to see lots of white high-rise building mixed among nice shops and restaurants. This was a totally different place than Vaplo just five kilometers down the coast.

Then we found a Starbucks. It was a large two story Starbucks that felt comfortable and homey. We hung out and read our books and enjoyed ourselves. In month eleven of our journey, moments like these help us charge our batteries. From there we went to a nearby park let Corbin play for a while.

As Terry and I sat on the bench there, I started to contemplate spending the rest of the month in Viña instead of Valparaiso. For me the biggest reason was I did not feel very safe in Valpo. Several people warned us that we should not go out after dark. I did not like that. I could instantly tell that life in Viña is much safer. Also I really wanted an ocean front view from our place! IS THAT TOO MUCH TO ASK FOR?!?!

We returned to our place and I started to do some research on a place in Viña. After a couple of emails, we soon secured a flat on the coastal street Avenida San Martin. We would stick out the rest of the week in Valparaiso but then spend the final two and a half weeks on the ocean. We all were thrilled by the idea.

I abandoned Terry and Corbin on Thursday and spent the day writing in Viña del Mar’s Starbucks. I took myself to a nice Italian lunch nearby but primarily spent my time writing. Like any good Starbucks no one cared I was hanging out there for hours on end. In fact several of us were using the Starbucks as our office just like people do in the States. As I write this book, the process of writing often energizes me. It is an opportunity to process what we have experienced. I love reliving so many moments of our trip.

On Friday Terry went off on his own. Corbin and I had a great morning of school. Some days go great. I decided to reward our hard work with lunch at a restaurant just down the hill known for its inventive twists on Chilean food. We arrived at Le Filou de Montpellier and snagged the last table. The place was hopping. The food was the best that we had eaten in weeks. It was a great find.

After lunch Corbin and I headed over to the Naval Museum very near the B&B we stayed at on the first day. I personally felt there were not enough cute sailors standing around but Corbin loved seeing all canons, guns and ship models. The best part was they had the actual capsule used to rescue the Chilean miners. Both Corbin and I took our picture standing inside. I remember watching their rescue live on CNN when we were in Madagascar last October.

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Corbin in the rescue capsule of the Chilean miners

The Haley Boys have a long tradition of going out to breakfast on the weekend. It is a fun way to start the weekend. We had noticed a restaurant called “El Desayunador” that sounded perfect for us. On Saturday morning we began our day with some wonderful breakfasts of pancakes, eggs and fresh breads along with fresh fruit juices. Chile in general is not a big breakfast country so we were luckily to have found this place.

We spent the rest of the day walking around Valparaiso. We found the new cultural center built in an old prison but it was still under construction. Instead we found the Museum in Open Skies (Museo a Cielo Abierto). A group of Chilean artists had been commissioned to paint a series of murals in a neighborhood of Valpo. I loved this idea. We saw probably twenty pieces as we explored the barrio. More cities should have living museums like this. It felt like art of the people.

Our visitor from California during our month of Chile was my dear friend Tom. He traveled to Munich and joined me both years for Oktoberfest. We always had a great time together. He and I have often traveled together when Terry just wanted to stay home. So far on our year of adventure, he has been working too much but found a few days in May in join us.

He flew in Sunday night to Santiago so I agreed to meet him in town and then show him how to get out to Valpo the next morning. I was back in the capital by noon on Sunday and really enjoyed exploring the city on my own. I enjoy my time with my family but also value “me time”. It was great to go to a museum without worrying about anyone else!

Tom arrived excited and raring to go. So after a quick shower and a welcome glass of wine, we headed to Azul Profundo in Bellavista for a great seafood dinner. We had so much to catch up on and the evening was accentuated with amazing ceviche and other seafood. Our plan was to seek out a gay bar but his jetlag, full bellies, a Pisco Sour and a bottle of wine told us to go back to the hotel. We are definitely getting older!

The next morning I gave him the Lonely Planet walking tour of central Santiago that Terry, Corbin and I took just a week before. We finished by 11:00 am and decided to have an early lunch at the Mercado Central before heading out to Valpo. We chose a little stall that was brimming with locals even at this early hour. The people were not wrong and we ate very well.

After a quiet journey out to Valpo, we arrived back at our flat and Tom got settled in his tiny room. He brought Corbin some chocolate and Terry and me a lovely bottle of Vodka! How well he knows us!

We managed to walk around Valpo that afternoon and have our “late lunch” at Viviana seafood. Neither of our two lunches were a full lunch so it was all right to have two. The sun was out all afternoon so we took some great photos of the colorful houses.

Viña del Mar, Chile
The next day we packed up all our stuff and moved into our flat in Viña del Mar. Located across the street from the beach our view was good but partially blocked by an apartment building located directly on the beach. Luckily the sun hit the water at the end of the day perfectly so the view was not blocked. I saw many beautiful sunsets during our time there. Unlike in Valpo, the sun sets over water, the way it is supposed to be!

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A glimpse of sunset from our flat in Viña

Part of experiencing Chile is enjoying the national drink, Pisco Sour. Peruvians would argue that Pisco Sours actually come from Peru. Chileans say they created it. Who am I to say? I am just caught in the middle happy to drink one wherever I am. The problem was I wanted to learn how to make one from a local. I posted a request on the Valparaiso forum of CouchSurfing and immediately heard back from an American guy who told us that his Chilean boyfriend was an expert! Perfect! Unfortunately they were not available until Saturday. We were hoping to have our Pisco Sour class while Tom was still visiting.

In the meanwhile Terry, our family’s bartender, began his exhaustive internet research on Pisco Sours and decided to practice on Tom and me before meeting Peter and Seba on Saturday.

I would call a Pisco Sour the love child of a Gin Ramos Fiz and a magarita. Pisco is a brandy made from grapes. You mix it with lots of lime juice and some egg whites and you have the perfect aperitif. Tom and I were perfectly happy with Terry’s gringo version of the drink.

For dinner our first night in Viña, Tom and I went out and got five different varieties of empanadas. Many involved seafood and they all disappeared. Served with a green salad, we were happy campers. Most of the empanadas in Chile seem to be the deep-fat fried version. They are heavier than their baked counterpart but equally delicious.

Terry and Tom decided to head out to the famous casino that night while I stayed home with Corbin. They had a drink there and gave their slot machines part of our retirement (about $20). Then they started in on a pub crawl around the area. I was amazed that they managed to stay out until 3:00 am.

The next day we did not get up too early. Our goal was to have lunch and then see if we could go wine tasting. We finally made it out of the house at 1:30 pm and ate at the Viña institution, Samoiea. They offer a multicourse business lunch for $12 including a welcome Pisco Sour and wine. It was very good and we loved that we were the only tourists in the place. I just do not understand having a Pisco Sour and wine with lunch and then going back to work for the rest of the afternoon. My productivity level would be much lower!

The tourist office gave us a list of wineries. Unfortunately all require a reservation for tasting so it did not look like it would be happening that day. Also she could not book us a car instead just handed us a list of local agencies. Not exactly super helpful but at least we were pointed in the right direction.

Viña does not have loads of tourist sites but one is the Castle Wulff. A crazy German who bought a house on the coast decided that it needed to be a medieval castle. This happened about the same time Crazy King Ludwig was building his medieval castles in Bavaria. What were they feeding those German kids back then?

As you tour around Viña del Mar, the average tourist is surprised to see a medieval castle on the coast in town. The first response is “Why is that there?” In the foothills of the German Alps, a castle does not look entirely out of place. But the Chilean coast? Kind of weird.

The place is now a cultural central with art exhibits and concerts. My favorite part of the building is a see-through floor where you can see the sea hitting the rocks underneath.

Once we got back home, we did our research on renting a car and decided on visiting two vineyards, Casas del Bosque and Emiliano. We made our reservations including lunch at the first. It was shaping up to be a nice day.

That evening Tom and I decided we would venture out and explore Valparaiso’s largest gay club, The Pagano Club. Tom could not come all the way to South America without going to at least one gay bar. Like much of South America, NOTHING happens until after midnight even on a weekday.

We picked a nice restaurant in Valpo out of Lonely Planet, Pasta e Vino. It got a nice review and TripAdvisor really liked it. I had booked a table but the place was only 60% full when we arrived. To my dismay, it seemed to be full of mostly American tourists, never a good sign. Luckily the food was stunning. We started the meal with a Pisco Sour. Our sample set was still too small for us to have much of an opinion. The only solution to this problem was to order Pisco Sours as often as possible. The highlights of the meal were my scallop ravioli and Tom’s squid ink pasta with shellfish. The starters with good by both our mains were outstanding. We also drank a lovely Chilean white from a winery about 30 miles away.

We made it to The Pagano Club at 11:45 pm. At that early hour, we shared the huge place with about fifteen other people. Of course we needed a drink. We went up to the bar and asked for two beers. I tend to order bottles of beer in countries where I don’t feel too comfortable. Beer tends to be a safe bet. The bartender said we need to pay for them at the cashier booth to the side. We have encountered this several times in Chile. Pay first somewhere else and then pick up what you bought. It is not as bad as the USSR in the mid-eighties where you always stood in three lines for each transaction.

The cashier asked if we wanted draught or bottles. I thought bottles would be easier and possibly safer. She gave us to slips of paper and we returned to the bar. There the bartender said he does not have any bottles and we needed to go to the other bar. So we went into the other large room and asked the bartender there. He didn’t have any bottles either but said we needed to go upstairs! The only thing we could see was the cloak-check room. I went back to the cashier and asked what we were supposed to do. She confirmed that we needed to get our beer from the cloak-check room. Of course!

The cloak-check guy took our slips and grabbed two beers out of the nearby refrigerator. We figured out later that the reason we had to go to the cloak-check room was that is where the only refrigerator is located. Finally with beers in hand we gave the place a tour. During the process of buying a beer we had seen almost all of it. The tour was not long. Little by little the place began filling up and by 1:30 am, it was almost full. People were dancing and watching music videos on every wall. You’ve seen one gay club, you’ve seen them all. We chatted with a few locals but by 2:30 am, we were ready to head back home. The club was in Valpo and our flat was five kilometers away. We had asked some locals and they said many colectivos would drive us back for 3000 pesos. We found a line of them about a block away from the club and indeed it was easy to get back.

Tom and I woke up at a decent hour and were at the Alamo rental car agency by 10:30 am in spite of our late night. We had wine tasting in our future and time was a wasting. Renting a car in “developing” nations is often very different than in the US. We paid about $60 for the day for a crappy little old car. They funny was it was fairly scratched up. The agent wrote down over sixty pre-existing scratches and marks. The rental contract had so many marks on it that I could not imagine they would be able to notice if I made any new ones! Then they pulled the dirtiest trick I think a rental car company can pull. They gave me the car with an absolutely empty tank of gas and told me that I could return it empty. Ugh. It is impossible to return a car with an empty tank. Thus you end us donating gas to them. This should be illegal. I am sure that they siphon out the gas after each rental for their own use. I made it my goal to return the car on fumes.

We swung by the flat to pick up Terry and Corbin and soon we were all on our way to the Casablanca Valley. The day turned out to be the best wine tasting of our lives. And we’ve been wine tasting in California, South Africa, France, Spain and Australia.

Our first reservation was a tour and tasting at Casas del Bosque. Its tour and tasting had received high marks from several sources which made paying the $33 per person charge a little bit easier. Ouch! We could have paid only $25 but then we would not have tasted their premium wines. We had come all this way, we were going to taste their best.

The tour started with a fairly slick video of the history of wine worldwide and then in Chile. Someone must have found the video too long so it had been edited down so that the narrator NEVER paused. We all felt a bit exhausted at the end of the fifteen minutes. Luckily our tour and tasting guide proceeded with a much more sensible pace.

She walked us all around the winery giving us some great history and information on wine making. This winery began as “something fun to do” by the rich Chilean family that owns their version of Walmart. Think “Donald Trump wakes up one day and says ‘I want a winery.’” A story about a Chilean family with two hundred years of wine making would have been better. But at least they told the truth. The good news is this family hired some great, knowledgeable people and now produces amazing wines.

The tour ended in the beautiful tasting room where we watched the video. The Walmart-esque family hired a talented architect and interior designer because the main tasting building was beautiful, a wonderful showpiece for the winery.

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Wine tasting at Casas del Bosque

Hands-down, the tasting at Casas del Bosque is the best tasting I have ever had. Primarily this was due to a long line of twelve red wine glasses that all contained various aromatics in the center of the table: mango, strawberries, lemon leaves, rosemary, stones, coffee beans, peppers, cinnamon sticks, vanilla… Before each tasting, our guide would pull some aromatics for us to smell and then we would taste the wine. It was amazing. Then we began to choose the aromatics after blindly tasting a wine. We pieced the flavors and smells together to match the wine. Corbin even could play along based on the smell. The aromatics enhanced the tasting so much and I will never forget the experience. In the end, Terry, Tom and I all picked a private selection they make as our favorite. Of course, it was their most expensive wine at $65 a bottle. I always knew that we had good taste. We tasted many wines and all the pours were very generous. Luckily I had booked us into their restaurant, Tanino, so we did not have far to go for lunch!

For our starters, we shared two orders of a tasting menu featuring four delicious items each with its own wine pairing. As the designated driver for the day, I started to slow down a bit on the wine so I would not be discovering the Chilean penal system. We all loved the flavors presented and it was a great culinary experience. After our mains and dessert, we could barely move. Did I mention that this was a school day for Corbin?

The signage for arriving at the next winery was non-existent. We ended up pulling a slightly-illegal u-turn on the freeway and ended up in the right place. We chose Emiliano because they have organic wines and we wanted Corbin to learn their process. In addition to the organic certification, they also employ biodynamic principles.

You are probably asking yourself right now “What the hell are biodynamics? And how does it affect wine production?” The bottom line is that the winery uses the lunar cycle to dictate production decisions. Growing chamomile and then drying it in a bladder made of a pig’s stomach to create a fertilizer that helps “calm” the vines is another biodynamic principle. Our tour guide was very good at explaining all the organic and biodynamic processes they use and why they use them. In end I fully understood all the organic ideas. They make sense. Unfortunately the scientist in me does not quite buy all the touchy-feely, moon position, making the vines feel good, biodynamic stuff. I do not want angry vines producing the grapes that will turn into my wine. Who does? But I kind of need to see some empirical data supporting these ideas. Do their vines produce more grapes? Is the wine of a higher quality? Do the vines seem happier? Our guide could not answer these questions.

During the tasting, my pallet was not convinced. The wines were only mediocre. I did enjoy their locally produced olive oil and purchase a bottle for us to enjoy the rest of the month.

The whole day was a wonderful experience. We all learned so much, including Corbin. We ate well. We drank well. I would definitely encourage any visitor to Chile to spend a day wine tasting.

Unfortunately Tom had to leave us at that point so we put him on a bus back to Santiago where he caught a flight back to California that night. His visit was short but we had a great time together like always.

We had missed some school that week so we had to make up some hours on Saturday. We love having the flexibility to move school around a bit this year. Next year class hours are going to be fixed. Corbin knew he had gotten a good deal that week! Also the promise of seeing the newest Pirates of the Caribbean movie that afternoon helped make it easier. I pulled the short straw and ended up being the dad who got to experience Pirates Part Four or whatever we are up to. I was hoping that the fact that I had not seen the last two would have excused me from seeing this one but no dice. My review of the film is “PERFECT if you are twelve and on a long-haul flight.”

That evening we were invited to Peter and Seba’s flat to learn how to make Pisco Sours and have dinner. I brought the drink makings plus a lovely pasta sauce, garlic bread and salad. Peter made some fresh noodles along with a key lime pie. It was a lovely collaboration. Peter mentioned that they had two American CouchSurfers that would be joining us to complete our merry band.

We took a microbus from Viña over to Bellavista in Valpo. We were beginning to use the transport like locals. It was a bit of a climb up the hill to their place but I kept my family moving by promising it was “just near”. They lost faith after a bit.

Peter and Seba were lovely. Both around twenty-five, they had been together for 18 months. Peter was American and was working in the local hostel. Seba is a university student nearby. Their place was tiny which made the experience even more cozy. The two CouchSurfers were both seniors at UC Berkeley, our future home!

Seba immediately began making Pisco Sours for us. He started with the basic model and then ventured into flavors including ginger and mango. Terry followed along and tried his best to pay attention while suffering the effects of the pisco.

The food was fantastic and we had a great time getting to know each other. Seba was especially interested in the story of how we adopted Corbin. He would love to be a father one day. He is out to his whole family and he and Peter often have dinner at his parent’s house. It was a great evening and we looked forward to seeing them again.

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Dinner at Peter and Seba’s house

Corbin had seen some signs for a Chuck E. Cheese when we saw the Pirates movie at the mall. In the States I am allergic to Chuck E. Cheese for MANY reasons. As our dear friend Barbara always says, the kids would be better off throwing quarters into the toilet. Since we are far from the US, I think he has earned a couple of hours there. Luckily it was not as frenetic as the Burbank restaurant so I parked myself at a table and wrote while he played his games. I was hoping that he would meet some other kids but it was not their busiest day. He had a great time though and we spent three hours letting him be a kid.

Normally I am not a big germ-o-phobe but after being at an arcade like that, I feel like scrubbing Corbin with bleach. He convinced me that I did not need to give him a “Silkwood” style shower. I did tell him to use extra soap back during his shower that night.

We are starting to get into “end of trip” mode. This means that we do not rush out after school to do the next tourist attraction on the list. Terry and I are taking turns in the afternoon going off on our own. We both mostly write in cafes. All the employees know me by name at the Starbucks. Since I’ve been in South America, I always give my name as “Gustavo”. It much easier for them to write than “Carl”. And I do not have to spell it each time. So all the Starbucks employees know me as Gustavo from Spain. When I say my name is Gustavo, all the South Americans can instantly hear my accent is from Spain. They all launch into their Spanish impressions “Tío, hombre. Que ha-thes. Joder…” They think they are the only one who knows how the Spaniards speak. It happens in every store, every taxi, everywhere. If I try to explain that I was born in California, it only makes it worse. So often I just leave it at I’m Gustavo from Madrid, Spain. It is just the story that makes the most sense.

I originally found out about our place in Valpo from a very nice CouchSurfer, Cynthia. She gave me lots of good advice and got me pointed in the right direction. Now that we were settled in Viña, I decided to have her over for dinner as a thank-you. She turned out to be this bubbly Chilena that works in tourism. Her English was excellent and we all enjoyed getting to know her. I made a lovely red pepper bisque as a starter followed by American Sloppy Joes as our main. It was a great evening together. The next weekend she invited us to her place but we already had plans.

One thing that surprised us about Chile was Corbin was not allowed in most cafes because they smoke indoors. Smoking is not allowed in restaurants but only in bars and cafes. Around South America their version of Starbucks is Havanna. It is very similar to its American counterpart but you can smoke in Havanna. Because of this they restrict minors from entering. It is like they were forcing us to go to Starbucks all the time for a cup of coffee.

In the midst of our wonderful year, reality tends to strike once in a while. This month’s dose of reality was refinancing our house in Los Angeles. We had a great 30-year fixed loan that I refinanced about five years ago. My lender now offered to reduce my mortgage payment $350 a month for no fees or points. That is a decent amount of money so we decided to do it.

I knew from the start that it would not be easy. I sold a house once when I was in South Africa and it involved a couple of trips to FedEx and the consulate. Here in Chile once we received the FedEx package of 126 pages of loan docs, we made an appointment at the consulate with the notary. Unfortunately the first appointment was not for a week. Ugh. If we did not get this loan closed on time, we would lose the rate. We spent Friday that week taking the bus back to Santiago, the metro to the center and a fifteen minute walk to the Embassy. We left our house at 6:00 am and finally walked through the door of the Embassy at 9:30 am. Once inside it was a mad house but thankfully we could walk right up to a window for Consular services. The notary was very sweet and we made it through the seven documents that needed our signatures. The fee for the service was a whopping $350. Ouch!

After we left there, they told us where we could get all the documents scanned. They needed a PDF of the signed documents to get the loan closing process started. Luckily the place had a document feeder so we did not have to scan each page individually. Finally we found a FedEx office and got the documents back on their way to the US. Since it was Friday, we were worried about getting seats on the bus back to the coast so we did not have lunch in town. Instead we grabbed some sandwiches and ate them on the run as we hurried to get back. Around 3:00 pm we got back to our flat thoroughly exhausted. We felt like we had been on the Amazing Race.

Peter and Seba were joining us for dinner Saturday night. I was very excited to create a meal of all local products. This meant starting our day with a visit to the semi-weekly outdoor market located in the dry river bed near the bus terminal. It was a large market with so many options. My goal was to have a main course of “surf and turf”. The first thing we saw in the market was beautiful, fresh crab. I purchased one and a half pounds of picked crab for about $15. I am normally a crab snob because I was raised on the best crab in the world, Dungeness crab. This crab was a good alternative. I was not sure how to cook it and Corbin suggested crab cakes. PERFECT! I had not crab cakes in a long while. We bought many veggies to fill our fridge: red peppers, onions, salad, cauliflower, green onions, grapes, lemons, apples, pomegranates, clementines , apples… This was the best farmers market I had ever been to.

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The Saturday market in Viña del Mar

Terry offered to make another Haley favorite, au gratin potatoes to go with the beautiful filet mignon and our main course was complete. I so enjoyed the red pepper bisque from the dinner with Cynthia, I decided to replicate that starter.

We spent the afternoon cooking and catching up with friends on Skype. Corbin spent over an hour with friends in Germany. We all felt great after talking to our loved ones.

Once Peter and Seba arrived, Terry and Seba whipped up a nice batch of ginger Pisco Sours. Terry was a good student and had learned to make them well. They loved the soup but raved about the surf and turf. The filet was perfectly cooked and I could not fault anything I did. We really enjoyed our evening that continued late into the night. By the time they left, I counted four empty wine bottles! And that was on top of the Piscos!

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Seba and Terry making drinks

Throughout our time in Viña, Corbin enjoyed going down to the beach and playing in the sand. In spite of the cool weather, nothing could dissuade him from getting some fresh sea air each day. We all really liked being at the beach.

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Corbin digging a hole in Viña

Just before we left Viña, we found a house to rent in North Berkeley! My dear friend Christine had just moved in with her boyfriend just a mile away. That meant her place was available. Corbin’s middle school would be only five blocks away! I have always loved Chris’s place and its location in the Gourmet Ghetto meant that we had lots of restaurants within walking distance.

Santiago, Chile
Our final days in Chile were spent back exploring Santiago. We had only really had a day there after Easter Island so I felt like we needed to see more. It turned out to be a fun time for all of us.

One our first day we took the free walking tour that begins at the Plaza de Armas. Our guide was wonderful twenty-eight year old native from Santiago. Our group of fifteen were thoroughly entertained as we made our way through the historic streets. His tour was much better than the self-guided one we followed from the Lonely Planet guide. We finished up at one of Pablo Neruda’s houses. We were starving and decided to get lunch and come back the next day.

On the way home later, we stopped off for some amazing ice cream at Emporio La Rosa. Famous for their unique flavors, Corbin enjoyed a mango and green tea ice cream. I had rose flavored ice cream. Both were great!

The highlight of our three days was being invited to dinner at Rodrigo’s flat. I had met him through CouchSurfing and he was anxious to meet my family. Even I was shocked when he invited us for 10:30 pm on Friday night. Corbin normally goes to bed at 9:00 pm. It was going to be a challenge for him to stay awake for dinner. When in Rome…

Corbin was very happy when Rodrigo offered come chocolates as an appetizer! That woke him right up. Then for dinner, he cooked an amazing seafood pasta. I have eaten lots of seafood pastas in my life and this was one of the best. He made the whole meal in a very tiny kitchen. I’ll never complain about my kitchen again.

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Delicious dinner at Rodrigo’s

On Saturday we all enjoyed touring the quirky house of Pablo Neruda. He had an eclectic style which felt cozy and warm. The house was actually a series of separate buildings around a central garden. My favorite was the summer bar. I love a separate place you go to have a drink and enjoy a view out above Santiago. We all need a summer bar.

That evening Rodrigo had invited me to go out on the town with him and his friends. We met for drinks at his place first around 11:00 pm and did not get to our first bar until 12:30am. We were a merry band of around ten people, half men and half women. The common factor was that almost everyone was gay. Our first club was a lesbian dance place with great music. After a while we went to another club with a few more guys in it. At some point around 5:00 am, a group of us headed back to Rodrigo’s.

The Haleys had an early morning flight to Colombia and I had mentioned to everyone that I needed to be home by 6:00 am. Somehow a bottle of wine got opened back at Rodrigo’s. We all sat around his table chatting and laughing. I finally remembered to check the time and it was 6:15! We were supposed to leave at 6:30 am! After quick goodbyes, I was in the cab and home in a jiffy.

Terry was NOT AMUSED when I walked in at 6:25 am. He had packed everything and they were debating what to do. Should they go to the airport without me? Could we change our tickets? He wanted to call me but I had intentionally left my iPhone at home so I would not loose it. He forgot that Rodrigo’s number was in our Address Book on our Macs. He had not reached the panic level yet but was very close.

At this point I had not slept yet and had been drinking for much of the night. It wasn’t my proudest moment. Luckily Terry took charge and got us in a cab, to the airport and all checked in without much help from me. It is moments like that which remind us that a partnership is a good thing. In LAN’s lounge, I was happy to find the quiet room with recliners. I slept like baby until they called our flight. Then on board I used that beautiful 180 degree bed for its intended purpose.

Chile was so different than any of the previous countries. We moved around more here than any other. Easter Island was a great start. Then our days in Santiago in the beginning and the end of the month allowed us to make some good friends. Finally the three and a half weeks on the coast were a great way to enjoy Chile’s fresh products and make more friends.

I probably should not have gone out all night on our last night in the country but it was fun send off. Like in many countries before, Terry and I said that Chile would be an easy country to live in. Who knows if we will end up here. All of us are looking forward to the summer weather of coastal Colombia. It will be the first visit to the Caribbean for all us and a great change from the cold winter weather of Chile.

This month had been good to us. We started it jobless and homeless. As we said goodbye to Chile, we were gainfully employed and had a roof to call our own back in California. Life is good to us. Most of it has to be luck though. And some good Karma too.

FlyerTalk Forums -  My son’s fifth grade year: 97,737 miles, 40 flights, 6 continents and 16 countries (2024)

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