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Island in the Middle of the Ocean

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARapa Nui — aka Easter Island, lies some 2200 miles off the coast of Chile, and is famously described as the most remote inhabited spot in the world. Home to the mysterious moai, it is the object of endless speculation about the civilization that settled here between 600 and 900 AD.

While Rapa Nui has been part of Chile since 1888, it was actually discovered by Polynesians from further west in the Pacific. It wasn’t till the early 1700s that it was rediscovered by a Dutch, then a Spanish, then a British explorer, Captain Cook. It was the Dutch explorer, Jacob Roggeveen, who named Rapa Nui Easter Island, as he landed there on Easter Sunday 1722.

Some 800 moai dot the island, some just broken fragments near the quarries where they were carved. Tribal warfare and Catholic missionaries took their toll on these magnificent statues over the centuries. As a result, most of them were toppled over, though around 40-50 have been restored to an upright position.

 

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In the next post we’ll meet the mysterious moai.

Back to Santiago

I decided to write this series of posts out of the order in which I experienced the places, so this entry takes us back to Santiago after a week in Easter Island.

My boutique  hotel, the Casa Bellavista, could not have been more different from the dreary B&B I stayed in the weekend before. It was strategically located in the midst of the Bellavista barrio, a hip and artsy neighborhood with plenty of restaurants, wine bars, cafés and shops. Patio Bellavista, a covered city block, is chock full of shops and restaurants and is great for nightlife.

The distinguishing feature of the barrio is the abundance of murals painted on storefronts and walls. I guess you could call it graffiti, but it’s so much more, obviously the work of very talented artists.

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Wandering the streets of Bellavista is a treat for the eyes!

My friend Laura, who was on the Easter Island trip and also the expedition to Bali in January, had secured a driver for a day, so Arturo took us to the Underraga Winery in the Maipo Valley, just a short hop south of Santiago. The winery was established in 1885, and we were able to taste sauvignon blanc, carmenere, and a 100% cabernet sauvignon, finishing with a dessert blend of sauvignon blanc and semillon. All yummy! It’s going into fall here, and the grapes have all been harvested, so we got a peek at the process of selecting and destemming.

We wandered through the rustic village of nearby Pomaire, home to many potters — all of whom seemed to make the same thing: ollas in every size imaginable, bean pots, round, square and rectangular baking pans, outdoor flower pots, pitchers and cups. While the town is normally crowded with tourists on weekends, the crafters take Mondays off, so many shops were closed and the town had a sleepy air, with dogs taking their siestas in the street.

A restaurant tried to lure us in with a 10 kilo empanada! I got indigestion just looking at it!

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We wound our way down the coast through the exceptionally lovely community of Santo Domingo Beach, landing at Isla Negra, made famous by Pablo Neruda, who built his favorite house here overlooking the wild, windswept beach. Huge rock formations add interest to the landscape, and one even has a bust of the poet carved on top. The rip tides and huge waves make the area too dangerous to swim, but one can imagine how this untamed place inspired him. This is where he died and is buried. Once again, it being Monday, the house was closed to visitors; on the other hand, there were no hordes of tourists to contend with.

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My final days in Santiago took me by metro to Pueblo los Dominicos, a rustic village at the western edge of the city, with a warren of streets lined with shops selling high-quality handicrafts: hand-knitted shawls and sweaters, jewelry, pottery, paintings — you name it.

That bird you see above is a chicken I named Phyllis Diller, which was pecking around in a cage with a number of other birds (which is why she’s sort of blurry). I saw an amazing variety of colorful chickens during this trip.

One morning I took the funicular up Cerro San Cristóbal, the highest point in Santiago, with its expansive views of the sprawling city, and St. Christopher looking down from the peak. Especially up here you see the smog that bathes the skyline every day (except after heavy rains) and obscures any glimpse of the Andes. Santiago lies in a basin, with the Andes to the east and a coastal mountain range to the west, trapping all the nasty brown air.

These two shots show an unprocessed image right out of the camera (left), and one with dehaze applied during processing (right) . Goes to show you how much more the camera can see than I can with my naked eye — and how thick the smog is.

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I left Santiago and Chile with more to see and more restaurants to try; more day trips, to Valparaiso and back to Isla Negra when Neruda’s house is open; more wineries to visit; and excursions further afield to Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia and the Atacama Desert. For a long thin country — nearly 2700 miles long but, on average, only 110 miles wide — it has remarkable geographic diversity and stunning beauty. I loved it, and want to go back!

Touchdown in Santiago

In the long, thin country of Chile, Santiago, the capital, is its largest city and the jumping-off point to Easter Island, the object of my latest adventure. So I book-ended this latest photography expedition with an exploration of this cosmopolitan city.

Staying close-in in the Providencia area turned out to be a good choice, as I could walk everywhere I wanted to go. Arriving early on a Saturday morning and not able to check into my B&B, I killed time just walking around my neighborhood to see what was nearby (ATM, mini-market, a good place for café con leche and desayuno (breakfast)). A combined driving/walking tour later in the afternoon gave me a larger overview of the city so I could home in on the areas I wanted to explore on the back-end of the expedition.

Plaza de Armas anchors the city and was the site on which it was founded in 1541 by Pedro Valdivia, whose mounted statue oversees the plaza. The magnificent National Cathedral presides over the east end of the square.

Parque Bicentenario commemorates the bicentennial of the country, and is a lovely urban oasis, where families picnic on the weekends while watching the black-necked swans and flamingoes wade in the protected ponds. The bonus: the only clear view of the Andes I had during the trip.

The highlight of my first short stay was a 3 1/2 hour walking tour on Sunday, organized by an outfit called Tours4Tips. Just as it sounds, they don’t charge a fee; at the end of the tour you simply pay your guide what you think it was worth. Our enthusiastic guide, Cammie, was a Canadian ex-pat who engaged our group right away and kept us entertained. We started at the busy Mercado Central (the fish market), then moved on to the mob scene at Mercado Vega, a mammoth two block by four block area selling everything but fish.

Hopping on the subway, we traveled toward the northern edge of town for a fascinating walk through the General Cemetery. Over two million souls are interred here, and Cammie said there’s still room for more. All but two of Chile’s presidents are buried here; and there is a memorial to the “desaparecidos,” the people who were “disappeared” during the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet from 1973-1990. Chile commemorates its own 9/11: September 11, 1973, the date of the coup d’état overthrowing the socialist president Salvador Allende. During Pinochet’s ruthless regime, over 3000 political opponents were made to disappear, hundreds of thousands more were tortured and/or killed, and many thousands left the country.

The modern-looking structure above is the burial place of Salvador Allende, who committed suicide during the coup and was buried elsewhere, but subsequently was reinterred here after Chile’s return to democracy in 1990.

Animata are very important to Chileans, and that is nowhere more obvious than in the cementario, where people remember their dead with elaborate tributes and requests for blessing marked by flowers real and fake, stuffed toys, plaques and letters.

Those who can’t afford mausoleums are interred in niches…

We were lucky to see people getting ready for a funeral parade.

After the walk I made my way back to my neighborhood to pay a visit to La Chascona, the Santiago home of Chile’s Nobel Prize-winning poet, Pablo Neruda. Though I couldn’t take photos inside, I enjoyed the informative audio guide as I wandered through the comfortable rooms Neruda shared with his mistress, Mathilde, whom he later married. He led a colorful life as a diplomat and prominent communist, going into hiding and fleeing to Argentina in the late ’40s when the government outlawed communism and issued a warrant for his arrest.  Much later, he was an advisor to Allende, and was hospitalized for cancer treatment during the 1973 military coup. He stayed in the hospital only a short time, believing that the doctor had injected him with poison, presumably on the orders of Pinochet. He died shortly thereafter at his home in Isla Negra (more on that lovely spot later). In 2015 the Chilean government acknowledged that there was documentary evidence strongly pointing to the possibility that his death was hastened by others and not a heart attack, which was listed as the official cause of death. Neruda is much beloved by Chileans.

More on Santiago later…

Making Salt on a Black Beach

Making salt the traditional way is labor-intensive work. Water is collected from the ocean in heavy canvas bags slung from a pole resting on the worker’s shoulders, then carried uphill from the water’s edge and splashed on a perfectly smooth base of sand. As the hot sun evaporates the water, the salt crystals stay on the surface. After three days the salt is collected, run through a filtering and drying process and is ready for sale.

At this beautiful black sand beach we were able to watch the collection process.

Hauling WaterSpreading WaterPouring Water

I read that a salt farmer can collect about 70-100 kg of salt in a week and sell it for $10. Really hard way to make a living.

It’s All About the Rice

The people of Bali have cultivated rice for thousands of years, and today follow the same rituals, and even some processes, that date back centuries. According to Nyoman, virtually every family has a rice field, and when it’s planting time (as it was during our visit), it’s all hands on deck to get the tender seedlings into the ground as quickly as possible.

Rice is central to Balinese cuisine, from black rice pudding for breakfast to fried rice (nasi goreng) to sticky rice balls filled with sweetened coconut.

Woman with Basket on Head

Rice Planter with ReflectionPulling Weeds

Planter with Seedlings

In some areas they still use oxen to plow the fields for planting, but this man-powered plow is more the norm. We watched these guys move this heavy machine from one paddy to another below — a dangerous and strenuous feat!

 

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Over the Edge

Down She Goes

Irrigation canals surround and snake through the fields.

Resting Worker

A well-deserved rest after a back-breaking morning of planting rice by hand.

Joining Our New Bali Family

Our generous guide, Nyoman, and his wife, Wayan, hosted a cooking class, lunch and very special dance experience at their home for each group. The morning started with a trip to their local market, where Wayan selected the produce she would include in the meal and explained many of the foods that were unfamiliar to us — like snake fruit, mangosteen, rambutan, bitter gourd and Chinese long beans.

 

 

Market Stalls

Like many village markets, in addition to foodstuffs, stallholders were selling clothing (including lovely hand-made sarongs), offering elements, children’s toys and flowers. As usual, we were the only Westerners to be seen.

A short hop from the market was the cool enclave of Nyoman’s family. Like virtually all Balinese, he, Wayan and their two children live in a three-generation compound including his parents and his brother and sister-in-law and their children. Each family unit has private quarters, but there is a common family temple used for the numerous celebrations and ceremonies that occur throughout the year. A stone walk wound through a lush garden that opened to a large patio with a covered outdoor kitchen. Anyone who wished to give a hand in the meal preparation was encouraged with instruction from Wayan.

 

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We cut long beans into shorter pieces and mixed them with garlic and shaved fresh coconut, then stir-fried the lot. Mackerel Nyoman caught the evening before was turned into pepes (which I have undoubtedly misspelled): pieces of fillet topped with a fiery sambal, wrapped in banana leaves and grilled; a paste of fresh tuna and spices formed around skewers into sate, then grilled; chicken pieces cooked ultra-crispy in coconut oil; white rice; tempeh; tofu with curry; bitter gourd sliced and mixed with garlic, then stir-fried; and more sambal to spice up everything. An oversize wooden mortar and pestle was the implement of choice for crushing garlic and chiles for sambal. According to Wayan, this was a fairly typical midday meal like one they would cook once a day for the family and eat from for lunch and dinner.

 

Victor Making SambalAfter lunch we were in for a treat, when nieces, nephews and neighbor children performed traditional dances for us, while Nyoman and Agung ran around with their smoke machines creating atmospheric haze to enhance the show. Two of the boys dressed as the bull or lion in the dance, roaring and clicking to the music. The makeup and costumes were remarkable, and the girls’ eyes so expressive; even though the music was incomprehensible to us, their expressions conveyed fear, surprise and dread as the story unfolded. The Barong, king of the spirits (and a fearsome looking beast), represents good, and his enemy, Rangda, stands for evil. The dance enacts the ongoing battle between the two forces.

Back to the Monkey Forest

Taking our second group to the Sacred Monkey Forest gave me the chance to capture some better monkey business. On our first visit, the light was challenging — dappled, with deep shadows. The overcast on the second trip was so much more favorable, and it might be my imagination, but it seemed like the monkeys were a bit more accommodating too. These are Balinese macaques, and I saw quite a few more babies than the first time around.

The expressions on their faces were so human, and it was fun to watch their rituals: grooming each other, or mom hanging onto the baby’s tail so he wouldn’t scamper away. Their Mohawk haircuts were very dashing! The baby in the last picture was so new he still had his umbilical cord attached. I love his crazy hair and wrinkled little face.

Mom Holding Tail

Mom and Baby

Newborn