xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' World Toddler: March 2016

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Thursday, March 31, 2016

5 Rattles for Santiago, Chile: A City of Art

Santiago, Chile Overall Rattle Rating:




Santiago has all of the culture, bustle, and entertainment you could ask for on a family trip.  At the same time, it is neither enormous nor sprawling and so it is easily navigated on foot.  Here it is possible to expose your child to incredible art outside the confines of a quiet, expensive museum.  From grafitti on pubic walls to exquisite statues in parks and fascinating architecture from the 18th and 20th centuries, Santiago is filled with art. A particularly unique element of this art is that much of it features women: from street murals of Mapuche people to white busts of important Chilean authors, women are very much at the center of Santiago public art. Asked for her thoughts on this, a curator at the children's art museum, Museo Artequin, surmised that since no formal training is needed to become a street artist, a more diverse group of artists are able to make the street their canvas, which leads to a more diverse depiction of art subjects.  Whatever the reason, it was truly inspiring to walk through a city where strong women cheered us on from every wall.






Baby on a Budget:

Santiago offers an incredible variety of restaurants serving food from all over the world and at all different price points.  Our whole family savored a dinner of empanadas and pastries one night for just under 10 USD.  At the same time, with the favorable exchange rate, it is possible to eat a high end meal for the equivalent of less than 20 USD per person.  Activities are similarly affordable: entrance to the train museum, Museo Ferroviario de Santiago, for instance, costs only $4. 

Trying Pisco Sours at CHPE: Independent Republic of Pisco Sour

Playing with Fish Heads at a Colombian Restaurant



Swings per Capita:

Santiago is a land of swings and seesaws.  Every public park, of which this city has many, had at least a small playground.   The park next to the Fine Arts Museum has two (making this neighborhood the best for staying with children). With climbing facilities for children of all ages, two trampolines, and a lovely picnic area, the kids' area of these parks bustle with local families.  On the weekends, children sit at miniature easels spread in a semi-circle near the playground, creating works of art.  Magicians and musicians entertain for tips while carts sell toys, balloons, and drinks. 

Our favorite playground is located in the Lastarria neighborhood, across from a church, Parroquia de la Vera Cruz.  Although relatively humble, this playground has all the toddler basics and is in the middle of a street with some of Santiago's hippest restaurants and bars, so parents and grandparents can take turns watching the baby play while enjoying pisco sours at a nearby restobar.


Stroller-ability:

Santiago has well-maintained, clean sidewalks.  Pushing a stroller around this flat city is easy.  In addition, with so much street art, a stroller-riding child is never bored. 

There are also taxis everywhere, so it is easy to get home in a pinch.


Happy to Have You:

Locals seem happy to have all of you, not just your child.  Indeed, local business people go out of their way to offer insights about Santiago and recommendations for sites to see or places to eat.  Many people speak English and those who don't are patient with imperfect Spanish, making it easy to communicate.  Even fine dining restaurants offer high chairs and go out of their way to accommodate children.




Fun for the Whole Family:

There are four main levels at Santiago's Costanera Center, one of Latin America's largest malls: Food and Gifts; Sporting and Electronics; Women's Clothing; Men and Children's Clothing.  This thoughtfully organized mall is a microcosm of the city at large: Santiago considers and serves the needs of people of all ages and from all places.  From this enormous mall to street art walking tours to an interactive children's museum, Santiago truly has something for everyone.


Making Drawings at the Children's Art Museum
Fun at the Costanera Center

3 Rattles for Castro, Chile, A Picturesque Southern-Chilean Town without Playgrounds

Castro, Chile Overall Rattle Rating:
The Palafitos of Castro, Chile





Iglesia San Francisco at Plaza de Armas

To be honest, there's not much going on in Castro, Chile, a remote, working-class town built over an inlet in the Pacific Ocean.  It is a memorable experience staying in a Palafito, an old fisherman house built on stilts over the ever rising and receding inlet waters, and gives you the opportunity to take some incredible family pictures.  The town of Castro has a decent public square where you can go to people watch and check out the pretty purple and yellow church. The real reason to headquarter yourself in Castro is to be able to take day trips throughout the island of Chiloe. Day trips from Castro include a visit to the end of the Pan American Highway in Quellon, Chile; a hike through the Chiloe National Park, which takes you from the forest to the beach and back to the forest again; and self-guided tours of the dozen or so 18th and 19th century wooden churches that dot the island. You could easily fill 2 days with these serene activities, but not much more. 


Beautiful Scenery Surrounding Castro
Baby on a Budget:

Americans in Chile benefit from a favorable exchange rate of about 680,000 pesos to $1.  In addition, Castro is a working-class town, so the few restaurants that exist are reasonably priced.  Wine and beer, which World Toddler's parents really love, are particularly cheap.


Swings per Capita:

Playroom Mattress at Local Restaurant
Hot Dogs and Burgers at Café La Brujula

The only public playground we found in Castro consisted of a rusty metal slide and two seatless swings.  In back of the playground, a homeless-looking man was checking the chest of his homeless-looking friend, apparently checking to see if he was still breathing.  Castro redeemed itself slightly in the "Swings per Capita" category because of its main square "diner", Café La Brujula del Cuerpo, which has a kids' playroom.  Parents can sit in booths around the kids' room to eat mediocre bar food and drink $2 glasses of wine, while the kids jump on an old mattresses, the playroom centerpiece.



Stroller-ability:

A Steep Climb to the Center of Town with Baby on Back


The sidewalks in Castro are decently paved, however the hills are steep and it was sometimes hard to push the stroller without fear of losing control.  In addition, Castro has numerous packs of stray dogs who are right at stroller-level.  So we ended up carrying Sydney in our carrier most of the time. 


Happy to Have You:

The people of Castro were friendly and welcoming to our family.  However, perhaps because neither children nor tourists are a novelty here, people were not as excited to see a World Toddler as they have been in other destinations.  Accordingly, while business owners and locals definitely accommodated our family, they did not go out of their way to interact with us.


Fun for the Whole Family:

 This old fisherman's village does not have much in the way of traditional tourist activities.  But it is relaxing to spend a couple of nights sleeping over the ocean, and interesting to see how people live in such a remote part of the earth.




Sunday, March 27, 2016

Introducing the International Rattle Rating System


While struggling through a recent dinner at the #1 TripAdvisor-ranked Restaurant in Castro, Chile, Nolan and I agreed that Jacques Pepin couldn’t cook a meal worth waiting 2.5 hours with a toddler for.  As helpful as Yelp and TripAdvisor often are for finding delicious restaurants and interesting activities, there is more to life than haute-cuisine and cerebral museums when baby is in tow.  Indeed, a filet mignon might be even more delicious if served with a side of crayons and a sippy cup.   

And so we devised our own International Rattle Rating System, which credits destinations based on their family appeal.   There are five categories--Baby on a Budget, Swings per Capita; Stroller-ability; Happy to Have You; and Fun for the Whole Family.  Each category can receive up to 5 rattles. The overall total for each destination will be based on the below-indicated weighting system, giving preference to those criteria that we have found to most significantly impact the overall family-friendly feel of a location. 
And now <<a shake of the rattle please>> I present the International Rattle Rating System:

Baby on a Budget (10% of overall)

How affordable is the destination?  Is there a beneficial exchange rate?  Are there reasonably priced child-focused activities?  Will diapers cost you an arm and a leg?
Swings per Capita (15% of overall)

Are safe, clean playgrounds common?  Are there other children to play with? Are there indoor playground options for rainy or cold days?
Stroller-ability (15% of overall)
Is it easy to get around with baby? Are sidewalks well-maintained for easy stroller-use? Are taxis always available? How manageable is the public transportation system?
Happy to Have You (30% of overall)

How do locals respond to your family?  Are they welcoming, disinterested, or irked to see a traveling toddler?  Do businesses accommodate your little one?

Fun for the Whole Family (30% of overall)
Is there a variety of activities for the whole family to enjoy? Would you visit this place even if you hadn’t brought the kids?
Overall Rattle Rating:


Check back soon for our first rattle ratings!



Thursday, March 24, 2016

At the End of the Road

At the southern tip of one of the most southern towns of South America, there is an Alaskan flag. After driving 3 hours south from the city of Osorno, Chile and ferrying our car across the Pacific Ocean, we drove 4 hours further south on the island of Chiloe to the “urban zone” of Quellon, where we came upon a sign indicating we had literally reached the end of the road.  Here 19,000 miles south of Anchorage, Alaska, the majestic Pan-American Highway comes to an end. 

The Pan American Highway is a network of roads that connect all of the countries of North, Central, and South America. Except for the 60 mile Darien Gap, an impassible stretch of marshland that separates Panama from Colombia, an adventurous traveler could conceivably take the Pan-American Highway all the way from the furthest reaches of North America to the furthest reaches of South America -- the beautiful point where our own road abruptly ended a few days ago. (Or to Ushuaia, Argentina, another contended end point of the highway).

Other than an Alaskan Flag and a sign indicating the terminus of this great roadway, there was little to indicate the significance of this beautiful, remote spot on earth.  In fact, other than two mangy dogs in the act of creating a third, we were the only signs of life here at the end of the road.  So we snapped our pictures, took in deep breaths of the cool, salty Pacific air, and enjoyed a uniquely quiet tourist experience. 


Then we loaded back into our rental VW Gol, but this time with me in the driver seat.  Sydney tightly belted into her seat and Nolan gripping the sides of his chair, we began my first lesson in driving a stick-shift.  Rather than being scared, Sydney seemed exhilarated by all of mommy's lurching and stalling.  Daddy was a little less enthused.  But within just ten minutes, I started to get the hang of it, and I drove down the first kilometer of the Pan American Highway before Nolan's concern for Sydney's safety superseded his interest in teaching me to drive.

Slowly jerking my way down this highway, I took a last glimpse of the flapping  fraying Alaskan flag in our car’s rear view mirror and I could not help but wonder what flag decorates the north end of this amazing highway.  Does Alaska celebrate its southern cousin, as Chile celebrates it? Although not a part of our current journey, perhaps we will one day travel to the end of the road in Alaska.  When we arrive, we will look for a Chilean flag.


Monday, March 21, 2016

The Worst Part of a 7 Hour Bus Ride? Boarding the Bus.

Two days ago, we checked out of our Bariloche apartment hotel, and took a taxi to the Bariloche bus terminal for what we had prepared ourselves to be the most challenging transportation day of our entire five month trip: a seven hour bus ride over the Andes into Chile. As it would have cost over $1,000 for us to make the same trip by plane, we had resigned ourselves to taking this long bus ride with Sydney, but braced ourselves for the absolute worst.  I, in particular, had been dreading this part of the trip since the day we booked it online over a month ago.
Waiting for the Bus


Our bus pulled into the station at 15 minutes to 10AM, the departure time.  We lined up to hand over our backpacks, then waited to board the bus.  With only two other passengers behind us still waiting to board, the bus attendant looked over our passports and tickets and then said something important-sounding in Spanish.  Although my Spanish is decent, borderline great after a few cervezas, my comprehension deteriorates when I am stressed, which, you can imagine, I most certainly was, as the attendant shook his head at us and pointed inside to the station.  

With Sydney strapped to my front, the three of us went into the station to speak to the Andesmar office attendant.  After three repetitions, I final got the gist of our problem: Although we didn’t have to purchase a seat for Sydney, we still needed to get her a ticket in order to cross the border from Argentina to Chile.  As the attendant reprimanded me for not taking care of this earlier, Nolan watched the last two passengers board our bus.  “Will we have time to get Sydney’s ticket and board the bus,” I nervously asked.

“Not sure,” the atendant answered with a shrug.

“But our bags are already on the bus,” I cried, holding up our claim tickets.  

The attendant shrugged again, “That’s why you are supposed to do this before the bus arrives.”

Hearts now thumping, Nolan and I looked at the bus and then back to the window where the attendant slowly pecked Sydney’s passport numbers into a computer.  The bus driver closed the baggage door. “40 pesos por favor.” Nolan grabbed a 100 peso bill out of his pocket and pushed it under the window.  As we watched the bus driver walk around the bus, a final tire inspection, the window teller rummaged through his cash register for change.  Although we would have sacrificed the 60 pesos to run to the bus, where all of our belongings awaited us, we still needed the golden ticket: the receipt showing Sydney had the right to cross the border. The bus driver now climbed the four large stairs up to his chair.  The receipt started to print. Nolan and I nodded at each other, and then Nolan ran out of the bus station to the bus, where he waved furiously at the driver, just as the driver’s door swiped shut in front of him.  

Meanwhile, I continued to tap my fingers at the office window, where the attendant now offered Sydney a lollipop, but made no movement to hand over our receipt.  Outside, Nolan beckoned us to please come quickly.  Finally, the attendant slid the receipt under the window, and I ran out to the bus, Sydney bumping up and down on my front.  The bus starting rolling forward just as we fell into our seats.
At the Border Crossing


Entering Chile, Bags Laid Out for Contraband Check
Sleeping Sydney


After this tumultuous start to our great Andean adventure, we were understandably elated when Sydney promptly fell asleep, just a few kilometers outside of Bariloche. Disembarking the bus at the two immigration points -- first Argentina’s customs check, and then Chile’s point of entry -- we waited for guard dogs to sniff our belongings for contraband, changed Sydney’s diaper, and stretched our legs.  Then we loaded back onto the bus, and within mere moments, Sydney was back asleep, leaving Nolan and I to enjoy spectacular views of the Andes and lush cattle farms lining the sides of the road.  



We arrived in Osorno, Chile, after an amazingly easy 7 hour ride. Well-rested, we walked through this small city, originally inhabited by Mapuche peoples, and then formally settled by German immigrants -- farmers who were invited to Chile by the the Chilean government to develop the land in the late 19th century.  Formally settled relatively recently, Osorno has maintained much of its German character; German restaurants, architecture, and language abound.

Having enjoyed enough South American steak on the other side of the Andes, we decided to try some German fare at a restaurant called Wufhef, which proved to be a truly memorable, delicious, and fun night out.  At this unassuming, 12 table restaurant located inside of a strip mall in the city center, our waitress suggested we order the Menu del Dia: a pou-pou platter of meat: steaks, hots dogs, chicken, and kielbasa, laying over boiled potatoes and peppers.  And so, after a tumultuous start, we had a happy, carnivorous end to our long, exciting day.



I had expected the worst of this long travel day, assuming that a winding, long bus ride with baby could never be pleasant.  Being so anxious about dealing with Sydney, I had forgotten to prepare for other obstacles: like getting all of the proper documentation required to board the bus on time. As such, this Andean adventure brought home the point, which last Saturday’s mugging first taught me, that you can never predict what will go smoothly and what will not when traveling, especially when traveling with a toddler.  Or as Nolan likes to quote from Monty Python: “no one expects the Spanish Inquisition!”

Sunday, March 20, 2016

A Breathtaking, Treacherous Drive through Patagonia, and Sydney Makes a Friend

A three hour plane ride south from Buenos Aires landed us in San Carlos de Bariloche, the Breckenridge-esque center of the Argentine ski region.




On our second day in Bariloche, we decided to rent a car to explore Argentina’s Seven Lakes Region, the vast network of mountains and lakes that make up the Andes' southeastern foothills. Inside the car rental office, a poster advertised new, shiny white automobiles that looked perfect for trekking through the Patagonia mountainside.  After paying the $50 rental fee and signing a contract, the company owner walked us to the parking lot and showed us our car options: 2 small Toyota sedans, one in scratched up red, and one in dust-covered white, neither of which looked particularly capable of mountain climbing. Disappointed, we went with the white, which was at least a different color than our own car, and loaded in our lunchbox of road snacks.  As we pulled out of the lot, the rental owner watching, Nolan tried to get a feel for the clutch- stalling, going, stalling, until finally we were out of sight of our spectator.  



Our destination was Lake Traful, one of the 7 Lakes Region’s most beautiful (in my opinion) and, it would turn out, isolated lakes.  The road north from Bariloche to Lake Traful climbs up and down the rolling mountains, as opposed to through and around them.  As we approached each new mountain top, we enjoyed sweeping views of a surprisingly arid landscape, with funky forms carved into the mountainsides.  Now autumn in southern Argentina, all of the deciduous trees are leafless and the grass is a light brown. The only spots of green are the squat bushes that speckle the mountainsides.  



Eventually, we found our sign pointing to Lake Traful, 30km.  The sign pointed to a road made of dirt and rocks, most of which were appropriately sized to provide a suitable surface for passing cars.  But others, many others, were large enough to rip open a tire on a low-lying, beat up sedan such as ours.  We paused before making the turn, unsure whether it was a one way street.  With street signs on both sides of the road, we decided it was in fact a two way street, just an uncomfortably narrow one.  And so we ventured on.  In the back seat, Sydney started humming to hear her voice shake.  

Between the dust and rocks that our little car spit up, we took in incredible views of apparently boundless farms and rolling mountains.  



Creeping along the rocky road at about 25km per hour, we figured we would make it to our destination, one of Villa Traful’s three restaurants, in about an hour.  But then we hit some road obstacles:





About two hours later, after maneuvering past roaming cattle and other intimidating obstacles in the road, we arrived at our quaint restaurant, overlooking the gorgeous Lake Traful.  After a lunch of pollo a la plancha (grilled chicken), we found the entrance to our planned hike.  Riding on Nolan’s back, Sydney pointed out every bird and kicked at Nolan’s rib cage whenever she wanted the ride to speed up.  At the top of the steep hike, we enjoyed an incredible view of the lake, mountains, and a waterfall.  We followed some young, honeymooning Argentines back down the hill, where, completely covered in dirt, we loaded back into our sedan for our trek home.





We drove the southern perimeter of the lake in the opposite direction of which we came.  After 30km, our gravel road finally met up with Ruta 40, Argentina’s Route 66, which takes drivers from the far north all the way to the southern tip of the country.  With pavement final under our wheels, we took deep breaths, patted our car on the dashboard for not breaking down 20 km away from civilization.  Interestingly, now on the other side of a mountain range, the landscape changed dramatically.  Here, closer to the Andes, the lake region is lush and green.  Cattle and sheep leisurely munched grass on either side of the road, and tall Lorax-style trees decorated the mountains.  We were astonished by this incredible change in landscape in such a short distance.  

Two hours later, we parked the car back in the lot.  Nolan’s hands still reverberating from the bumpy road, he promised to teach me to drive stick shift so, in the future, he would not have to do all of the treacherous driving (that adventure coming soon).  As we unpacked the car, Sydney walked over to the rental company’s dog, and made a new friend: