Thursday, March 29, 2012

Washing the Dishes

What I love most about Thich Nhat Hanh’s writing is how he can take a very simple image and make such a powerful point.  We are now reading this book in my meditation group and every week I go home with something to ponder.
Last night the reading was about washing the dishes while washing the dishes.  That sounds silly I know.  But his point was that we go through so much of life without paying attention to what we are doing because our minds are either on the past or the future.  This can be especially true of repetitive tasks like washing the dishes.  He made the point that he would never opt for an electric dishwasher because it would take away the time he devotes to washing the dishes after each meal.
I’m guilty of so many offenses in this regard.  However, there is one thing I do every morning that gives me great pleasure.  I carefully section a grapefruit and an orange that I relish as part of my breakfast.  I could juice them much faster or even purchase the juice to drink.  But somehow this ritual of using the grapefruit knife is grounding and affirming and the end result is the highlight of my breakfast.
I will probably pay more attention over the next few days to the small things I often do without thinking.  But inevitably they will slip back into their routines and my mindfulness will be replaced with the mental gyrations that often predominate my day.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Breath for Better or for Worse

One of the things I love most about going to the dentist is seeing all the dental antiques he has collected -- from tins of tooth powder to old dental tools to ancient toothpaste ads like the one above.
This week I noticed a framed ad in the bathroom that said something like “Husbands never tell you, but you must guard against gingivitis -- brush with Colgate.”  As patronizingly old school as that was, it made me think about bad breath and toothpaste.
Growing up we always had a bootle of Listerine in our bathroom and occasionally I would swish it around in my mouth, but I never thought much about bad breath.  That is, not until I dated a smoker.  I wanted to gag every time I kissed that guy, which wasn’t too many.  But I never gave too much thought to my own breath and how it affected others.  
Fortunately I have been kissing the same person for the last almost 40 years and long ago I quit using flavored mouthwash.  I have to hope the sign in my dentist’s bathroom wasn’t true and that if I had bad breath, he would have told me by now.
There is always the question of whether to brush your teeth first if you know you are going to be kissing someone.  It’s good insurance against yesterday’s garlic, but truthfully sometimes I would prefer garlic over the sanitized taste of minty toothpaste.  
How about you?  

Thursday, March 22, 2012


More on pisco sours at Steve’s request.  Pisco is somewhat like the Italian grappa.  You can check it out here on Wikipedia.  Although its origins were most likely in Peru, today both Peru and Chile have an active pisco industry and pisco sours are the cocktail of choice for many in those countries.
Perhaps the best pisco sours we had on our recent trip were at the Hosteria de la Colina, our small bed-and-breakfast place in Villarrica.  It is owned by a couple from Oregon, who have been there for over 20 years.  Every afternoon our host Glen would offer us a pisco sour around 6:00 or so and we would gladly accept.  This is his recipe:
Glen’s Pisco Sour
Try to use pisco “Capel” of 35%.  You may make any amount at one time.  For each normal-sized drink, use:
-- 1-1/2 large ice cubes
-- 1-1/2 oz. pisco
-- 1/2 oz. lemon or lime juice
-- 1 heaping teaspoon powdered sugar
-- 1/10 egg white
Blend the above on high speed for about 40 seconds.  Remove from blender, pour into a glass, and top with about 10 drops of Scotch whiskey.
(If you are making batches of drinks, just use 3 times more pisco than lemon juice, and the same amount of lemon juice as powdered sugar.)

Enjoy!  Think of your friends in Villarrica!

If you come see me, I will definitely offer you a pisco sour.  

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


I’m not sure why, but I seem to be having a hard time adjusting to regular life once again now that our Chilean odyssey is over.  I’m feeling reluctant to jump back on the roller coaster that life here seems to be.
We’ve traveled to a lot of places, but for some reason this trip seemed more perfect than others.  It may have had something to do with the fact that much of it was unplanned.  We went with the idea of visiting certain places, but much of our daily itinerary was planned each day as we sat down to breakfast.  It was great not to have to jump on a tour bus or meet a guide.  We were responsible only to each other.  And for the most part, we were quite in agreement about how to spend our time.
The above picture is a pisco sour, something like the national drink of Chile.  I drank them at any occasion, even during the middle of the day once when the plato del dia featured the choice of fruit juice or a pisco sour.  I seldom have a glass of wine with dinner back home, let alone a cocktail before dinner!  When eating out with friends on Sunday, I convinced the restaurant proprietor, who was Chilean, to make me a pisco sour.
Before I left on vacation, I had a routine of exercising each day and practicing the piano for an hour or so daily.  I’ve taken Jake on a few walks and doodled around at the piano a couple of times, but the discipline just isn’t there.  I find myself easily getting sidetracked and feeling no guilt whatsoever. 
It’s not realistic to think of being on vacation all the time, but three weeks of being without responsibility and obligations has made me want greater freedom in my life.
We started a new book tonight in my meditation group:  The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh.  The opening chapter concerned someone who reminded me of myself in my current dilemma.  The secret seems to be in learning how to approach even the repetitive things in life mindfully as opposed to viewing them as obligations.
My goal over the next few weeks is to find enjoyment in what I’m doing.  It may just not be worth doing if there isn’t an element of pleasure or fulfillment.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


We made the most of our last few hours in Valparaiso, choosing to visit the home of Pablo Neruda, probably the most famous author from Chile. His heyday was in the 50's and 60's as he wrote poetry and prose that spoke to the hearts of Chileans. It is almost fortunate that he didn't live to experience the Pinochet regime because he was obviously of a very different mentality.
I have enjoyed reading short stories of various Chilean authors in the book above, Neruda being one of the authors.

La Sebastiana, his house in Valparaiso, was and still is a masterpiece. It remains as a museum today to let the world have a glimpse of how Neruda lived. All 5 floors have an exceptional view of the sea. They depict Neruda as an artist, who was also interested in good food, interesting collectibles, and entertaining friends.

After we toured the Neruda house, we snagged what we thought was a cab and it turned out to be a colectiva, which took us to the city center for just over $1.

I couldn't resist a picture of these Old Navy jeans at a used clothing store, where there were many bargains for the equivalent of $1.

We took the Conception funicular to get to a higher level without doing all those stairs.

Back at Allegretto, the site of yesterday's lunch with its jukebox and vintage drink cooler, we once again ordered the plato del dia, which featured the strongest pisco sour I have had yet, a mushroom-goat cheese brochettes, an omelet over rice with vegetables and curried peanut sauce, and crepe Suzette for dessert -- all for about $9.

We caught another colectiva back to our B&B at the top of the hill. In just an hour or so we will start our journey home.

Fate was conspiring to keep us in Chile. On the way to the airport, our taxi had a flat tire. Unfortunately the driver changed the flat and we arrived with time to spare.

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Location:La Leona,Valparaíso,Chile

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

I Left My Heart in Valparaiso

We are at the top of this beautiful city perched on a hill overlooking the sea. It's the city Pablo Neruda fell in love with. And now I see why.

We spent the day walking and taking photos and eating with a little buying thrown in. We only used public transportation at about 40 cents a ride when we needed to go great distances.

My good friend Steve would absolutely adore the tasteful graffiti found on just about every surface.

The city seems like the perfect crossing of the art and charm of Paris with the hills and views of San Francisco.

There are many small galleries with contemporary art like this piece and the one below which was a little out of our price range.

The colorful buildings are definitely part of the charm.

As is the bougainvillea growing in front of many houses.

We had a delicious lunch for $8 each. My Plato del dia included fresh strawberry juice, an appetizer of shrimp, avocado, and corn, a main dish of spinach-nut ravioli with a meat sauce, and a vanilla pudding with chocolate sauce for dessert.

The only mishap of the day happened as we were walking along the sidewalk under a building under renovation. All of a sudden I felt something hit my head and my backside. At first I suspected a bird. Then I saw the color of brown and thought much worse. But it smelled sweetly familiar. It turned out to be chocolate with milk that was tossed out an upper story window. I looked like quite a mess but since I couldn't see most of the damage, I opted to just keep on walking.

After walking for another hour or so, we stopped for onces, the Chilean hour for coffee/tea and something sweet.

We are back on our hilltop watching the sun go down and trying to figure out whether to venture back down the hill for dinner.

What a great place to end our Chilean odyssey.
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Location:La Leona,Valparaíso,Chile

Monday, March 12, 2012

Last Day in the Desert

Today we are hanging around our hotel, catching up on things after checking out while we wait to go to the airport this afternoon.

A Belgian woman we met went with me to the local archaeological museum this morning. On the way we encountered much-needed road improvement with a total absence of workers, much like at home.

The museum left a lot to be desired in terms of signage, but it did contain some interesting artifacts from the region.

It has become increasingly clear that hallucinogenics are and have been an important part of the local culture, far beyond the mate de coca we are drinking. Last night on the main street of Caracoles multiple people with red eyes were selling "hamburguesas" that were some sort of drug and not ground beef.

Today in the museum we saw lots of drug paraphernalia, including little flat things with a space for the drug, drug storage tubes, and skinny tubes for snorting. Some of the same things were in the gift shop.

I also saw a beautiful little bird similar to the one I have been searching for, but this bird was centuries old.

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Location:Antofagasta,San Pedro de Atacama,Chile

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Far, Far from the Madding Crowd

Taking the local excursions has been something of a learning experience. Each day there has been a critical piece of information missing. But today the glitch was actually our fault.

Yesterday's adventure took us to the Ojos de Salar, salty lakes that promised the buoyancy of the Dead Sea. Our companions were 4 people from the Netherlands and a Chilean couple, all well under 30. The road getting to anywhere around here always makes one very glad to have arrived. We got a "senior" rate at the ticket office.

Our first surprise was the size of the lakes, which looked minuscule in comparison to the Dead Sea. Our second surprise was no place to change or to shower after coming out of the salt water. The spray can with pressurized water above was the only shower.

The young people seemed to have gotten the message to wear their bathing suits and they didn't seem to care about the salt after several pisco sours. We decided to drink ours on the beach, where we befriended a beautiful young girl named Daniela, who needed a photographer while she was in the lake.

Today our phones and iPads somehow lost an hour last. Ight (because they were set to Santiago time and they had a time change. Today's guide for our 8-hour trip to Salar de Tara showed up just after we got out of bed. Nonetheless we had a remarkable trip onto the Altiplano, reaching an altitude well above 16,000 feet.

I was doing fine until I ate lunch and then the altitude hit me with a wallop. Fortunately most of the sites preceded lunch because my head and stomach were in a bad way until well I to our descent.

At one point I asked our private guide what would happen if our 4x4 broke down with absolutely no way to reach anyone by phone and he was a little vague.

Fortunately my altitude sickness was the worst problem of our trip and we arrived back in San Pedro to experience what. Ow seems to be a daily thunderstorm and loss of power.

It's a rugged place where most people are considerably younger than we are. Drinking beer by candlelight is absolutely no problem for them.

Tomorrow we leave the desert for Valparaiso, a seaside town where we will enjoy our last day in Chile.

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Location:Antofagasta,San Pedro de Atacama,Chile

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Desert and a Race

We had our first foray into the desert yesterday. We were not brave enough to be traveling on mountain bikes, but the many young people of the world were. These girls give perspective to the massive landscape.

The white residue you see here is the remains of salt, which used to be the principal industry of this desert area. It was hot and unbelievably dry so consumed a lot of water in just a few hours.

This intrepid traveler is posing just before sunset. In the back left is a group from Brazil who were celebrating with a barbecue and live music.

Today as we sat around relaxing after breakfast we began hearing drums and cheers close by. As we poked our heads out the door, we found the last stretch of the Atacama Desert race.

The race spanned 7 days and 250 kilometers of desert running. The 157 participants came from 45 countries. They had to carry all their food, clothing, and sleeping bags for the entire time on their backs, being provided only water.

As they approached the finish line, a drum increased in intensity and those who had already arrived cheered them on. Two runners from Spain were the winners. The oldest participant, who was from Luxembourg, was not the last to cross the finish line.

This race is one of 4 desert races that also encompass the Gobi, the Sahara, and a desert in Antarctica (based on yearly rainfall).

This is such a strange place, attracting adventurous people from all over the world. I feel grossly out of place, given my age and less than stellar physical condition. But it has been a unique experience!
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Location:Tocopilla,San Pedro de Atacama,Chile

Friday, March 09, 2012

What a difference a day makes

This is the main street of San Pedro, which looks like something out of the wild west. There are still a few puddles on the street from the recent rain, the first they have had since 1995. This is allegedly the driest place on earth. So what did the rain bring besides potholes in the unpaved roads and a few puddles? Flies and mosquitos in a place that is known for having no bugs of any kind.

San Pedro sits somewhere above 8,000 feet high in the far north of Chile. This has made me feel like I am running on about half my usual energy and given me a slight but persistent headache. We made a trip to the local market to buy mate de coca and caramel chews with coca inside. So now it will be hard to tell whether I am suffering from altitude sickness or whether I am just high on coca.

Our hotel has a big mix of countries represented, including Germany, Finland, and Zimbabwe. English is once again the common denominator. A German woman just gave me her stash of mate de coca teabags as they are going to Bolivia tonight and she is not sure she can take them across the border.
That is the hotel's recently enlarged swimming pool below. It would seem crowded with 4 people standing up in it.

It has occurred to me just how remote this place is. We flew into Calama and rode the 60 miles in a shared minivan, driving through some of the most desolate terrain I have ever seen. It's certainly not the kind of place where you would ever want to have a medical emergency of any kind.

The dogs of San Pedro are quite abundant. They are mostly big dogs who look like they are several generations away from a purebred. All are friendly and content to lie around and sun themselves on the dirt streets or sidewalks.

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Location:Antofagasta,San Pedro de Atacama,Chile