John Steinbeck once said that people don’t take trips—trips take people. He’s right, of course. I should know. South America has always had a way of taking me—whisking me away from wherever I was in life and depositing me somewhere along the Andean spine, awestruck and in love with wild people and even wilder places. […]
Peru is a country of color. There are the terraced hillsides of carefully tended crops whose greens range from basil to emerald to pistachio. There is the Andean sky built like a layer cake of ever-varying blues stacked high into the atmosphere. There are the 3,800 potato varieties plucked out of Peruvian soil whose outer skins range from canary yellow to beige to aubergine. There are the fish markets of Lima with their dark red tuna steaks, mottled brown squids, blush pink whitefish fillets, and mounds of mossy seaweed. And, of course, there are the densely crowded markets from which goods and foods explode out of tiny stalls—white alpaca ponchos and multicolored tablecloths with an orange-pink-green-blue pattern best resembling neon Sour Skittles draped along the walls; vibrant red wool blankets and hand-knit rainbow belts heaped atop chartreuse skirts and cobalt scarves; and bouquets of cilantro sitting alongside spicy scarlet and orange peppers next to mounds of purple potatoes all spilling out onto the sidewalk.
The eyes feast in Peru.
At the end of an inauspicious road in a sleepy Chilean surf town sits the 8 Al Mar Bed & Breakfast. You won’t be faulted if you can’t initially find the place. The boutique hotel sits in its own isolated cove fronting the Pacific Ocean, tucked amidst white-paneled houses with such little signage that you’d think the owners preferred to enjoy their property in complete isolation. And maybe they do. The eight room structure of glass and wood, designed by the Chilean architect Igor Moraga, is a befitting of a profile in an interior design magazine. Each room enjoys panoramic views of the Pacific and private balconies from which you can spend hours watching waves crash against the rocky beach while fishermen scour the coastline for mollusks washed ashore. A sun-saturated wooden terrace is populated with sunbeds and furniture carved from driftwood. Across the way, three hot tubs are screened behind wooden fences, allowing for privacy where guests can enjoy a bottle of Carménère while listening to the sonorous ocean. Is this paradise? I think so.
It only takes five minutes of walking through Valparaíso to determine that this place is more contemporary art gallery than city. Sure, there are cars and trolleybuses, sidewalks crowded with pedestrians and street dogs, restaurants whose patrons spill outside to have a cigarette and talk about the national football team, all of which are active participants in the city facade. Dig a little deeper, though—which is to say, feel your quads ache and your lungs burn as you purposefully lose yourself on the steep and winding streets—and your eyes will soon feast on a series of murals which transform city blocks into an urban canvas.
Age-old problem: You see a picture of an inconceivably beautiful and incomprehensibly remote locale and/or read an article about the best places to visit this year in a travel magazine and/or stumble down an internet blog rabbit hole that leads you to some list about things to see and do before you die and, in all three instances, it’s the same place you keep reading about—somewhere you need to go and need to go now—and so you think: OK, but how do I get there?
This happened to me as I was trying to figure out how to get from San Pedro de Atacama, Chile to Uyuni, Bolivia while ensuring I would see the quintessential sights of the Bolivian Southern Altiplano: the rusty waters of Laguna Colorada, the jewel-toned lakes that are sprinkled across a desolate landscape, the ever-present flamingos, and the vast white canvas of the Salar, the world’s largest salt flat.