Auckland: Far Away But A Bit Too Close To Home

Our first glimpse of Auckland after an all-night flight.

Our first tour of Auckland after an all-night flight.

We woke up in Auckland and watched Auckland wake itself up at around 5:30 a.m. Wednesday after an all-night flight from Santiago. Killing time until we could check into an apartment, we walked all around a virtually empty harbor and central business district.

Looking over the water, the sunrise in a gray sky revealed a historic sailing ship and massive cruise line that were docked near a beautifully preserved Edwardian-era ferry building. Looking back at the city, the cluster of high rises showcased a neon-lit space needle that stood out like a spiky Christmas tree topper.

I felt disoriented not just by the time change but also by a bit of déjà vu, as though I had spent time in this area or somewhere just like it before. Then I got it: Auckland didn’t feel like the hub of a foreign country as much as it felt like a hybrid of San Francisco and Seattle.

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Santiago’s Surprises

We gave the kids an art lesson in Santiago's sculpture garden, one of several well-kept parks in Chile's capital city.

We gave the kids an art lesson in Santiago's sculpture garden, one of several well-kept parks in Chile's capital city.

On Day 2 of our short visit to Santiago, Chile, Morgan and I talked about how stupid we felt for having lumped Chile with Argentina and assuming they’d be the same. Our knowledge of Chile was based on college courses in the late 1980s that revealed the brutality of General Pinochet and the CIA’s role in the coup that put him in power from 1973 to 1990. With our minds stuck on “Third World” stereotypes of Latin American dictatorships and human rights abuses, we expected Santiago to be like Buenos Aires, but not necessarily as nice. Clearly, we hadn’t paid attention to news from Chile for the past twenty years.

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Warming Up to Mendoza

The kids were troopers as we waited for a cab that never came and then walked back carrying the groceries.

The kids were troopers as we waited for a cab that never came and then walked a long way back carrying the groceries.

My first impressions generally hold true, but it turns out I got off on the wrong foot while getting to know Chacras de Coria, the town where we spent the past eight days. A week ago, Morgan and I briefly considered leaving here early; now, on our last day, we don’t want to depart.

This suburb of Mendoza has been described as “tranquil” and a “gourmet ghetto” of restaurants, but our introduction to the town goes down as one of our more stressful days of travel.

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Guts and Gauchos in Mendoza

Getting a glimpse of gaucho life on a ranch near Mendoza, Argentina.

Getting a glimpse of gaucho life on a ranch near Mendoza, Argentina.

“Well, that’s something your children aren’t likely to see in school,” a chipper young woman from the UK said in a typically understated British way. She was referring to a dozen or so desiccated, grayish-black pairs of horse testicles that were the size of plums and hanging on barbed wire by a weathered corral used for castrating young studs.

The gaucho Orlando, whose horse had a type of hand-crafted bridle and saddle I'd never seen before.

The gaucho Orlando, whose horse had a type of hand-crafted bridle and saddle I'd never seen before.

We were at a ramshackle ranch about 40 minutes outside of Mendoza. I had traces of amniotic fluid from a newborn goat on my hands, flecks of spit from a llama on my shoulders, and dirt and manure all over my shoes. Dust, kicked up by a wind storm that had turned the sky brown above these drought-parched hills of Argentina’s wine country, coated my nose and hair.

“They saw a lot of things for the first time today,” I said, picturing Colly and Kyle studying a gaucho named Orlando, who wore flaps of cowhide on his legs and tucked an 18-inch blade into his waistband, and whose dirt-crusted little finger won’t bend because a puma tore its tendon.

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A Mountain Marathon in Patagonia That’s Way Above Average

This week’s post is by Morgan, who’s recounting his experience running the Salomon K42 Adventure Marathon in Villa La Angostura, Argentina. We were so inspired by last week’s event that we both wrote race reports (mine’s on my running blog). Morgan said half-jokingly, “This may be the only thing I ever write, so if you want me to contribute to the blog, you better run this!” I hope this is the first of more posts from him to come. – Sarah

Sarah and I in the crowd waiting for the start of the 42k Salomon Marathon

Sarah and me in the crowd waiting for the start of the K42 Salomon Adventure Marathon.

I’ve now been running just over half my life.  Well, that’s if you count as running the two laps I would jog around Curtis Park in Sacramento with my sweet, now deceased Labrador in the early 1990s.  Although my running has increased from this early start, I can honestly say that I’ve never contemplated writing a race report. It seems somewhat absurd, given my running abilities, to subject others to stories of how many power gels I consumed along the race course or what my mile splits were. However, I realized while running the Salomon K42 Adventure Marathon in Patagonia, there’s a first time for everthing and I should write about why this race was so great, and since I haven’t written a blog post yet, I figured I could kill two birds with one stone.

To give away the ending, I did not win the race, which was done by some guy who never runs mountains and did this insane course is 3:07.  But I am happy to say that I was just about average.  Before this race began, in a fit of inner geek escaping out, I took last year’s race results, imported them to Excel and determined the average finish time of all runners together was about 5:15.  Therefore, I am close to average — not really the stuff of a great race report.

But as you can probably tell, my placing in this race had nothing to do with why I wanted to make this my first race report, and first blog post.  What made this race great was that I enjoyed it more than any other marathon I have ever done. 

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Gnome, Sweet Gnome In Villa La Angostura

Arriving at our cabaña, we discovered that "los gnomos" are part of its, er, charm.

Arriving at our cabaña, we discovered that "los gnomos" are part of its charm.

Our arrival to Villa La Angostura, about an hour north of Bariloche, set the tone for a wacky week. Driving the windy road on the shores of Lago Nahuel Huapi thrilled us with views of snow-capped Patagonian peaks but made poor Kyle throw up all over himself in the car. When we eventually reached our cabaña complex, called Guardianes del Bayo, we probably looked as bad as we smelled because an icy rain and wind left us bedraggled and shivering.

The living room decor includes antlers and this little gnome.

The living room decor includes antlers and this little gnome.

As we unloaded our belongings and cleaned up the mess, my eyes took in a babbling brook that cut through a well-kept lawn and a cluster of wood cabins, flowing past a play structure and under several arched footbridges. Then my ears caught a tune from long ago that was piped in from speakers somewhere — The Carpenters’ “Top of the World.” Karen Carpenter’s saccharine voice singing “I’m on the top of the world, lookin’ down on creation …” floated through the breeze and became a tape loop in my brain.

Then I began to notice pointy red hats on little bearded figurines inside and outside our cabaña. And then the sign with our cabaña’s name: Los Gnomos.

With a mix of shock and awe — uh-oh and oh, wow! — we realized we had booked ourselves into some kind of fairy-tale lodge where everything seems a little bit off.

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Branching Out on Lago Nahuel Huapi

Lago Nahuel Huapi, in the Andes foothills near Bariloche, as seen from our cabaña.

Lago Nahuel Huapi, in the Andes foothills near Bariloche, as seen from our cabaña (click to enlarge).

Lake Nahuel Huapi spreads and branches out in all directions around this pocket of the Andes foothills of Patagonia, and its water has mesmerized us since we arrived a couple of weeks ago. Its surface changes almost hourly with the weather, from a glassy reflection to white-capped waves. It even harbors its own Nessie-like legend, and the kids are fascinated by the idea that maybe, just maybe, a plesiosaur-like creature whom locals call Nahuelito is lurking in the waters just off our cabaña’s deck.

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When It Rains…

Morgan and I spent a lot of time last week doing travel research and making reservations while the stormy weather kept us mostly inside.

Morgan and I spent a lot of time last week doing travel research and making reservations while the stormy weather kept us mostly inside.

Before Morgan and I left in mid-August, we talked a lot about how there will be times when traveling gets tough, when we feel fatigued and worried about the myriad consequences of uprooting for a year, and when we second-guess our choices. We knew we’d feel homesick not just for home per se, but for friends and familiar routines, and we might feel pangs of regret. That’s why we added the “no regrets” phrase to our tagline — not because we’re blithely traipsing off in the world with nothing weighing us down but our backpacks, but rather because we knew from the start that doubt might haunt us, just as first-time home buyers flirt with buyers’ remorse when the repairs pile up and bills come due. “No regrets” is shorthand for “no turning back, so let’s make this work, and in the long run we’ll look back and be so glad we did it.” Or in Spanish, vale la pena. It’s what we say to each other and to ourselves to bolster confidence and commitment, because what we’re doing takes an occasional pep talk.

Last week was one of those weeks.

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Welcome to Patagonia, Where Paradise Packs a Punch

Going from Buenos Aires to the Patagonia lake district near Bariloche, which we did earlier this week, is a bit like leaving Los Angeles and landing near Tahoe — times ten. Everything seems exaggerated here: the countless mountain peaks appear more dramatic and in-your-face than even the Rockies, and their snowy caps seem whiter and thicker. The lakes (literally all over the map) curve around every bend, dotted with islands, and the water enlarges the landscape with its reflections. The grass looks greener and the waterfowl is weirder.

Our first view from the hotel by Lago Nahuel Huapi, near Bariloche. We were struck dumb as we took in the view (which extended in all directions beyond this IPhone snapshot); all we could say was, "Wow."

Our first view from the hotel by Lago Nahuel Huapi. We were struck dumb as we took in the view (which extended in all directions beyond this IPhone snapshot); all we could say was, "Wow."

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“Home”schooling So Far

Friday marked the end of Week 8 in the kids’ schooling, so this weekend I need to type up a progress report to each of their teachers, which we’re expected to do every two weeks. It’s an exercise that makes me reflect on how Colly and Kyle are doing, how Morgan and I are doing as parents/teachers, and whether this whole “roadschooling” experiment is working as well as it could.

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