La Serena

Serena in Spanish is an adjective. It means ‘serene’ ‘quiet’ or ‘tranquil’. Little Spanish lesson for ya there. Though you may have guessed that serena can mean serene, as it’s a cognate and all, but still, never hurts to learn something new.

La Serena is the name of a coastal city in mid-north Chile. Not quite yet in the desert, but nice and dry, except for the ocean. That’s about as wet as you can get.

I had been to La Serena once, five and a half years ago on a bit of an adventurous trip with my study abroad friend Dani and her parents. It was a whirlwind couple of days including getting lost off the beaten path in the mountains in a Toyota Yaris, and a midnight horseback ride to stargaze with Dani, our guide and three other amorous couples (third wheel, anyone?). It was my study abroad days. Studying abroad pretty much means anything goes. Just read Jessica’s blog post. She’s a gringa studying abroad that found El Oasis this semester and is a pretty hilarious writer. I get a kick out of her stories.

Well, this time around, I’m a wife, a mom to a 10 month old, and all around not very interested in getting lost in the Andes. I’m all about the comfort, 150% of the time, every time. So, Andrés and I started looking at apartment owners in La Serena renting out their apartment for the long weekend. We opted for the more expensive option, but for good reason. The beach was across the street, the complex had a pretty wicked pool and it looked comfortable and had everything we needed for the weekend.

The life

The life

The only complaint I would point out is that it is pretty far from Santiago. And on a long weekend, there is always a massive Moses-style exodus to get out of the city ASAP. Kind of like there’s an evil pharaoh chasing everyone out. So, the added amount of cars on the country-long two-lane highways clogs things up a bit. It is 470kms from Santiago. For my metric-impaired readers, that’s about 290 miles. That translates to a little more than four hours if you are consistently driving 70mph and don’t stop. Which didn’t happen for us. We have a 10 month old, remember? So, with traffic, a major construction project, diaper changes and pee breaks, we made it in about five and a half hours.

The weather was splendid the whole weekend, so it made up for the long drives.

Not too shabby. Enjoy it while you can, kiddo. Pretty soon it will be illegal for you to do something like this in public.

Not too shabby. Enjoy it while you can, kiddo. Pretty soon it will be illegal for you to do something like this in public.

Andrés has conceded to not eating fish after getting married to a seafood hater, but when we’re visiting the coast, even I’ll go to a seafood restaurant. Probably because it makes up 99% of the restaurant choices. They always have something for complicated customers like me…aka chicken. There is an area between La Serena and the neighboring city of Coquimbo called Peñuelas, and that’s where the three B’s are at: bueno, bonito y barato (good, pretty and cheap). There is a whole section of the street on the opposite side of the beach that has little restaurants specializing in the three B’s. Andrés worked his latino charm and found us the best option for lunch on Saturday. He even made friends with the lady helping people park. That’s a thing in all of Chile. Some random person stands around and ‘takes care’ of the cars on a certain part of the street in exchange for a tip. Although, I normally don’t think that they would put up much of a fight if three guys tried to rob our car…but whatever.

Joaquin is getting very interested in all of the things his mom and dad are putting in their mouths. He is a fan of bread, muffins and cereal. Staples of mom’s diet. So when we went to lunch on Saturday, we decided to try out his taste for fish and shrimp. If we put it in our mouths, he apparently convinces himself that it’s good.


Success!IMG_6499And see those little white outlines in those little baby gums? Yeah, later that day I jokingly felt around in his mouth for teeth and surprised myself when I actually felt one! It took Andrés to feel it too to believe me. I guess I’m a trickster and fool him a lot. It’s a real life ‘boy who cried wolf’ story. But we were so excited, an innocent bystander may have guessed we had just won real money.

But really, there’s really a tooth cutting through. He has them, it’s official. No baby dentures needed. Thank goodness. We’ve had a few long nights, but he’s on the upswing…until another one breaks through. The endless cycle. We’ve taught him to show his teeth like a game, because previously he would scream and thrash like he was being attacked by a shark if we tried to get a peek.

We opted to save our nice camera from the dangers of sand, so we left it in the apartment when we were at the beach. Joaquin had a very entertaining time grabbing handfuls of sand and shoving his whole fist in his mouth. He learned after about four tries that it was not very good and his mom and dad weren’t eating it, so he shouldn’t either. The waves scared him a bit, but he crawled all over the seashore and Andrés scooped him up every time a wave came up too high. I spent some time looking for pretty seashells, and then Andrés party-pooped on my parade and told me that they were probably dumped back into the ocean from the restaurants much like the one we ate at two hours prior. I chose to pretend like I didn’t hear what he said and proceeded to continue looking for pretty shells with a rich history as to how they landed on the beach in Chile.

We roamed around the row boats and pretended to be sailors. Joaquin assumed the role of Jack from Titanic and was the king of the world (with Andrés’ invisible hand behind him).



IMG_6524We spent Sunday afternoon in downtown La Serena and found a llama that was charging 5 bucks for a photo and that included a free photobomb of a badly dressed guy on his phone. Chilean life.

IMG_6541Joaquin looks ready to be done with the llama.

And…as all vacations come, they go too. We made it back to Santiago safe and sound and happy from a fun weekend.


When Andrés and I went about (used) car hunting a little less than a year ago, we scanned the internet for car sales by owner for a couple of weeks before making our final decision. One of the more classic words we came across was “impeccable”. For those English speakers who are cognate-impaired, this means “impeccable”…just pronounced differently. See, Spanish is easy-0.

Well, we went to see a couple of these cars and I quickly realized that ‘impeccable’ is a term generously used in Chile. There were bumps, scratches, dents, rust or pieces duct taped to other pieces on almost every car we saw. Hardly impeccable. Driving life here in the capital is a hard-core battle for survival, to put it kind of literally. So when capitalinos say impeccable, it’s silently understood that there’s still gonna be some exterior damage, because drivers here just bump…or completely slam into other vehicles, curbs, bicycles, houses, light posts, immovable objects, movable objects, and anything in their way…and then more times than not keep driving and simply ignore the fact they just side-swiped a mail truck.

I don’t just say this out of hearsay, I speak from experience. Like about two years ago, for example, when I was on a bus and it rear-ended a car, moved over to the left lane and kept driving. My eyes were plastered opened and glancing at other passengers, pretty much feeling like a fugitive of the law. The driver was pissed but didn’t follow the bus…why not? I’ll never know.

Then today, I’m walking to the bus stop (lesson: no good comes from taking the bus), and a pickup side-swipes a little delivery truck as they are both turning right onto a one-way street. The hit truck stays where he is, and the pickup puts on his emergency lights and pulls to the curb. The hit car doesn’t move because I’m pretty sure something busted in his engine, and the pickup that hit him waits on the curb for all of two minutes (trying to play ‘nice guy’?) and then drives away. I managed to play Superwoman and read his plates before I lost sight of him and went back to the car that got hit and read them off to him. Hopefully he gets some justice in this lawless driving land.

When we were visiting Fort Collins, I was simply awed by the width of the streets. A two lane street could have easily been 4 or 5 lanes in Santiago. On my way to work, there is a part of the street that goes from two lanes to one and a half lanes for about 500 feet. Mix this narrowing in with overworked bus drivers behind the wheel of gigantic buses, I sometimes feel like my little car is not little enough. This might work…


There is also the unwritten law of being able to stop wherever the hell you want as long as you have your emergency lights on. You cannot turn right on red, but somehow motorcycles have started to believe it’s okay to drive through a red light as long as there’s no one coming? They also deem it appropriate to drive on the sidewalks if the one way street is not going in the way they want. Once, one of them even had the audacity to honk at me on the sidewalk to move out of his way. Sometimes I wish if only if only if only I had superpowers. I’d have sonic blasted him into the mountains.

Casper has accrued a couple of bumps and bruises, but he’s really in good condition for a Santiago car used on a daily basis. He’s impeccable in our eyes. And now I realize that that’s what most Santiaguinos think about their car, too.