Sunday, 27 February 2011

The long hot summer

Finally the seemingly interminable summer holidays are drawing to a close here in Chile. In a way we could have done without such a lengthy interruption to our newly-acquired routine but in another way it has been nice to have had the time to sort out our new home and spend time together getting used to being in it. The children have definitely gained something from this extended break too, if only fresh air, plenty of outdoor activity and lots of Vitamin D. Sometimes I am resentful when I think about the fact that DD1 would have completed half of her first proper primary school year already by now had we stayed where we were instead of being held back for so many months as has happened with the upside down calendar here. However then I notice how relaxed and happy she is and I realise that maybe she needed this time to adjust to her new environs as we all did. Also not only has she already started her new school and become acquainted with her new classmates, but she has had time to pick up a surprising amount of Spanish in a very natural and instinctive way. She is very much looking forward to going back to school and beginning Year 1 though now has to wait an extra week due to ongoing renovation works still taking place on site at school... As for DD2, she will have to wait another year before she can join DD1 at her school but in the meantime she is also looking forward to beginning her own nursery experience at a Chilean "jardin infantil" at around the same time. It has been a period of great change for DD2 in general as she shrugs off the last shackles of babyhood such as her highchair and cot, both of which she has outgrown. (Incidentally it wasn't at all easy to find a suitable child's first bed in Santiago; evidently the concept of low beds with safety rails has yet to make its impact on the Chilean mindset.) Bodies have been put away in favour of vests and pants, though the purpose of these, other than looking pretty, are still not clear to her. Best of all however has been moving on to a two-wheeled training bicycle without pedals instead of a trike. At first she was hesitant and diffident, sitting without moving or giving it up at the earliest opportunity. But after only a few days of pushing herself along and watching DD1 whizz effortlessly on her much bigger bike, DD2 has discovered the thrill of pulling up her tiny feet and freewheeling down gentle gradients, while also keeping her balance. Very amusing to watch of course and a reminder of how much she's grown up in this time too.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Summer holiday

We made it back in one piece after what seemed like an epic voyage in the end. It is impossible to explore fully a country like Chile without a car so we hired one and took off, practically without any planning and decided to try and see if we could handle a road trip en famille. Surprisingly the moments when we were in the car were among the most restful and undisturbed of the entire holiday, which was definitely a bonus as we covered over a thousand miles in total.
DH, despite having forgotten to renew his driving license, manfully took on the lion's share of the driving while I concentrated on navigating, seeing to everyone's needs and gazing out of the window at the dramatic and ever-changing landscape. We headed north on Ruta 5 and made our first stop off at Concon, a rugged coastal town whose beauty was reminiscent of the Cote d'Azur without the glamour. As we piled out of the car, buckets and spades at the ready, we also realised why it wasn't packed with holidaymakers; there was a strong wind blowing which made for great surfing but not bathing. Never mind, we thought as we enjoyed the sea air and the crashing waves, further up the coast it'll be calmer... It was another 500km and a lot of very barren desert before we stopped again in Tongoy, a small but buzzing town with sheltered beaches which were still crowded at eight o'clock in the evening with a wide cross-section of people and dogs making up its clientele. It was so remote and unspoilt that there weren't even any proper roads in Tongoy itself, just sand and stone tracks which led up and down its dusty mound. We stayed in a compact but well-designed A-shaped wooden cabaƱa with a view of the ocean and a children's play area which seemed to satisfy all of us... Camping with a roof. The beaches were made up of flour-like sand which was littered with shells, many of which we collected. The children loved it and were busy digging and playing in the sand and water though often the mornings were too windy and the afternoons very hot. Everything was going reasonably smoothly until DD1 overindulged in the jardin del mar (seafood platter) and came down with food-poisoning, which put a slight dampener on our spirits for a few days. However she bounced back enough for us to continue our travels further north to La Serena, Chile's second oldest city which still retains many of its colonial buildings and thus charm. From here we ventured into the Elqui Valley (or the "Milky Valley" as DD2 called it) which the guidebooks and Chileans rave about and which was quite breathtaking especially the further up one went. DH and I felt as if we were driving through the set of a western and tried in vain to impress this upon the children though the point was probably lost on them as westerns seem to have fallen out of fashion in the last thirty-five years. DD1 was keen to dress up as a cowboy with hat and neckerchief though so perhaps she was listening after all, while DD2 kept wondering where all the milk was... Eventually another round of tummy bugs forced us to turn back and we began the long but atmospheric drive home.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Time for another trip?

It has taken me more than a full week to readjust to life in Chile after less than two weeks away in our former habitat. Glad to report that I have cheered up a little, exploiting the activities Santiago has to offer such as cycling and swimming which I would normally not be doing at this time of year. I still sometimes yearn for it to be winter but I'm sure my biorhythms are adjusting or at least enjoying this extra summer holiday. It does feel a little wicked in a way, knowing that the northern hemisphere is busy beavering away at school and work while we bask in the sun but I'm sure we'll feel differently in six months' time... The children have switched effortlessly as ever from indoor to outdoor life and don't of course notice what the calendar says for now. They may even grow up thinking it's perfectly normal to have one's summer holiday in January and February... At the moment life seems to have taken a slightly surreal turn as since we returned there has been no school for DD1 and even DH is off until the end of this month. Thus we are back in Santiago but not in our previous routine, settling into a new house while also on an enforced extended holiday... We have therefore decided to make the most of it and go travelling for a proper holiday to explore some of El Norte Chico, taking in some sea and if the children agree maybe even some of the inland valleys. On the eve of our departure it feels like another leap into the unknown...