Saturday, December 29, 2007

Christmas in Puerto Montt, Dec. 21-25, 2007

PHOTO CAPTIONS: 1. Santa and his reindeer eating empanadas in front of the Chilean flag, 2. my cousin Zack and his Chilean girlfriend Soraya, 3. Andre, Soraya and Zack on the beach, 4. Zack practicing yoga, 5. the view from Zack's guest house, 6. Soraya serves up her lasagna, 7-10. ChiloƩ, 11. Kayaking on Christmas Day, 12-14. Christmas dinner overlooking Puerto Montt, 15. Sunset at Zack's property.

How happy I was to spot my cousin Zack and his girlfriend Soraya outside the baggage claim area. After four flights, I was ready to be driven home.

Meeting Soraya was like knowing her all my life. I’d first seem photos of her with Zack and the goats on their property in Puerto Montt in December 2005 when Maya and I visited his folks in DC. Then, during Jason and Jessica’s wedding in Puerto Rico in August 200, Zack asked me to email her some photos. That’s how our long-distance friendship began.

Last December I’d hoped to visit them with Maya, but flights to Chile were well over a thousand dollars -- too much for a couple of weeks. Lucky I didn’t buy tickets, since we ended up canceling our plans to San Diego as well because of Maya’s diagnosis. I’m sad that Maya never got to know Soraya or Puerto Montt.

After seven years, Zack’s done with South America. He and Soraya are moving to New Zealand early next year. He’s looking for an eco-topia. Zack says New Zealand is it. I’ll have to visit them in a few years to see for myself.

Zack owns about 20 acres of beautiful, wild land, with two houses that he designed and built. Andre and I had a house all to ourselves. The views from the cathedral windows were heavenly. Far from city noises, the sky fills with stars, and birds and frogs are the only ones to break the silence. It makes me wish I lived out in the country. But then I remember how social I am and how much I hate to drive. It’s not that easy to get into town from Zack’s.

I can’t tell you how impressed I was with Soraya. Even though she’s 24 years younger than Zack, they seem to be a perfect match. She’s also a fabulous cook. Her delicious, healthy vegetarian meals even convinced Andre the carnivore. She bakes her own bread and keeps wooden bowls supplied with fresh fruit, nuts and dates at all times. Her veggie lasagna featured chopped up calamari, topped with goat’s milk cheese. Yummy!

During the four days that we stayed in Puerto Montt, I worked on the article and photos on the World Juniors Championships for Racquetball Magazine, caught up on email, and wrote a few caringbridge journal entries. Zack and Soraya were very understanding and helped me out by entertaining Andre.

The four of us went out to a pebble-covered beach and learned how to clam dig from a local. We checked out some little vacation cabins that an American friend of Zack’s is building. Then we had a picnic lunch overlooking low tide at another inlet. Real estate in Puerto Montt has been going up since Zack first settled there, so he should make a nice profit on his place.

Another day we took a ferry across to ChiloĆ©, a picturesque little village where fishermen haul in seaweed to dry and sell. I was fascinated how the wooden houses all had unique styles of siding – scalloped, zigzag, stepped -- almost as if the carpenters were trying to outdo each other. Very charming.

For Christmas Day, Andre and I kayaked around Zack’s artificial pond. He cut it himself with some big machine he borrowed. Before joining a gym, Zack used to go out in the kayak every day for his workouts. This was Andre’s first time and after he learned how to avoid running into the banks and paddling in circles, we raced around the little islands. He must have cheated somehow because he even beat me a few times.

I invited everyone out for Christmas dinner. I wanted it to be someplace memorable and we found just the place, at the top of a hotel overlooking the town and bay. I think it was only seven floors high, but it felt like the top of the world. We got there in time for sunset. And bonus – the seafood dishes that we ordered were all exquisite.

The next morning we had to get up early to say goodbye and catch our bus across the Andes to Bariloche, Argentina, a mere 8 hours. I felt sad to be leaving so soon, but grateful that we made it before Zack and Soraya give up their little paradise. Then again, Soraya reminded me that we experienced the best weather of the year – just the kind of days that Zack fall in love with when he first arrived. Then there’s the rest of the year when it’s cold and gray.

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