Do you ever fall in love with a place then, when it comes to planning your next trip, struggle with the decision of returning or exploring somewhere new? This is a constant conversation in our house. We always want to explore the world and experience new cultures, but then there are those memories - sharing a bottle of red wine on warm stone steps overlooking ancient Rome; jumping off a 20-foot cliff into the clear water and swimming to the next cove to do it all over again; hiking along the narrow ridge of a volcanic crater surrounded by wild hydrangeas with the ocean on one side and a lake on the other - that we just want to go back and do all over again.
Fittingly, the end of the world feels just like the end of the world. Harsh wind sweeps across the grey sea and whitecaps race toward a grassy coastline. Further inland, snow-topped mountains, the symbol of Chilean Patagonia, stretch high into the all-encompassing cloudy sky. Rusted and battered barns are scattered across the vast countryside, where woolly sheep graze on green and gold grass.
It takes nearly 4 hours for our flight from Santiago to reach Punta Arenas, Chile’s southernmost city. From the airport, a small, white, round bus takes us into the city center. Although Punta Arenas is home to about 125,000 residents, the low lying buildings and cold deserted streets make it feel more like a small town than a city. Still, the charm is inescapable. Like a movie set of a modern day zombie apocalypse film, the whole town feels a bit deserted and wonderfully trapped in time. Cloudy days are cold and windy, sunny days are slightly less cold but just as windy, and nights are both extremely cold and extremely windy. It’s no wonder everyone stays inside.
Let’s just say the altitude made itself known. Two days after finishing our trek to Machu Pichhu and we’re both still struggling. It’s the fourth time in five days that we’re up at the crack of dawn. No, actually before dawn, at 4am, heading to the Cusco airport, ready to make the two day journey to Santiago.
It so happens that direct flights from Cusco (or Lima, for that matter) to Santiago, are prohibitively expensive. So, in an effort to stick to our tight travel budget, we first fly back to Lima, then to the border town of Tacna, in the Peruvian desert. From there, we jump in a “colectivo” (in this case a 1990’s Lincoln, driven by a grumpy old Peruvian man) and race south to the Chilean border. One exit stamp, another entry stamp, and we’ve officially arrived in our 14th country.
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