Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Our Mamiña Adventure

On previous visits with friends and family we visited a popular desert oasis named Pica; however, this time with Pedro's parents and sister we decided to be adventurous and try something new. Several acquaintances recommended another oasis town named Mamiña, located a similar distance (about two hours) from Iquique in a slightly different direction. Unwilling to plan an overnight trip sight unseen we took what we anticipated to be a "quick trip" on Saturday after visiting Humberstone, just to make sure we knew what we were getting into!

We were the sole vehicle on a long and barren desert highway for many miles. What we'd imagined to be a short and straight drive became vastly different. At one point warning signs indicated a dangerous path ahead but none of us recognized the vocabulary being used. When the road narrowed and rose high above a deep valley, with rocky cliffs hanging over us, we soon got the picture! One adult occupant of the vehicle (I'll let you guess which one) has a fear of heights and became silent and white-knuckled at this juncture, much to the amusement of his unsympathetic fellow passengers. The road leveled out only to rise and fall once again, and as our ears began to pop and one of the babies began to cry we realized that our friends had neglected to tell us about Mamiña's high elevation (2700 mts or 8,856 ft above sea level.)

Needless to say we breathed a sigh of relief (and thin mountain air) when we finally drove down the tight, cobblestoned road of the town and parked in a marked area next to Mamiña's historic old church. And here is where a moment that will surely go down in Garcia comic history took place. A man stood in the parking area, and upon seeing him my first unspoken thought was "Oh, he must be the parking attendant" (a common sight in Chile.) Unbeknownst to me, my in-laws' first unspoken thought was "Oh, he must be the town greeter" (a non-existent sight in Chile.)

Either way, we approached him with more cordiality that we might have otherwise. My father-in-law held out his hand and greeted him in a friendly manner. The man responded in kind and then unexpectedly grabbed Owen, who was following on Grandpa's heels, in a big weepy bear hug. That was my first clue that things were not what they appeared to be. When he fell upon me and Ian (who was in my arms and still crying from the bumpy drive) I smelled the alcohol on his breath and tried to forcibly push him off of me. He wasn't getting the hint even though I remonstrated, "The baby is crying!" I quickly told my father-in-law that the man was drunk and he did his best to hurry our party up the mountain and away from the too-affectionate "greeter." We were hindered by the altitude, though, with Pedro feeling dizzy the moment he stepped from the van and most of the rest of us panting with leaden feet as we climbed the narrow, unfamiliar street.

To make a long story short, we eventually found our way to a small but delicious restaurant (pictured in the previous post) and made - we thought - reservations for two adjoining cabins at a local establishment for Monday night. To make a long story shorter, when we returned Monday night we were told there were no cabins available even though the two we had been promised were visibly empty! So we were eventually referred from one place to another until we landed at two very humble cabins side by side below the local hot baths. The price was right - about $220 USD total for lodging, breakfast, lunch and dinner for the ten of us - so we accepted and got settled in.

Eva in front of our family's cabin

Grandma in front of the grandparents' cabin

We arrived as lunch was being served. Grandpa and Isabel decided to be brave and try the "picante de conejo" (rabbit in a spicy sauce.) While the meal was less than fantastic, the fresh-squeezed fruit juices were FABULOUS. For $2 each we received enormous glass mugs of mango, pineapple, guayaba or orange delight. I would return just for these! (We repeated the enjoyment at breakfast when we ordered the juices again.)

Apparently eating a big lunch just after arriving at a high altitude is not the best idea. Shortly afterward Pedro and Owen collapsed in bed and my father-in-law and I had headaches. Only Grandma and the girls had much energy for exploring! Later, when we had adjusted somewhat to the environment I joined them and we had fun photographing each other and the town just as the sun was setting. Mamiña is very rustic, with small wooden dwellings and a population of only 400 or so. Apparently their peak tourist season is in October when European travelers come to the thermal springs at the time when the minerals are supposedly at their highest. Even so, the locals have refused to allow major hotels or expansion because they wish their town to remain as peaceful as it is now. For a restful experience, this truly is the place to be.

a view from above our cabins

Eva and Isabel against the desert sky

Grandma, Isabel and Eva

As I mentioned our cabins were located next to the local hot baths, which my in-laws took the time to enjoy. The reported them to be very hot (it is recommended that you enter for five-minute intervals) but wonderful. Inside the cabins, however, there were also built-in tile tubs with warm thermal water. Once you got past the smell of sulphur they were quite enjoyable! Pedro took the boys "swimming" twice and without a doubt that was the highlight of the Mamiña trip for Ian, Alec and Owen.

the boys going "swimming"

One major drawback to our cabins was the lack of insulation when night fell. Two broken windowpanes added to the freezing desert cold and our attempts to keep warm were somewhat humorous! We still managed to play a rousing game of Rook while wrapped in bedspreads and woolen blankets, but the next morning most of us were coughing and sneezing from the cold, dry mountain air.

Grandpa trying to stay warm

all bundled up and ready to play

Mud baths had been on the morning's agenda but given the circumstances we thought it best to eat breakfast and get back on the road before lunch. We enjoyed typical Chilean fare (fresh bread with cheese and ham) as well as our second round of fruit juices before packing up the cabins and saying our goodbyes to Mamiña. Our short but sweet time there was definitely an unforgettable adventure! - but I'm sure we will be back again.

Daddy and Alec at breakfast

brothers Ian and Owen


Terri Fisher said...

I wouldn't have expected any less from a family trip of yours! Too funny! But I'm glad that it ended up being a good time nonetheless!

Life with Kaishon said...

It looks like you are having SO much fun despite the cold air!
Laughed about the scary drive and the white knuckled person : )