Exploring Chile: A South American adventure | SummitDaily.com

Exploring Chile: A South American adventure

Special to the Daily/Brandon Spence

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of articles chronicling Breckenridge resident Brandon Spence’s time in Chile.

My first impression as I step outside the airport terminal is the striking resemblance to the place I just left, Colorado.

As I my taxi drove towards the mountains surrounding the capital city Santiago, one could easily feel as though you were driving I-70 westbound towards the Western Slope, snowless peaks with a mix of pine and leafed trees filling in the ridgelines. But it takes only a few seconds to observe a row of palm trees as I realize I am in fact in Chile.

From a distance, the skyline of Santiago is set against a backdrop of towering peaks. Similar to Denver or Salt Lake City only in that they share a horizon with mountains, the Andes dwarf the city. Santiago sits at just under 2,000 feet above sea level, while the peaks behind surpass 6,000 meters, that’s over 19,000 feet for us non-metric folk, and is home to many of Chile’s legendary ski areas.

Facebook updates of Summit County’s epic snow season still find me south of the equator. I’m counting down the days until winter snows will cap the distant peaks and lift chairs begin turning! Winter begins in June.

I made the decision sometime during the summer of 2010 that I needed a break from my life routine – work, play, Summit County, America…everything. I just needed a change, and a drastic one.

I have several friends who entered the field of teaching English abroad and loved doing it. It’s often called ESL or TEFL. I did some research and came to the conclusion that this is work I could enjoy as well as afford me the opportunity to live abroad. Chile seemed like a great place for a mountain guy like me relocating to – 90 minutes to the Andes, 90 minutes to the beach.

A beach, for those in Summit County who may have forgotten is where the land meets the ocean. You can walk right in if you like without violating any Homeland Security measures. Class begins in March so I have a few weeks to explore this country.

Santiago’s centro is just minutes from the airport. A bustling city of 6 million people, give or take a few, the colonial architecture shows off its history while skyscrapers announce Chile’s rising economic status in the world.

There’s far more to the city beyond a concrete metropolis jungle. Laden with green parks it’s easy to pick any number of benches to sit upon and relax, which I plan on doing as soon as a find a store to purchase my first bottle of Chilean wine.

At this point, its official, I am now without a working cell phone. HOW WILL I SURVIVE?!?!

Before I left, a friend who has traveled many times to Chile as a marketing consultant for one of the Colorado ski areas told me Santiago reminds her very much of Denver. Anytime someone provides you with such a broad and vague statement you immediately begin conjuring up expectations.

It doesn’t take long for me to understand what she meant. As I begin my walk to the park closest to my hostel, I’m dodging runners, dog walkers and bike enthusiasts. I could have just as easily been in Washington Park or City Park in downtown Denver.

Unlike my experiences in Mexico and other Central American countries, fitness seems to be a priority here – so much so that instead of swings and slides, elliptical machines and stairmasters are built in on site. I begin to feel lazy and make a point to find a good hike for tomorrow. Still no cell phone, and still alive.

Chile is an odd looking country on a map. From north to south it’s about 2,500 miles and averages just 150 miles from east to west. Remarkably this sliver of a country is an outdoor enthusiasts dream. With more than 30 national parks, the glaciers of Patagonia, the Atacama Desert, natural hot springs and the mysterious Easter Island -that’s the short list of things to do – boredom is not an option. In fact, it’s quite daunting how much I have on my “things to do list.”

There are music festivals as summer winds down including Lollapalooza Santiago in April, skiing and snowboarding come June and the Andes year round. I’ll also have to find a way to fit in some wine tasting of perhaps the country’s best natural resource. Oh yeah, I nearly forgot – work. That will be an adventure all its own.

Brandon Spence is a former station manager and afternoon host of KCMV in Breckenridge. He left the station this past summer with the idea of traveling abroad and plans to spend at least six months in Chile.

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